Having just spent 10 days in Eastern Washington and Central Oregon we had one day to “turn and burn” and head east to Oshkosh. A couple loads of laundry, a trip to Costco to restock the shelves, some soap and water to remove the previous 750 miles of dirt and bugs from the truck and RV and a tank full of diesel my two sons and I, were ready to roll! Interstate 90 was about to become our best friend.
8am Tuesday morning. With nearly 2000 miles, 6 states ahead of us, a solid “clunk” could be heard in the driveway as the 5th wheel hitch on the truck made connection with the trailer. We were ready to head out…or so I thought. We had to explain to our 3-year-old, Olde English Bulldogge, Dozer that he couldn’t come along this time. I don’t think he was pleased with that decision.
Descending the eastern side of the Cascade mountain range we noted the outside temperature beginning to quickly climb. A quick stop in Cle Elum at the butcher shop to stock up on beef jerky, pepperoni sticks and thick cut bacon, and we were quickly back on the road. The next several hours were met with miles and miles of vast farmland, brown landscape and fire scorched hill sides. With just the sound of the tires on the road and sounds of classic rock in the background from the radio, I noted that my sons had already lost themselves in their cell phones and headphones. This trend of being enthralled with personal technology would continue for the next several days with some exceptions.
As we entered Idaho the outside temperature hit 100F. Lake Coeur d’Alene with its 25 miles of shoreline looked inviting.
The road ahead became challenging. The twists, the turns and the elevation changes. Truck, trailer and gear we were around 20,000 pounds rolling down the road. While the speed limit for cars was 70MPH we found ourselves slow and steady around 60MPH.
Our next stop was the St Regis Travel Center in Montana for fuel and food. My older son, Alex, who had been through this area a year prior insisted we stop here and order Huckleberry Shakes. With a 40-foot trailer this proved to be a challenging fuel stop as the fuel islands weren’t designed to handle that length of vehicle. With literally a few inches to spare I managed to squeeze in, re-fuel. A Canadian gentlemen who had pulled into the pump beside us sent his congratulations over to me at fitting in like I had. Alex was right! The Huckleberry Shake was well worth the stop! 190 miles to go for the day.
That evening we pulled into Butte, Montana for the night. Wow, what a long day that was! The campground we stayed at needed some work. The overgrown foliage to the overall feel of being run down. We were unimpressed. Oh well. We only stayed about 12 hours before hitting the road again the next morning. A 2 star review was left.
Wednesday morning after a quick fill up with fuel we started up the Homestake Pass. The truck got a workout that morning. As I watched the engine and transmission temperature on the truck rise I heard the cooling fan kick on as we crested the 6329 foot summit of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. It was all downhill from here. Literally!
That afternoon Alex (20) took over driving for a several hours. Previously he had little experience with that rig, but out in the middle of Montana seemed like a good place to gain some more experience. After nearly a tank of fuel he called it quits. I think he gained a new appreciation for the level focus needed. He climbed back into the passenger seat and proceeded to sleep the rest of the afternoon. Actually, they both were asleep.
Through the rest of Montana and a corner of Wyoming we entered South Dakota and the land of Wall Drug signs.
We arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota in the early evening and setup camp. While we were just a few miles from Mt Rushmore we wouldn’t visit until our return leg of the trip.
Somewhere in the middle of South Dakota my younger son Zach (16) asked if he could try his hand at driving the truck and trailer. With little driving experience under his belt, I begrudgingly agreed to let him try. I pulled into a rest stop, used the restroom and we changed seats. After a quick adjustment of his seat and mirrors and a short speech from me about stopping distance and little room for error in the lane due to width we were on our way.
We made it to the next rest stop approximately 45 minutes later when he declared he’d had enough.
As we crossed into Minnesota later that afternoon the weather took a turn. I swear the moment we hit the state line it started raining.
A while later we started running low on fuel. While we had been seeing fuel stations and truck stops frequently throughout South Dakota, suddenly it seemed like they had all disappeared. We continued on watching signs and waiting. DING! The “50 miles to empty” low fuel warning appeared on the dash. I was starting to get nervous. Finally at “20 miles to empty” I spot a truck stop. Still raining hard we exit the freeway and pull into the station. “Hmm…no diesel at these pumps” I noted. I look over and see the big rig diesel pumps on the other side of the property. I decided to drive over and see what would happen. I pull the pump handle off the pump and notice it’s a high flow nozzle. Having never tried it on my truck before I decided to see what would happen. I insert the nozzle and cautiously pull the handle. To my surprise it was working without issue. It took 85 seconds to fill my fuel tank! “Wow, this is awesome!” I declared out loud.
We continued eastbound where as quickly and suddenly as it had started raining entering Minnesota, it stopped as suddenly as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. Strange.
We pulled into Oakdale, Wisconsin near the Wisconsin Dells, later that afternoon.
Although Oshkosh was only about 2 hours away from this point, this a was a strategic stop for the night so that we could fill the fresh water tank, flush and drain the grey and black water tanks and do a final series of check on the trailer before we headed to Oshkosh the next day. I did not want to carry 80 gallons of water (668 pounds) all day long as this would cause our fuel mileage to decrease severely. Camping at Oshkosh was to be “dry camping” the entire time meaning that we would not be connected to any outside services (water, power & sewer). We would be running on generator power and conserving water.
Friday morning. The final stretch to Oshkosh took us off the Interstate and onto 2 lane farm roads that were slow(er) going. Beautiful country.
We pulled into the Camp Scholler camper check-in area at Wittman Airport (KOSH) around noon. We were greeted by volunteers who directed us to park and go to the office.
We then proceeded to the 24-hour generator area of Camp Scholler on the south end of the property. The mass arrival of people had not yet begun. We were all alone…but not for long.
A storm was brewing and our adventure was about to begin…