Day 17 – Telecommuting From My Conestoga Wagon

I had a few meetings to attend this day so I camped outside the west entrance where I seemed to have a decent signal. My dad referred to my working on the road as telecommuting from my Conestoga Wagon.

In honor of putting a contextual label to my working adventures, I present the modern day Conestoga Wagon/mobile office for trekking across the country….bear spray included!

In seeking out wifi, I came across a bakery, Ernie’s Deli, that has been in the area for over 30 years. The gentleman who took my order appeared to be the owner, and he spoke with a thick French accent. They had trays of croissants that looked just like the ones I had enjoyed when I was in France, and given I have been disappointed with most I have had since returning, I had to take the chance that these were the real deal. Boy were they ever! I don’t have any pictures as they didn’t last long enough.

In between meetings I explored more of the park. At one point I tried to attend a meeting up by the visitor center at the north gate. They had a wifi connection there, but not one good enough for me to attend the meeting. It was on Zoom so I’ll just listen to the recording when driving in an area with a decent signal. Instead I ended up enjoying the critters that were roaming about everywhere. I saw more bison too, but I couldn’t get any more pictures of them.

As the afternoon became early evening, it was time to head east again. I wanted to put my paddle board in on Lewis Lake, but the weather was taking a turn and the water became too choppy.

I hadn’t yet determined a route home, so I studied my atlas a bit and decided to exit through the east entrance. Just as I was leaving I spied these shoes, neatly arranged, by a stream. I am not sure why they were arranged in this manner, or where their mates were, but they begged to be memorialized.

Exiting the park I was quickly surrounded by mountains that shifted color. It was amazing how stark and beautiful the difference was.

Using the iOverlander app I decided to look for a place for the night. I need to be able to log into Zoom for a faculty interview tomorrow, so I tried to find a place relatively close to civilization. Fingers crossed I was right because the internet is sketchy enough to have me guessing!


Day 16 – Where the Wild Things Are

I awoke this morning to an amazing sunrise. Excited to explore the park, I started the descent from my overnight stay early, occasionally stopping to admire the view.

The trek down was only about six miles, but it was so rough that it took nearly 40 minutes. Along the way I ran into the breakfast club.

I entered the park a few minutes after 7am. I highly recommend arriving very early, leaving mid to late morning, and coming back in the evening. All the other times are too hot (in July at least) and too busy! Seeing the park in the evening is a game changer.

I entered from the north gate, so the first place I explored was Mammoth Hot Springs.

The ground in this area is unstable. There are warning signs everywhere to stay on the elevated or paved walkways.

Despite the dangers, some folks tempted fate. Sigh…

The water in some of the spots was incredibly clear despite being rather deep, yet in others it was opaque.

After leaving Mammoth Hot Springs I headed toward Norris Basin. Along the way I encountered this guy who held things up at least five miles back and apparently he made national news for his shenanigans! He clearly had zero cares to give about the situation.

Norris Basin looked like something out of a B rated sci-fi film.

There were several different hydrothermal features at this site, all fed by a supervolcano that last erupted around 631,000 years ago.

This site, like Mammoth Hot Springs, had both super clear and super murky areas. The various colors are contributed by the microorganisms that live in the waters.

The wildfires weren’t near Yellowstone, but they have previously left their mark on the landscape. As I mentioned in my previous post, fire is an important part of the forest ecosystem. The excerpt below is from the park newspaper I received when entering.

The thing I found so interesting is that they allow fires to burn as long as they don’t threaten the 2% of the park that is developed.

It is amazing just how many acres of burned forest you’ll see in Yellowstone. If you look closely you can see the rebirth taking place in the form of baby pines and wildflowers.

I tried to visit Old Faithful in the afternoon, but there was no way I was battling both the heat and the crowds. My mood was far too good for that so instead I drove on down to the Grand Teton National Park.

In returning to Yellowstone I decided to give Old Faithful another try, and for my patience I was rewarded with a great conversation with a Navy family and an extra geyser! I don’t know the name of the smaller one, but it was definitely a nice extra treat (first image, others are Old Faithful)!

