• stacymwray

Smooth travels...a tribute to not so smooth travels

In honor of our camping trip to Utah that's just around the corner, I'd like to share a post I made of one of the best/worst camping trips ever!! Here's a little something how it went:

July 23, 2017

I wanted to share with you a little about how my vacation in the mountains of Wyoming went this past week. Truth be told, I need to document it because in about five years, I may not remember the details.

So, pull up a chair and give yourself some time – this may take a while

I live in Indiana and this vacation took place in the Big Horn mountains – West Tensleep Lake campground, to be exact. It took us about nearly 23 hours to travel in our 2010 Subaru Outback. We arrived on a Saturday around 4:00. But as soon as we were about to obliterate the last six miles up the mountain, the temperature light started flashing on the dash and the hot smell of coolant permeated through the car. My husband shut the car off and we both had that Oh, shit! look on our faces.

We gave it some time to cool and tried again. The light was still on but we had to make it to our campsite. We just had to.

And make it we did. We both buried the glowing red light into the deep recesses of our brains, knowing we had 4 nights and 5 days of the most beautiful scenery surrounding us. We were footsteps away from the lake and had the fresh mountain breezes infiltrating our lungs. Car problems? Eh. But we both knew that his sister and her family were supposed to be there on Monday – just 3 sites over – and we’d figure it all out then. After all, we had walked around the loop and felt comforted by the sign indicating who was to be there in two short days (aka HELP).

As we unpacked the car, my husband looked a little sheepish. “What?” I asked him. He shook his head. “You don’t want to know.” Stopping in my tracks, again I asked, “What?” He finally admits that we forgot something. “My overhead fan/light?” (the last time he forgot that I got a little pissed – I hate being hot when I sleep. You know, menopausal crap). “Well, yeah. But I’m missing a bin.” I felt my eyes widen the entire span of our campsite. “Just what was in the bin?” He shook his head again, his lips remaining tight. I came to the conclusion that it must’ve been big – way bigger than my overhead fan. Finally, he admits to leaving behind the pump to blow up our inflatable kayak. Now, mind you, we have an entire lake at our disposal. Crisp, clear, pristine water with snow-capped mountains serving as our backdrop. We’ve done nothing but talk about kayaking on West Tensleep Lake ever since we booked the site three months ago. So, yeah, my emotions ran a little hot. I may have even whisper-yelled, “Are you f*cking kidding me?” I know, not one of my finer moments. He felt bad enough.

I plopped in my chair and tried to process the letdown, the sheer agony of having the kayak in the car with the lake in my sights. It’s like being parched out of your mind and someone hands you a flask of natural spring water and says, “Here. You can look at it but you can’t drink any.” Again, are you f*cking kidding me?

I admit, tears leaked out. But I do that when I’m really angry. I cry. But it lasted all of maybe ten minutes and I knew I had to get over it. Again, he was just as crushed as I was.

That first night (Saturday) we received a surprise shower. Well, we had a little warning but let’s face it – we had no cell service. That was part of the attraction to our little slice of heaven. So, we quickly packed everything back into the car we didn’t want left out (all of our food) or getting wet (chairs, firewood and pretty much everything we could fit into the car). If you’ve never heard rumbling thunder at 9100′ elevation, let me tell you – it means business!! We were quarantined to our tent for the duration of the night. But we stayed dry (thank you, Marmot!)

The next day, we remained in a state of denial. That is, until we walked around the loop and noticed that his sister’s site now read OPEN. WHAT? We didn’t know what to make of it. Did they cancel? Her husband is a deputy forest supervisor in John Day, Oregon and we thought maybe he was called into a crisis. Whatever the case was, they had no way of contacting us. Once again, the red glare of our Subaru’s temperature light stood between us and that damned sign. This was not good.

Our moods instantly drained as we took heavy steps back to our camp. Things were starting to get a little gloomy.

On the bright side that day, we noticed that the campers across the way carried their inflatable kayak down to the lake. We sat in our chairs on the bank, wearing envy like a tight-fitting pair of jeans, watching them glide across the succulent water, floating when their weary arms became tired.

