Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Long Road Home

Time to make the trip home.  Shaun and I packed up the Ninja van and say good bye to friends and family.  

The final few days were bitter-sweet for the both of us, but the cool days in Iowa were making our blood flow faster and the snow in the mountains of Montana was calling our names. 

So, we hit the road and headed to Springfield, Missouri to pick up our friend Lorin who found herself in the same situation as us, longing for the fresh mountain air of Montana, and was determined to pick enough walnuts to afford a plane ticket home.  When we called her with our road trip proposal, she had earned 40 dollars.

Oct 13-Day 1

We left Iowa around noon and stopped in Coralville, where we loaded up on good eats from the Co-op.  The drive was rainy, but it really went pretty smooth.  Some of the bushes along the road were awesome bright colors.  We arrived in Springfield, Missouri around 10:30.  It was so good to see Lorin.  Her words, "Never in my life did I imagine hanging out with you two in the mid-west."  And I have to admit, it did feel a bit surreal.

Oct 14-Day 2   

Our simple mission to get from Iowa to Montana, normally a 20 hour drive, turned into a possibly week long excursion.  Leaving Springfield around 10:30 am, Lorin introduces the Ninja to our Secret Asian Van.  Loaded down with an inflatable boat, a bike, two large dog kennels, a skateboard, four full sized backpacking packs, a summer's worth of canned goods, and a cooler containing a full deer, amazingly, we still had enough room for three people and two dogs to stretch out and even lay down in back for a nap.  Impressive!  Next stop, Taos?

We made it to Las Vegas, New Mexico, just a bit south of Taos.  We arrived at a hot springs bath at 15 after midnight to find out they closed at 12 and didn't have any camping.  (Our guide book had been rather vague about the details of the springs.)  So we drove up a mountain, ran over a dead skunk (releasing the stink all over the car, of course), and eventually found a decently flat spot to set up our tents in the pitch black.

Oct 15-Day 3 

We packed up camp and were on our way back down the mountain, 70 miles from Taos, by 8:30 am.  It was a quick drive to Taos, only to find out it wasn't very cool.

So we bummed around the downtown area for a little while, stretched our legs, had some really bad restaurant service, ate some chips and salsa, then continued on our way.

We stopped for an early dinner at the High Country bar in Chama, New Mexico, then drove on to set up camp just outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  We pitched our tents near a little creek by the road and had enough time for a short hike before dark.

Lorin and I climbed to the top of a hill and watched the sun set.  The trees turning colors were so beautiful and it felt so good to be in the fresh mountain air again.  Our campsite was in a high animal traffic area and it was obvious that a lot of creatures had been to the creek and had bedded down right where we had set up our tents.  We continued to look for footprints and signs of animals while we were walking and at the top of the hill, we found two piles of bear scat.

Of course, that made us both pretty nervous since we were hiking on animal trails through low brush at dusk.  On our hike back down, as it started to get dark, we talked a little bit louder and I made sure to keep the dogs pretty close to scare off any animals that might be around.  A good nights sleep for both of us after that, I'm sure...

Oct 16-Day 4

In the morning there was frost on our tents and it was downright cold.  It was good encouragement to move fast and I was looking forward to soaking in Pagosa Hot Springs in town.  We had the car packed up and were ready to go by 8:10.  Earlier in the morning, as we were packing up, Suka ripped off a toe nail while he was playing.  By the sounds coming out of his mouth, we  thought for sure he had broken a leg or tore something.  Thankfully it wasn't anything that serious, so the last thing we did before we got in the car was hold him down and bandage him up so he wouldn't bleed all over.  He were on the road by 8:20 and headed for the Springs.
As it turned out, all three springs in town were 'resorted' and way too expensive for our dirtbag travel budget, so back in the car we went.
We ended up in Durango around lunch time.  The whole area from northern New Mexico through southern Colorado was so beautiful!  I washed my hair in the sink at the laundromat and Shaun and I shared a 6 minute hot shower for $3.75.  Not quite the hot soak I was imagining, but it felt pretty good.
The drive north of Durango was all Colorado mountain.  And Colorado mountains have high high mountain passes.

The brakes got hot over one of the high passes between Durango and Ouray, so we stopped for some bloody Marys just above Silverton, Colorado.  Other than that, the Ninja van did great, even over our highest pass of 11,018 feet!

The town was very small and colorful from above and it was such a beatiful day!  It was warm and the sun was shining on the snow capped mountain peaks that surrounded us on all sides.
As we crossed Douglas Pass around 7:00 pm, we stopped for a minute and watched a heard of elk cross the road ahead of us.  We even heard one bugle!  What a treat!
Our last big pass took us into Ouray, Colorado, a really cool little mountain town.  We made it to Dutch John, Utah pretty late at night, and camped next to the water in the Flaming Gorge, just south of the Wyoming border.  It was a beautiful clear night, so we drank vodka and whiskey, listened to Moab Jazz on the Navigator, and played around the campfire until the stars spun above us.

Oct 17-Day 5
We woke in the morning to watch the sun rise at the end of the lake.  Steam rose from the water as the cliffs around us turned orange, then grey, and the desert began to come to life.  It was a quiet, magical experience.  We cleaned up the last night's shenanigans, re-packed the car, and were on the road again by 10.

The drive across the Wyoming border to Lander was quick and easy.  We arrived not long after noon and took the dogs on a beautiful hike up Sinks Canyon to the gorgeous Popo-Agie Falls.

After our hike, we ate dinner on the patio of the Lander Bar and had a great night chatting with the Lander town folk.  We camped a couple blocks away in the city park with the sound of the river flowing by.  Lorin strung up her hammock in a clump of trees and, despite the fall chill, we envied her in the morning when we discovered all the elk droppings beneath our tent.

Oct 18-Day 6:  The morning push... home, that is...

The morning was fresh and quiet.  We ate a great hangover breakfast at the Maverick Hotel, which seemed to be a real hot spot for the locals.  Biscuits and Gravy for $4 and on the road by 9:30. We drove through the amazingly stunning Wind River Canyon then stopped off for a short visit with my aunt on the farm where my mom grew up.  We finally rolled into good 'ol Bozeman at 5:15, happy, dirty, and delightfully exhausted.

2622 Miles, 6 days, 2 dogs, 3 good friends, booze, tents, farms to mountains to deserts and, finally, back to the mountains.
The mountains of Montana that we call home.

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