After exploring for nearly 14 hours, I called it a night down a forest access road outside of the west entrance. I moved to the west gate because I had several Zoom meetings to attend in the morning, and I could get somewhat of a signal there.


Day 15 – I Wonder As I Wander

My first night of dispersed camping was a hit! I loved the spot so much that I ended up just chilling out for a few extra hours to enjoy the peaceful views.

When I finally got around to leaving, I set off toward Yellowstone National Park. In selecting that destination, I chose a scenic, back highway route. I still didn’t have an overnight plan, but I was leaning toward Gallatin National Forest. After stopping later in the day I honed my intention of staying just outside the north entrance of Yellowstone at a spot I found on iOverlander.

I stumbled upon a small town along my way and decided to grab a mocha. The menu board listed the daily special as ‘The Grizzly”, a concoction that included both chocolate and vanilla, so I opted for that instead. While waiting on my coffee, I spied a food truck called Mountain Berry Bowls. Anyone who knows me knows I cannot pass up the opportunity to check out a place that serves bowls of fruit, granola, and some soupy base, and this one did not disappoint!

I mentioned that I used iOverlander to find my second camp site. This is an awesome, volunteer run app that works off of GPS so it even works when internet is sketchy. Basically it crowd-sources camp sites and other resources like free wifi spots and scenic overlooks. The place I chose for my first night of dispersed camping wasn’t on the app so I added my first contribution to the iOverlander site!

Traveling the better part of the day with sketchy GPS hadn’t really bothered me, especially when that has been the norm for a good portion of my time west of the Mississippi. That was until I received a fire evacuation notice. I knew there were fires around me, and I knew they were growing. The smoke had been getting more dense, but I could not actually see a fire, although I wondered if a helicopter I saw while camped at the lake might be dropping water.

It wasn’t until almost an hour later that I was able to compare the location of the evacuation with my travel history. When I did I realized that I had been on the edge of the area being evacuated. Lesson learned….you don’t have to see fire, or rolling smoke, to be too close to a forest fire.

After turning off the interstate to head toward the north entrance of Yellowstone, I really had to push myself to concentrate on getting to my camping area. I passed so many places that would have been great paddle boarding spots that I would still be trying to get there had I stopped at even half of them!

I did finally find the place I had selected on iOverlander, a lovely spot near a babbling stream with shade! Not long after parking, several other cars came by also seeking camp space. Sorry folks, this one is mine!


Day 14 – Smoke, Inspections, and Bears, Oh My!

Today began with picking fresh blueberries before leaving Idaho, and deciding to head in the direction of Flathead Lake in Montana to see what I could see. As I set out, this was the first time I didn’t have any plans for where I was going to spend the night. While that made me nervous, I knew I had options, they were just new, and I needed to woman up to embrace them!

What should have been about a three hour drive quickly took most of the day because I took a meeting, stopped again to handle a bunch of emails, and well, I just had to take the scenic and inquisitive route.

There was also that time I had to slow down for a bear who was deciding if it was going to cross the road in front of me or not. I didn’t have time to grab a camera, but my friend Kerin sent this via text so it will have to suffice. I will say that the bear I saw was a bit darker brown, and not quite as tall as this one.

At one of my stopping places a gentleman started asking how I liked the van. I showed him what I had done with it, and he recommended I stop at the forest ranger station about 10 miles up the road to get information on dispersed camping. On a side note, did you know this is National Forest Week?

The person at the station wasn’t familiar with the area I was headed, but she gave me some resources and suggested I stop at the next ranger station for more help. In the meantime, I took a bunch more pictures!

As I got closer to the next ranger station the air became hazy with smoke from the forest fires. I could sorta smell them at the first station, but they were quite evident at my next stop. It smelled like a campfire. Everywhere. While it is sad and concerning that there are fires, I have to remind myself that the ones started by nature are part of the natural circle of life, and an important part of the ecosystem.

At the second ranger station I ended up talking with a gentleman who had been fighting some of these fires and he had a lot of information to share. He was very familiar with where I was headed as he had been assigned to that area previously. He said that the Flathead region was in pretty good shape and that I should be able to find camping. He also asked if I had any bear repellent, which I did not, so he suggested I pick some up at the Mangy Moose Mercantile just up the road. I got the last one.

