2009 Cross Country Camping Trip

Tommy, Jake, Christian, John, and ColinTommy, Jake, Christian, John, and ColinIt all started back around October or November. One night I had been inspired by two cousins to take advantage of my last summer before I get just one more inevitable step closer to the “real” world, internships, jobs, bills and who knows what else. So the next day I proposed the idea of a cross-country trip to Christian over lunch at Quiznos. We immediately recruited Tommy, John, and Colin to complete the crew.

I’m under the impression that Mrs. Gaidus, probably along with most other parents, didn’t instantly believe us when we said that we were going on this trip over the summer. But at some point an epiphany must have occurred and her and Tommy started setting up an itinerary. Which brings me to a few thank-you’s:

  1. Thank you Gaidus’s for helping with all of the planning. For everything that Tommy told us about, I’m sure that there was twice as much going on behind the scenes that we never heard about.
  2. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Marotta for letting us use the van. It would have really sucked if we had this incredible trip planned, and then had no car to take it in.

Road Trip Highlights

So here is a list (because who doesn’t like a good list?) of some trip highlights—in no particular order:

  • The car rides. I was prepared for hell, and I didn’t need to be. The car was a time to catch up on some sleep, talk about whatever, play some Sporcle, or explore into everyone’s extremely different tastes in music. There was a rule that the driver had control over what music was playing. So with five drivers and five different iPods, it was quite the battle. But we all got used to life on the road
  • Yellowstone. Simply everything about it seemed to be a highlight. Our Mt. Washburn hike was great, and the wildlife was incredible. Yellowstone also has the unique geysers and hot springs. Everything about this park is worth doing or seeing. Regrets? Not staying longer.
  • The Bear Tooth Highway. I didn’t really have a clue as to what I should have expected for the Highway, but what I know is that I couldn’t have imagined anything as spectacular as it was. The drive alone was fun, entertaining, and dangerous. That road could be placed anywhere in the world and people would go just for the thrill of driving it. But its location makes it a place too incredible, too special, for words. It rained, it hailed, the wind could have carried away a small child, and it was freezing. But it was still one of my favorite stops. We had a snowball fight, in the middle of the road, in the middle of July, in the middle of the most beautiful scenery anyone could ever see.
  • The Grand Tetons Cascade Canyon hike. The entire park was fun, but this may have been the best hike of the trip—or at least one of the best. After taking the ferry ride across Jenny Lake, the trail goes by the Cascade Falls, Inspiration Point, and follows the Cascade River. It’s very popular and crowded, but almost everyone stops at Inspiration Point, which is only a mile in. After the first mile the traffic thins out and 80% of the people stop. This is where we found our little island and swam in the glacial river, as well as first tasted John’s homemade beef jerky.
  • John’s homemade beef jerky. It was by far the best beef jerky I have ever eaten. I would have even paid for it. He somehow managed to turn a $5 Top Round into a gourmet trail snack.
  • The Speedo. Few things in life are funnier than a good Speedo. When John undressed to reveal his swimsuit (among other things) to the packed indoor pool, I laughed ‘til I cried. Just imagine John, wearing a fluorescent orange Speedo that was made for a 12 year old, along with knee high socks and sandals as he jumps into the pool. Regrets? Not taking a picture.
  • Nils. Nils really made this trip, our trip. The way I see it, anyone could plan the same trip that we did, go to the same places, and see all the same things. But it’s the experiences and decisions that people make which shape the trip as a whole. Meeting Nils was an incredible experience and allowing him to drive with, and then stay with, us was a decision that greatly improved our trip. I don’t want to say that the trip would have been worse without Nils; it’s just almost impossible to imagine what it would have been like without meeting him.
  • The Cottonwood Creek at Grand Tetons. We pulled off into a little picnic area to enjoy one of your seemingly never-ending peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches. After eating we went down a little trail at the picnic spot which led down to a riverbank. We hung out for a little until deciding to go in. The ridiculously strong current and relatively high water line overshadowed the freezing temperatures and we decided to have some real fun. So we walked up as far on the bank as we could, then waded out into the water as far as we could until the current inevitably knocked someone over, and carried us back down the river. Whether you want to call it body surfing, body rafting, or simply some form of swimming, it’s a “must do” in the park.
  • The people. I’m going to be honest. Most of the people in the New York area are not the friendliest bunch. People in the rest of the country are simply nicer. They stop for you to cross the road without even thinking twice. They smile, wave and say hello when walking by. They offer their help before you even ask for it. (We learned that one at Lake McConaughy.) We met a German, a Navajo, some French teens, people from all corners of the country, and even a Vagabond. And each one was nicer and friendlier than the next. Nowhere in New Jersey would someone end up talking to a gas station attendant about his or her vacation. I think the easiest was to describe it is that in the rest of the country, people ask how you’re doing because they actually care about the answer.

