Tag Archives: camping

The Little Big Horn

During our Trip of a Lifetime, we did not visit a single place that did not generate conversation around the supper table or campfire at the end of the day.  We discussed the bone chilling truths of the Minuteman Missile Historical Site in Interior, South Dakota; the treasures found in the Buffalo Bill Museums in Cody, Wyoming; the mystical metric system we encountered in Canada; and the incredible talent of a twelve-year-old female fiddle player in Mountain View, Arkansas.  From man-made history and marvels to the beauty carved by the hand of God in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota; Banff National Park, Canada; Glacier National Park, Montana; and Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, we spoke of it all, sometimes with excitement and sometimes in reverent awe.  Yet, the stop that generated the most conversation, immediately and for many days afterwards, was The Battle of the Little Big Horn National Park in Montana.  The place where Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the United States 7th Calvary met their Waterloo June 26, 1876.

The Little Big Horn Battlefield challenged every belief we held of the famous battle.  Although we did not realize it until we surveyed the battlefield and read the markers, listened to a native American guide, and visited the museums, our perceptions of the battle, from childhood to adulthood, had been schooled and skewed to be politically correct, twisted by racial ignorance, and warped by Hollywood theatrics that took liberties with the truth.  The markers, museums, and guide presented us our first unbiased truth – the 7th Calvary was not all good nor were the Sioux Indians all bad.  Atrocities took place on both sides; Indians scalped and disemboweled bodies of fallen soldiers, as well as cut the tips of Custer’s fingers from his hands, but only after the 7th Calvary desecrated their burial grounds and fired the first shots of the battle into tipis along the Little Big Horn River killing defenseless women and children.

Last Stand Hill itself, the site of Custer’s fall, also presented a different picture than the one we were taught in school and saw in the movies.  Rather than riding their ponies in circles around and through the outnumbered soldiers, the Sioux, many of them armed with Henry or Winchester repeater rifles given to them by the United States government to hunt buffalo, lay concealed in the tall yellow grass or along nearby hills picking off Custer and his men much like an old-time turkey shoot.  Not until the besieged soldiers, armed only with single-shot, breech-loading Springfield carbines and Colt revolvers, ran out of ammunition did the Sioux warriors swarm over Custer and his men.   When the struggle was finished, 268 men of the United States 7th Calvary, including Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, and an estimated 40 to 60 Sioux warriors, including 6 women and 4 children lay dead on the battlefield.

With every step, we took through the park, our perception of Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s last stand and the final fleeting glory of the American Indian gained a bit more clarity.  The gallant Hollywood image of Custer, revolvers blazing in each hand, as he made his final stand against incredible odds, melted as we scanned the landscape from the ridge where Custer and his men perished to the Little Big Horn River below where thousands of Sioux Indians once camped.  For us, one of America’s most provocative myths, the June 26, 1876 Battle at the Little Big Horn, died.  It was replaced by bloody truths provoked and reciprocated on both sides.   It was the day a new America of white settlers, soldiers, and Washington, D.C. politicians and aristocrats in top hats endured its worst battlefield defeat at the hands of Native Americans; the day the sun set on the old America of native sons hunting and living off the land.  The Battle of the Little Big Horn ushered in a new era where all Americans, new and old, became forever locked under a veil of distrust, dishonor and deceit.

That is not to say, the men of the 7th Calvary and the Sioux nation who died on the battlefield were not men of honor; soldiers and Indians alike died believing they were right.  Their bravery should never be questioned, but the underlying dishonorable political and self-serving greed of the new Americans that sent the 7th Calvary to provoke the battle should be questioned and never forgotten.  The Little Big Horn resolved nothing.  For the new America, the violation of fallen bodies on the battlefield, gave credibility to breaking treaties with Godless heathens, and helped them justify their own barbarism at a place called Wounded Knee.  To the old America, the merciless slaughter of the 7th Calvary temporarily vindicated them against a treacherous “forked-tongue” enemy that looked upon them as less than human.  However, in the end, any credibility or vindication claimed by either side was short-lived.  No one won at Little Big Horn; the new America lost its honor, and the old America lost its way of life.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 11, 2017

Advertisements

Trip of a Lifetime:  Face to Face with a Grizzly Bear

Grizzly

What would you do if you came face to face with a grizzly bear in the wild?  I am not talking about seeing one at a distance; I am talking about looking eyeball to eyeball with one less than fifteen feet away!  It happened to me, my wife, Tricia, and our traveling companions, Dottie and Mike, Glacier National Park, Montana.  If not for the level head of National Park Ranger Rebecca Merritt, the four of us may have become another chapter in Death in Glacier National Park by Randi Minetor.  I am not joking; at approximately 5:10 p.m., Tuesday, August 1, 2017, we came face to face with a grizzly bear, and the only reason I am here to chronicle this event is due to the quick actions of Ranger Merritt.

