17. Wyoming (part 2) -Gillette

WYOMING (part 2) -Gillette
Don’t lose a wheel. It’s not fun.

After thousands of miles rattling on unmade icy roads (prefer not to use highways if we don’t have to) on the back left hand side wheel the bolts came loose and damaged the hub and the stud holes of the wheel. John did everything he could to stabilize the wheel so we can make it to the first bigger town.
This town was Gillette. A promising place for our problem as Gillette is a mining and trucking town where we hoped to get help. As this was a Mercedes part we needed official technical help (for Mercedes part numbers and ordering -as this is impossible for individuals) We hunted down all the truck companies dealing with parts and repair and we got a promise from one but as this was on Friday we had to wait not just till the weekend’s gone but Monday was a bank holiday so had to wait till Tuesday to hear from them on the progress. We thought we might also have to involve a family member or a friend back in England to send some parts of the parts but we weren’t sure until we heard from this company so we couldn’t start the chain-reaction just yet and it is against John’s nature. He likes to be on top of things and sort things out as soon as possible. After spending 4 full days in Gillette (parking in Hotels’ car parks) we were eager to hear from this company.

Gillette might not be the prettiest towns of all and not much to offer for entertainment but we made the most of it! Though by Sunday afternoon we ran out of things to see or do -which included a low key RV show, visiting cafes, do some shopping, watching a totally forgettable film in the cinema, visiting a coal mining site (for Johnny’s biggest disappointment the mining museum was closed) and do some walking(?) Walking isn’t very nice, really.

Coal mine site visit.
Gillette WY
January 2013

As we were carefully scooting around town keeping a close eye on the wheel and keep checking it in every few km’s we thought, might as well let’s move on to a more cheerful place (on a smooth and flat road) and if this company calls saying that they can help then we’ll come back. We heard Sheridan is a much prettier place.

16. Wyoming (part 1)

WYOMING (part 1)
State Facts
Nickname: Equality State
Home of: women’s suffrage, coal mining, geysers and wolves
Famous for: rodeos and ranches

The usual routine of mornings is clearing off overnight snow of Burt and digging our way out of our camp spots. So here we were, brushing and shoveling for the daily exercise  then a well deserved breakfast, tea and coffee. After all that we were trying to make our way up north towards I-90, on lovely forest roads, to cross the state border to Wyoming but we kept sticking in snow so more shovelling then turning around to find another route. We stuck 3x and a half an hour journey from our camp, to a little town, called Spearfish, took 3 hours. The mixed feeling of being a little disappointed with our progress + the appeal of a cute little corner cafe in Spearfish convinced us to stay for a couple of cups of luxurious cappuccino. We knew we aren’t going to make a huge progress in the day so we really enjoyed a good hour here chatting to the sweet coffee girl, Aby.

Then eventually we moved on and crossed the border to Wyoming. It was such a fresh breeze of air to see continuous landscape without snow for the first time in our 6 weeks of travel.


Straight away we found a visitor centre by the highway on I-90 and the helpful lady recommended a few good spots staying over night by a big lake in Keyhole State Park. We took a scenic road around Devil’s Tower to reach the lake and saw the most breathtaking sunset. This lovely scenic route turned into a really rough washboard surface farming road -even having cows crossing our way.

Devil’s Tower
January 2013
January 2013
road condition
January 2013

At the end of the loop road we arrived to Pine Haven where the couple of recommended camp spots were. It was dark when we rolled in to the town Pine Haven which was a small and pretty town -we supposed to roll-on to the camp but we saw the lights of the small local bar and decided to have a beer before we settle for the night. In the bar there were a few locals and the friendly barmaid who were curious of our vehicle and travel plans. As we were chatting more and more neighbours arrived for their glass or two social drinks. We got into a long, friendly chat with Russ and Stacey who we ended up staying till closing time with, and eventually ended up staying overnight in their woodlands. The following morning they invited us for a morning coffee, more chats and feeding the bunch of wild turkeys that appear at their house every morning between 7-7.30. (along with a deer family) Despite our slight dizziness from the too much beer the night before, we had a ball with Russ and Stacey and the turkeys!

Feeding the wild turkeys
Pine Haven WY
January 2013
Pine Haven, Wyoming
January 2013

Every fun come to the end so we said goodbye to our kind hosts and left Pine Haven hoping to make it to the Bighorn National Forest before dark. Then within 20 minutes on the road John suddenly stopped the vehicle jumped out and after spending a few long minutes checking the wheels he came back with a white face reporting that we “lost”a wheel. Gulp. Well, 100-200 meters more and we would’ve have.

