Western Omelette Part V: The Return Journey

A good trip brings you to the point where you are ready to be home. Our “Western Omelette” did just that. It exhausted us, it injured us, it scared us,  it burnt us to a crisp. We were ready to lay in soft beds, eat whatever we wanted when we wanted, continue applying endless globs of aloe to our faces, and let our bodies and minds recover from what turned out to be a very trying adventure.

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Mostly I was just eager to shave.

While we had enjoyed our time backpacking in Glacier and all the parks we visited before it, home was a welcomed thought. Unfortunately, we still had 1,500 miles to drive. At least that was our mindset as we departed the park on our eastward. We knew we couldn’t drive it all in one day, and two would be a huge push, so we plotted our course to include layovers in two places: Lewis and Clark National Forest and our old friend, Badlands National Park.

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For being so inhospitable, we sure can’t get enough of this place.

We plotted this out by opening up Google Maps, looking for national land that would most evenly split up the three days, and then confirmed online that freedom camping is allowed in those areas ($ave dat money!). Our first day turned out to be about 300 miles of driving, with 500 on the second day and 700 on our final leg. Not the ideal split, but we still wanted to make the most of the time we had in exciting lands and not cave in to the always alluring middle-of-nowhere motel marketing signs.

What we probably should have done is map out the flattest route home. We were still having car troubles that resulted in the engine cutting off while going up even some of the slightest inclines, and there tend to be a lot of those in the mountains. Fortunately, the roads we took were not all that populated, and whenever the engine crapped out, we were able to pull over to the side of the road, reset the error codes, and get that baby up and running again. Since we got a late start on the day, we also soon had to keep an eye out for other hazards such as deer. Deer in Montana, it seems, are dumb. Really dumb. We would round a curve, be met with deer, and they would just stand there. Not even deer-in-the-headlights style. Just plain standing there, probably talking to each other about how the only fun thing to do in these parts is to block roads for weary travellers. We had to creep forward and beep our horn multiple times before they slowly scooted off onto the shoulder, likely waiting to slightly inconvenience the next driver.

With these delays, we made it to the entrance of the L&C Forest after nightfall. I don’t recommend this as an arrival time.

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This proved to be very good advice.

The road crossed over private land every couple miles or so, and it quickly converted to a deeply-rutted dirt trail that became steeper and windier as we went. We were unsure what land exactly we’d be allowed to freedom camp on, so we stuck to our plan to make it to a camp zone Tim had read about online. After what seemed like an hour of crawling along hillsides and on the rims of canyonous valleys, we passed a campground with RVs. Those things must’ve been airlifted in and never moved, because I don’t know how else they would’ve made it this far when we had so much trouble with our highly offroad-compatible 2005 Chevy Malibu.

The campground indicated that freedom camping was allowed further up the road, so we climbed one last perilous hill, parked in a grassy area, and set up camp as quick as we could on the windy bald top. We played a game of chess to tire us out mentally, went to sleep, and woke up to what turned out to be a pretty all right welcome in the morning.

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We packed up as quickly as we could since we weren’t entirely positive that we had made it all the way to the camp zone. Just as we loaded the last of our things into the car, we heard engines from over the ridge, so we made all casual like we had not just camped there, leaning up against the car and pretending to be interested in the horizon. It turned out to be some of the RV campers on their four-wheelers, the only type of vehicle you’d expect to see on a road like that. Phew.

The drive out of the park was a bit easier and a whole lot less scary in the light of day. We made it back to the main road and took off towards the Badlands at lightning speed! Unfortunately, a cop noticed that we were going lightning speed and pulled us over just as we crossed into Wyoming. In my defense, had the speed limit not just gone down, I would only have been doing seven over. I received my first ever ticket and humbly drove the speed limit(ish) for the remainder of my shifts that day (Tim continued at lightning speed).

We arrived at the Badlands with daylight to spare and packed up what we needed for a short hike and an overnight stay. This included the remainder of our wine and beer.

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We climbed over Saddle Pass and set out off-trail to find a spot far enough way to set up our tent.

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We found the perfect grassy area near the edge of a drop off and set about making sure we were clear of cacti and snakes. With our sleeping arrangements made, we cracked open a couple beers and watched as the sun set over the distant buttes.

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Although we were homesick and looking forward to seeing our loved ones, it also hit us that tomorrow would be back to the real world. We stayed up late on the edge of that butte drinking beer, cooking, and recounting our favorite memories of the trip before finally tucking in for our last night on the road.

We woke to a beautiful sunrise the next morning and got off to an uncommonly early start for us.

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We knew the day would be a long one, with 700 miles to go yet. The last leg being so long made us all the more anxious to finally be home.

At long last, we saw the Capitol Building rising up on Madison’s skyline, and I was filled with joy and relief and a fresh appreciation for the friends, family, and amenities I missed while away.

Sucks to be Tim though; he had another two hours of driving.

Thank you for keeping up with our widely interspersed accounts of our Western Omelette road trip. It was an amazing trip full of new experiences and a spectrum of emotions, and I’m glad we can share it with others. If you have any questions about planning a trip to any of the places we talked about here (or on our other journeys), please feel free to write to us in the comments. We’d be happy to help anyone have as memorable of experiences as we did.

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If you have not already done so, please check out the first four installments of our Western Omelette. Cheers!

Part I: The Badlands

Part II: The Black Hills

Part III: Teton Crest Trail

Part IV: Glacier National Park

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