They didn’t know it, but they were about to become our new best friends.

When they finally made it back to their camp, my husband picked up one of our empty water jugs and headed towards the pump – which just so happened to be practically on their campsite. I watched him as he chatted up our neighbor, the ever-growing excitement of being on the water taking over. I could almost taste the victory, feel the cold water on my fingertips as they skimmed the surface of the lake. My insides leaped for joy as I watched the guy hand over his bright orange pump, apologizing for it being a manual one. Are you kidding?

But by the way my husband kept looking at the end piece as he walked back over, I knew there was a possibility that the nozzle wasn’t going to be a match. It wasn’t. I felt about as deflated as the kayak in the bag that sadly didn’t make it past the confines of our car.

Later, just after cooking our foil-packed dinners in the glowing coals, another rain shower threatened our evening. We were rushed, trying to clean up from dinner and getting everything in the car again. But we managed just as the rain started to fall, even having a few extra minutes to run to the lovely vault toilets after I stopped to lock the car.

Once again, we were prisoners to our tent. But this time we had Yahtzee! We played four games and my husband handed my ass to me. By that time, the rain had pretty much stopped, and we left our tent to brush our teeth. My husband was frothing at the mouth with toothpaste bubbles when I asked him where the keys to the car were. I needed to get the first-aid kit where we kept the ibuprofen.

He shook his head and patted his pockets. I immediately conjured a vision of seeing them nestled in the cup holder of his fold-out chair. The same chair he threw in the car in haste. The same car that I had locked on my way to the lovely vault toilet.

My mind jerked with a euphoric thought – I had a spare key in my purse. But that bubble quickly burst with the realization that my purse remained on the floorboard of the now-locked car.

I think we both swallowed dread at the same time. I wanted to vomit up my dread, but it lay pooled in the bottom of my stomach, latching on with its greedy fingers. We were f*cked once again. Only, this time, we had no food, no firewood, no camp stove…nothing. The only thing we didn’t throw in the car was our bear-proof cooler.

Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep that night. My husband said he wasn’t above knocking out the window with our recently purchased wood splitter. I envisioned the ride home with a trash bag duck-taped across the back window. Could almost hear the annoying flapping of flimsy plastic doing 80 mph across the flat plains of Iowa. No, thank you very much. I was nixing that idea.

Before we tossed and turned some more, he reminded me that we may not have a choice.

The next morning (Monday), I awoke to my husband fighting with his pants, frantically putting on his shoes. In the near distance, we could hear the diesel engine of the camp host’s truck coming up the mountain. Help! That’s what these lovely people sign up for, right? To be here for those of us who were idiotic enough to lock their keys (and everything else they need to survive for a few days) in their car?

I never saw my husband move so fast.

I could hear the conversation taking place near those lovely vault toilets. (You think I’m being sarcastic, but I assure you, they were the cleanest vault toilets I have ever witnessed. The camp host actually mopped the cement floor every day.) Even from my tent, I could almost feel the utter horror rolling off Roger (the camp host) as my husband proceeded to explain the “jam” we had gotten ourselves into. Within minutes, they both drove down the mountain together in hopes of using a landline at one of the two lodges.

After getting ready for the day, I sat at the picnic table and read. Thank God I had my Kindle in the tent and not in the car. I was fortunate enough that Tarryn Fisher decided to press the “publish” button on her new book, Atheists Who Kneel and Pray, the night before we left, leaving me the opportunity to download it. It helped take my mind off the disaster I sat in the middle of. I was so wrapped up in Yara’s life that I had no idea how long my husband had been gone (or the fact I still hadn’t had my morning coffee).

Alas, my husband and Roger returned with good news – after three phone calls (the first two said there was no way they were coming up that mountain) my husband found someone willing to give us a break. We could only imagine what the price tag was going to be but, at this point, that was the least of our worries. And bless his heart, my husband returned with snacks, a huge cinnamon roll, and a cup of coffee. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had already feasted on pinches of shredded cheddar cheese out of the cooler. It was either that or raw onion or potatoes. Um, yeah – no contest.

