While there really wasn't a way for Donna not to hear me when I woke up at 4am, I did try to limit the impact by setting up the coffee the night before and writing by the light of my laptop screen and my high-powered rechargeable flash light pointing at the van wall. This provided more than enough illumination for me to work without affecting Donna all that much even though she is a light sleeper.
Unlike me, she can enter and exit the land of rem sleep with seeming ease. In fact, she’s back there now making little snoring sounds, but I could ask her if she had change for a fifty and without missing a beat she’d say, “In my purse hanging by the door,” and then be snoring lightly again one second later. She’s like Lily Munster that way.
Sharing sixty-square feet of living space is hard, and when you factor in the bed, shower and kitchen sink it’s more like thirty. Only one person at a time can change, brush their teeth or work at the stove. And there’s no privacy to use the facilities. The facilities being a Home Depot bucket with a camp toilet seat which gets hidden in the shower. This affects Donna more than me, but she has become very proficient, for both our sakes, at using said facilities when I’m not in the van. It’s doesn’t work out perfectly all the time, but it's something you have to put up with if you’re going to see the country this way.
The most time-consuming part of breaking down our camp
has turned out to be Donna trying to decide what rocks she most wants to keep from
our latest stop. Otherwise packing up our little foldable camp table, our
deluxe lawn chairs and the Moonshade awning can be accomplished in a matter of
The last leg of getting to the Tetons was along Rt 26
through the Wind River Reservation and Dubois. This proved to be exhilarating, a
bit terrifying and just plain hard. Back east the biggest highway impediment you
had to contend with was other drivers, but here in Wyoming, the least populated state in
the country it’s not other drivers, it’s the twisting roads that ascend and
descend quite perilously with almost no guardrails. At least, that has been the
case for this Buffalo flatlander.
At one point on Rt.135 heading into Riverton, Donna was in the back getting a little rest, and we started a slow steady churn up a twisting mountain road. Hugging the rocky wall, ticking ever upward there was this building anticipation like when you ride a roller coaster. But once at the peak down below there wasn’t a tilt-a-whirl or a kissing booth. No, down below spreading out in every direction was a giant open valley. The reddish soil was pocked with sage bush and shadows expanded for miles and miles and miles with a fresh black strip of black pavement snaking through it like a twirling liquorish vine. It was both breathtaking and terrifying. Quite suddenly at the top looking down, I realized, in addition to having creaky knees and sneaky prostrate that needed constant vigilance, I had a new malady—I was afraid of heights. Faced with having to negotiate a two-ton van down a fucking pirouetting road, it wasn't the best time to have such an epiphany.
But, I narrowed my focus, and as if putting one foot in
front of the other just moved forward at a greatly reduced speed not daring to
look over the edge that was devoid of any guardrails. Thankfully there were no
other vehicles to push me and I quickly realized I could do this. I did have
thoughts, though—'Who puts a fucking road here? How many fucking people die in
this shit in the winter? This is bullshit.’
Once in Riverton we stopped gassed up and got a couple
of egg salad sandwiches. Nothing is more soothing than a gas station egg salad
But the fun would continue. Just up the road we passed
through the aptly named Wind River Reservation where the treetops and other shrubbery started to thrash wildly. Keeping the wheel steady required a good grip and upper body strength. At first I thought maybe it was a bit of coincidence that it got all
blustery, but just as suddenly as it came it died down
so I’m guessing the Wind River name wasn’t happenstance. Not only did this little stretch test
your driving ability it provided a great tricepts workout.
When we finally arrived at the Tetons the first thing we did was get out of the car and have a look at those giant awe-inspiring peaks at the Jackson Lake Dam. The lake was also awe-inspiring, but it was depressing too. With the ravages of drought and climate change it was at maybe seventy-five percent capacity. Up a little further the change to Jenny Lake seemed less visible, at least to my untrained eye.
Being the Labor Day weekend there were hordes of
people—all of them posing for endless selfies with the lake and peaks in the
background. Normally in a nature setting like this all these people would annoy
me. But, like us they were here for the nature. And it was stunning no matter of how many people were here.
Though we would have liked to maybe have gone for a
hike it was getting to be dinner time and we needed to find a place to spend
the night. I went into the visitor center and after the ranger at the
information desk finished deputizing a junior ranger, he showed me a couple of
spots where we camp for free just outside the park. One was on Shadow Mountain,
the other was at Lower Side Lake on the Atherton Creek Campground. When Donna is in the car she needs air, so
the windows are always open a crack even in winter. When she’s camping, she
needs water, so we went to the lake spot which was five miles down a dirt road.
After the bumping along another mountain side, we saw
the lake in the distance and for a moment it totally seemed worth it, but when we got there all the sites were taken. At that point we could have gone back to Shadow Mountain,
which didn’t have water or continue another five miles down the dirt road to Crystal
Creek, which did have water. So, of course, that's what we did. Another five miles on a rocky dirt road.
The Crystal Creek site turned out to be a little open field with
ten camping spots and fire rings. The creek was across the road and not very
impressive. By then I was totally spent so my judgement was maybe a little
We talked for a minute to a local young couple whose dog came over to our spot. The dog was named Boone and was very friendly. I told the young guy we were going to a wedding in Montrose in a few days and he was like that’s a long ride. When I told him it wasn’t that bad he said, “Montreal is at least a three day drive.” I looked at his pretty blond girlfriend who was sipping a can of Budweiser and thought she could do way better than this guy.
Donna made me a ham sandwich and a drink and that was it for me.
How we got here...
An Ode to Fire and Donna
Chronological Posts From The Road
Going Mobile: What We Learned
Our Rig: A Pictorial Essay