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Vandemonium Part Deux- The Journey Out West

Wow! Life has been a whirlwind of activity. I have been wanting to write this for days but literally could not find a spare minute to sit down and think. Presently we are driving to Jackson Hole, WY to camp at Trail Creek Campground in Wyoming for 3 days and I am taking advantage of being a car passenger to type this.

We left Littleton, Colorado this morning where we had camped at Chatfield State Park for 2 nights. My awesome little brother that lives in Denver met up with us both nights to help us prep for the trip and generally just be a great guy. He was especially helpful when I told him I couldn’t figure out how to get my oil dipstick out in order to check the level- he graciously informed me that was because I was trying to remove the oil cap- OOPSIE. Now I know 😊

I feel like last few months of our lives have been spent preparing for this very moment. Even during our 6 day drive out here, I kept finding it difficult to stay present and not anticipate everything we had to do when we arrived in Colorado- drop of the cat (this was very difficult for me- I cried a little- I am still feeling SUPER guilty), grocery shop, clean the van, shower, do our laundry, see my brother, drop off the Honda CRV (we drove two cars out and are leaving the Honda with my brother in Denver), unload some stuff out of the Honda so the suspension doesn’t snap while it sits for 30 days (we really loaded ‘er up!), get a Costco Membership, get beer etc.. The list felt never ending. But, we got it all done and are on the road!!

We are both very grateful to everyone that has helped us out over the last few months. We are so thankful to everyone who participated in our move in so many ways. Whether it was helping us finish and organize the van, throwing going away parties, organizing a good bye to the work crew, attending the van shower and showing us SO much love, or hauling our stuff out of our apartment with us in 98 degree heat with 100% humidity- all of you are appreciated. We already miss everyone and please keep in touch!

I am planning on writing a separate blog about the start to finish of the van renovation process and how some really f’ing awesome friends pulled this off- but for now I want to focus on this adventure. Here are a few ‘in the process pics:

Back to the drive out here-

I have to tell the story of moving out because it would only happen to Amy and me. It was a rainy Wednesday morning, but thankfully, we packed the van and CRV in prior days, so all we had to do the morning of the 31st was finish cleaning, shower, and throw a couple of things away. We were up early and hoped to leave by noon. Well, National Grid showed up at 10AM and shut off our power.

Amy had informed them that we were terminating service at the end of that day and apparently that means they can shut it off at any time during that day. In the past, I have had landlords call and set up coverage for the interim period before a new tenant moves in, but clearly that didn’t happen. We had already vacuumed so we didn’t really need electricity- but it was 95 degrees, humid as hell, and we were running around at a brisk pace trying to leave with no AC to cool us down. Melting.

We finally get on the road and I put Margaret (the cat) in her carrier on the mattress in the back of the van. Amy drove the CRV. By the time we got to Schenectady (about 20 min from home for those of you not familiar with the area), the cat was in full freak out mode and had flipped her crate twice, and eventually flipped it off the bed into a headstand position. I was more than anxious. I pulled over and she was PISSED. I tried putting her on the floor so she was more steady but she nearly broke the door off the cat carrier by pushing her face and head against it. I pulled over again knowing if she got out while I was driving that there would be no safe option. Amy pulled over behind me. We ended up putting Margaret in the front seat of the CRV (where she is used to riding) and putting the basket of stuff and other items on the floor in the van. She immediately calmed down. I think she just needed to be somewhere familiar.

Margaret traveled like a pro in the carrier in the CRV- with the help of some CBD treats. She snoozed for hours. We would stop every few hours for 30-40 minutes somewhere and let her roam around in the van and eat some food. This meant every few hours we had to take the front seat items out of the van and on to the ground; and then ‘prepare the van for the cat’-‘and then we transported her from the CRV to the van and let her do her thing. If it was too hot, we left the AC running for her in the van while we explored for a bit. We then would come back and do the reverse to get her back into the carrier in the CRV. It was a lot but it was only temporary.

When we arrive back in Denver I want to get her used to riding around in the van with us without her crate. We tried it a bit but with only one person in the van and no one to deflect the cat from trying to get onto the driver’s lap, it was short lived and only at low speeds. Margaret did get to enjoy Badlands National Park while roaming free in the van

Enough about the cat I know! But, a lot of people have asked about it 😊 She is now (hopefully) enjoying a 30 day stay at Catagonia Cat Hotel in Colorado Springs. I feel terrible about leaving her. I keep telling myself that she is safe there and I am going into bear country- not a cat friendly place.