Our close encounter of the grizzly kind began Monday evening, July 31.  Tricia and I were sitting outside our camper talking about our drive that day over the mountains on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.  The drive was exceptionally beautiful, but it also fit nicely into the “white knuckle driving” category.  The road built in the 1920s, climbs over the Montana Rockies to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and down to Apgar Visitor Center at beautiful Lake McDonald.  The views are extraordinary for everyone but the driver who must keep his attention riveted to the narrow twisting road.  Drivers cannot afford to sight-see on Going to the Sun Road unless they are looking for a quick pass to the hereafter.

The road hugs the side of the mountains at altitudes of 6,600 plus feet and meanders around hair-pin turns, switch backs, and roadways so narrow truck side mirrors must be folded in against the doors.   Failure to fold the mirrors could easily result in tearing the driver side mirror off against oncoming traffic or tearing the passenger side mirror off on rock outcroppings.  There was just enough room for two vehicles to pass.  Although very doable, the Going to the Sun Road has its challenges, and according to a very nice lady ranger at the St Mary Visitor Center, being a little apprehensive the first time you drive the road is normal.  We were exceptionally normal – it scared us to death.  Therefore, that evening, we were pumped after completing the drive without incident.  After driving the Going to the Sun Road, we were certain we could handle anything Glacier National Park threw our way.  Boy, were we in for a surprise!

That evening, Bill and Jane, our camp neighbors, came to visit us from their motorhome – no, condo on wheels – parked across the street from our travel trailer.  Bill was curious about a bucket light I had made from a five-gallon bucket.  He was amazed at the amount of light such a contraption could produce, so I proudly showed it to him and told him how to make one.  From there, the conversation turned to the events of the day.  We talked of our trip to the Going to the Sun Road, and they talked of taking a short hike to a lake to watch moose.  Up to that point, we had seen elk, buffalo, and a grizzly bear in our travels, but not a single moose, so they had our attention.  They told us how to find the lake and the best time to see moose there.  After they left, we told Dottie and Mike about the conversation, and the four of us made plans to go moose watching the next afternoon.

Tuesday, August 1, at around 3:30 p.m. we headed for Many Glacier to watch moose.  The trail was about a ten-minute hike west of Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in an area of multiple trail heads.  We took the trail to Red Rock Falls, but left the trail a few minutes later and walked down to Fishercap Lake where Bill and Jane said they watched moose drink from the lake three afternoons in a row.  As they instructed, we brought our chairs, cameras, and binoculars, and because we thought it made us look the part of real trailblazers we also carried our walking sticks.  We arrived at the lake around 4:10 p.m., and Tricia and I set our chairs about three feet from the water’s edge under some overhanging pine branches.  Dottie and Mike set their chairs two or three feet behind and to the right of us.  We settled into our chairs and readied our camera and binoculars for the moose we were certain we would see.  We were careful to be as still and quiet as possible to avoid scaring the wildlife, especially moose.  Little did we know that “still and quiet” would get us into serious trouble within the hour.

Within fifteen minutes, we saw a buck across the lake (maybe a hundred yards) walk from a thicket to drink at the water’s edge.  I watched through my binoculars while Tricia snapped pictures.   I remember thinking this is heaven.  Life does not get any more peaceful and enchanting than this!  After a few minutes, the deer returned to the thicket and disappeared.  Maybe, five minutes passed, and I heard Tricia say, “Look,” and start snapping pictures.  Across the lake in the same area the buck had appeared, a huge grizzly bear moved from the shadows into the lake clearing.  By now there were several other people at the lake pointing and talking loudly, but the bear either could not hear them across the lake or didn’t care.  I suspect he didn’t care.  He remained in the light of the clearing for a minute before disappearing into the shadows only to reappear minutes later a few feet down the shoreline.  From there, the bear slipped into the lake for a swim.  After a brief swim, the grizzly slowly climbed back to the shore and ambled back into the shadows and vanished.

Soon afterwards, a second young buck stepped from the edge of the pine forest into the light.  The deer appeared to be nervous, which I attributed to a talkative group of people about ten yards east of us pointing across the lake to where the bear had been and the young deer now stood.  At that time, I noticed Ranger Merritt at the edge of the lake to my left.  She said she had been watching the bear and us from the trees behind us.  Her job was to make sure the bear was not a threat to people and people did not do anything stupid like approach a bear.  We assured her we had no intention of getting anywhere near a bear.  She commended us for staying put, and said she had been showing her uncle around, nodding to a gentleman with a walking stick at her side, when she spotted the bear across the lake at about the same time we did.  She spoke to some other people at the lake edge, and satisfied everything was in good order and people and wildlife were both safe, she and her uncle headed back up the trail toward the trail head.

