Reading through my travel journal and downloading photos from my camera gives me such a rush. Did I really go all that way? Did I really see and experience all these amazing places. The memories flood my brain and I remember the epic trip that was our latest adventure.
There was a close call or two with a charging Buffalo, insane hikes up snow-covered mountain passes in Crocs, enormous avalanches, as well as the typical Eye Dissections and Owl pellet dissections. The trip was made up of countless hikes and bike rides and night after night of camping out in new and amazing locations. Once we met up with my sister in Yellowstone the weather took a turn for the worse. We spent a week in hail/rain/snow storms which I was really unprepared for, yet somehow managed to enjoy myself in. After 3 weeks on the road we had run out of food, money and clean underwear so we made a beeline back home.
Here is our story.
Our trip started off with a wonderful day at the beach on Ontario. We spent the evening on the beach with Greg and Orion and headed back in the boat at around 10:30 to find that someone had broken into our van and taken over $2,200 in stuff along with my wallet and credit cards. It was a huge letdown for Orion to think we were headed off on this amazing trip then to get blindsided like that. For me the worst part was the inconvenience of being without my plastic and the loss of the kiting book that I only had on my laptop and had not backed up to my desktop at home. It was still one of the best days I have had with Orion though, and even knowing that I would have been robbed, I would have done it again in a minute.
When I was at the bank dealing with the Credit cards I began to realize that I could just take a large sum of cash out from my account and go on the trip without having to wait 10 days for my replacement credit cards. Unfortudently I had already written $2000 in checks for my mortgage and Uncle Sam that had not cleared yet so I was essentially broke. While at a friend’s house I mentioned my predicament and they came up with about $850 in cash from their Zombie apocalypse fund to send me on my way. I wrote them a check and made sure they wouldn’t cash it till I told them to. We were off with close to $1000 in cash for a 3 week-long trip. I was more than a little nervous to be carrying around that much cash in these crappy economic times. The last 2 times I took out cash in the past year it’s actually gotten stolen!
We left Ithaca and stopped by Presque Isle in Erie PA for a scenic bike ride. Once we hit Chicago we checked out their science museum which covered no less than 14 acres. Orion enjoyed watching the baby chicks hatch in the incubator and a flying brick program where you got to make your own plane. There was also a great exhibit on the machines coal miners use. We both enjoyed the cow eye dissection lab and the owl pellet dissection. Orion had a huge skull of a pocket gopher in his owl pellet so that made him really excited. I had opted out of the dissection lab from my 9th grade Biology class, as by the time I hit 13 I had decided to become a vegetarian for ethical reasons.
In St Paul we went to another large science museum where there was some great experiments you could do to look at fruit fly chromosomes and make your own DNA mash as well as looking at your cheek cells in a microscope. They had a fantastic exhibit on a hydraulic hybrid the museum had designed and raced that had gotten well over 175mpg.
Then we drove to Fargo which was a much nicer place than I had expected. At a small local zoo Orion foraged around the food dispensers and got some animal food to feed the oversized goldfish and some other animals at the zoo. We finished the evening off with some great minigolf and dinner in a bizarre alien restaurant.
We went to Theodore Roosevelt NP and checked out the North Rim. It was amazing and we went on a bunch of long hikes to find the local prairie dog towns. The prairie dogs were loud and funny and provided no end of amusement for Orion. We went swimming under a bridge in some pretty silty water and camped in the van surrounded by a herd of cows. Moo. The next day we drove to Theodore Roosevelt NP South and hung out there for the day. We camped on the shore of this amazing lake and it was really windy in the morning so I flew my 2 meter kite while Orion slept. I wished I had brought my kiting gear with me, as there were so many great inland lakes all over the Midwest and plenty of wind. At S Franklin Roosevelt there was countless prairie dog towns that were far more accessible so went spent a great deal of time hanging out with the prairie dogs and listened to them bark up a storm.
Laura was still floundering about coming and so we headed up to Glacier which I had intended to skip but I was glad we hit. The first day we hiked about 6 miles and saw a bunch of amazing waterfalls. The next day I talked Orion into doing a 10 mile day hike up to Iceberg Lake which was the highlight of the trip for me. After we got about ½ way up the trail got really snowy and had steep drop offs. I tied Orion off with a NRS roof strap around the waist and we wrapped his feet in plastic bags and hiked for what seemed like forever in the deep snow to a beautiful frozen lake with 3000’ cliffs on 3 sides. As we were hiking back we saw a huge avalanche with tons of snow that dropped off one of the 3000’ cliffs. Orion said ‘Dad do you know anyone who has ever seen an avalanche’ and I had to say no. It was pretty amazing, I’m glad we weren’t under it.
