I feel it very important, in an internet filled with artistic pictures of smiling people in beautiful places, prose about the wonders of traveling where and when you want, and video clips of idyllic drives and expansive views, to keep it real on my blog by also talking about the bad days on the road. These posts aren’t as popular, they don’t receive as much attention on social media, and internet algorithms don’t favor them… which is probably why many travel bloggers, vloggers, and other creators avoid such content. But bad days still happen, and that’s crucial for new, and soon-to-be nomads to understand.
So with that intro let me present: September 7th and 8th.
* * *
After a relaxing stay at Interstate State Park on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota, it was time to put on some serious miles towards a national park I have never visited before: Theodore Roosevelt.
Sept 7, Saturday
There’s nothing like a rough day on the road to remind a person to appreciate all the good ones.
Today started innocently enough. I woke up at a Walmart in Dickinson, ND after a decent night’s sleep. I was slow getting started with the day. The light rain and long driving day yesterday combined to make for a lazy morning. Which normally wouldn’t have been a problem, my destination today was quite close, no need to rush.
But it had rained most of the night, and kept raining.
It’s not like it was unexpected, the forecast had been calling for it for a week. But it wasn’t a downpour that sets off alarms in the heads of experienced boondockers, but a light, consistent rain that adds up over time.
By 10 I’m finally on the road, and the wind is picking up. Originally the plan was to boondock at a spot right outside of the park, but a couple reviews say that it’s not a good place to go when the roads are wet. So I’ve gone with a lesser known option a bit farther away. It’s not far off the interstate, and the only review on the road condition said that it’s “easy access”.
By now the wind is up to a steady 20 mph with gusts up to 40, and the rain is getting heavier. Still no problem for Bertha and Tribble. She plows into the headwind with little effect. Yet again I find myself driving on I94 through Theodore Roosevelt in the rain, the conditions were pretty similar to this back in the spring of 2015 when I was heading west on this route to my summer work-camping job in Yellowstone.
As soon as I pull off of I94 onto Country Road 11, I know I’ve made a mistake.
It’s a wide road and well graded, but more dirt than gravel. I’m sure most of the time it’s perfectly fine, better than many roads I’ve camped down. But right now, it’s not. Tread marks run through mud. How deep is it? How soft has the road gotten from 12 hours of rain? How much HAS it rained, anyway?
Traction is nonexistent. The mud sticks to Bertha’s street tires and I slide all over the place with my entirely inadequate 2WD. But I don’t dare stop, for fear of not being able to get going again. Thank goodness there’s no traffic. Thank goodness the road is wide enough that my sledding impression doesn’t land me in the ditch. I plow through a low spot with standing water and coast up the incline on the other side. Bertha’s rear tires skip a little and my breath catches in my throat, but then they grab solid ground again and truck and trailer both make it over the rise.
There’s sometimes a fine line between bravery and stupidity.
And from what I’ve seen, it’s usually the outcome that determines what side of that line you land on in the eyes of society. I pull into the dispersed camping area of Camel’s Hump Lake Recreation Area in one piece. Not surprisingly, I’m the only one here. So, was my drive brave or stupid? It was certainly not my intention to test Bertha or myself in such a way. On one hand, you could say I should have been more cautious, being an experienced boondocker familiar with how rain can ruin a dirt road. On the other hand, you could say that if I never took chances, life on the road would become repetitive and lose a lot of it’s wonder.
It isn’t until I’ve been parked a while that I discover that the front window of Tribble has a sprung a leak, and the foot of my bed is quite wet. Naturally, this is going to change my plans. But there’s little I can do about it now, so I settle in for a long and uncomfortable day of cold temps, strong winds, and rain. Days like this are just as much a part of life on the road as those glorious sunny ones that hog the spotlight on Instagram and Facebook.
I don’t pull out of Camel’s Hump Rec area until later in the morning, hoping the road will be dry enough to pass over. It’s still a little tricky in spots, but I make it out.
I drive promptly to nearby Buffalo Gap Campground. For only $6 a night, this places offers showers with hot water and paved pads with firepit and picnic table – it’s rare to find campgrounds this cheap! Had I known about this yesterday I no doubt would have come here instead. As it is, this gives me a nice place to leave Tribble while I drive into the park today. With more rain in the forecast, I won’t have to worry about road conditions. Before departing I heat up soup on my stove, this is the perfect weather for it.
The overcast skies lend the park a somber mood.