Nearly lost a wheel
January 2013

To be continued…

15. South Dakota (part 2)

After spending one more night at the Badlands -at a peaceful spot we woke for a crispy and clear weather with blue sky and sparkling sunshine. We took our time with breakfast and coffee then set off on a side road, south-west which was a wonderful drive with absolutely no traffic only a sleepy porcupine crossing our way at one point. John tried to take a few photos of him but he kept grumpily turning his back to the camera. It was quite a comical event to watch.

Gravel road South of Badlands SD January 2013
Gravel road
South of Badlands SD
January 2013
try to take a portrait of a porcupine
South of Badlands SD
January 2013

It was still daylight when we arrived in Hot Springs -in the hope of dipping in one. For our much disappointment  despite the never-ending source of natural hot water, the only public spa was closed for the season. After failing finding a nice natural spot for the night we ended up parking up in a Best Western hotel car park. Initially the lady wasn’t sure for us to use their rear car park but falling for John’s charm eventually she not just let us stay she also gave us free pass to their jacuzzi and pool facilities as well as she advised us for a fun little place across the road which had good beer, buffalo burger and bowling lanes. So we had an evening out with fun.

The following morning we headed north to the Wind Cave National Park where we wanted to visit the cave -if it was open. And it was! Not a busy time of the year so we had a special “private” guided tour in the cave with one of the most enthusiastic ranger we’ve came across. It was fun but we both realised that we aren’t the biggest fans of caves. I mean, it’s great and appreciate the size, age etc of it but it’s just a cave. So after this we moved on a bit more further north to Custer State Park where we found a primitive camp site for the night (we could fill up wit fresh water though)

Camp Black Hills SD January 2013
Black Hills SD
January 2013

As we heard so much about it (also being one of the US’ most iconic monuments) we were keen to see Mt. Rushmore. Also approx. 15 miles from it there was the Crazy Horse memorial and museum, that we came across with in our history book, and we were eager to see this as well. So in the morning we made our way to Mt. Rushmore and we found it less impressive as we thought so apart from stopping nearby to take a few photos we just moved on. On the other hand Crazy Horse Memorial was great. The monument itself isn’t ready yet* but they created a museum/visitor centre with the history of the Native American leader and the story of the sculptor and his efforts to create the world’s largest monument. I found it a very well presented place with plenty of fascinating Native American arts and crafts, photos, history also part of the centre presents the artist and his family’s life and work. There was a nice restaurant, cafe and a store to fuel up with snacks and bits and bobs.



*Crazy Horse was chosen by the Lakota Sioux elders hoping that this monument would balance the focus on Mt. Rushmore. They chose sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski to create the memorial who started his work in 1948. His family (wife and 10 children!) took over his work after his death in 1982, and ever since (turning down 3x on federal offers of $10M) they are making efforts to finish Korczak’s vision.
Although the monument is far from being finished, there are mini versions in the museum of what it will look like when finished, one can imagine the final monument in its full size meaning. We really enjoyed this monument and were happy to spend the whole afternoon exploring the visitor complex.

We found a lovely spot for another peaceful overnight camping by a frozen lake. Tomorrow we’ll be leaving South Dakota where were so much to see and explore.
Next Wyoming!

14. South Dakota (part1)

Nickname: Mt. Rushmore State
Birthplace of: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Black Elk
Home of: Mt. Rushmore
Famous for: the HBO series, Deadwood
Official animal: coyote

Travelling down south from Bismarck, ND on the Native American Scenic Byway through native farming lands. The scenery starts looking more interesting from the flat North Dakotan landscape with rolling small hills and a winding river. For our first night we stopped by a frozen lake where the ice fishing was still pretty active, even after dark. The ice didn’t look strong enough to us but there were fishing huts, snowmobiles with trailers and even heavy pick-up trucks parking in the middle of the lake!

Ice fishing January 2013
Ice fishing
Mobridge, SD
January 2013

The following morning we wanted to try the ice so popped down for an ice-walking experience. It was a bit scary. As we were walking on the lake we heard big pops and cracks but still, there were many fishermen already driving on, gathering to find their spot in the middle.