Idaho and Montana are having trouble with the introduction of invasive mollusks in their waterways, so everyone with a watercraft has to stop for an inspection. I stopped in Idaho and they only asked a few questions, but in Montana they inspected my paddle board which meant I had to do a bit of unpacking. The inspector said it was very clean! I try, thank you, and then he issued me an inspection receipt. If I put it in the water, I still need to get a permit, but I couldn’t get it without the inspection. You can get in a LOT of trouble if you bring extra critters to Montana’s waterways.

I still didn’t have an overnight location settled, so I headed on to Flathead Lake. Along the way the smoke became more dense so the rest of my pictures have really subdued color.

After driving around the lake, which took well over an hour (a beautiful hour), I headed into Flathead National Forest to find a place to call my home for the night. You can stay in a National Forest, anywhere you like, as long as you adhere to current restrictions related to not disturbing the natural area and fire precautions. For my stay I had to be no more than 300 feet from the road, and I could not have a camp fire or open flame cooking. Additionally I had to park in a dirt only area, not over any vegetation since it is so dry and subject to catching fire with little provocation.

The difficult part was keeping my nerves at bay as I looked for an access road to enter the forest but I couldn’t find one. I contemplated several Plan B, C, and D options because I am THAT nerd, but all of a sudden a sign appeared directing me up a gravel road into the forest! This was a logging access road, but I decided it was to be my driveway for the night. I then proceeded to drive about 20 minutes before landing on paradise.

Welcome to my home away from home!


Day 13 – Headed East-ish Again

I wanted to put some miles on this day so that I could take advantage of some of the beautiful sights in Montana over the next few days. I logged just under 500 miles, and came to rest at a blueberry farm in Idaho. In that time I went from temps in the low 50’s to mid-90’s!

The owner, Stan, is quite the character. I parked my van between rows of raspberry bushes, and spent some time talking to some of the other folks who were staying there. I met a couple from Arizona who had lots of great advice on how to navigate the next couple of days as I wander my way home.

This was another Harvest Hosts site, but they did not have an expectation that you purchase anything. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to some U-pick blueberries and other goodies from their little store. Picking blueberries, and shopping in the store are on the honor system. you literally just write down what you take and put the money in the box!

As I laid my head down for the night, I was not certain what the next day would be. I was contemplating going to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, or Flathead Lake. I guess you’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out where I went!


Days 10, 11, and 12 – Mother-Son Adventures

We started our morning leaving Camano Island by stopping for breakfast sandwiches at the little community business area. From there our next destination was to be a goat farm.

When we arrived at the goat farm it was kind of hot, and it was definitely a hard-working farm. We walked around a little bit, but Thadeus was not enthralled. We went back to the van and I pulled out a set of playing cards I had purchased for just such an occasion. Each card had a question, and we took turns drawing cards and answering the questions. It was a really great way to catch up on a lot of things that had happened in our lives since Thadeus left for the Navy. We also had the opportunity to try several goat cheeses and caramels that were made there at the farm.

The next day we explored, the seacoast, took in a self-guided tour of the Tillamook factory, and then proceeded on to an alpaca farm. In retrospect I wish I had taken Thad to a winery or lavender farm, but he had been so outspoken about not liking either wine or lavender that I steered clear of them with him. I think he would have enjoyed them more than the animal farms, although the was pretty happy to be around the animals at the second farm. Had I started making plans back in early spring instead of only 6 weeks in advance, I could have secured more campground style camping. As it was, I got the last spot at Camano Island.

After spending the night at the alpaca farm, I spent some time at Thad’s apartment doing laundry and taking advantage of a strong internet connection to get caught up on some school work. A few hours later it was time for him to go to bed to reacclimate for night shift, so I set out on the road to continue my adventures.

This was actually the “hump day” of my trip. I had 11 days behind me, and 11 days in front of me. This was also the day I rolled 4,000 miles since leaving Southern Indiana. Since I had a week and a half to wander my way back home, I decided to head back into Washington, and check out another lavender farm on the western side of the state.

