Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Tater TOT and Big Change in Summer Plans


Domaine Serene, Dundee Oregon


I left Portland after a wonderful 3 week stay. I took care of so much stuff while I  visited with good friends. My friend Diane and I were able to go hiking with our cameras to local wildlife refuges and enjoy wineries in the Willamette Valley. I also did some rain filled riding with my recumbent buddies of the Pacific Northwest Recumbent Cycling group - aka, the Portland Posse chapter of the Lawn Chair Nation. Many, many thanks to dear friends Paul and Bev for letting me keep my trailer in their driveway. They were very generous to let me park for so long!!  This was a super successful visit.

Wildflowers blooming

Portland Posse Ride - wet and wild!

The trip to Kellogg, Idaho can be done in one day's drive from Portland but I prefer to be more leisurely breaking it up with an overnight at the Country Mercantile outside Richland, Washington. The store has lovely gift ideas, a chocolate factory and a full-service deli. The parking lot is huge and lots of RVs and semis spend the night at no additional charge.  I backed into a space looking out over a neighboring agricultural field to have a better view.

Fields of colorful flowers

Snow on the local Idaho mountains

This year, I got a reservation at a RV park in Kellogg, Idaho for my stay at Tater TOT - the yearly triking event. There were lots of trikers also staying at the Crystal Gold Mine. This RV park is $45/night with full hook-ups. It has an actual mine they give tours of and a spot where you can pan for gold. The park has close access to the Trail of the Coeur d'Alene and is about a mile from the Fairbridge Inn where most of the Tater TOT festivities take place.

Tater TOT - Cast of Characters video


With Carol and Griz

Trikers braving the weather before a ride

Tater TOT this year was very cool with lots of rain. The Pacific Northwest is well-known for rain and this year they have had record rainfall. Luckily, almost every day there was a break in the rain where we could get out and ride. I did rides to Wallace, Dobson Pass, Route of the Hiawatha as well as the round trip ride from Harrison to Plummer and back. Even with all the rain, I was able to put in a good amount of miles on my trike. It was really fun to be with the triking tribe again. Between Covid and higher gas prices, many people took this year off. Hopefully, next year will be easier for everyone to travel. This area is incredibly beautiful and I always look forward to returning.

Route of the Hiawatha video

Harrison to Plummer Ride video

Dobson Pass Ride video

From Tater TOT, I started traveling east with my friends, Leslie and Paula. We made plans for this trip months ago. I've known these gals for many, many years. We have met up countless times at Tater TOT, Recumbent Retreat as well as the Olympic Peninsula, Portland, Northern and Southern California. We always spend our time together triking and have had a blast bombing down the trails everywhere. They have a truck and trailer setup similar to mine. This summer, we planned on doing a trip across the country to Prince Edward Island (PEI) in Canada to ride trikes for a few days. From PEI, we would go down the east coast to Massachusetts to spend time with Leslie's family. The trip sounded fabulous. We had thrown out a lot of ideas for places to stop along the way but at the time we started off the itinerary was very vague. Leaving Tater TOT, we did 2 nights of boondocking making our way to Buffalo, WY where we would meet up with Leslie's sister for 4 nights camping at a KOA. I am really glad we did this. These few days gave me a better idea of what the trip plans are and what traveling with these gals would be like. As we talked more about the trip, it became clear that we would need to drive 250 miles a day for 12 days to reach PEI in time for our reservations. ....Hhhhmmm.... Seeing PEI seems terrific but ... that is a lot of driving and money to spend on gas just to visit a place for only a few days. I started to have 2nd thoughts about this trip. My idea was we would drive to find places to ride our trikes but, it turned out, there just wasn't enough time to be leisurely. I am so thankful we had taken a few days in Buffalo. This gave me enough time to think this trip through more seriously and I ended up feeling confident about changing my travel plans. Some day, I hope to get to Prince Edward Island and the East Coast of the US but it isn't going to be this trip. I decided to back out of the trip across the country and go on my own for the summer. Paula and Leslie seemed to understand the driving requirement was overwhelming for me.

Osprey nest

Forest scene

Rushing river

Flowers next to the river

This change in plans meant I now have close to 3 months to fill. This change really threw me for a loop. I had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do. My only plans now are to be back in Oregon for the Recumbent Retreat in September. 

Boondocking up a mountain road

From Buffalo, I looked for places to boondock. I have a couple of favorite apps and websites I like best for researching spots. On my phone, I use IOverlander and Boondocking. On my laptop I use freecampsites.net. Freecampsites.net probably has the most information for the sites listed. What I especially like knowing is if there is room to turn around my trailer and that there is also phone service available. Phone service makes me feel safer. I found a gorgeous spot up a mountain from Sundance, WY. This was down a dirt road on a grass pull-off with a great view and strong Verizon phone service - perfect! I decided to stay for 2 nights. Without unhitching, I was able to get my trailer completely level. On Google Maps, the dirt road I took in looked to continue on looping back to a paved road. While I was parked, I saw 2 trucks pulling long horse trailers go by and return a few hours later. If they could turn around, I felt confident I could too and followed the dirt road on my way to the next destination.