Ice walking Mobridge SD January 2013
Ice walking
Mobridge SD
January 2013

Late morning we moved on. We were heading to the Badlands National Park, despite the warning of the snow-storm. Badlands is a fascinating place and we wanted to make it by the end of the day. The satnav predicted 5 hours through small gravel roads and farming routes so we thought we’ll be there before dark. An hour later, I looked down to check something in the guide book for a minute and when I looked up; the storm has arrived out of the blue. From blue sky and crystal clear visibility to eye-watering milkiness. The ice-cold wind was howling from north, banging and jossling Burt from the right. It was throwing the 8 ton vehicle about on the road. Although it was snowing, the problem wasn’t the “falling” snow it was the already settled snow that was blown across the roads so much and so thick that the visibility gone down to a couple of meters -sometimes we didn’t see the road at all. It was an epic and as we were driving on secondary dirt roads there was absolutely no traffic either way, thank goodness. We also needed to stop a few times to clear the windscreen wipers as they froze to the glass. We only got out for 2 minutes but our hands (through the thick gloves) got frozen so much it took 20 minutes to defrost and warm them up. One can really underestimate the cold or the weather.

SD vis01
January 2013
SD vis02a
January 2013


SD vis02b
visibility and road condition
January 2013


SD vis03
Road condition
January 2013


SD vis04

The Badlands lacks in water, the scorching sun, arctic winter and bone-chilling wind “earned” its name. The name came from several different directions, the Lakota called it “mako sica” the French fur trappers “whatever-it-is-in-French” with the one meaning “Bad Land” (The Spanish were even less complimentary, they just called it “waste land”) Farmers and some settlers tried life here (in hope of finding gold) but eventually had to move away as nothing grew or survived on the infertile land. But where human failed to survive a healthy prairie ecosystem gave proof of that the land isn’t that bad after all. Lots of prairie animals happily live here. Also the area is one of the richest fossil-bed in the world.


Turned out, it was lucky that we came through farming roads as the highways were closed due to the storm. We arrived at the deserted national park, that usually gets millions of visitors, at dusk -changing clocks again to Mountain Time so it was darker even sooner. We found the Visitor Centre closed but bumped into Rick the park ranger who gave us permission to stop anywhere we like in the park and “enjoy, be our guests”. I think he was quite impressed by the fact that we wanted to camp there under the stormy conditions. We started driving down the internal road with the intention of finding our lovely peaceful night spot. The scenery was epic. Then it was getting dark really fast and with the storm getting stronger (approx. 55-60 m/h) I started to feel a bit uneasy. John totally enjoyed himself, I was peeing my pants and holding on tight as we were driving through the high, narrow and windy roads between the rocks and a deep drops, occasionally going through deep uneven snow patches. And it was all driving against the gale so didn’t do good to our diesel economy ether.

Road condition
January 2013

Finally decided to stop at a rest area. Phew. This was our most unsettling, howling blizzard night with not much sleep. We found out in the morning that in the dark we stopped on an open spot on the top of the highest point of the whole place. Doh. Anyway, in some respect it was actually really amazing, seeing the prairie at its most extreme. We got to see this daunting land in such condition not many people get to see.

Overnight camp Badlands January 2013
Overnight camp
January 2013

Spent today in Wall. A small town not far north-west the Badlands. Yesterday, as we were driving from the north, probably from about 80-100 miles from here started to see nice vintage looking advert boards for “Wall Drugs”, a (pharmacy) store in town, on the side of the roads in every 200 meters. So we got intrigued. We also found out that in Wall we can learn more about one of the most infamous atrocities of US history that happened in December 1890 and where 250 unarmed Native Lakota men, women and children were shot by American soldiers. This was something we briefly came across with in one of our books and wanted to find out more about it. And it was recommended to come here as this information center tells an insightful story from the Lakota point of view. Strangely, we couldn’t ask anyone and we found this information building burnt down.
But we are here now in Wall at Wall Drugs. This lovely, old, wild wild west-fashioned big store where the coffee is 5 cent, they still give out free ice water*, they have freshly baked pies, and we can warm our hearts with the sight of hundreds of local art, paintings and photographs, store full of schlock, the largest number of cowboy boots selection, a book store full of stories of local legends (we got an audio book of Lewis&Clark we became fimiliar with on our way in the Dakotas but haven’t got a clue what their story was) they even have a travelers’ chapel and free wifi. Bonus all around.

