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“Continue on I-80”

Dear Friends,

We’ve had smoother starts to trips. 😉 

No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces. Only the layman believes that in the course of a campaign he sees the consistent implementation of an original thought that has been considered in advance in every detail and retained to the end.

~ 1871, Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

In February, our real planning for a summer as volunteers in Grand Teton National Park began. There is paperwork to complete for the HR staffing department and our own checklists get dusted off and posted on the refrigerator. 

In March, a departure date is coordinated with our boss. Research collar data in Yellowstone and Grand Teton starts popping up as male grizzlies begin leaving their dens. The snow has remained deep this year, slowing their anticipated arrival in the valley. At home, we anxiously await warmer, or at least dryer days so we can begin washing the trailer inside and out, and restocking can begin.

During our dewinterizing (clearing anti-freeze from the water lines) the trailer in early April, we discover a major leak with our water pump, initiating a frantic call to the manufacturer repair facility in Jackson, Ohio. Thank goodness they can fit us in on our way west. We need to leave a day early. Both of the faucets in the trailer are misbehaving with very low flow. We soak them in vinegar in hopes of clearing minerals but the impact is small. Maybe the repair techs can help?

We also discover that as a result of losing power to the house several times due to wind storms, the heat pump for Dave’s office needs a motherboard, now on backorder. I learn to repair screens in the trailer. I install replacement security cameras on the house, also victims of the power outages. 

Kathy’s brother Kevin helps Dave to MacGeyver a solid bracket to hold our portable weather station (which by the way is named “BBJ” after the black bear nicknamed Big Booty Judy that loves to hang around String Lake in Grand Teton. What do you think of that as a name for our Airstream??
Airing Out, Washing Off, Loading Up — preparations are underway for a new season

Two days before our day of departure, I’ve completed preparing make-ahead meals for the road and loaded in the groceries for the trip. It is our first warm day, in the upper 70’s! The rig gets a nice bath while the perfume of daffodils wafts on the spring breeze. That day, Dave notices from his wi-fi thermometers that the fridge is not working. In fact, the new refrigerator, installed in November at the mothership is popping its circuit breaker!

Aack!! There was no easy way to bring food and keep it out of the way of repairs. New plan. 

Dave will take the trailer to Ohio solo, stopping at his brother’s campground in western Pennsylvania for a quick family visit and a chance to exercise the holding tanks. Then return for me and the food. Our egress takes us through football traffic for the Penn State exhibition game and then a few miles on to pick up good ol’ Interstate 80. 

Penn State Blue and White game tailgaters — we will run into Nebraska’s Red & White game traffic later in the week!

Rain and light fog makes for some miserable driving, but Dave arrives in Ohio on schedule. The techs pull the trailer into the work bay bright and early and get to work. In the fastest repair visit ever, Dave is back on the road the same afternoon. He has the chance to try out the RV-Only parking spots in an Ohio Turnpike rest area while watching snow fall. It gets a thumbs up. 

Dave actually had a good night’s rest at this rest stop in Ohio

While Dave completes his mission, I have a few of my own. I have a request to create artwork for roadside signage in the areas bears frequent along the road near Togwotee Pass, and have some fun playing with sandwich board ideas. I trouble shoot and repair the security camera issues. Expel a pair of robins setting up housekeeping in the midst of bird spikes in the patio rafters (and discover that Blue Jays have been using the coils of camera power cord to stash their peanuts from our neighbor’s feeder!). I am excited to be here long enough to see spring arrive in my garden with the emergence of azalea, cherry, and bleeding heart blossoms, and the shoots for lupine, iris, cone flowers, hostas, daisies, spiderwort, delphinium, and my beloved peonies. Best of all though, I use the extra time to fit in a spring flower walk with a neighbor at the college arboretum and another meal with very good friends. 

Bleeding Heart, one of my favorite spring flowers

My delay also means that I am at the house when our local police stop by on the Vacation Home Check I signed up for. We had a very nice chat, and I was able to ask for tips that would make his job easier — such as should the curtains be open or closed? He gave me a surprising tip that I am happy to pass to you — booby trap the windowsills! When someone uses a window to break in, they knock stuff off the sill and never put it back when they leave. A pile of stuff on the floor under a window is a big clue something is amiss. I spend an afternoon rounding up tchotchkes to set on the sills.

The State College Police Department offers free Vacation Home Checks while we are gone. It is easy to sign up online!

Dave’s return and backing into the driveway goes so quickly and smoothly we have to laugh, remembering that the first time we did it. Originally, it took almost a half hour, between automotive and foot traffic, and our own inexperience. We waste no time getting clothes and food reloaded into the trailer. We sleep well.

Departure Day +4: hard decisions are made regarding what to bring in the truck bed and what stays. This year the folding bike comes, but the grill and an extra sewer hose stay home. A quick run to an auto supply store and I have hopefully solved newly discovered leaks under the tonneau cover with new weather stripping. Loaded up, we pull out of the neighborhood at the crack of 4pm!

