Day One: Sunday, May 20th, Billings, MT

Columbus, MT, actually. Itch-Kep-Pe Park specifically.

We hit the road at 4:20 this morning and drove for 14 hours through the flatlands of Minnesota and North Dakota, to make it here to our first stop, a free city campground on the Yellowstone River. This is the only place we will be without a reservation until we get back home.

Originally, this was going to be a seat-of-the-pants trip. See what happens. Free and easy.

As soon as we realized that we’d be hitting the Oregon Coast on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend, the bubble burst and we succumbed to a more structured itinerary. All reservations, all the time. No wiggle room. Also no stress about where or when we’ll finally lay down our exhausted and probably crabby heads each night. Freedom held aloft on the scaffolding of forward thinking.

Day One and the lure of a free park in the middle of nowhere, Montana, however, seemed like a risk worth taking, and here we are. The whole park could benefit from a lawn mower, but groundskeeping nitpicking aside, it’ll do just fine. The zippers are snugged down tight, and I’d better not wake up to a snake sharing my pillow.

The trip so far has been fairly uneventful. Of course there have already been hiccups, but we expect a healthy dose whenever we leave home.

Or stay home.

Hiccups are our jam.

All week Scott’s been working with my dad to resurrect and recharge the AC in the van. It gave out near the Montana border. For about an hour it was… cool. And then it was… done.

Also, the windshield is slightly more ornate than it was when we left home. And for this we are thankful.

A few weeks ago, a friend regaled us with stories of his recent trip out West, and how he had made the mistake of replacing his chipped windshield right before setting out for thousands of miles on 80 MPH highways. We glanced at one another and took note. Two bitty chips and a coast-to-coast crack already decorated the front view, but the tales of Dave’s new canvas instantly pocked gave us cause to put off our own replacement til after our own Westward Ho.

And all it took was one kind North Dakota trucker passing us at 90 to provide us with confirmation. We now have two small chips, one complete roadmap across the windshield, and one pleasant starburst giving character to the driver’s side. Thanks, Dave.

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The Crew admiring the North Dakota Badlands

We did a drive-by on Teddy Roosevelt this morning. Visitor center, canyonside Badlands photo-ops, and a few prairie dog sightings. Enough to jog the memories of our last stop here, and then back on the road. No time to linger. Many miles before we sleep and all that.

We’re borrowing my brother’s tunnel tent for this trip, a Walmart knockoff of REI’s infamous Kingdome. It packs much smaller than our beast, and promises much more comfort and family togetherness (and airflow) than our two Boundary Waters tents. So far, upon first setup, we love it. Too bad it’s not ours. 😦

Here at Itch-Kep-Pe, the Yellowstone is high and mighty, flowing like band of raging stallions. Even swishing the toes in at the submerged boat landing feels brave and stupid. It’s a sight to behold though, like a video at double speed.

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The Yellowstone High Speed Conveyor Belt

Already everyone has spotted the majestic and opportunistic Magpie, the ironic hybrid of the Turkey Vulture and the Bird of Paradise, so we’re far enough from home to be feeling a little exotic. Bring it on.

We’re ready for Leg 2,
KJ


The Whole Enchilada:

 

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