Sure enough, within the hour, a truck pulled up in front of our camp site and the day was saved!! After watching a fascinating method of breaking into our car, my husband retrieved the keys (they were exactly where I had envisioned them) and gladly paid the bill which was only $185. Considering the situation and where we were, we felt this was very fair.

After the nice man left, my husband told me that Roger said his sister was still coming. There had been a mix-up with online reservations and his wife was getting it all straightened out. Sure enough, his sister’s family showed up at lunch time and all was well at West Tensleep Lake campground.

That was, until we decided to take the car down the mountain on Tuesday to do a little exploring (and to test the car). We didn’t even make it all the way down and that damned temperature light came on again and the car smelled hot. I was beginning to hate the color red. We turned around and started to head back up the mountain when all of the indicator lights on the dashboard started going berserk. Flashing and blinking as if it were trying to tell us in Morse code what complete fools we were to think the car had been miraculously fixed by sitting quietly at our camp. Panic settled in, once again, as we pulled over to let it cool off, taking refuge in the shade at the edge of the forest. And what a beautiful forest it was. Too bad our impending doom took precedence of the beauty surrounding us.

We finally got the car back up the mountain. After we talked it out with his sister and her husband, the men decided they would drive the hour to the closest town to check out what our options were, if any. They left around 4:00. This left my sister-in-law and I a chance to catch up on life, taking my mind off everything.

We fixed dinner for us and the boys at her campsite and yes, I got to split wood and build a fire. It was empowering, to say the least. I am woman, hear me roar and all that.

I returned to our campsite to pack up everything I possibly could. We were supposed to leave in the morning. I supposed if we were to be stuck somewhere, I couldn’t ask for a better place. But I don’t think the next occupants of our campsite would see it that way. They were supposed to roll in sometime the next day.

It was dark before I heard a car coming up the mountain. My man had returned. Hopefully, with good news.

As he unzipped our tent, I think I held my breath, waiting to see if I could read his mood (after 28 years of marriage, I’m pretty damn good at it). I could tell by the one heavy sigh he released that it wasn’t particularly good.

The good news was that he found someone to tow the car if we could get it to the base of the mountain. The bad news was that our insurance only covered the first 50 miles. The nearest Subaru dealership was 166 miles away – in Casper. That meant he had to put a hefty $406 on our VISA to cover the rest. Ouch. But, hey, at least we had a plan. The tow was supposed to meet us around 8 the next morning. And my sister-in-law graciously volunteered to drive us the six-hour round trip.

We felt horrible for infringing on her and her family’s vacation. I’m not sure what we would have done if they hadn’t been there. But we were so grateful that they were.

And…we made it to the base of the mountain without having to stop. We were on our way. At least that’s what we thought. By 9 the tow still hadn’t shown up and we had no way of calling anyone to confirm (still no cell service).

My husband stayed with the car and my sister-in-law and I drove to a small town about 20 miles away to see if we could get cell service so I could call our insurance company.

As we drove into town, we were elated to see that we, indeed, had one bar – enough to make a phone call. Turns out, the tow company never took the job and we had no way of being contacted. So, they found another company who would (out of Worland) and she assured me that they would be there within the hour. At that point, I’m questioning if we would ever get home.

We drove back to my husband and conveyed the message. Sitting there with our eyes glued to the road, we silently prayed that each car that passed by would morph into a truck with a flatbed.

By 11:00, he did show, and the relief rolled off of us in waves. As the truck neared our car, it was hard to contain the humor – it was the same guy who had rescued us with the keys! You could tell that he recognized our car and when he stepped out of his truck, the smirk on his face told us what he was thinking: It sucks to be you this week.

Yes, we were well aware.

BUT…he got us loaded and we were on our way to Casper. A huge shout out to Washakie Garage for being willing to help us out when others didn’t want to mess with us.