Road Trip Lowlights

I feel the need to preface this section by saying that (at least in my opinion) there were no really terrible parts of the trip. So the term lowlight is used very loosely…

  • Monsoon/ mud bowl/ tent ball at Badlands. You don’t notice at first (at least I didn’t) that when you’re walking around the Badlands during the 95-degree heat of the day, everything that you’re walking on is, essentially, dried mud. So when it rains the whole park turns into a giant mud bowl. The cement-like mud is impossible to walk in because if you don’t slip on it with every step, it sticks to your shoes making each step that much harder. So when we got back to camp, found out tent soaking wet, inside and out, and covered in mud, slipping and getting ourselves covered in mud was just adding insult to injury. I’ll just say that it was a night I hope I never have to experience again.
  • Speeding tickets. We (John) got two speeding tickets. But I don’t like to look at them as speeding tickets. I prefer to look at them more as donations. We decided while driving, that we loved the state of Montana so much, we thought we should “give something back.” So we simply gave the police department a $75 donation. We should pat ourselves on the back.
  • Getting stuck in the sand. Lake McConaughy is a giant lake that allows 4-wheel-drive vehicles to drive on the sand beach down to the waterfront. Just in case any of you are wondering, 2005 Toyota Sienna minivans full of five kids, three weeks worth of camping gear, food and clothes, will not make it to the water. We were stuck in the sand for not even 5 minutes when two really nice guys came over (without us asking) in their powerful pick-up truck to pull us out. They attached the line to the van’s frame, and started to pull. Both vehicles moved maybe three feet, and now not only was the van stuck, but so was the guy’s pick-up that was supposed to pull us out. So over came another truck to pull out the original truck, and together they pulled out the van and us. Is it worth mentioning that John was driving?
  • Our tent breaking. I think that first sentence pretty much says it all. Lacking tent stakes, our “home” blew away and broke. Although the instant realization of no longer having a tent to protect us from the elements at night was, at very least, shocking, it turned out to be bittersweet. In the end, not having a tent really just improved our campsites and added to the “adventure.”

In hindsight…

  • Bring tent stakes. Although not having a tent turned out to not be a terrible thing, it would have been better if we had the choice to not use our tent as opposed to the ultimatum of sleeping under the stars.
  • Pack warmer clothes/ sleeping bags. The initial thought of the West is heat. And during the daytime the heat can be unbearable. But in places like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, the early morning hours, and more importantly nighttime, can get close to freezing. So at night we would climb into our 40-50 degree sleeping bags (in Tommy’s case he would get into his bed sheet) wearing all of the clothing that we packed. So while I guess that it can be argued that wearing 7 layers to bed and still freezing, or the stories of Tommy doing push-ups in the middle of the night in an effort to warm himself up, just added to the “adventure.” For the sake of comfort, rethink packing a speedo before a sleeping bag that will keep you warm.
  • Make it longer. It truly was the trip of a lifetime. So when going cross-country, go for as long as you possibly can. If I could, I’d still be out there.

- Jake Fitzgerald

You can download a detailed pdf Road Trip Travel Itinerary or zipped Microsoft Streets and Trips Travel Road Map file for this trip using the links shown below.