Approximately, four minutes later, I heard a commotion on the main trail to my left and behind us.  At first, it sounded like a bunch of kids yelling and making noise, and I remember wondering why parents would allow their children to ruin such a peaceful setting.  The young buck across the lake suddenly looked up and momentarily froze before darting into the shadowed undergrowth.  Instantly, the noise on the trail was on top of us, and we realized it was Ranger Merritt yelling.  None of us could make sense of what she was saying until Mike said, “Bear!  She said bear on the trail!”  The four of us wheeled around, and the first thing we saw caused the hair to stand on our necks – not one, but two bears were running straight for us.  I yelled, “There they are!”  Dottie and Mike bolted from their chairs.  The grizzlies stopped, apparently surprised by the sudden movement of people in their path.  Tricia and I stood and stepped back to the water edge face to face with grizzlies not more than fifteen feet from where we stood.  I grabbed my hiking stick (Not that it would have done much good).  However, Tricia, being Miss Cool to the Bone, Nothing Bothers Me, stooped below the pine limbs we had been sitting under and took the most fabulous grizzly bear photo of the century.  I pulled her toward me to the edge of the water, but by that time she had her picture, and needed no coaxing, guidance, extra weight to tie her down, or anyone in her way to prevent her from getting the hell up the bank and away from the bears.  As she would say later, at that point, it was every man for himself.

At that moment, a strange set of events occurred.  Ranger Merritt yelled at me not to leave my backpack, so I started back to the chairs we had just vacated.  The grizzlies were still on the rise a few feet above us.  Tricia yelled at me to leave the backpack, but the ranger yelled again for me to grab my backpack.  Ranger Merritt later told us that if a bear even sniffs a backpack, the trail is closed to everyone for at least a week.  The closure is a precaution to keep bears from associating backpacks with “easy food” when it sees someone with a backpack on the trail.  I did not know that at the time, so the significance of retrieving the bag escaped me.  Caught in a crossfire between two strong willed women yelling orders at me – I am very accustomed to one, but two was simply too much to handle – I did something I still do not understand.  With my backpack leaning against my chair not three feet away, I took off my favorite hat in the world, my genuine Stetson Royal Flush, and set it in my chair.  It seemed like the logical thing to do at the time.  I left the hat in the chair and backed away keeping an eye on the bears.  Maybe, I thought I was leaving the bears a peace offering; I honestly don’t know.  Both women went speechless until Ranger Merritt who by that time was back at the water’s edge looked at me strangely, and said, “Well, alright, leave the backpack.”

In the meantime, by far the scariest part of the whole ordeal was taking place.  Our friends who were to our right and slightly above us when everything started unraveling, were in a dilemma.  When the four of us first turned to see the two grizzlies literally breathing down our necks, Dottie and Mike were closer to the bears by two or three feet than we were.  Somehow, in the commotion they became separated from each other.  Tricia, Mike, and I reacted to the bears by moving to our right away from the bears angle of travel, but Dottie was confused and ran to our left directly into the path of the bears.  Thankfully, she had the presence of mind to jump behind a tree, which the ranger later said was a good thing.  However, her mistake focused the bears attention on her, which placed her in grave danger, but by the grace of God the grizzlies did not go after her.

The bears continued to look around as if disoriented by the flight of humans in their path.  The sight of humans on either side of their path temporarily paralyzed them.  With coaxing from Mike and Tricia, Dottie retreated from behind the tree to the water’s edge where she quickly made her way to Mike’s side.  The moment she left the tree to her husband, the grizzlies broke for the water as if after her.  However, they had no interest in her or anyone else in our party.  They hit the water and immediately started playing like two playful puppies.  The grizzlies swam to the other side of the lake stopping to play two or three times while crossing.  Once on the other side they disappeared in the lengthening shadows most likely unaware they had left four rattled and badly shaken humans on the other side of the lake.

The whole ordeal lasted maybe thirty seconds.  Ranger Merritt explained to us afterwards the pair of grizzlies were two-year-old siblings the mother had forced out on their own about three months prior to our encounter.  Although only two years old, the bears probably weighed between three and four hundred pounds each; they were not small by any stretch of the imagination!  According to Ranger Merritt, the bears were never aggressive on the trail where she first encountered them, or even after they stumbled upon our group.  They were as surprised and confused as we were!  Tricia later read grizzlies have a keen sense of hearing and smell, but poor eye sight, which explained the behavior of the bears that day.  Due to a strong westward wind putting us downwind from the bears, they did not smell us.  That coupled with our being quietly hidden beneath the pines prevented them from hearing us as well.  They did not detect us until they almost ran us over.  Personally, I believe they were amused by the frantic humans scrambling for their lives, and did not feel threatened in the least.  Seriously, I do not think the bears ever intended to harm us.  We just happened to get in the way of their play.

However, that does not make the incident any less serious.  Thanks to Ranger Merritt’s warning, we moved just in time to prevent a tragedy or tragedies.  Without the warning, the bears would have run directly over the four of us resulting in possible serious injuries due to the size of the bears alone.  If a collision had taken place, the bears would have done what any wild animal would have done – become aggressive and defensive, which would have been deadly for one or more of us.  The bears were in their home environment; we were the visitors who unknowingly became intruders in their domain.  It was our responsibility to watch out for them, not the other way around.

