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Heading West, part one

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Haven’t done much (any) blogging this past week since I’ve been on vacation. I hope these next three posts about our travels make up for that 🙂 Also, very little editing (I can’t read in the car without feeling sick – but I can type apparently…). Check out our website for a visual (including Foursquare check-in locations) representations of our trip.

DAY 0, Friday

Phil has dubbed Friday, July 8 as “Day 0” because this is more of a “staging” day rather than the actual beginning of the trip.

I had to work Friday and was busy. Which helped make the day go faster. I couldn’t wait to leave town. I packed the the night before and loaded the car with my stuff in the morning. I said goodbye to Emmy and went to work. After a quick stop at the library, Juice Stop and at Pennzoil for an oil change, I went to Phil’s house so we could finishing loading the car.

Phil coded a bit in the morning (working on our site!) and spent a few hours (he says two) at Cabela’s getting some stuff we needed; he purchased a pot/bowl metal set (we’re trying to reduce the amount of waste we throw away), some knives (no, not the bear machete), and better hiking shoes for himself. We left his house, went to Wal-Mart for a manual air pump and a smaller cooler (for back seat snacks!), stopped at McDonald’s for a quick dinner and was on the road around 7pm.

On the way to Omaha (actually, Bellevue – just South of Omaha), we had a pretty substantial detour because of Highway 75 construction and flooding from the Missouri river. Once we were back on 75 in Bellevue, Nebraska, we saw some flooded areas but nothing was over the road. (More on flooding – and how it impacted our route – tomorrow.)

We stopped at Baker’s (one of the Kroger stores) for food and headed back to Jared’s place where I crashed and Phil hung out with Jared and worked on the website a bit more.

DAY 1, Saturday

Left Jared’s around 8:30 and got coffee. Disappointingly, Scooters in Bellevue, NE made my latte with sour milk. Not. Cool. We drove. In Nebraska. We stopped at a random road side convenience store, made up a lunch and recorded our first roadside video. Phil was working on the website still, making sure it looked pretty and did the basics of what we wanted it to do. We stopped at a gas station stop (where, I don’t know) for about 40 minutes so Phil could launch the last of the website changes and we could upload our lunch-time video (the gas station had free wi-fi!)

We slowly made our way west and north and our elevation increased as well. We also gained an hour as we entered mountain time. Since we didn’t take I-29 to I-90 (because of flooding) we ended up on a highway in southern South Dakota. A sign warned us of road construction between two cities/towns on this highway but because it was Saturday, we figured no one would be working and it couldn’t be that bad. Little did we know, the highway was COMPLETELY torn up and we didn’t get more than a mile before turning around and looking for another route. This led us to gravel roads but we made it the road we wanted. Badlands was not really on our itinerary but we took a road north that would lead us on the western edge of the badlands as we entered the Black Hills through Hermosa (“sister” in Spanish), South Dakota. In Hermosa, we bought ice, beer and Phil made a call because we still didn’t have a campsite for the night. (I had been trying NOT to think about this all day!) We only had a 30-minute drive to the campsite in Custer State Park he had reserved and we were thankful that the camp hosts agreed to wait up for us and that it was still light out! The campsite had a great view of the Black Hills and was just a mile  East of Custer City. We saw deer as we set up and continued to see deer throughout our two days at this camp (but no bears). We paid for two nights of camping, set up our tent and canopy quickly and threw some delicious tamales Jared had grabbed for us at a Mexican restaurant in Omaha. They were quick and delicious – just what we needed. I was lulled asleep by the fire.

SO FAR, PROS: Verizon’s 3G network (Phil’s iPhone)

SO FAR, CONS: T-Mobile’s non-existent 3G network in anywhere we had been on our trip but Lawrence and Omaha proper (not Bellevue).

DAY 2, Sunday

We made our first camp breakfast of the trip and got organized for adventures in the Black Hills. We stopped in Custer City at the Visitors Center for some literature on what to do in the area. We decided to make our way to Mount Rushmore to see the heads! The monument area ($11 to park and enter) is really nice. You can do an audio tour but we got a couple quick tourist shots and did the half-mile loop to get closer. This is when I first realized we definitely were in thinner (less-oxygenated air). We had just a little hike back up to the parking lot but it was definitely harder than climbing the hill at KU.

We then made our way to Rapid City. Phil, using his Brew Pub finder app, he noticed a brewery in Rapid City. It was a Sunday, and the downtown area of Rapid City wasn’t very busy (or very open) we did get to try a flight of beers at the Firehouse Brewery. The light beers were good but, being spoiled by Free State, we’re sure, the darker beers just didn’t measure up. We left to make our way back to our campsite. One part of the highway had a small cutout and led down to the lake where others were taking advantage of the water. Phil pulled out his water shoes and we jumped in. Very chilly but also very refreshing. Just what we needed. We made our way along the Needles Highway (quite the curvy road) and did a bit of hiking on a trail off the road. We had some great views and had a great photo op.  Back at the campsite, I needed a nap. Phil did some work and made chili. It has been quite a bit cooler in the evenings so the chili was perfect. We drank some beer by the fire and then called it a night.

PROS: Our manual air pump we bought for the air mattress. It’s manual, but pretty powerful and only takes us 5 minutes to air it up. Well worth the time because 7 nights in a tent is a lot. (And to think, Phil considered NOT bringing the air mattress!)

DAY 3, Monday:

This morning, we packed up camp to make our way to Wyoming and Yellowstone! We made breakfast, took down camp and went to wash dishes and take showers. (For the record, our first shower since we left Jared’s house on Day 1.) Our route took us through Bighorn National Forest, a truly gorgeous area. On days with a lot of driving, we’ve made sure to have some long stops to enjoy the scenery and get a break from the car. So, we broke out our camping stove and made lunch at Meadow Lark Lake, still in the mountain range. We also did a bit of exploring around the dam at the lake. Coming down from the range we had to stop a bit in TenSleep to let our ears adjust to the change in altitude.

We made our way through Cody, Wyoming, a town that seemed to be the gateway to Yellowstone and was where Buffalo Bill spent some time. We arrived too late for the rodeo and since we weren’t able to secure a campground IN Yellowstone for the night, we set out to look for the campgrounds in Buffalo Bill State Park just west of Cody. We weren’t totally clear where the campground was and with a lack of signs, we spent a little too much time hunting around for the campground. When we  finally found it, we were rewarded with available camping spots and free firewood (ironically, we didn’t use ANY). The campsite, right on the Buffalo Bill Resevoir at the base of the Absaroka mountains was an amazing camping spot. We changed clothes and headed back to Cody for some BBQ (not as good as Biggs BBQ, though!) Back at the campground, a storm was brewing.

Pros: Showers at campgrounds, lake-side campgrounds

Cons: Mosquitos

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