We only drove about 2.5 hours the first day to Green Lakes State Park in Manlius, New York. We stayed here for two days and it was one of the best decisions we made. It gave us a day to catch our breath, gave Mags a chance to get used to the van, and allowed us to organize the van a bit more once we realized what we needed to have readily available.

From Green Lakes we drove to Ja Do Campground near Ann Arbor, Michigan. We stopped to hike the Eternal Flame in western New York to stretch our legs. Just as we finished our cat transfer routine and parked the car on the grass in the shade, some dude shows up to mow the lot. We asked if we could stay parked there and he said he would come over and mow that area first so we could keep the cat in the shade! What a guy! So, we sweated it out for a few minutes while he mowed and then went out our merry way.

After 9 hours on the road we arrive at Ja Do in Tipton, Michigan and were welcomed by a lovely shamrock and rainbow theme. We had a really quiet site at the foot of a hill. We put Margaret in her catio (yes, a cat patio) SEE PIC- and she really enjoyed it! She was totally chill! Another victory! I think she can really be an adventure kitty with more exposure! Even though many sites looked occupied, I think we saw maybe 3 other people at that campground.

We got an early start and went to a DELICIOUS little restaurant called West End Farm to Table. The quiche was delectable and their homemade corn beef hash really hit the spot. We continued our journey and cat transfers through Michigan and Wisconsin.

We stopped at Marquette Park on Lake Michigan. This was kind of a dirty little park and was unfortunately littered with a lot of trash. We needed a spot to stop for the cat and waded in Lake Michigan up to our thighs. The water looked relatively clean and we didn’t submerge so I feel ok about it. Don’t judge me.

Shortly thereafter, a monsoon like storm hit eastern Wisconsin and we drove through the heart of it. As it poured rain with almost zero visibility I noticed 75% of the cars were pulling over! I feel like this is so dangerous! Aren’t you more likely to get hit on the side of the highway when no one can see anything more than 3 feet in front of their car?!? I was more anxious about hitting someone then my driving. It rained off and on for an hour or two.

As we arrived at our destination, High Cliff State Park in Sherwood, Wisconsin, the skies opened and it RAINED. I ran inside to check-in and had to wait about 10-15 minutes before I felt it was safe to walk to my car. I hopped through ankle deep water in the parking lot and ducked into my car. I was worried Margaret would be freaked out by the thunderstorm but, she was sleeping and couldn’t have looked more content. I, on the other hand, was wearing a chambray dress that was now sticking to every piece of my skin that it touched. We drove to our campsite, waited another 25 minutes for it to stop downpouring, and finally exited our cars.

We finished our day but scoping out the super polluted toxic looking lake. After some asking around we were told it’s essentially from fertilizer and farm waste and that the water is not normally fluorescent green/sludge like. We’ve passed about 2000 farms on our drive out here (at least it felt that way)- this lake made us both question how much waste and pollution those farms produce and how that affects the surrounding communities. There are so many places in the US and it’s hard to realize how others are living unless you see it in actuality.

Also, Amy successfully fought off a very large racoon that was trying to steal our trash and obviously kidnap Margaret. She is such a good co- cat mom.

The next day was the first day that we didn’t have campsite reservations for the night. It was so liberating! To be able to decide how far we want to drive based on how we feel and make a quick decision was freeing. We drove across Wisconsin, and stopped 📷at another dirty little beach named Black River Beach in Lacrosse, WI. See baby doll and coastline pic below.

Our camp of choice ended up being KOA in Mitchell, South Dakota. For those of you not familiar with Mitchell, it is the home of the world’s only Corn Palace. Yes. Corn. Palace. I will tell you we drove by (while looking for any business that was open on a Sunday afternoon and serving food- a challenge when you are in a super Christian area!) and it looked generally disappointing. We did not go into the Corn Palace and have since been told by multiple people that is 100% not worth it. Unless you love corny stuff—hahaha. Get it?

KOA did have a pool that we took full advantage of. Along with many others in the campground. When I walked into the pool area there was an Asian gent literally scooping the water out of the pool. Amy and I looked at each other skeptically. Was he doing this as some sort of exercise? Then we got in the pool….and saw the large number of flies floating on the surface (most likely a result of the overflowing hot rotting garbage dumpsters on the other side of the building). He was trying to scoop the flies out. He eventually spotted the skimmer and gave KOA a hand and cleaned the pool. Thanks Dude. You’re cool I guess. Even if you are a Trump supported (Yes, really).

