"And then there is the most dangerous risk of all - the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later." - Randy Komisar
There are times in life where a person will do something out of the ordinary, really what this whole trip is about, but what we didn’t realize is the method we chose to travel the country is not exactly like most people’s choices. Most people choose to stay in hotels, or travel in an RV of some kind. By transforming our unassuming little element in to a house on wheels, we thought we would blend perfectly with our vagabond minded brethren – not true. RV’s have doors to exit from, the element doesn’t. Honestly, it has to be the oddest thing to watch one of us climb out of the back of this car. I say this because of the increasingly odd looks we have been subject to when doing so.
First off, you can’t see into the car at all because the curtains line the entire inside perimeter. They also serve to deaden noise, so you can’t hear anything coming from the inside. It looks like a super normal empty vehicle. Secondly, coming out of the vehicle is done via the hatch, since it’s been previously stated that the curtains wrap around the entire inside perimeter of the car; making it essentially impossible to use the standard designated exits. I don’t care if you are the most agile human the universe ever beheld, there is no graceful way to climb out of the hatch of this vehicle. None! Mostly because the clearance while exiting the vehicle is half of the normal size due to the bed platform necessary to create our storage space underneath. It’s all elbows and exploratory feet; tip toes searching for the limits of the tailgate so as to not misjudge your footing and accidentally fall off the car with a flurry of swear words, onto the unforgiving ground below.
However, the hatch of the Element normally only opens from the outside. In order to exit out via the hatch, we (read: Joe) had to install a way out. So, utilizing para-cord and the unlocking mechanism underneath the hatch paneling, Joe created a release cord, and a secondary cord that’s mounted to the metal frame of the hatch to pull it closed once you’re inside. The other difficulty is dropping the bottom gate, as it’s damn near impossible to climb inside when it’s closed. So there is a process.
Step 1. Roll up exit flap for curtain.
Step 2. Pull cord to release latch and lift glass hatch.
Step 3. Lower bottom hatch and somehow control its downward momentum so it doesn’t slam down.
Step 4. Exit; however it works for you.
Personally I am a big fan of the “Human Snake” wherein I pull myself out and do a push up on the tail gate until I can get my footing (cons – high risk of face plants). Joe prefers the “feet first” approach (cons- you’re going out blind and might slip and fall on your ass.)
Most common denominator – you look crazy and weird climbing out of a car in a parking lot.
We woke up in Spokane to rain on our roof, waited it out a little bit, and were rewarded with a long enough stretch for us to wiggle out, pack up and continue on our trek to Glacier National Park. We spent the rest of the day playing peek-a-boo with different weather systems but ultimately lost by the time we hit Glacier. We drove around the park a little bit to what we could see, but ultimately gave in to the gray weather and rain, resigning to search for a campsite inside the park before we had nowhere to sleep. After going through a couple loops, we finally found a space. Being the New York Prima Donnas we are, we opted to wait for a lull in the rain to set up to sleep inside the car. We left the sunroof cover off and watched the rain fall and the clouds move across the sky. Around sunset, it stopped for a little while, just long enough for us to stretch our legs, pee, and take pictures. We spent the evening in the car, watching movies and planning our journey for the next few days. Sleep came gently, as we listened to the sounds of the soft rain against our roof.
We woke up later than expected, which unfortunately shortened our exploratory drive of the majestic Glacier National Park before making a 500mile journey to Craters of the Moon in Idaho. It was an incredibly long day of driving and not much else, but we were fortunate enough to have the company of gorgeous scenery along the way.
We pulled in to Craters of the Moon KOA after the office hours only to discover all the tent pads were taken. We opted to find an RV space without hookups. We found an open pull thru at the back of the grounds, and waited for night fall; this was going to be our first real chance at seeing some stars. The majority of our trip was spent in areas where it was raining, or clouds obscured the night sky, or the moon was so bright that it erased them completely. After the sun fell behind the mountains, we climbed out of the car and into the windy night. Our GoPro was not cooperating and our fingers were starting to numb in the chilly night air. We surrendered only to decide to climb out again hours later to ensure we got the best shots possible to commemorate the occasion.
