It all began with an article in the NYT about a legendary road running across the northernmost U.S., a yearning for another encounter with the barren Badlands and a cold-war Air Force Base that we just had to buy to shelter from the coming apocalypse. In thirty days we drove the Hi-Line, passed on the SHTF compound, and battled a violent storm in the Badlands. We gathered Montana collectibles for the hard Florida winter.
As we retreated back across the Mississippi River, the reality that the adventure was over punched us in the face. Everyone knows that whatever distance to Florida remains after crossing the Mississippi is driven the following day. In this case, after crossing the Ole Miss in Greenville, MS, we made our final nights camp in Jackson’s city limits.
The LeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson is 305 acres of swamp and trees tucked between highways and industrial parks. Saturday night meant all of the numbered camping spots were taken, but an open “scout camping” area was available with no amenities. The primitive lea was full of two dozen perfectly staked tents, outfitted with bedding, kitchens, and camp furniture. Like an REI commercial but no people. We pitched our broken, wet and tired Grand Hut on a corner and wondered when and who would be arriving. In the end, no one arrived so the mystery of abandoned REI tent village endures.
The last night outdoors is a strange feeling. Mixed emotions. Facing 750 miles to home, we picked up random vegetables and beans at the community grocery and threw together an improvised frito pie, washed down with our favorite Scotch Ale. No more journey. All destination. Time to take the interstates.
We had not set an end date to the adventure, but it feels like about a month is what we can take. We have to face it. We are not fit for more. All of that gear in and out of the truck everyday takes its toll. Soaking wet and bracing cold mornings take their toll. Endless flies, mosquitos and moths take their toll. Three days without a shower or a proper bathroom takes its toll. So exactly one month from the day we left we were back in our Florida sanctuary. The house feels luxurious and cavernous. And after a spell of recovery, we will wish we were tenting in New Mexico’s high desert without plumbing or electricity.
On this 6th cross country journey in 5 years, we had one set of reservations out of the 20 locations where we pumped up the Hests. Custer State Park and the Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival. Without a doubt, the best camp life was off of a fire road, on a ridge, in a grove, or on a prairie with no one around. But, going in and out of standard sites to catch a lukewarm shower, scavenge an electrical charge for the freezer or electronics, or fill old plastic jugs with water is necessary. RVs need reservations. There’s always room for a tent.
The CLAM screened room with the wind panels made all the difference in the world. Suddenly we had a lanai! It wasn’t climate controlled but it blocked the wind, sun or rain. When the stove was on it stayed slightly warm. Never getting a break from the elements or bugs is maddening but living entirely in a tent is claustrophobic. So the CLAM and the HEST sleeping mattresses made life more comfortable. It is work to pack and unpack those items especially when raining, but so worth it.
As much as an escape to the Hi Line was about breaking routine, it was also about getting a break from the extreme heat and humidity of a Florida Gulf Coast summer. Labor Day was 98 degrees. Four months of unbreakable heat takes its toll. The change did us good. Except for the first and last day of the trip, we lived in long pants and fleece the entire time away and now we’re back in shorts and tee’s with the perfect 80/60 high/low blend.
The Hi Line gave us a new POV about rural America and the settling of the West. There is no sense in speculating when or if we will head out for a month or more in a tent again. It will not be in the Grand Hut, that is for sure. That baby gave its all and has earned retirement. If anything, we have learned that we have no ability to predict the future. We have switched up the logistics three times now and there is no guarantee that there will not be a fourth. New England, Northern California/Oregon and Alaska remain unexplored. But then again so is Canada, Mexico and Patagonia! Like we said, who knows? For now, it is time to change gears and transition into a Florida winter. As much as the summer will punish you, the winter will lift you up. Open the doors and windows and let the inside and outside flow together, just like a tent and a screened room.