Adventures in Road Tripping Part 1: Conquering the Wilderness

The Good FellasSo as I’d mentioned in my last post, I was hitting the road for a 15-day road trip across the country. Well….those 15 days ended up morphing into 17 which almost turned into an indefinite stay in California. Leave it to me to fall in love with the promise of year-round warm weather, sun, sand, and one of my best friends.

But wait…since I know how much you loved the thrill and suspense of my Mexican shenanigans, let’s dive into the ridiculousness of my adventure across the country. From the wilderness of Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park to the cities of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA, San Diego and every podunk shut-down-at-9pm town in between, our 17 days were packed full of adventure. Commence the epic journey of two wise guys, or “The Good Fellas” as we would become known as thanks to a homeless caricature artist that we’d meet in a bar in San Diego. 

After finally hitting the road only 4 hours later than planned thanks to oversleeping on our beauty sleep, running some last minute errands (i.e. grabbing snacks for the road), and trying to hand off apartment keys and pick up belongings from unresponsive friends, we were finally off. Day 1 was upon us, and we were determined to make it to Mount Rushmore. According to Google Maps it was only a 14 hour drive. With our lead feet, we were sure we could do it in 12, even with stopping for gas and to let my friend’s newly-adopted puppy out to tinkle. We could do it, right?

Nope.

As we neared Mount Rushmore (and by neared I mean closing in on 3-4 hours out), it was already getting dark. Part of it was our fault. We’d found a restaurant on Yelp! called Minerva’s Grill in Sioux Falls on our way…or the “Nervous Gorilla” as we nicknamed it. Tomato, tomahtoe. Minerva’s Grill, Nervous Gorilla…sounds the same. Needless to say, it turned out to be the bougiest restaurant in town. Good choice. Go us.

10450357_10107259095990334_7037150108873762360_nWith high hopes of camping, we decided it might not be in our best interests to attempt to set up a tent that neither of us city-boys had never pitched before even in daylight. We opted for the hotel route and called it a night about 30 minutes away from the monument in Rapid City, South Dakota and checked it out the next morning.

Mount Rushmore: Check

An underwhelming “check” but a check nonetheless. Not as exciting as we expected, but based on the number of tour buses of old people arriving as we were leaving it was apparently a bucket list item that we were able to check off early.

And off we went. With warnings from my grandpa about a multitude of bear sightings, it was time to see some wildlife. It was high time we met Yogi and Boo Boo. That’s right, Yellowstone, we’re coming for you!

Nothing could stand in our way.

Well…except for maybe an 80-mile stretch of backwoods highways with no gas stations.

I mean, come on now. Whose brilliant idea was it to not install gas stations for 80 miles? Some people (i.e. The Good Fellas) don’t think to look up things like “how far is it to the next gas station” when we’re about to pass an exit with 40 miles left until empty? Is it too much to ask for a good exit with a Starbucks and a healthy-ish fast food restaurant option? If we pass a dumpy exit, there just HAS to be a good one in a few miles, right?

Wrong.

Here we were, 40 miles from the two closest exits when the gas light started flashing less than 30 miles to empty. Last I checked, 40 minus 30 was 10. Ten freaking miles to walk – EACH DIRECTION – to get gas.

In. The. Middle. Of. Nowhere.

Cue the Google searching of “Does a Nissan Juke have a reserve fuel tank.”

The answer: No. Of course not. Why would something requiring premium gasoline have a reserve tank? Surely the owners of such a fine piece of machinery wouldn’t ever let it get below half a tank.

This is when my detective skills kicked into high gear though. Knowing that we’d put about 10 gallons of gas in every time the gas light had come on right before we filled the tank, I looked up how big the gas tank in a Juke was. Perks of working for an auto parts store when you’re 16. With a total capacity of 11.8 gallons, we were golden. Even averaging 20 miles per gallon, we’d make it to the next town.

10696186_10107169433354974_7306953340402574815_nFingers crossed and driving in eco mode to get the best gas mileage possible, we rolled into the closest town running on fumes.

Literally.

11.896 gallons. That is 0.096 gallons more than the capacity of the tank. Literally running on fumes. You could say we like to live on the edge.

So off we went again…never to let it creep below 1/4 tank again (haha riiiiiiiiight…who am I kidding?).