In Glacier while riding our bikes on the closed road we saw a baby Moose crying for its mama and trying to cross a fast-moving stream. We also hiked up to Avalanche Lake which was beautiful and I went for a dip in the ungodly cold glacial runoff water while Orion built a rock bridge.
We were 2 hours ahead of meeting Laura at Yellowstone, so we decided to check out the Lewis and Clark Caves. I’m glad we did because they were amazing and Orion really enjoyed them. We hooked up with Laura and did a bike/hike to Fairy Falls in Yellowstone. The highpoint of that trip was trying to navigate around some buffalo that were blocking the path. Orion did a Jr. Ranger program when it started to rain then we hiked some more and went to crash out. It was 9:30 and I was tired from driving all day so when I saw a 2000lb Buffalo running at me full tilt in my lane. I closed my eyes and shook my head and said something like ‘No way’. Once I realized I wasn’t hallucinating I slammed on the brakes, then I quickly realized that even if I stopped this Buffalo clearly was not going to stop. Instead I sped up and did a high-speed lane change and the buffalo missed my van and kept happily galloping down the highway. If I had a normal RV there is no way I could have pulled that off, thank god for the Honda Odyssey minivan with the Accord suspension on it.
The next day we hiked around a lot and while doing a ranger program found out that sometimes the Buffalo fall into the hot springs and are dissolved in a few days from the heat and the acid. I found that fantastically cool in a really sick sort of way. We did tons of hikes and looked at the hot springs and geysers all over the park. Orion made friends with other kids at the campsites and was anxious to interact with someone who was not an adult. It rained/snowed/hailed pretty much the entire week we were there. Orion particularly enjoyed tormenting the Marmots which were large rodents that made an exceptionally loud chirping noise. On the hike to osprey falls I saw a mama Marmot carrying a rather large baby in its mouth.
At one point the snow in Yellowstone got pretty bad and we woke up to about 4 inches of fresh powder. Laura made the mistake of talking to a ranger who told her to get out of the park if she didn’t want to get trapped there for a week. I was doubtful that we were really going to get snowed out in June, but we left the park and hung out at the West exit for several hours and had Pizza at a nice place for a change. We finally returned to the park when the sun came out and did a bike ride in the slush. Orion tested out some new snow clothes that Auntie Laura had bought him by riding his bike as fast as he could through every single puddle he could find. He was soaked to the underwear after that bike ride, but he rated it a 9 out of 10 which was the highest rating of any bike or hike we had done, so I was happy.
We tried to camp at Bay Bridge which was not only the most expensive campsite we stayed at but was also the worst. Laura tried bailing out the camp fire area with a bailing bucket but I just laughed. I told her we could get a backcountry permit for free and she was like “What the heck are we doing paying for campsites then…”.
On the NE road we saw a baby black bear wandering around and we stopped on the mountain pass road to have a snowball fight and build our token snowman. After 5 days in Yellowstone we headed to the Grand Tetons.
We backpacked 2.5 miles into Leigh Lake and camped on the shores there. It had to be one of the nicest places I’ve camped, and we had a fire and played card games till late at night. Orion was spooked out from an elk that was making some weird creaking noises so he slept in the tent with me while Laura insisted on sleeping outside. Although it was sunny and beautiful when we hiked in, it was raining and cold when we left the next morning. It was all worth it when we got to see a mama elk teaching her baby how to swim in the lake.
After Laura headed home we went to Jewel cave which was pretty lame and then to Mt Rushmore which was even worse. At this point I counted my money and realized that we had just enough money to get home.
In Sioux Falls we hit a cool Sciencenter where Orion got shrink-wrapped by a vacuum pump and a garbage bag and we plated Dance-Dance Revolution for about an hour after checking out all the exhibits. I saw a Little Caesars and wanted to pull in for a $5 hot and ready Pizza. Orion said “I’m not going to eat any of that pizza because I don’t want to get blamed when we don’t have enough money to get home.” I thought to myself, when did my son get more common sense then me? It’s not like I’m going to make HIM beg for gas money to get home…
We made it back to Ithaca 3 days later with $20 cash to spare. Man, what a trip.