This farm had a wonderful setup. I was able to park alongside the field, enjoy having wi-fi, and listen to some super chill music while walking the field wrapped in a blanket. It seems strange to speak of wrapping up in a blanket in July, but it was in the mid-50’s! I had just picked up a cool blanket Thad’s wife had made for me, so it was perfect timing to put my beautiful new blanket to use!

7/12 – 14/2021

Day 8 and 9 – Thadeus and More Things that Go Bump in the Night

This morning, after watching the sunrise over the four mountain peaks, and spying on dozens of sleeping bumble bees, I set out to pick up Thadeus.

Landing at Thadeus’ place for a few hours allowed me to get some laundry done. We chatted over coffee while he packed and the laundry finished, and by 1030, we were on the road. He is a night shifter so the plan was for him to sleep while I drove, but we ended up talking nearly the entire six hour drive to northern Washington. Not long after we arrived, he crashed!

I woke up in the middle of the night and found a package on the floor that I had never seen before. I assumed that it was something Thadeus had brought and just not seen earlier so I put it in his drawer and went back to sleep. When morning came around I mentioned it to him and he had no idea what I was talking about. I dug it out and discovered that it was an open bottle of generic chocolate syrup wrapped in two plastic bags. Neither of us have any idea how it ended up in our van overnight.

After not being able to solve the mysterious appearance of the chocolate syrup, we decided to take a short hike. Our campsite was fairly secluded, while at the same time it was only about a ten minute walk to the river.

Thad’s haircut is a far cry from what it was the last time I saw him. He told me that he hadn’t had one since before the COVID lockdown. His wife is out of town, but he says he is getting cleaned up before she returns in a week so we shall see!

Our next destination was about 90 minutes away so we took our time and decided to stop at a local dinner/bar type place for lunch. We ended up having the best salads ever! Thad’s had balsamic drizzled beets and candied pecans. Not bad for a place where you would normally expect to find two or three variations on chicken fingers and a burger or two. The menu actually had several really great sounding options.

Upon arriving to Camano Island we discovered a neat little business area that housed the local library, as well as a number of area businesses including a yoga and wellness studio! We grabbed lattes and walked around a bit before heading on to the state park to find our camping spot.

Once we set up camp, I pulled out my new backgammon set and taught the boy how to play. He then proceeded to kick my butt a few times… clearly that didn’t go quite as planned.

After that we decided to take a walk. We were pretty close to the beach so we went down and enjoyed watching several eagles hunting for dinner. At one point they honed in on a couple of small dogs, but the presence of people seemed to keep them from actually diving in although they did get within 30 feet while checking them out.

The eagles would swoop down to the edge of the water and then take off to the trees behind us. On one of the trips back to the trees a tail feather fell through the air. I was taking pictures, but managed to miss catching the floating feather.

7/10 – 11/2021

Day 7 – Sleeping In and Drinking Up

With my drive from the berry farm to my next location only expected to be a few hours, I took the opportunity to sleep in a bit, and have a nice slow morning. I had picked some raspberries and blueberries the night before, and had them for breakfast with some granola and coconut creamer.

While I was eating breakfast, the woman who owns the farm came out to greet us. When we had arrived the evening before she was not around, rather we were settled in by her daughter. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we asked why she would not allow us to purchase any of the berries, and she explained to us that it was part of her Hawaiian heritage to share her beautiful space and the bounty of her crops.

I leisurely finished up breakfast while overlooking the mountains, stowed on my gear, and set out for my next destination, a winery less than an hour from Thadeus.

When I arrived at the winery I was greeted by one of the owners and directed to a wonderful flat spot up near their house so I could take advantage of the shade. Not being a “normal” rig means I lack some creature comforts like air conditioning. This location also gave me an amazing view of Mt. St. Helen, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Ranier all at once!

I was told to settle in and that we would be treated to a wine tasting at 7:00. This gave me plenty of time to eat some dinner, tidy up the van, and grab a short nap.

I walked down to the event space to find tables set with charcuterie platters and wine glasses. Over the next two hours we learned about how they grow their grapes, their distribution through local chefs as well as their plans in Florida. We also learned about their lavender crops and got to experience a bit of their chocolatier magic!

