It's been a little over a month since I returned from a 3.5 week road trip that spanned exactly 6,843 miles. We drove from Texas up through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Canada and then worked our way back down South through Washington, Oregon, California with a quick stop in Mexico and then back home via Arizona and New Mexico. In total we visited 9 states and 3 countries in 3.5 weeks. Perhaps it will make sense that it's taken me over a month to even begin to collect my thoughts about this trip because it was just such an undertaking. This was less of a vacation than it was an adventure.
The temperatures we encountered ranged from the mid 20's (in Colorado on top of Pikes Peak) to 112 (in Arizona). We wore everything from thick wool socks and goose-down jackets to flip flops and shorts. Thankfully we drove in an extended van that we took the seats out of so we had lots of space to store all our camping equipment, food, clothing and bikes. (Thanks Mom and & Dad for letting us drive him around the world and back!) "Wally The Boogie Bus" did us proud and got us everywhere we wanted to go. He even made it big in Hollywood:
I've had a really hard time trying to organize my thoughts about this road trip because 1) it was really just so extensive in the places we went to and the the things we saw 2) it was more difficult than I had imagined 3) I selfishly want to keep all the details in my mind as a way to keep them sacred. This was a trip of a lifetime, really it was. I don't know that I'll ever have the opportunity to do anything of this scale again so that's why I decided I really must write a bit about this trip so when I'm 80 years old I can look back and read this post and take a vacation down memory lane.
On Sunday, May 29 Duvain and I set out as early as we possibly could leave. Unfortunately Duvain had thrown his back out the day before and was in a lot of pain so I was left to pack and load everything in car. I'd say I did a fairly good job considering I had to pack our entire lives in a car. Sure I forgot a thing or two but it wasn't anything we couldn't pick up on the way.
If you've ever driven through Texas you know how flat and super boring it is so I wasn't surprised when all we saw was flat, flat and more flat.
Duvain was shocked that when we put our first destination (Colorado Springs, CO) in the GPS and it said something like "Drive 583 miles and then turn left". If you drove that many miles in Wales you'd end up in the sea! We did stop during those 583 miles, briefly, to spray paint some Cadillacs which was fun. Tell me you've heard of Cadillac Ranch?
You wouldn't believe how insanely windy and dusty it was! This summer has been a brutally dry summer with wildfires galore. The ground is extra dry and with the slightest gust of wind the dirt goes insane. We were absolutely covered in reddish brown dirt. I found dirt in my ears a day later! Duvain made it his mission to spray paint something on every single car. Surely those pictures and words we sprayed are long gone by now, covered by another couple on an epic road trip perhaps. If you're ever in Amarillo make sure you also drive around the city and look for the random street signs that are in some people's front yards.
After we used massive amounts of baby wipes to clean all the dirt off of us we continued on to New Mexico. I'm sure New Mexico is a lovely state with lots to offer but we didn't act ually see much of it. Other than seeing a few far-away mountains and making dinner out of the back of the van in a McDonald's parking lot we didn't see or do much. (This will change when I take a birthday trip to Santa Fe in September, can't wait!)
Our first night we slept in the back of the van in a rest stop just outside of Colorado Springs. (Our intention on this trip was to do this as cheaply as possible so we camped either in a tent or in the van every night except for 3 nights in a hotel and 4 nights we stayed a friend's house.) I'd heard good things about Garden Of The Gods from several people so we made that our very first stop and holy sweet Jesus the colors and landscape did not disappoint.
Look at this photo! It's just a cell phone picture but you can see the green grass, the red boulders, tree-covered mountains and white snow on top of Pikes Peak. This view is, hands down, the prettiest view I've ever seen with my own eyes.
Duvain had never heard of Pikes Peak which astounded me because I thought that was a super famous mountain in the US that most people knew about, but it turns out many foreigners have never heard of it. I had no idea! Someday I'd like a do-over of going to the top of Pikes Peak because it didn't work out the way I had hoped for a few reasons.
We ended up taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top of the mountain which we both thought was a bit overpriced at nearly $68 for both us when we could have driven to the top for $24. I admit that having a "tour guide" to point things out was nice but it wasn't $44 nice. I'd go to the top again in a heartbeat but I'd drive for sure. Also, I'd make absolutely sure I had a camera. I accidentally forgot both of our cameras in the car in my rush to get on the train and it made for a not very pleasant ride to the top. Thankfully I have a pretty good camera phone and got a few good shots that of which this one below is my favorite. It was suuuuuper cold (20's!) on the top as you can tell from your cold-weather gear. We had originally talked about climbing the mountain which I definitely wanted to do but with the short notice, the snow still on the mountain and the lack of preparation time we just weren't able to do so. It's one of my goals in life to someday climb Pikes Peak. While I'm there I fully intend on eating many more of the famous donuts.