Fortunately, thanks to Ranger Rebecca Merritt, we survived and in the process learned some valuable lessons.  First, there is a reason, hiking literature says make a lot of noise when hiking.  We went to the lake to see moose, so we thought by being quiet and still, we would increase our chances of seeing one.  We forgot moose use the same trails and habitats as bears, so being quiet was not smart.  Second, we learned we were visitors to the world of the animals; therefore, it was our responsibility to stay alert to everything around us.  We were so transfixed on the animals on the opposite side of the lake that we forgot animals lived on our side of the lake as well.  Third, short trails should be treated with the same awareness, preparation, and respect afforded much longer trails.  All trails can be potentially dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken.  Fourth, never hike in bear habitat areas without bear spray at your side or if possible a ranger, and fifth, never hike any trail, especially in National Parks without first taking part in a ranger led hike or sitting in on a trail wise safety class conducted by a ranger.  Failure, to do any of these could possibly put your life and the life of wildlife in danger.

We were lucky and fortunate our guardian angels as well as a well-trained National Park Ranger, Rebecca Merritt, was there to watch over us.  THANK YOU Ranger Rebecca Merritt for being there for us Tuesday, August 1, 2017.  THANK YOU and all rangers for all you do daily to keep wildlife and foolish humans safe.  Your alertness, professional knowledge, and quick thinking most likely prevented a terrible tragedy!  THANK YOU for giving us a second chance.  You are greatly appreciated, and you will always be a hero in our eyes.

Forever humbled believers, Tricia, Dottie, Mike, and Jack.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 2, 2017

©Photography – Patricia Linton, August 1, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime:  Close Calls and Shady RV Dealers

The morning after visiting the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, we continued our journey west toward The Black Hills of South Dakota.  However, the night before we left our campground in Wall, South Dakota, I was making final checks for the next leg of our journey when I discovered my right front trailer tire once again had very low tire pressure, so I pulled out the air compressor and filled the tire for the second time since the start of the trip.  By the next morning the tire pressure had dropped from 50 psi to 35 psi, so I pumped air into it for a third time, and told my wife we needed to get it checked soon.  Obviously, the tire had a slow leak and needed to be repaired or maybe, replaced.  My friend was also having some minor problems with his tow hitch, so he called Camping World in Rapid City, South Dakota, and made an appointment for both of us.

Camping World took care of the hitch issue for my friend, but after inspecting my tire, they found a small split in the corner of the tire tread and the side wall that could not be plugged or replaced since they did not have the size tire my trailer needed in stock.  As it turned out, that was a blessing.  I drove the camper to Dale’s Tires a couple of exits down Interstate 90 from Camping World where they graciously worked me into their busy schedule.  The manager of the store was a hoot!  He joked and made wise cracks the whole two hours my wife and I were in his store.  Jim was by far the best part of our day.

Two hours later we were on our way to Custer, South Dakota.  Two hours to change a tire?  Well, as it turned out I didn’t need one tire – I needed four new tires.  In addition to the right front tire being replaced, the old hippie (literally an old hippie) working on my tires called me to the shop to show me the condition of the other tires.  The right rear tire had splinters of steel protruding in several places from the rubber on the inside tread.  Both tires on the left side of the trailer were rounded rather than flat and bulging.  It was a miracle we made it as far as we did on those tires.  That one or more of those tires had not blown was a testament to a guardian angel watching over and traveling with us.

Although I was thankful we had not been stranded on the side of the road or rolled over in a ravine, I also felt anger.  Prior to leaving for the trip I took my camper to the dealership where I bought it for a complete check over.  I specifically asked them to inspect the tires and replace any of the tires that showed undue wear or stress.  The dealership gave the tires a clean bill of health, and said there were no problems.  I asked the old hippie if the problems he found with my camper’s tires could have developed over maybe 1500 miles, and he said one tire failing or even two was possible, but the probability of all four tires going bad during that span was slim.  Based on the tire evidence he saw, he said the tires should have been replaced before we left home, and whoever inspected them should have made that recommendation.  The dealership did not, which chalked up yet another point in my growing suspicions that many RV (recreational vehicle) dealers do not take the safety of their customers seriously.  Get the customer in, take his money, and get him out as quickly as possible seems to be a growing trend in the RV world.  On the other side of the coin, I am as much to blame as the dealer.  I should not have put so much faith in the word of the dealership and paid closer attention to the tires!  Fortunately, luck and my guardian angel gave me a second chance to take care of my own backside and not depend so much on others.  Next time, I will trust my travel trailer tires to places like Dale’s Tires (Firestone) or Goodyear for inspection and service.  In the future, if I am going to trust anyone, it will be the experts.

After the hitch and tires issues, our trip continued without further mechanical problems until we reached Great Falls, Montana.  While in Great Falls, my friend’s camper developed a pooper valve issue (black water tank).  The valve handle stripped and the black water tank began to leak nasty stuff, so once again, we found ourselves seeking a place for repairs.  My buddy, located a local RV center that would work him in on a busy Saturday morning.  The valve issue turned out to be a minor fix, but the mechanic discovered the camper’s running lights were not working.  A travel trailer without running lights is a serious problem and must be addressed immediately, so the mechanic spent two and one-half hours working on the issue.  Finding the cause of the problem was not easy, but finally, he found a short in the camper wiring and applied a temporary fix until we get home in early September.  My friend and his wife were elated the issue had been resolved – until they saw the bill.  The cost of no parts and two and one-half hours of labor was a whopping $590.00.  Luckily, my friend’s camper is still under warranty, and he will get at least a portion of the bill reimbursed.  However, I couldn’t help but wonder if the exorbitant bill was just another example of shady practices by a RV dealer.  I mean is $590 for two and one-half hours of labor reasonable, or did this particular dealer stick it to an out of town traveler, or was the dealer simply milking the warranty?  I can’t help but believe it’s one of the latter two if not both.  Either way is just as shady as not properly inspecting my camper’s tires as requested.