When I woke up in the morning it was my 30th birthday, (Yes, thank you, thank you; happy birthday to me) and I thought that waking up in Idaho was going to be the best thing, since we got to spend the whole day in the potatoiest state in the US. - Wrong. The potatoiest state does not sell its wares in the same way that other states sell their prize crops; I was secretly hoping for a french fry hut on every corner. So disappointed. It was wonderful anyway because we were going to be spending our morning in Craters of the Moon National Park which is a crazy lava field that cooled down and created a very alien feeling landscape. Absolutely beautiful and the park itself was extremely well tended. So for my 30th birthday, I got to play the “Floor is Lava” but for professionals so I guess it would be “World is Lava”? Anyway, we drove through the scenic loop and stopped at a few of the exploratory places like Devil’s Orchard. After a lovely morning wandering through lavafields, we hopped back in the car and made our way towards the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Instead of potatoes in Idaho for my big birthday dinner we had… Mexican... in Utah. Gas Station Mexican, of course. Somehow, in the state of Utah, the people who make tacos in gas stations understand the concept of gluten free and do well when explaining what they can and cannot do; all while speaking Spanglish. Uncontested winner of best Carne Asada Tacos on earth goes The Salt Flats Cafe. Mexican food made fresh to order, in a gas station in the desert. I love America. However, after crossing in to Utah, we had to then go back to Nevada to make camp at the Wendover KOA, a sweet little spot nestled inside a town filled with casinos, salt flats, and not much else. The woman behind the desk let us use her largest tent spot with no up-charge so we could set up the infamous car-tent and without obstructing campsite traffic. Decidedly warmer after setting up the tent under the Nevada sun, we elected to go for a swim in the pool. My brilliant husband loves me, and set up the ratchet tow straps again as a makeshift clothesline to dry our towels and suits. We let everything dry, drank a birthday bottle of wine, and watched The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. What more could a girl ask for?
Sleeping in the tent always means an earlier wake-up call since it is so much brighter than sleeping in the Element. Nothing quite says good morning like the bright desert sun in your face. So, we packed up the tent, and headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats a mere hop skip and a jump away from the Nevada Border. Driving through our Nations great parks, I have discovered there are multiple entrances to almost all of them. Bonneville was unique in the fact that there is one road in, and it simply ends in the flats. Just straight up ends. There’s a sign that explains where fore-bearers have outlined race tracks and their approximate locations. Each track is outlined with cones, however this did not make it any easier to find them. The salt has the texture of snow, but feels warm. The spots where it has been consistently driven on are compressed down and have a similar friction to ice. This odd surface combined with the exceedingly flat long extinct lake bed make it one of the best places to set land speed records. We drove around for a bit on the flats, testing the limits of our heavy home before heading back out toward Salt Lake City, where we decided to stop for lunch.
Upon arriving in Salt Lake City, we realized Joe’s Aunt Linda would be in town for a work conference. We met her at her hotel as she was checking in, got her settled, and then walked down town to Zest Kitchen a vegetarian restaurant where everything on the menu is Gluten free. Fabulous! I even got a chance to drink a delicious beer (Green’s Quest Triple Blonde Ale 8.5%). While the food was good, catching up with Aunt Linda had to be the best part about our quick jaunt to SLC. We walked back to Linda’s hotel, said our goodbyes and continued on our way towards Yellowstone.
We drove for hours and settled at the closest Walmart to Yellowstone, in Rexburg WY. Except for, the place where we were told Walmart would be, was not where Walmart is. So we drove past the first Walmart we saw, and followed the GPS to an empty building. Apparently, Walmart got fancy on itself, and decided it needed its own store front complete with its own gas station. So we drove back to the Walmart we passed and looked around for our fellow parking-lot-camper enthusiasts. There were no RV’s, campers, tow trailers, nothing to indicate that the random network of vagabonds we had grown accustomed to. They were always our proverbial canary in the coalmine; their presence deemed the place a safe haven. Normally in a Walmart parking lot there are several canaries in the coalmine, if it’s a 24-hour facility that allows overnight parking, there will be campers. Their absence and the clearly new locale prompted a new first – asking Walmart for permission to sleep in their parking lot. Something I genuinely thought I would live my whole life without doing.
Rexburg was very receptive and simply requested we park as far out of the way of main store traffic as possible. We thanked them, headed to Costa Vida down the road for a quick dinner, and parked for the night, promising ourselves a very early morning start to get up to Yellowstone.
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Claire & Joe
Learning to live the sustainable life - responsibly, and respectfully with love for everyone... and food.