The last wine of the evening was a dessert pinot served with a belgian dark chocolate spread made with hazelnuts grown less than 10 miles away (think Nutella but waaay better). I made sure to pick up a couple jars of this chocolate hazelnut delight, and if you are nice enough, I just might be willing to share a spoonful with you!


Day 6 – A Berry Chill Day

Today I had a shorter, but unbelievably beautiful drive. First, however, I had to log in for a meeting. My remote office for this meeting just happened to be the lavender field I had just slept in.

Before the meeting I decided I wanted to try to catch some pictures of the bumblebees in the lavender. Purely out of luck I was able to capture the image above. I shared it with the farm owners and they asked if they could share it to their Facebook page! As the sun continued to rise I moved from the center of field over to the side so I could enjoy the shade as my meeting progressed.

There was a lake nearby, but time was not going to allow me to explore putting the paddle board in the water. Instead I needed to set my sights traveling through Washington and into Oregon. My destination was a berry farm near Mt. Hood.

When I arrived I was greeted by the owner’s daughter and directed toward the back side of their shop. My camping space for the evening would be between the cows and the blueberries. I had a couple of neighbors who made for positively delightful conversation, and I got a whole lot of ideas about how to pull off working life on the road.

Typically when you stay with Harvest Hosts part of the arrangement is that you partake of your host’s business. At this farm, however, we were told to go out and pick whatever we wanted. I later learned from the owner it was part of her Hawaiian heritage to share the bounty of their harvest, and the beauty of their location. She did not want us to purchase anything, rather she only wanted us to share in her good fortune.

I picked some berries for breakfast the next day, and as the sun went down, turned in for a good night’s sleep.


Interlude – What Five Hours Looks Like

I have received a lot of questions about how I built out the van and how long it took. The short answer is it took me 5 hours to pull everything together and have it all packed. The long answer is I had been planning it for about 6 weeks.

I cannot pinpoint exactly when I decided I was going to drive instead of fly to see my son, but it was sometime mid-spring 2021. I started looking at RVs to rent, but the more I looked the more I realized by the time I paid for the rv, the fuel, and all of the mileage overage, that I could not justify the expense.

I started watching YouTube videos and Tiktoks, and came to the decision that I would rent a cargo van from a car rental company, take advantage of the unlimited mileage that would come with it, and come up with some sort of temporary build out that I could use in place of an RV. Knowing that I had zero experience with this, I spent a lot of time reading and watching videos.

For several weeks leading up to my departure, I would purchase and arrange various items in the living room based on the dimensions of the smallest Ford Transit. Since I was renting from a car rental agency, I was going to be at the mercy of what they had the day I picked up my vehicle.

Despite laying things out several times, I knew that I would not really be able to know how things would work out for me until I actually had my van in hand. The day before I was scheduled to leave I went over to the car rental agency and picked up a Dodge Promaster. It had been recently returned by a contractor who had used it to haul stones. It was filthy! To get the van ready for me, they literally hosed out the interior.

I knew that I wanted to build some kind of a platform for my bed so that I could use the space underneath for storage. After tossing around several different ideas, I decided to try to use sawhorses. I found these awesome folding sawhorses, and used some 2x6x8 pieces of wood I found in the basement that had been left by the previous owners. All that was left was to figure out how to secure the cot to this contraption so that I could climb in and out, and sleep, without falling. I had purchased some bungee cords to help secure my drawer units in transit, so I decided to use the extras to see if I could secure my bed.

With the exception of the few days that I am traveling with my son, this is a working vacation. I have my laptop, and I have printed out my Outlook calendar. Basically I have turned the front passenger seat into my mobile office. It even looks about as organized as my office at school!

Knowing that I would be staying at Harvest Hosts sites, I needed to be fully self-contained. To that end I built a makeshift sink, and I purchased a portable potty. I did not have the space on the van for a shower, but there are plenty of opportunities to get cleaned up using my Planet Fitness membership and truck stops.

Since I would be spending three full weeks on the van, I also knew that I needed it to be somewhat decorated. There is no way I was going to stay in that space without adding a personal touch.

It isn’t perfect, in fact it is a bit of an engineering nightmare, but it is working well enough. It also makes for a great conversation piece as I meet new people.

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