A feeling that is enhanced when I get on top of a hill just inside the park with better cell signal and learn from my parents that an uncle of mine has passed away. I wasn’t very close to him, but he was a good man. I could theoretically turn around and go back to Wisconsin for the funeral, to be there for my cousins and aunt. It’s not expected of me, but it would feel good to do so. And with this lifestyle, I could. It would be a lot of driving, but I could.
But then again, there’s the leaking window. If I route to Denver now, I can make it to the Hiker factory with less than a week left before Tribble’s 1 year warranty expires. If I go to Wisconsin for the funeral, I wouldn’t make it to Denver in time – plus I’d be subjecting the trailer to more water damage the longer I go without getting the window fixed.
This is another less talked about fact of life on the road. Because we have more freedom, we have more choices open to us. It’s easy to talk about the choice of whether to camp at Awesome Spot #1, or Awesome Spot #2. But sometimes, the choices you’re presented with won’t be so light.
Sometimes, the decisions you have to make as a nomad can be very hard.
In the end, I decide not to go to the funeral. In talking with my aunt, I discover that my uncle loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I sit in Bertha on top of the hill. The wind blows the grass in waves, the wide-open vista stretches before me, wreathed in low dark clouds. I mourn; not so much for my loss, but for the loss of those closer to my uncle. And it feels like the park mourns along with.
Given the weather, it’s really not a good picture day. I wish I could stay and see the park in the sunlight, but Denver calls. I’m in the more visited southern unit, and the Scenic Loop Road is the thing to do here. Part of it is already closed for the season, but I drive as much of it as I can, and I take one shorter trail out to a nice viewpoint. It’s cold and windy enough that a longer hike isn’t appealing.
Signs of fall are all around, dashes of color that break up the drabness. Today may also not be a good day, but little things like this shrub remind me that there are brighter days ahead. There’s always tomorrow.
As it turns out, tomorrow involves a bunch of driving south towards Denver. So do the next several days, with shorter boondocking stops between. But it’ll be good to have Tribble fixed. Far better to have the discomfort of an unexpected detour now, than a ruined trailer a year from now.
Sept 17, Tuesday
Window fixing day! I pull into Hiker Trailer West around 11 am, prepared to spend the whole day in Denver while the factory fixes Tribble’s window.
Instead what happens is, I pull into the lot, speak with the owner of the company Rob and his right-hand man for about five minutes about what’s going on with the window, and then workers come out with a replacement window and have the job done in fifteen minutes without me even having to unhitch. No fuss, no having to ply information out of anyone, no arguing about what needs to be done, no waiting for parts or manpower. The workers show me the part of the old window that failed (a manufacturer defect that I haven’t been the only victim of), and compare it to the new one going in that has been pre-tested for leaks. It’s all very painless.
This is the number one reason why I love small businesses.
The closer relationship between worker and customer, the personalized care, the attention to detail. Hiker Trailer doesn’t sponsor me, I have no professional relationship with them. They just truly care about the product they make, and they care about the people who camp in them. And I love them for it.
I’ll have to continue keeping an eye on the front window. Future Hiker builds will no longer have the front window as an option now that Hiker knows about the defect, the company that manufacturers the window is basically saying they aren’t going to do anything about it. It’s possible the new one I have will fail with time too, but knowing what the problem is, I’m now better prepared to deal with it if it happens again.
As far as water damage, I spotted the problem and got it fixed quickly enough that a person has to look reaaaallly hard to see anything, it’s pretty much non-existent. But Rob still made the offer that I could drop the trailer off for a week during their slower season and have the wood replaced if I want, still free of charge since I brought the issue to their attention before the warranty expired.
While I’m here now though, I get a tour of the machine they use to cut the wood, and I get to watch some drawers being made. It’s a pretty neat process!
I leave Denver early in the afternoon feeling much lighter than I did upon entering. It feels like the end of a rough patch. Now that Tribble is once again in perfect working condition, I’m free to travel about as I please, and don’t need to worry every time it threatens to rain. Bring on the moody fall weather. Bring on the idyllic road scenes and artistic photos shot in beautiful places. Bring on the highlights of life on the road, the rewarding parts that make this lifestyle so appealing.
Bad days happen on the road, but they serve a good purpose. They provide contrast, so that when the good days come again, you truly appreciate them.
Thanks Patreon Inner Circle members and PayPal donators for making this possible!
- An Open Letter to New and Prospective Full-timers About Fear – I’m seeing a couple responses in the comments section centered around fear, so thought I’d link to this here.
- Solo Full-time RVing on a Budget – Interested in full-time RVing and looking for more information? There’s a book for that!
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