There are three guarantees when camping in a travel trailer that can lead to close calls or worse: shady dealers, the unexpected, and RVers who depend too much on others for their safety.  A great lesson the four of us have learned is to look out for ourselves and each other.  Now, we check and double check everything before taking to the road: hookups, rollups, put-ups, engine service, hitches, tires, and lights.  We are no longer in a rush to break camp; we check behind one another before leaving.  To have a successful and safe road trip, we have learned we must be our neighbor’s keeper or at least constantly looking over his shoulder.  The more eyes looking for potential problems the better.  Lesson learned!

JL

©Jack Linton, July 26, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime:  Wall Drug and Badlands National Park

Our second stop on Our Trip of a Lifetime was Wall, South Dakota where we planned to visit Wall Drug Store, Badlands National Park, and The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  Although we enjoyed the travel and camping up to this point, we were excited to finally be getting into the meat of our destinations.  Prior to the trip, everyone we talked to about places to visit along Interstate 90 in South Dakota recommended Wall Drug Store and Badlands National Park as neat places to visit although a few people voiced some reservations about the Badlands.  To my surprise, very few people had heard of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, so it became of special interest to our group.

The first of the three we visited was Wall Drug Store.  When we were within about a hundred miles of Wall, South Dakota, we began to see billboards marketing the drug store with such phrases as “As seen on the Today Show,” “As featured in the New York Times,” and “Get your free ice water at Wall Drugs.”  Our anticipation grew!  The drug store began in 1931, and over the years, it expanded to seventy-six thousand square feet of shopping area.  Picturing a traditional old-time drug store setting with a soda fountain counter and a plethora of novelty items to explore, I couldn’t wait to see the place.  Boy was I in for a surprise!

There may have been a time when Wall Drug Store was a traditional old-time drug store complete with sassafras root beer, penny candy, and homemade ice cream, but those days were long gone by the time of my visit.  Basically, I found a string of shops filled with overpriced clothing and trinkets made in China.  The place was what we call a strip mall back home.  The one redeeming factor was the walls and corners of the shops were decorated with unique displays and antiques ranging from a stuffed grizzly bear to a cowboy fortune telling machine.  The wives loved the place, but other than getting free ice water, I say stop at this mini shopping mall disguised as a drug store if you must, but if you really want to see the good stuff, drive out to The Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  If you like nature and history that is so real it will awe you and maybe even scare you, these two places should not be missed.

I am probably being too hard on Wall Drug, but it was simply too commercial for me.  It reminded me of Disney without the Disney magic (again maybe too harsh) – little more than a highly marketed tourist trap.  However, our visit to The Badlands National Park made everything good once again.  I found the Badlands simply breathtaking!  One thing I have discovered about national parks is that each is unique, and unique certainly describes The Badlands National Park.

Located in Interior, South Dakota, a short drive south of the town of Wall, The Badlands National Park is not to be missed.  Rugged, dry, desolate – its striped layers of brown, pink, yellow, and red rock tell stories of millions of years.  Once a prehistoric seabed, the wind worn spires allow you to look back in time when brontotheres (a rhinoceros type animal) and sabretooth tigers roamed the earth.  Set in direct contrast to the South Dakota plains surrounding it, the area may be called the Badlands, but its beauty speaks otherwise.  The Badlands of South Dakota are a tribute to the forces of nature and its resulting beauty.  The Park is a MUST SEE!  Walk the trails, many of them boarded and easy to walk, climb the towering rock formations (be careful), and take time to simply look and imagine this place a million years ago.  There is no “made in China” here.  This is pure America!

From the Badlands, we journeyed a couple of miles up the road to the Minuteman Missile Historic Site.  What we found there was one of the most fascinating adventures anyone in our group has ever experienced.  The tour of the once top secret underground command center, the center from which the fate of the world sometimes lay in the hands of twenty-year-old kids (trained young men, but kids nevertheless), was eye opening, frightening, and one of the most remarkable tours I have seen.

 

Next Blog:  The Trip of a Lifetime:  The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

JL

 

©Jack Linton, July 20, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime

After six months of planning and preparation, the time has finally arrived.  My wife and I are taking a long awaited get-a-way; she calls it The Trip of a Lifetime.  Our travel trailer and truck are serviced and packed, the house sitters are in place, people to take care of the pool and lawn have been secured, and the bank account has been depleted.  Our kids think we are too old and feeble to completely comprehend the magnitude of the trip we are undertaking, and the grandkids cannot understand why we are not taking them.  Although we have assured our children repeatedly we are not too decrepit to take a two-month camping excursion, they roll their eyes and say, “Dad, have you thought this through?  Sometimes people your age do crazy things;” “Mom, ya’ll don’t have a clue how to use an ATM;” or “We’re sure the two of you will have a great time, but where’s the will just in case?”