I actually really loved Colorado and while we were driving around there I imagined bringing my boys back for a week and exploring the vast hiking trails they have and hanging out in towns like Manitou Springs. Of all the towns we visited, and spent any time in, I loved (so did Duvain) Manitou Spring the most. It felt like a small town with quirky shops and places to eat but it was close to everything. Going back there soon in high on my priority list.
The next few days of our road trip were scarred with some not-so-nice moments that I'd like to gloss over but it's just impossible to not talk about them in some form because even the shitty moments were part of the adventure. We left Colorado and headed to Billings, MT where one of my dearest friends lives. Duvain's back had been hurting him although it was on the mend and then he got a terrible abscess tooth that looked so horrible that it must have been really painful. We were stuck in a van driving in places neither of us had been to so we were out of our element and we're both a bit hard-headed and stubborn. It makes my heart sink a little when I think back about those wasted days where I was angry and he was angry. Those kinds of days happen to us all, right? Finally we got Duvain's tooth pulled (the worst pain he says he's every felt in his life), we got some rest at my friend's house and we got back on track. It wasn't easy but we made it work.
I have to give a HUGE thank you Melissa and her family for letting us stay with them. Melissa found Duvain a dentist on short notice and drove me around her beautiful city of Billings to get soup and other get-better things for him. Duvain had a comfortable place to rest and recuperate from having his tooth pulled and I think that made all the difference in the world. No one wants to be stuck in a car while in severe pain. (Thank you Mel for being a great friend, I miss you terribly!)
Once Duvain was feeling better we ventured out to the small town of Red Lodge, MT. I just looks all-American to me!
Just walking around this adorable little town made me want to pack my stuff up and move here. It was surrounded by beautiful mountains and clean, crisp air. In a few days time we were headed to Yellowstone National Park so we stopped at the local visitor's center in Red Lodge and were greeted with a wealth of Yellowstone information. The name of the married couple who helped us eludes me but I have to say they were so helpful that I think they made our trip that much better. I highly recommend stopping at the visitor center in any place you go to. We had such success getting information about camping, restaurants, maps and tons of other insider information that I don't think we could have gotten from the Internet or the guidebooks we brought.
This is the cool part of going on a road trip. Happening upon a huge iron sculpture of Gumby and Pokey was a total highlight of this trip for me. If I had the money and the space I'd have totally bought these guys to bring home with me. If you're ever in the Red Lodge area you have to stop and see the iron works that this man makes, you can't miss the place.
On our last full day in Montana, Melissa and her husband, Dean, took us on a lovely hike to the Custer National Forest to hike around the Sioux Charley Lake. We had a picnic lunch by the roaring rapids, looked out for bears (just in case) and just really had a lovely day. I did my first trail run on the way back (nearly 3 miles) just to see if I could do it. Duvain chased me while making bear noises to get me to keep moving as fast as I could! Nothing motivates me more than the sound of a fake bear chasing me!
We both really, really loved Montana. The mountains are glorious and the weather is beautiful in the Spring. Montana is definitely on my list of places to go to frequently. Also, if you go to Montana, or any other place with mountains, you MUST ride your bike down a mountain.
The Beartooth Highway Pass was the best route for us to take to Yellowstone but it was partially closed. The highway starts in Montana and works its way up the mountain and then you enter into Wyoming and work your way back down the mountain. The Montana side of the mountain was cleared of snow but the Wyoming side wasn't so we drove as far up the mountain as we could just to see the views and the insane amount of snow. (It blew my mind that there was multiple feet of snow when at home in Texas everyone was talking about 100 degree weather!)
On our way back down Duvain had the most brilliant idea for me to ride my bike back down the mountain and let me tell you IT WAS THE BEST IDEA EVER IN THE HISTORY OF IDEAS. I simply adore riding fast down a hill and this gave me the best ride of my life, hands down. I got to take in the scenery, feel the temperature change as I made my way down the mountain, go really fast and just take it all in. It was spectacular. Really, go try it.
The same night that we both rode bikes down mountains we slept on the side of the road on our way to Yellowstone in a little rest area. There were no cars, no houses and no lights around. There were, however, lots of stars in the sky so we climbed on top of the van and star gazed for a while just talking about whatever came up and it was simply perfect. I couldn't have ended our time in Montana any better.
This road trip was hard, we had our really crappy moments but we also had lovely moments where we counted shooting stars, laughed about the horrible food we had just eaten, invented the "curtain of doom" to keep light out of the van while we slept and explored countries and states together. I can't say it was a perfect trip but it was a learning experience and I'm so, so glad we did it together.
I was especially glad that we did it together when he happened across a bear in Yellowstone the next day...