Just 1,799 miles to go on I-80 before our first turn to head north into the park
Dave’s brother Pete’s camping resort is an easy on and easy off the highway stopover — we arrived during a busy opening weekend!

Back on I-80 we’ll stop at Peter’s campground again, but first a side trip to the truck scales. The good news is we are under the weight limit — just! I do marvel that each year I take things out of the trailer as they did not prove their worth, and yet somehow, the final weight is usually at ~100 pounds under max. Huh.

Normally, we set our daily travel distance between 300-350 miles. To make up some time and thread the weather needle, we push on to 400+ miles several days. We do miss most of the precipitation from the severe weather sliding across the country, but we cannot out drive the winds. Headwinds reduce our average mileage from 12 mpg when towing to an abysmal 9 mpg! This is an expensive trip! After each fuel stop, the friendly GPS voice exhorts us to “Continue on I-80”.

We stop for the night to let severe weather roll through ahead of us.

Outside of North Platte Nebraska we stop at a wonderful Harvest Host, the Pals Brewery. A dinner of nachos, pizza, and a flight of dark beers is the perfect treat after a very long day on the road. We even debate about getting a takeout order of nachos for dinner tomorrow! 

A light dusting of snow covers the truck in the morning. On paper the plan is to stop near Cheyenne, WY. However we are not happy with the available options for stopping for the night, so we push on to the stop planned for the following night in Rock Springs. This is our last day hearing the ‘Continue on I-80’ song.

There is an amazing amount of wildlife out the truck window as we tick off the miles. Dozens of wild turkeys, two coyotes, a fox, bald eagles flying or in nests, swarms of redwing blackbirds, perched hawks, Great Egrets, Blue Herons, ducks, geese, birds with wings outstretched to catch warming rays on cold mornings. The first pronghorn appear at the Wyoming border.

snow at the Nebraska / Wyoming border
Jumping ahead a little – there are some elk still hanging out on the Elk Refuge in Jackson — my only wildlife shot on the trip so far

Dave foresaw at the start of the trip that another mountain storm would roll through the parks and the Wind River Range just as we arrived in the area, adding to their already impressive snow cover. Approaching from the south allows us to cross at the lowest elevation pass in the area, and experience rain instead of heavy snows. 

The campground we are staying at will host the national Airstream rally in a few months. For now, it is first come, first served, and the campground caretaker tells us to park anywhere. It is 30 degrees and the wind is whipping. We choose a spot, get backed in and level, and discover that it takes every inch of the sewer hose to reach the ground connection. The power block is juuuuuust out of reach of our shorter 50 amp cable, and so we use our selection of dog bone connectors to hook up the longer 30 amp cable.  Dave is too lazy to unload the truck all the way to retrieve our longer (and heavier!) 50 amp cable.  And then we discover that our row of campsites does not have water! The park is not sure if we’ll have potable water in camp when we arrive so we wanted to arrive ready to be self sufficient. Ugg!

We wait in camp for the storms to pass to our north. Dave sets up our portable weather station and tracks the gusts that are rocking the rig a bit, broadcasting the data live on the internet. The grim traffic cam imagery from Togwotee Pass confirms we made the right choice!

For one reason or another, the faucets remain anemic. And now we wake to discover that the fantastic fan in the ceiling and bedroom clothes locker lights do not function. After checking every connection and breaker we could think of, Dave calls Airstream tech support for ideas on what else to check. They have some helpful ideas, but a solution is not found. 

Frustration will not help the situation, but it is hard to keep it from creeping up. Soon we have yet another new plan, with more troubleshooting steps for the plumbing and electrical issues once we arrive in Grand Teton.

Onward we go, through graupel, snow, rain, and fog to arrive under sunny skies in the visitor center parking lot to meet our boss to check in and pick up our radios, keys, etc. How wonderful to spend some time soaking up the warm sun, taking in the snow covered mountain views, and catch up with Justin! It is just a glorious way to end the trip. We’re home!

We could see how quickly animal fences along the roadway fail their function when the snow piles up, leaving mere inches of fence post revealed, or not at all!
driving through an avalanche zone
signs of past snow slides

As I pen this note I have to chuckle — sitting in the cab of the truck we joked that we’d like a penny for every time we heard “Continue on I-80”. It seemed to be the only thing that did not change for the whole trip! I think we rolled with the punches pretty well.

Oh, and the overhead fan and lights work. They fixed themselves while stationary — go figure! 😀 

A Very Happy Man!
Pulling into Moose to link up with our boss
We have the Visitor Center in Moose to ourselves. We enjoy standing outside (after sitting for 7 days), loving the view and soaking up the sunshine — we end up a little sunburned! 😀
We made it!!!!
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2 thoughts on ““Continue on I-80”

  1. What a scramble! I feel tired just reading it! And you missed nothing by rolling past Cheyenne. I had a rather dismal night at the best option I could find. I’m glad you got there safely. Enjoy the season!

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