They are right; we may be a dime short of crazy and clueless about an ATM, but I am confident the great explorers Lewis and Clark also did not have a clue about an ATM and were called crazy when they set out to explore the northwest.  Like those trailblazers, this will be our first trip to the northwest United States, and like them, every turn will represent a new adventure for us.  If all goes well, our trip will take us north to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Big Sky country of Montana, to Calgary, Canada, northwest to Banff National Park, back south to Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.  That is just the first 3,500 miles.  Where we go beyond Yellowstone, we haven’t a clue.  We may head southeast through Colorado and Kansas, or we may chase rainbows and UFOs to Roswell, New Mexico and beyond.  The only thing we are sure about is, the good Lord willing, we will come home eventually.  As for a will, the kids are being a little presumptuous in my opinion, besides we sank everything we own into this trip.

I have waited for this trip for fifty-three years.  When I was ten years old, I remember a school friend, Rocky, telling the class about his summer camping trip to Yellowstone National Park.   He talked to us about boiling water that shot hundreds of feet into the air, a grizzly bear studying him from the trees bordering his campsite, buffalo that stopped traffic for an hour, and mountains capped by snow in mid-summer.  Hooked, I told my parents, being careful to leave out the boiling water and grizzly bear, about this fantastic place Rocky had visited.  I did my best to sell them on friendly buffalo and mountains with snow cone peaks, and I believe my father was hooked and ready to go, but my mother said, “No!  We cannot afford it.”  Desperate, I blurted, “Tents don’t cost much.  We could camp like Rocky and his family.”  That was maybe the greatest blunder of my youth.  My mother was a beautiful lady – prim and proper – and although she worked hard, she had never dropped a bead of sweat in her life, and she was not about to do so camping in a tent.  “Over my dead body,” she said, and that was the end of the camping discussion and as it turned out the Yellowstone discussion as well.  I have often wondered if things may have been different if I had kept my mouth shut about camping.  The closest I got to Yellowstone after that was National Geographic and pictures of grizzly bears and buffalo my teacher gave us to color in class.  At the time, I despised her; I felt she was intentionally trying to rub salt in my wounds.

This trip is my wife’s dream as well.  I don’t know if there was a Rocky in her life to inspire her, but regardless, I have never seen her more energized and excited.  She has taken on the persona of a “town crier” excitedly sharing with anyone who will listen every detail of the trip.  By now, all our children, grandkids, and friends know the color of every outfit she plans to bring and wear, know the menu by heart for each meal, know the locations by city, state, latitude and longitude of every picture she plans to take, and know how many times per week she plans to do laundry.  As for me, one pair of shorts and jeans as well as a couple of t-shirts and pairs of underwear are all I need; you waste less time if you wash a t-shirt and a pair of underwear in the sink and dry them on the back of the camper as you travel.  Fortunately for me, stately and dignified was not high on the compatibility list when we married.

For years, we talked about this trip, but always found an excuse to put it off to next year.  Of course, life has a funny way of pushing by several “next years” before you know it.  Finally, we woke up one morning, not as young as we once were, and realized the possibility of running out of “next years” was too close to home for comfort.  We had some decisions to make.  We could hang around the house and help our kids plan how to make our home of thirty years more elderly friendly and accessible when we were no longer capable of climbing the stairs, we could practice for the retirement home, or we could thumb our nose at age, get off our butts, and take the flipping trip we should have taken years ago.  We decided to take the trip!

Once we decided the trip was a go, my wife started planning, packing, and talking.  She told everyone where we were going, until one day, she mentioned it to some good friends who decided to join us.  They had recently bought a new travel trailer and truck and were anxious to get on the road.  We were absolutely thrilled to have them join us on the trip.  Since our kids had stopped coming to see us for fear of having to listen to their mother talk about the latest trip menu or “ooh” and “aww” at the latest gadget I had purchased or built for the truck and camper, it was good to finally have some likeminded geriatric souls (seniors only in the eyes of our kids) to talk to about the trip.

The only downside was our planning became competitive.  In a very short time, the trip wardrobes for both wives doubled.  Heaven forbid they would ever be caught wearing the same color, style, or brand of shoes or clothing at the same time.  As a result, the bunk area of both campers had to be re-purposed to provide space for their wardrobes.  However, to be fair, I must admit my good friend and I became a little competitive ourselves.  When he bought a gadget for his truck, I one-upped him with a bigger gadget for my truck, and of course, he would counter with a fancier gadget for his truck, which in turn led me to reciprocate with another blockbuster gadget for my truck.  The dashboards of our trucks now look like the cockpit of the space shuttle.  There are monitors for the GPS, monitors for dashcams, monitors for rear view cameras, monitors for the monitors, and wires so thick it looks as if the dashboard is overgrown with black vines.

