Finding Yellowstone

It turned out that my camping spot in the forest up above the campground where I’d been the night before, though it had a beautiful view, was too close to the road. I knew that when I parked there, but I did it anyway. Cars drove by until a bit past midnight, and I was discomforted by every passing car.

I woke up pretty early and was on the road before 8:00. I made my way back down into Jackson and bought gas and ice. I was already headed out of town and, I’m not sure why, but offhandedly asked the cashier if I’d pass a grocery store headed north. This was a good thing. There were no stores that way. I headed back through Jackson and had turned down Broadway when I realized that I didn’t have the Diet Pepsi that I’d just put into my French press/coke mug. I returned to the gas station and there it was, sitting on the gas pump. This is not the first time that I’ve promised myself never to set the thing down anywhere but inside the camper. I’ll be really bummed if I lose that French press. Sure, I have another one in storage, minus the press part, which was lost in the fire. I’d just bought the thing when the house burned down and bought another almost immediately afterward. I managed to loot the carafe out of the ashes, but not the press part.

I found a grocery store and bought supplies, including a couple pounds of dry ice. I’m really tired of buying ice. Dry ice does help keep a bag of ice an extra day, and doesn’t take up nearly as much room. Of course, if you’re not careful, you freeze stuff. On this particular day, I froze pastrami, swiss cheese, and my eggs.

I was headed up the road, following signs to Yellowstone and, at least twenty miles before I expected it, there was the campground entrance. It’s hard to know precisely how far before I expected it this happened since Walden’s odometer died somewhere around Thermopolis. I showed the ranger my Annual Pass and Driver License and was waved through. My Park Pass was starting to pay off. This was a $25 fee that I didn’t have to pay. I was coming close to breaking even on this thing, and since I’d spent the $80 on the pass back in St. Louis, it felt like free money.

A while later, I pulled in to a welcome center and was very confused to see that I was over halfway through the park already. It was a pretty nice place, though, and there were showers, which could come in handy. After a while, I realized that at the top of the map I was looking at were the words “Grand Teton National Park.”

According to the map, there were 14 free camp sites near the far North end of the park known as Grand Teton. I could conceivably claim one of them and then head into Yellowstone the next day, but it was still before 10:00. I could probably find something in Yellowstone. I forged onward, and in just a while, I was at the Yellowstone park entrance. I showed another ranger my pass and license and saved another $25. Cha. Ching.

According to a sign, the first campground was ten miles up the road. A while later I pulled in to the Something Lake campground, parked Walden at B59, biked down the to entrance to fill out the paperwork, found a ranger (or campground host, more likely) to give me some change, and took my receipt back up the my spot.

I spent the next couple hours doing housekeeping. I learned, for example, that one of the cool lights that I haven’t been using has rechargeable batteries in it. I put them in the charger, though I didn’t get them charged since Walden’s auxiliary battery needed still more juice.

I also, yet again, reorganized the t-shirts. This time, I managed to get them all into the small pack I bought at the REI garage sale back in Fort Collins. All in one container and still segregated by size. This seemed like a pretty big improvement. While I was at it, I contrived to display a t-shirt out the rear window, which is already obscured from my view by a closet. I attached a business card with “$15” scrawled on it. I should probably just start giving them away to get them out of my life, but I spent $400 on them, so I’m reluctant to just dump them at Goodwill, as someone suggested.

Oh, and here’s good news. I looked in my little file that I stash receipts in and noticed a bunch of envelopes. Next to those envelopes were some bumper stickers. This is great news, since a few days ago someone found the bumper sticker order form on my site, and to my great surprise ordered two of them. I was unaware that I had any bumper stickers and had forgotten that the order form was there. I had to return the money and send an apology. I offered to send a t-shirt, but haven’t heard back, which made me feel all the more like a heel. With a little luck I can find a post office in a few days and the address and send them a couple free bumper stickers.

I moved a bunch more stuff into the dry box up on the roof and cleared up some more space. I have been frustrated that I have a bunch of stuff—and I’m not really sure what it is, stored in the back. It’s annoying, especially when I want to sleep downstairs because I’m being stealthy, or, as has been the case for the past while, it’s cold. I still don’t really know what the stuff is or why I have it.

The campground was starting to fill up. I saw a guy ride by on a motorcycle and asked if he’d found a place. He said that he thought his wife had. I told him that if he got stuck, he could set up his tent at my site. He gave a sincere thanks, and rode off.

A while later a Vanagon Westfalia drove by. They stopped to say hello, and we quickly learned that we were headed in somewhat similar directions. Greg turned engine went off. We talked some more. They were headed off to see those geysers that Yellowstone is so famous for. I asked if I could tag along, and next thing I knew, my bike and I were in the back of their Westy and headed for Old Faithful.

I was delighted. My plan for the day, which was pretty much the antithesis of a plan, was to bike over to the lake that was near the camp ground and maybe go on a hike or something. Now I was riding up the rode, nearly 20 miles, to geyserland. And, my new friend Heidi was navigating and had apparently done some research, like she knew where Old Faithful was. (Sure, it was plainly marked on the same map that I’d gotten at the gate, but I was going to wait a day to do something so rash as to drive there.

Having a tour guide, or, really, anyone else to make any decisions was a luxury that I had sort of forgotten about. We hit the visitor center and Heidi talked to the ranger. She figured out when the various geysers were supposed to be geysing and made a plan for when we should be when. All I had to do was walk with them.

The three of us had a great afternoon together. We saw this really cool lodge, had ice cream, and then enjoyed the geysers. Our geyser plan, as it turned out, didn’t work out. There were two near each other that were supposed to go off around the same time. As it turned out, the one that we went to first went off before we got there unbeknownst to us, so we waited for naught, and by the time we realized that we’d missed it, we missed the other one too. We then walked down a boardwalk and saw a bunch of pools of hot water. A bunch of really awesome pools of hot water. Then we waited for a while to see Old Faithful.

Along the way, we exchanged tips for being on the road. They’d been on the road for about a week. I complained about buying ice and they said that the thing to do was to get ice from fast food places. Most of them charge only a dollar. I’d remembered seeing signs to that effect in Knoxville, but don’t eat at fast food places, so it hadn’t occurred to me. OK, OK, OK, that’s not quite true. Chik-fil-a is a guilty pleasure, and I will sometimes eat at Arby’s. I do love me a potato cake.

The tip that I provided, was that you can park and camp for free in National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands. This is huge, especially for someone trying to do this thing on the cheap. These guys had done parked in casino lots a time or two, but telling them about the free camping in forests thing I felt like a wizened pro. And I’d shared this same advice with two people living out of their vehicles the day before in a coffee shop in Jackson Hole.

After our afternoon together, they dropped me off back at Walden. I showed them some of my proudest refinements, like the fridge removal (no one that I’ve met uses their fridge for anything but storage). My shoe holder is pretty cool too. I bid them farewell and set out to eat something for dinner.

Especially after spending a day in contact with other humans, I noticed that I feel a lot more alone in a campground than I do out in a forest somewhere. I considered taking a walk around to make contact with other humans around me, but it seemed like too much work, so I watched a stupid TV show on a laptop.

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