It’d been years (11 to be exact) since I’d been to Yellowstone – and the last time I was with my family in an RV vs. with a friend in an AWD Nissan Juke – I had no idea what we were in for. I knew the plan was to hike, camp, and cook over a campfire, but that was about all I knew. Little did I know we’d be going off-roading, camping in below-freezing temperatures, and making hand-pressed buffalo burgers. Talk about adventurous.

We arrived at Yellowstone and checked into our campsite about an hour or two before last call (for firewood – never fear, we’d brought enough alcohol to stock a bar…well, at least a whiskey bar). Of course, our campsite would prove to be one of the few in the whole park WITH NO SHOWER FACILITIES. Talk about roughing it. Whatever. If we were going to be butch mountain men (for two days) we were going to go balls to the wall and do it right…and not shower. After pitching our tent, we drove 28 miles roundtrip to the closest grocery store to buy some fresh-ground buffalo meat, stuff for omelettes, and (most importantly) ingredients for s’mores. Talk about a commute. Ouch. On the way back, we stopped back to the equivalent of the concierge desk to pick up some firewood then high-tailed it to our campsite and set about building a fire. It was time to cook, and we were some hungry mo-fo’s.

Let’s just say it’s a good thing you can’t contract Mad Cow Disease from a buffalo burger because cooking things thoroughly is apparently NOT our forte. Whoops?

So those “below-freezing temperatures.” Right. About that…

In a nutshell, buying a mummy-style sleeping bag that’s rated for 0-20 degree temperatures is probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. Not checking the weather forecast for the trip is probably one of the dumbest decisions I’ve ever made. Neither of us had really packed for cold weather. Sure, we’d brought along jeans, sweatshirts, a light jacket, and boots, but the boots were more for going out vs. roughing it in the snow though.

Yes. Snow. In September. What the actual fuck.

Here we were, camping and roasting marshmallows IN THE SNOW. Snow. S-N-O-W. That four-letter curse word commonly associated with Chiberia followed us to Yellowstone. Gross.

We survived though.

Over the course of the next two days, we’d experience snow, sun, rain, and everything in between. Talk about experiencing all four seasons in a matter of 48 hours. It was all worth it in the end though. To experience Yellowstone in general was truly breathtaking. The whole “you’ll appreciate it more when you’re older” thing never really clicked until this point. Sure, I’d been here before, but when you’re 15 the last thing you want to do is hike a boardwalk looking at mud pits and geysers that reek of rotten eggs in sweltering 90-degree heat when you could be sitting in an RV playing video games and watching Austin Powers. When you’re almost 27 though it’s completely different. You actually do appreciate it. See mom, you were actually right all along.

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After two days in Yellowstone, we were ready to move on and see what Glacier National Park had to offer. Despite my mom’s warnings of “Drive careful! There’s winter storm warnings in Glacier National Park right now!” we hit the road. Sure enough, when we got to the park entrance we learned we could only go 28 miles in because the road was closed due to snow. You’d think they’d be prepared with snowplows when the word “Glacier” is in the name of the park, but apparently not.

In a matter of 28 miles, however, we’d not only see some of the most spectacular views ever…and manage to get pulled over for speeding. Leave it to us to not notice that the speed limit dropped from 75 outside the park to 35 inside. Whoops? Thanks for the warning though, officer!

After checking Glacier National Park off our list, we headed for Kalispell, Montana – one of the closest “cities” to the park – where we’d crash for the evening…and have one of the best meals ever. Thanks to Yelp! (again), we found a highly-recommended restaurant in the town of nearly 20,000 where the yak burger received rave reviews.

Yes, you read that right….a yak burger.

I’ve heard of turkey burgers, buffalo burgers (obviously), Kobe Beef burgers, veggie burgers, but NEVER a yak burger.

Bring. It. On.

Meanwhile, this is all we could think of in anticipation of the yak we were determined to ingest.

Since the town shut down at 9pm, we put the pedal to the metal and made our way to Hop’s Downtown Grill. We were on a mission to try this yaaaaaak burger and a few local brews. Sure enough, it was life-changing. We’ve been on the hunt for yak burgers ever since.

With two national parks and a national monument under our belt, we were ready for cell phone reception, four-lane highways, and civilization in general. Next up was the west coast. Only a few more hours of driving stood between us and Seattle where we would settle in for a few days of shenanigans. I mean, after roughing it in the wilderness for several days we were ready.

 

To be continued…

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