But, all is okay; all is better than good.  Before we leave, we may be forced to have a fire sale to lighten the camper and truck load, but if I must put a harness and blinders on my wife to help pull the camper, we are going on this trip.  Next year has finally come for our Trip of a Lifetime.  The family thinks we are crazy, but they are behind us one-hundred percent, and we are living and sharing the dream with good friends who we pray are still good friends by the end of the journey.  We are blessed with a family, friends, the means, and the health to make such a trip possible – life is good.  In a few days we will head north, so keep us in your prayers, we’ll see you somewhere along the six or seven-thousand-mile mark.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 5, 2017

Entry Level Camping: It’s Okay to be Cheap

I love camping, so from time to time, I will visit a RV (recreational vehicle) dealership to look at the new popup campers, fifth-wheel campers, and travel trailers. I go primarily to look and dream a little, and I prefer to look on my own without being bothered by a sales person. However, during a recent visit to a RV dealer, I was met by a very energetic and aggressive young salesman who would not leave me alone, but hey, he was doing his job. The guy was very friendly and helpful and provided a lot of useful information about the different camper models on display. Everything was going smoothly until he asked me if I owned a camper and what kind it was. My present camper, a twenty-six foot travel trailer is a year old, and although it is rather plain, my wife and I are very proud of it, so I quickly spouted out the manufacturer, model, and dimensions. I wasn’t expecting the salesman’s jaw to drop in awe, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to be totally unimpressed either. Unimpressed is an understatement, he sadly shook his head and said, “Yeah, that is a good entry level model.” I am sure he did not intend his “entry level” comment to be a put down, but for me, the only way his words could have been a bigger insult and turn-off would have been for him to begin or end his comment with “bless your heart.” As a salesman, he probably knew a lot about campers, but it was apparent, he knew very little about camping. I have been an “entry level” camper for over forty years, and I am not ashamed to say so!

Anyone who camps is at some point an “entry level” camper. They start camping with something that is affordable such as a tent, so they can see if they like camping before they drop a lot of money into it. That makes perfect sense, and that is exactly how I would encourage anyone to start as a camper. My “entry level” into camping was with the Boy Scouts when I was eleven years old. The old military tent my Scoutmaster borrowed from Camp Shelby did not have a floor, and the roof leaked profusely when it rained that first night at Camp TIAK. In spite of the rain, I was hooked on camping. Years later, I was lucky enough to marry a lady who enjoyed camping as much as I did, or at least she was willing to give it a try. We went on family vacations and weekend trips to the lake with our three children in a tent for years. My wife would have preferred a little more comfort, but she never complained. My daughter went camping because she had no choice, and my two boys would eventually become Eagle Scouts, so they enjoyed tent camping as much if not more than I did. When the boys and I went camping on Boy Scout outings, we often slept under nothing more than a tarp stretched to form an “A” frame between two trees or between a walking staff at one end and a tent stake hammered into the ground at the other end. We spent many nights during the heat of summer and the frigid cold of winter under nothing more than a blue polyethylene tarp shelter. Although I now find the ground more compacted and harder than it was when I was younger, sleeping under a tarp in the open air is still my favorite style of camping. Other than lying on the ground naked under the stars, you can’t get much more “entry level” than a tarp shelter. In fact, there was a time in my life when I looked at tent camping as an unnecessary luxury.

Now, I am not going to lie to you, tent camping is a robust style of “entry level” camping that is not for everyone. During those early years, my wife would have preferred to walk through a real door than crawl through a tent door, and she would have rather crawled into a bed than wiggle into a sleeping bag. Sweating and suffocating in a tent during the summer because the door flap could not be tied open to let in a cool breeze due to swarming mosquitoes was not her idea of having fun, nor was stumbling in the dark to get to the bathhouse toilet something she looked forward to in the middle of the night. My daughter never bought into the romance of camping. Spending time with “yucky” bugs, no air conditioning, no mirrors, sharing a bathhouse with strangers, and the absence of a telephone (there were no cell phones in the early 90s) did not equate to a good time for her. So why did we tent camp? Was it because it was “the man thing to do” or that I was a male chauvinist and the guys ruled the roost? Nope, not at all! We tent camped because I was cheap, and the only reason I got away with it was because my wife was even cheaper.

After twenty-two years of marriage and tent camping, we finally upgraded to a popup camper, which is considered to be “entry level” to travel trailers. We loved that popup camper (Note: Any time I say “we loved,” please understand I am excluding my daughter). For the first time in our camping lives, we had air conditioning, running water, light that did not come from a flame, and although it was not much softer than the ground we had slept on for years, we had a bed off the ground. For the first time, we did not have to worry about a squirrel or skunk gnawing a hole in the side of the tent to get at the potato chips one of the kids had left on the tent floor. We actually had a place we could plug in a small heater during colder months without fear of waking up in flames in the middle of the night. There was still no indoor bathroom, but by this time in our camping careers, we were accustomed to the community spirit and camaraderie of showering and dressing in the presence of strangers in spider web infested bath houses, so all was good. That is until Hurricane Katrina came along and sucked the life out of our beautiful little Coleman popup camper. After that it was back to tent camping, or so I thought. Unfortunately, my wife had been spoiled by the good life in the popup camper and laid down the law that she would never ever set foot in a tent again in her lifetime. My daughter was so proud of her mom, but she had sworn off camping forever a couple of years earlier, so I didn’t think she should have anything to say about the matter – she and her mom proved me wrong. Even the boys, my camping buddies, were more into music, sports, friends, and girls by this time, so the decision to return to tent camping was decided between me and my wife with undue influence from my meddling daughter – I lost.