SD Wall Drug 03 SD Wall Drug 02 SD Wall Drug 01

*The store opened in 1931 as a small pharmacy store by a good-hearted couple.The town was poor and business was a struggle for 5 years. They almost shut the business when the wife thought they could give one thought a try. As they had plenty of water and ice, she thought they could offer free ice-water to thirsty travellers (this was the only route from the east to Yellowstone National Park) The husband and their son made up loads of ad boards and put them up by the side of Interstate-90 and route-14 from about 100 miles. This became a huge success and made not just their business somewhat famous but Wall as a town.
Ever since the store is a blooming business that run by the family (sons, daughetrs and grand children) We were touched by this insipring story and thoroughly enjoyed visiting the store -in fact we arrived at opening time and left just before closing.

SD Wall Drug signs
Staying one more night at the Badlands then tomorrow we’re heading west to the Black Hills and will spend a few days there coz much to see. Next report from there.

13. North Dakota

State Facts
Nickname: Peace Garden State
Home of: the world’s largest Turtle and Holstein statues
Famous for: the movie Fargo
Official fish: Northern Pike (apparently stinky and far too bony)

So here we are. North Dakota. Quote from the Lonely Planet: “Isolated in the far US north, North Dakota is the least visited states” The book practically try to talk us out of going there 🙂 so one more reason for us to visit. Great Plains, farming lands, whiteness and dead-straight roads for hundreds of miles -they say: “you can see where you’re going but it takes a day to get there” We thought, the only way to understand the meaning of it is to drive through it and experience the vastness.
As usual we chose the small side roads instead of the highway. We prefer these routes as so much more to see and it doesn’t make any differences to us as we can’t go too fast anyway. According to one of our guidebooks there was a little town by this small road we have chosen, called Fort Ransom (population 105!) which was worth a visit. The town had a lovely woodland around it with camp facilities so we stopped there for the night. Came across with John, the enjoyably personable park ranger, who kindly welcomed us and gave us a spot in the camp with the finest view of the Sheyenne River. After a night of listening to the coyotes “singing” and after having our morning beverages we were about to set off when John (the park ranger) popped by and delivered an invite from the local school. They invited us for a pop-in, introduce BURT and ourselves to the children. We were more than happy to do it! The school was small with only a handful of pupils and a few teachers but was very well rounded, and seemed very much an excellent learning environment for kids (if all schools were like that we’d have more prospect of a relaxed and healthy education for our young generation) This was a real treat for us to see. The kids and the teachers were absolutely delightful and instead of a half an hour quick “swing-by” we stayed there for over 2 hours. It was difficult to leave as we thoroughly enjoyed the chats to the kids and the lovely hospitality of the teachers. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce BURT and talk about our (non)plans.

ND School visit
School visit, Fort Ransom ND
January 2013

As we left, we popped in for a coffee in to the local cafe/store, and stayed for another unplanned couple of hours. It was just impossible to leave as everyone who came in to the shop wanted to know “what the heck we were doing with THAT vehicle!?” It was fun and everyone seemed so friendly that, again, it was hard to leave. But every nice morning has to come to an end and at around midday we finally set off.

Again, we didn’t want to use the bigger roads and found a farming gravel road (which was for public use too) with gorgeous scenery by the two sides of it. Within 5 miles down on this fun, gentle roller coaster road we stuck and our enjoyable morning was followed by 3 hours shovelling! The snow was powdery and about 80-100 cm deep. There was a point when it crossed our minds that we might just have to stay the night and maybe a few more or maybe even wait till April when the snow melts to get out of this dip. Then we shovelled more. I had the brilliant idea to used our sand ladders! They were quite useless as the aluminium metal + snow made the rigid tyres more slippery so didn’t go anywhere. Also what else made it a bit more challenging was that, as we stuck front and couldn’t go any further ahead, John had to manoeuvre in reverse and upwards and that way it was harder to keep the front and back tyres in line. So more digging and shovelling. Finally we thought; OK there’s no shortcut to this, we just have to dig the tracks wide and deep to the ground and all the way up to the top of the slope. That finally did the trick and we made it out. Soaking wet and freezing at the same time but we were very pleased to continue our journey and if we plough on without a stop we can make it to Bismarck before the end of the day.

Digging 01 North Dakota January 2013
Digging 01
North Dakota
January 2013
Digging 02 North Dakota January 2013
Digging 02
North Dakota
January 2013

So back on the road, towards west on I-94 now, to save time. Another 130 miles of dead straight road, but the sun is beaming and we are discussing snow-shovelling techniques (gotta kill time with something…)

Bismarck was a quick 2 nights stop by a hotel with hook-up possibility, free pass to their swimming pool, really friendly people, Starbucks on the corner and wifi.

