ROAD TRIP – WE’RE DOING IT!
A common theme during our first week of digital nomading (it’s a verb okay?!) has been a feeling of astonishment and amazement that Abby and I are actually doing this trip! It especially hit home when we left Abby’s childhood home in Dayton, OH where we visited her family and dropped off her cat for a kitty vacation (her name’s Macka <MAH-CH-KAH> and she’s fluffy and adorable!). Something about setting off to places you’ve never visited instead of a state where you know people drove home the point that our residence and office for the next month is a two person tent and Jeep Cherokee! While we had a little trepidation about the uncertainty of our travels (particularly with where we are going to be staying near Yellowstone and Grand Teton), we are also ridiculously excited to see the places we’re going to see. We’re one week into our trip now and have established some strategies and techniques for organizing and thriving in our modified work situation which helps with the above mentioned nerves, we also have determined a strategy around how we’re planning the trip on the go! I’ll touch on those points in this blog along with information about our first three trip destinations – Warren Dunes State Park, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park!
As of Saturday the 15th, we’re officially a week into our cross country adventure and have discovered/figured-out some strategies to make our lives more comfortable while we work remotely and explore the massive expanse of the central and western United States! We discovered quickly that organization is the key to comfort in a mid-sized SUV turned mobile home and that planning one stop in advance is a lot less stressful than not planning at all or planning the entirety of our trip at once. In order to help with organization, we brought along some large tote bins that have allowed us to categorize our equipment and food so we know where everything is in the vehicle and we can quickly access it without much thought. This may seem obvious, but getting places assigned for all of the camping gear, clothing, technology, dry food, and cold food has made life on the road much less stressful and it has even allowed us to have TWO very comfortable “offices” in the Jeep, one complete with a seat heater! In these offices, Abby and I have managed to achieve a level of productivity equivalent to that of our home offices in Delaware and Maryland! Abby takes the back seat and I take shotgun as we power our laptops through a dual port power inverter that turns the Jeep’s battery into a couple home wall outlets. For internet, something both Abby and I rely on for our jobs, we either hotspot our phones or leverage the Wifi of various campgrounds, casinos, restaurants, or hotels. Isn’t 21st century travel spectacular? So far this strategy has allowed us to attend all of our meetings with no disruptions to meetings or calls – some of our coworkers probably have no clue we’re two timezones away! While working on the road seemed strange and difficult for the first couple of days, we have found ways to optimize efficiency and maintain productivity so we can work from pretty much any location in the lower 48!
Our first official stop on our month long adventure was Warren Dunes State Park on the east side of Lake Michigan! This park is absolutely beautiful and we chose it over the newly formed Indiana Dunes National Park because it has BIGGER DUNES and because it is further away from Chicago which we figured would have a higher COVID-19 infection rate. The dunes at this state park were incredible! They rise to 260’ above lake level and reminded me of the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean despite being in the middle of the continent. The water of the lake was a comfortable 74ºF the weekend we visited and the one to two foot waves (you read that right) made it fun to float around in the evening. Our second day at the park was an eventful one; it was Monday and our first day working on the road and we chose a nearby casino to park at for internet connection reasons. After working there all day, we were driving back to the campsite 20 minutes down the road when I read a headline that a powerful Derecho thunderstorm was sweeping across Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan and it was heading straight for us! This particular storm brought 100 mph winds, heavy rain, and was knocking the power out for a large percentage of the region and we were camping in a tent… PANIC!!! We quickly drove back to the campsite while I was debating tearing down the tent to save it from the battering that was no doubt coming, we didn’t beat the rain though. Abby and I had to decide if the wind was strong enough to warrant us packing up a sopping wet tent for the hour it would take for the storm to pass or if it was worth risking it entirely in a windstorm while staying relatively dry ourselves. We opted for the latter. Thankfully the wind blew itself out on the forest around us and all the tent saw was a deluge of rain. The inside remained dry and we were treated to some gorgeous post-thunderstorm views on the lake! What a way to kick off a trip – with some bangs and flashes of lightning!
After our two day stay on the shore of Lake Michigan we began our journey west to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, a place I had never visited before. Here we were treated to views and hikes around some of the most unique rock formations on the planet and we had the privilege of seeing an incredible variety of wildlife that included a Golden Eagle, Bighorn Sheep, Buffalo, Prairie Dogs, and Pronghorn Antelope. While this park doesn’t feature any supremely long hikes (it’s a desert, it’s hot and dangerous), Abby and I did venture out on the Notch, Window, and Door trails in the eastern part of the park. The first of these was my favorite and the longest at about 3 miles round trip. The Notch Trail should only be attempted by people willing to climb log/cable ladders, brave the possibility of rattlesnakes, and walk along the precipices of slot canyons. If you’re willing to take on those dangers you’ll be greeted with a spectacular view of the plains in the southern part of the park at the trail terminus. These three hikes are an excellent use of a day in Badlands National Park and I can’t wait till our next opportunity to visit!
From the Badlands we departed to the supremely underrated and under-appreciated Custer State Park; also in South Dakota. This park feels entirely different from Badlands National Park even though it’s just two hours away! The terrain rapidly changes from prairie grasses, rock formations, and dust to that of an evergreen forest with little undergrowth, fields, and mountains. I was positively amazed by the entirety of this little known state park, not just because of the environment and vegetation, but again because of the unique wildlife. In Custer, we got to witness a gigantic herd of ~100 buffalo as they grazed and moved across a field in the high country of the park. Bison always attract an audience and this occasion was no exception as they were incredibly close to the roadway and even crossed it at points. Below are some of my favorite pictures of them! A word of warning about buffalo, THEY ARE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS! A day or two before Abby and I reached Custer, a woman got too close to one for a photo and was gored and literally thrown out of her jeans – SHE’S LUCKY TO BE ALIVE. That said, if you keep a safe distance and/or remain in your vehicle the prairie cows generally don’t get too riled up; respect the animals and they’ll respect you.
Stay tuned for the next blog post where I talk about Abby’s and my experience seeing Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming! Until then, stay safe and I’ll see you on the trails.