Over time, bad or unpleasant memories can often be replaced by the romance of nostalgia, so after three, maybe four years, I was able to nurse my wife’s feelings about camping back to health. On Sunday afternoons, we would go for a drive and as luck would have it, we almost always found a campground to drive through. Driving around the campsites, we saw campers riding bicycles, cooking burgers on the grill, taking leisurely walks, or reclining in a lounge chair reading. The sight of this easy-going lifestyle began to beacon to my wife once again. By this time, she was far enough removed from camping that her memories of mosquitoes as big as a quarter, food blanketed by flies, sweat burning our eyes as we set up camp during a summer heat wave, and me losing my religion trying to back a camper onto a camping pad were cloaked by the passion of the moment. When it became her idea to take leisurely Sunday drives through nearby campgrounds, I started looking at tents in Walmart. I should have known better. There was not enough time left in the universe to heal my wife’s aversion to tent camping, so she gave me a choice – upgrade to our first “entry level” travel trailer or forget camping ever again.

We bought a small travel trailer thinking it would be perfect for just the two of us when we retired. It was perfect! It had a full kitchen, a queen size bed, a dinette table that dropped down to make an extra bed if needed, and a full bath with a shower that had hot water. However, we quickly learned that rarely would it be just the two of us camping. All six grandchildren decided they wanted to go camping! As much as we were thrilled the grandkids wanted to camp with us, we realized two things quickly: first, there was barely enough room in our small travel trailer for us, much less six extra little energetic bodies, and second, there was no way in Hades that we were going to be trapped in a tin can with six wild Indians. We upgraded again! Because we were still cheap, we bought another “entry level” travel trailer, but at least this time it was longer and had bunk beds. We also decided for our sanity that we would take no more than two grandchildren on any camping trip. However, shortly after getting the new camper, we caved in and took three of the mud-slugs with us camping, and thereby, shot that resolution to hell. But, that’s really a good thing. Camping is a lot like Disney World; it’s the smile on children’s faces that make it so special, especially if the faces belong to your grandchildren.

This past weekend, with the possibility of another upgrade in mind, I went camper gawking again. I looked at a few fifth-wheel campers and some travel trailers longer than my house. Compared to my house, the interiors of these mammoth beasts were slicker than a Persian harem. They had everything: central heat and air, a vacuum system built into the walls, refrigerators bigger than my truck, the latest sound and television systems complete with satellite cable and Internet, Lazy Boy recliners and sofas, full luxury bathrooms, and master bedrooms that made the master bedroom in my house look like Hotel 6. Basically, when you drove or pulled one of these beauties down the highway, you were pulling a luxury condo on wheels. It would have been nice to experience such comfort and luxury, but the condo like price tag that accompanied these RVs placed them way out of my league. However, I gained a new respect for the folks who own such monsters. I walked away with the same awe and admiration for them that I feel for professional truck drivers driving and maneuvering their huge rigs down the interstate. I can’t imagine how a normal person can possibly feel comfortable driving or pulling a forty to sixty foot RV down a crowded highway much less maneuver it through narrow campgrounds. To be honest, I would probably wet my pants if I knew I had to drive something that big out the dealer’s front gate much less in traffic. Since I don’t wish to embarrass myself or wear adult diapers, I left those mega-beasts sitting at the dealership for someone a lot braver than I am. I walked away without upgrading, but I have never felt so at peace or thankful that my wife and I are both cheap.

My wife and I are comfortable being cheap, and our grandchildren could care less what kind of camper we have as long as we invite them to go camping. Besides, I did not buy a camper to sit inside in a Lazy Boy recliner and watch television; if that is what I wanted to do, I would stay at home. We bought our camper to have a place to comfortably sleep at night, so we can rest and be ready the next day to get outdoors and enjoy nature, reading, hiking, visiting, and playing with the grandkids. That is the beauty of camping; you can go “entry level” or you can bring your own condo if you prefer; it’s really a personal preference. In all our years of camping, we have never met another camper who looked down on us because our tent, popup, or travel trailer was less expensive or less luxurious than their RV. That is not what camping is about. With camping, the main thing is to get out of the house and enjoy life. The television and telephone will be there when you get back, so turn them off and disconnect yourself from the world and reconnect with family and friends. Like camping, every family and friendship begin at the “entry level” with room to upgrade. To upgrade your connection with those you love, all you need is more quality time together, and camping is the perfect place to find and nurture that quality time.

Let’s go camping!

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD January 15, 2016