By Tiffany Burnette
This is our fourth day on our month long road trip. This, my friends, is it.
I’m starting to wonder if the whole thing is a bad idea. Really horrible. Maybe we should turn around (I mention this at multiple points btw). I’ve traveled cross country before but not camping the entire way, not with two dogs and not with a man I’ve met just a few months prior.
I know you can’t plan for everything but come on already. It’s only our 4th night driving from Portland, Oregon to the East Coast and everything has gone completely awry. I’d been seriously ill since day minus 2 and wasn’t seeing much progress in my health. I couldn’t breathe and my throat was so sore I wanted to cut it out. Seriously.
We’re desperately trying to make it to Indiana so that the next day we can meet my boyfriend’s brother in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia for the weekend. It’s May. Being from the Northeast, specifically Philadelphia and Brooklyn, I figure we’ll have great weather, or at least something resembling the beginning of summer, so I’m really looking forward to getting out of the mountains and Midwest States and into weather I know and understand.
Wow, was I wrong. And hence begins our wild journey into weather hell USA.
We’d planned to stay in Hoosier National Forest in Indiana. Apparently it’s lovely. Our day had been long, really long. We drove from western Missouri to Hoosier but had missteps the few days prior.
Our first day we had wanted to spend the night camping under the stars in Grand Teton only to realize that not only had the wind picked up big time but it was freezing and snowing. I’m all for camping in the cold…but not while sick, or at least not while this sick. We ended up in a teeny tiny cabin that night. It was just what I needed but way out of our budget. The trip was off to a rough start and we both felt bad for each other’s situations. I was sick and he wanted to camp. No go. At least he had fun that night drinking whiskey while the snow fell along the Snake River, which made him extraordinarily happy. And I snuggled up with the pups in a real bed.
Night two we decided to head south for warmth. This time we were trying to figure out if we could camp for free somewhere in Colorado to make up for our loss near Teton. We ended up backtracking by about two hours before finding a hopelessly cold, not free, rainy spot in god-knows-where Northern Colorado. We argued the entire way there. I’m a really good navigator (I swear!) and I pleaded with him to turn back but…no. Of course it started monsoon-style raining as soon as we started to make dinner. I’ll never go there again.
So let’s just say by day four we were pretty damn tired, cranky, cold and sort of miserable.
This was not going as planned. This was a test. A big, enormous test…for all of us.
We head to Hoosier in Indiana. Arriving at our campsite we both immediately know that something isn’t right. There is not a. single. place. to. park. We’d have to hike in with all of our gear and the dogs. Now, we would have been all for this a.) had we’d known and b.) had I been able and c.) had the weather permitted but it wasn’t in the cards. I was still sick, can’t breathe and can still barely take down water. The fog didn’t help either being that we couldn’t see a foot in front of us.
We trek on. Campground after campground after damn national forest was either too far, not open because of the season or just down right giving off bad vibes. We ended up driving way past Louisville, Kentucky (hour 16 driving at this point) and finding a spot in a quite famous horse camp, you know, where they train Kentucky Derby horses and stuff. My man fights me the entire way there, he’s tired and I know he just wants for me to be well and warm…or he’s just as tired as I am?! All good. We unpack the car onto the tent spot and sleep inside for four hours. But not before we figure out which way the rain is pouring inside the windows so that we can stay dry and still have enough oxygen to breathe!
But things weren’t all bad. For the most part we were okay, even good and sometimes great. We played games in the car to keep ourselves busy, we’d take turns taking the dogs out for walks and eat things like Combos, which neither of us would do unless on a road trip. We listened to awesome podcasts and unique local radio shows. We saw the USA. Lastly, I tried to get better from being sick…but we both had this underlying feeling that this trip was against us even when we kept trying to make the best of it.
Shenandoah was cold, rainy and miserable albeit beautiful. We met his brother on a Friday and had a nice night playing cards and having a few drinks in our secluded campsite. Day two we hiked the Appalachian Trail soaking wet trying to find waterfalls. Upon returning to our wind and rain ravaged campsite, there was no place to get warm except for in the park showers…or the car where I slept for about two hours (hey, I was still sick!). We ended up packing it in early and headed to Richmond to stay at his brother’s apartment.
Every night that we spent indoors, in a warm bed, (Richmond, Philly, NYC) we laughed about how crazy the first part of our trip was. We dreamt about and planned for the journey home. It was wonderful and it became a disaster in its own right.
We quickly realized that all of the places we’d wanted to hit on the way home were just too cold, even closed still. Glacier National Park was my number one. No way. It was out. Those snow packed mountains were pushing us away. Half the park was still closed so we couldn’t even drive through it. DAMN!
We also really wanted to go back to Teton. And even if it was cold we’d make it work. At least we wanted to, so, so badly.
We barreled through most states on day one ending up in Nebraska from Philadelphia with the goal of making it to Teton before Memorial weekend, when much of the park opens and hordes of tourists arrive, and campsites become zero. It was one of the longest days I’ve ever been on the road. We ended up in Nebraska with a beautiful thunderstorm that started, luckily, about two seconds after we settled in for the evening. At. two. am.
We shared a whiskey looking out from the open hatch of my car and laughed about the adventure. I’d end up spending much of the rest of the night searching for tornado warnings on my phone. Tornado season was upon us and there was all kinds of crazy activity within 50 miles of our campsite. I think I slept like two hours that night.
We survive our night in Nebraska, thankfully, and finally, finally head to Tetons, back where this all began. I know these roads, I’ve driven them before. We got this, we’re confident and we want it so badly. We turn up off of 90 and about ten miles in we hit the most incredible, fantastic, mindblowing and vehicle-stopping hail storm I’ve ever encountered. My man seconds this, making it really legit btw.
We aren’t able to drive over 5mph. We’re set on trying to just get there and settle in. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s the place we’ll camp for the most extended period of time on this trip, we kind of need this.
Not possible. I’m actually starting to panic. There are no other cars on the road. This damn hail could actually do damage to my car! I’m worried about the dogs. I’m worried about my new relationship. I’m worried that this storm will last until we decide to pack it all in and just drive home. There’s no cell service and we’re in the middle of a high desert hailstorm, which to me is like a tsunami hitting the Midwest. I just can’t comprehend this at all, which makes it worse for all of us.
We crawl on and on. The sky starts to clear. My heart starts beating regular paces again. I realize that I’m breathing.
Wait…was I holding my breathe this entire time?
Probably. And so we push on.
Tiffany Burnette is the Creative Director and Founder of Designhype, Inc., a company which combines two of her lifelong passions: design and travel. Tiffany has been a professor at Pratt Institute, teaching courses on design entrepreneurship. Being that both of her parents are entrepreneurs, Tiffany always knew she wanted to start her own business (or businesses). She’s a passionate women’s rights advocate and believes that the more women travel the more we can change the world. She holds a Master of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute and a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design from The University of the Arts.
You can learn more about Tiffany and her company at www.designhypeinc.com
If you’d like to submit a story about your travels please email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.