When we arrived at the Subaru dealership, my husband and I sat down to cancel the hotel we had booked in South Dakota. We had planned on staying at the Badlands Inn and exploring the surrounding national park on the drive home. Their cancellation policy was it had to be done within 48 hours to avoid your deposit of your stay (138.80). Thinking they would take pity on our situation, we still had high hopes of wiping out the charge.

Nope. They didn’t give a shit about our dilemma and said the only way we could receive a credit was if someone else took our reservation. Thanks for kicking us when we were down, Badlands Inn. (And, for the record, I’m not accepting their final decision. There will be more phone calls. And, if that doesn’t work, I’ll be posting revenge tweets and Facebook statuses).

So, we had to find a hotel in Casper while we were paying for a room in South Dakota. Yes, it sucked to be us big time.

The dealership shuttled us to a Ramada Inn, and it was very nice. We were so exhausted that we simply ordered a pizza in and took our first shower in four days. Life was getting a little better.

Our car was fixed the next day. After a not-so-bad repair bill of $365 (the way our luck was going, we were envisioning a blown head gasket), we were on our way home. Sigh. Turns out, we had a bad radiator cap and our thermostat needed replaced.

We were on our way with an extra $1000 + in receipts that were piling up. But, yes, we were on our way.

When we were getting close to stopping for the night, my husband got on his phone to find us a room on Expedia. He found a lovely room at a Comfort Suites Inn that we snagged for $114. He told me it was non-refundable, and I assured him we’d be there – to book it.

Pulling up to the hotel, my husband got out to check us in while I waited in the car. I watched as he conversed with the girl at the desk. Then I watched as he hung his head, his fingers pressing into the area above his eyebrows. Rubbing. Not a good sign. I thought they gave our room away or something like that.

When he returned, he had to confess that he made the reservation for the following night and they were completely booked for that night. What? How does that happen? And the cha-ching of another bill adding to the pile settled in my bones.

I was NOT happy.

It was dead silent in the car for the next 50 miles until we came to the next batch of hotels. I mean silent.

Pulling into an AmericInn parking lot, I had him pull up the again to find a better deal than just walking in. He found it. “Do NOT book it,” I told him. “You carry your phone in there and show them the screen. Tell them we want a room.” Poor guy. I just wasn’t taking any chances. Turns out, once we were settled in our room, he shared that the lady back at Comfort Suites told him she wouldn’t charge him for the room. But he had to go through the steps of calling Expedia to cancel but couldn’t speak to a person. For once, I think our luck turned around. We never did get charged for that room. Small yay!

Only one more day until we were home. The car was running great and, even though we had a long day ahead of us, we were to be home by 9 or 10 that night.

And then…I had just awoken from resting my eyes a bit and said something to my husband, who was driving. His answer was a bit clipped and I thought that was weird. I studied him and then my eyes drifted to the dash, immediately noticing the blinking indicator lights.

My heart sank.

He assured me that the car was running fine and this time, the temperature light was not involved. I only had one word in mind, and it started with the letter ‘F’.

Dread filled the car once again. I think I must’ve started this whole string of bad mojo. The day before we left, I was leaving the Meijer parking lot when a truck directly behind me was backing out at the exact same time. Our bumpers tapped and since I was hit by a truck, I’m the only one with damage. Our deductible is $500. I should have known it was the start of a slew of bad luck. That black cloud followed me like a magnet with super powers.


Once we stopped for gas, the lights never came back on and we made it home by nightfall. Could have been that the gas cap hadn’t been on tight enough? Bad batch of gas? Who knows! But then the oil light came on once we hit Indiana. Are you kidding me?

I’m reluctant to leave the house for a while – paranoid as hell. But life goes on. I’ll be looking for a second job to help pay for the bills incurred (not really).

My husband is afraid I will never want to remote camp again (I may have used those words once in the throws of grief). But I probably will.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. I think it’s just called life and sometimes it sucks. As we were laying in our tent one night, I expressed my thoughts to my husband. I wanted to know what we had done to deserve such bad luck. He assured me that it was a game of percentages, that we hadn’t done a thing. We’d coasted through life fairly unscathed. It was just our time.

Note to life: you don’t have to collect all at once. Next time, could you space it out a little?

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