Who says there’s nothing in North Dakota? We certainly had a wonderful and an eventful few days here. We sure did experience the “nothingness” and for us, it was really Something!

12. Minnesota

State Facts
Nickname: North Star State
Birthplace of: Bob Dylan, Cohen bros
Famous for: funny accents, snowy weather, 10000 lakes!
Official muffin: Blueberry

As we crossed the US border (and just about escape jail for trying to smuggle avocados in!) from Canada a few days ago, we travelled down on 61 by the vast and sparkly Superior Lake.


This was a very pretty drive with plenty of National Forest areas so we treated ourselves with a stop-over for our first night in the US in the woods.

January 2013

Next day needed to do some shopping in Duluth and from there we headed across towards West on 2. Unexpectedly stopping for the night in a small town called Floodwood. We meant to press on after filling up with diesel and fresh water but were touched by the friendliness of the young petrol station guy so we decided to stay in this town over night, also the prospect of having a couple of beers and a burger in the local was tempting too. Spent a fun evening chatting the youngsters (one of them celebrating his 21st -spent more time horizontal on the floor than standing) It was fun.

Next day we headed toward west on small roads and spent one more night in a wonderful snowy forest. In a small town we met the super lovely lady -mother of the local butcher. She was absolutely thrilled to meet people from England and -as it’s illegal to sell any game meat, she gave us a whole bunch of venison pepperoni as a gift! Really delicious snack! And with these lovely memories we exited Minnesota for North Dakota.
We’ll be reporting from there next time.
Ciao Belli!

11. Canada

We spent a month in Canada, travelling across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Initially we wanted to go all the way to Churchill, Manitoba to catch some polar bears -well you know, not really CATCH them but to see some crossing town (apparently there could be 900 bears crossing in one season) but half way in Quebec we realised how much we underestimated the weather which started to wear us and Burt out a bit.

We camped in wonderful snowy forests listening to wolves howling, dramatic windy deserted beaches, by frozen fishing lakes, amongst Buddhist monks in the Highlands of Cape Breton and occasionally in some friendly Hotels’ car park.

Camp with Buddha Cape Breton, NS December 2012
Camp with Buddha
Cape Breton, NS
December 2012
Visiting the Cree Quebec December 2012
Visiting the Cree
December 2012
Drama on the shore Cape Breton, NS December 2012
Drama on the shore
Cape Breton, NS
December 2012
Camp in Christmas wonderland Quebec December 2012
Camp in Christmas wonderland
December 2012

One of our favourite places was Chibougamau (what a great name!) A small town with full of friendly and very helpful people and surrounded by nature, lush forest and fishing lakes. It was pretty town but nothing particular though it had a very good vibe which we loved.

We made our way up to the end of the James Bay highway in QC. The very last town one can reach over land was Radisson. We were driving for hours and hours on Christmas eve and it was starting to get dark -very fast. We arrived in Radisson in the pitch dark -though not very late. We thought it might well be our loneliest Christmas. The only place we found open was a motel with a bar and and a restaurant attached to it. The usual routine, I jumped out of the cab and asked the guy at the reception if we could park up at their back car park. The friendly man said yes and didn’t want any money. After parking up and setting up for the night we decided to have a drink at the bar -after all it’s Christmas! As we walked in all four people and the barmaid smiled and greeted us with a big cheer. One of the guys at the bar was the owner of the motel-bar-restaurant “complex”. His name was Michel and being a French-Canadian he had a sophisticated taste for fine wine, good food and high class vehicles. He welcomed us warmly and after a couple of hours chat he insisted to dine with him. He offered to guide us around Radisson the following day and drive us to the huge hydro complex which was fascinating. We ended up hanging out with Michel for 5 days who was tirelessly driving us around cooking us dinner and generally made us feeling home in “his” town. It was, in some respect, one of the best Christmases we had. Eventually we said our goodbyes to Michel and Radisson and made our way south.

It was solid -25C for the past 5 days (even colder during the nights) so we had a bit of a struggle starting up Burt -used our magic Ether that John just calls “throwing a grenade in to the engine”. But we had no choice. Burt started  and after 20 minutes warm-up off we went.

The lonely road. James Bay Rd. Quebec December 2012
The lonely road. James Bay Rd.
December 2012

Spent the next few days driving south. This was the time when we changed plans and decided to keep going south to reach warmer weather.

We crossed the border from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Minnesota by Lake Superior and just about escape jail for trying to smuggle avocados in! Phew. We were now in the USA and looked forward to driving across this part of the country.