I built a kick ass fire and we enjoyed people watching while we ate disgusting takeout that tasted like hospital cafeteria food. Margaret lounged in her catio and kept an eye on everything for us. This was the first night that it was probably a little too warm sleeping in the van. There was no breeze (but that was ok with the whole rotting garbage thing), it was humid, and I sweated my way through the night.

We woke up early, wiped our faces, cat transferred, and went to scope out breakfast. We both ate a breakfast burrito that tasted like dirt, but I’ll forgive it because the coffee tasted ok and was definitely caffeinated.

We arrived at Badlands National Park and drove the Loop Road. The sites are like nothing else I have seen in the US. The piles are sediment (essentially mud) and are made from years of erosion. The whole park used to be a sea bed. We stopped at one of the first lookouts and made ourselves a nice cheese and charcuterie plate while Margaret ate her breakfast in the van.

I would love to go back to the Badlands- minus the 3 million motorcycles.

We discovered the motorcycle event named “Sturgis” just north of Rapid City South Dakota that brings in bikers from all over the US. Apparently, many of those bikers take the drive through the Badlands and other monuments in the area. And I respect the biking world, but this was a bit overwhelming. First, the noise. It was this constant rumble of motors. Second, the parking. The bikes would take over whole parking lots at the park, which made parking the large white van we are in nearly impossible at times. I understand it’s their event, but come on. You cannot park your motorcycle directly in front of a bathroom door and restrict access to one of the three toilets in the park.

That was another issue for me (especially post coffee consumption)- it seemed the Loop Road in the Badlands has a very scarce number of toilets. And sharing them with 300,000 bikers was kind of gross.

On a brighter note- Mags made the Loop Road trip in the van and did not cause Amy to crash the car! (Don’t worry we put her back in the van before we got on the highway!)

Our original plan had been to camp in the Badlands and try to see Mount Rushmore on our way to Colorado in the morning.

We were done with the Badlands by early afternoon, so we decided to keep on driving in order to shorten our driving time the next morning. I love this spontaneity! We hadn’t made reservations so we just googled campgrounds along our route and picked one that looked decent.

We drove through the Black Hills National Forest. The huge rolling hills spotted with evergreens and brush were a treat for the eye. It almost felt like being in a different country. Our destination was Mount Rushmore. We arrived in the rain, waited it out for 15 minutes (while everyone else left!) and strolled on over to scope out some faces carved into a rock. Of course- there is construction. We were not able to get as close as possible, but we had a nice view and snapped some pics.

Also, of note- Amy gave her-self a black eye at Mount Rushmore. She was trying to get in the back of the van as it was raining. She somehow leaned into the door as she was opening it and whacked herself in the eye with the door. Currently it looks like a nice smoky eye.

The Crazy Horse Monument is near Mount Rushmore and we drove over to check it out. This monument has been under construction for years, and frankly it doesn’t look as if they have gotten very far to me. There has been some debate surrounding its construction. Supposedly, when it’s completed (my estimate is the year 3030), it will be him AND his horse. Wowzies.

We kept on trucking to Prairie View Campground in Lusk, Wyoming. A very nice woman greeted us, and we picked out a site with some shade. We cat transferred and made ourselves some tuna sandwiches. The sunset was shaping up to be colorful over the prairie.

Much to my delight, the clouds started rolling in and made for some awesome pics. You could clearly see the dark storm and rain, just next to the sunset. And then it started lightening. I went and sat by the pasture fence, drank my beer, and took way too many pictures

I spent the next morning overflowing with anxiety about dropping Margaret off. And, her patience looked like it was starting to wear thin in the cat carrier. Minus a few rest stops, we drove straight Catagonia.

I gave Mags an extra CBD treat and was seriously considering eating one for myself. We unloaded all of her stuff at Catagonia (we brought her cat tree, some blankets from home, a million pounds of food, toys etc.).

As we walked out she looked at me like “Where the F are you going?!”. It makes me want to cry writing about it so I am going to stop (mostly because I called this morning to check on her and they said she’s just hanging out in her cat carrier. She fought me every morning to get in that thing. And now I feel like she thinks if she sits in it we will come get her. I am tearing up. Have to stop. I am sure she sits in it because it’s familiar. BUT! She had used the litter box and eaten food so not all is lost.) ANYWAYS. I am going to end this post here because I already know it’s too long.

Next up: WHY I LOVE COLORADO (and it’s not the reason you think!)

Cheers and Love to you All.

Rachel (RNRN)

Roaming with Rachel Travel


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