Beautiful boondocking near Sundance, WY

Google Maps didn't show that this road ended at a horse trail with a locked gate and no room to turn around. Oh no!! This is a nightmare scenario that I knew was going to happen at some point. Since I couldn't turn around, I had no choice but to back the trailer to a clearing where I saw 2 5th wheel trailers parked. This must be as far as the horse trailers went as well. The Ford F150 has never had any trouble pulling my trailer in any situation but pushing a trailer is a whole 'nother thing especially pushing in reverse uphill on a twisting, narrow dirt road.  This is not a situation I considered when buying the truck and I was worried it might not be up to the challenge. The 1st time I tried reversing the truck, it didn't move. At all. Once I put the truck in 4-wheel drive we were in business and I able to very slowly back up the trailer. My heart was in my mouth the whole 3/4 mile I had to maneuver the trailer up the hill and then into a clearing. I was very relieved to know my truck could handle this situation and also happy the road wasn't steeper. Just before the start of this trip I had put brand new all terrain tires on the truck and I bet that helped as well.

From that nerve-wracking near-fiasco, I made my way to Belle Fourche, South Dakota which is the geographical center of the US. I expected the pronunciation to have a french sound but, in fact, the pronunciation is Belle Foosh. Locals corrected me quickly pointing out the french pronunciation is considered uppity. I saw a very large reservoir/wildlife refuge on my apps that had lots of boondocking opportunities. This, again, was down a long dirt road and I found a spot that had some shade trees just feet away from the water. What an amazingly beautiful spot! This is dry camping and there are no fees. It was about 5 days before the July 4th holiday and I decided to stay until July 6th. The area can get significant weather with powerful thunderstorms. The dam on the reservoir is nicknamed 'Stormin Orman' because of the frequent strong winds. My 2nd afternoon, the local sheriff came around to warn me of 60 mph winds for the next couple of hours. I moved my truck to park into the wind as a buffer. The trailer got pushed around but did just fine. Lots of drama!

Belle Fourche sunset

Reservoir campsite

I took a trip into Sturgis which is 30 miles away and very famous for the big Harley-Davidson rally every August. I'm not much into motorcycles or motorcycle culture and wasn't very impressed. It seemed to be a drinking town with lots of bars and boarded areas that open up for the big rally.

Harley-Davidson, Sturgis

I also went to the Devil's Tower. This was probably about as far from the last place I camped in Wyoming as it is from Belle Fourche. The drive was an hour and absolutely gorgeous through lush ranch land along the Belle Fourche river. The only thing I knew about the Devil's Tower was from the movie 'Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind' which came out when I was in high school - 1977. I was expecting a corny touristic attraction showing homage to the movie. It wasn't that at all. The Devil's Tower is a super cool geological anomaly on very sacred tribal lands. I did a hike around the base of the formation which was lovely through a pine tree forest. This hike is 1.3 miles and easy enough for anyone that can walk that far. I saw people in wheel chairs and parents pulling kids in wagons too. I highly recommend visiting this site.

Devil's Tower from a farmer's field

Tower from prairie dog field

Quintessential prairie dog stance

Prairie dog pals

As July 4th approached, the reservoir camping became more crowded. Lots of families showed up with fishing boats, jet skies and atvs to ride on the dirt roads. The actual night of July 4th was too stormy for anyone to light fireworks. In fact, lots of families went home. I'm writing this on July 5th and the place is deserted. I love camping here and can see coming back again.

Belle Fourche reservoir

Light and dark

steps from the water

Tomorrow, I'll be moving on to Deadwood and then Custer to ride the Michelson Trail. This trail is 108 miles long but I'll be doing out and back rides that will double the mileage. I've heard a lot about this trail and have been wanting to ride it for a long time. 

Rainbow after the storm

Another thing I'm considering is changing my residency from Washington to South Dakota. When I bought my truck and trailer, in Dec 2019, I was planning to move to Oregon. Then Covid hit and those plans fell through. So now, my residency is in Washington, where I vote and file taxes, but my truck and trailer are registered in Oregon. I don't expect to get away with this for much longer and need to fix it. South Dakota has very lenient residency rules and no income tax. Apparently, there is a campground and mailbox service that helps RVers switch residency, assist with auto registration, insurance, driver's license and voting. I figured I could go check it out and see if this residency change makes sense for me. Recently, my Oregon auto insurance policy rate went up over $600 for the year and I'm also interested to see if policy rates are lower in South Dakota. 

There's also the Badlands, Mt Rushmore and other National Parks near by. Lots to check out, for sure!!