Thursday, 6/14/01 - A Little More Time in Yellowstone
On Wendesday, all I could really do during the day was: watch videos, work on the computer, send email from the service station's fax line, eat, sleep and trudge through the snow with the Berts, trying to get them to go to the bathroom on the freezing ground.
In the morning, I went into the nearby gift shop to the small diner in the back, ordering pancakes and eggs. I sat next to the three main mechanics from the service station - Rory, Sam and Bob - all of whom were in their early 20s and fresh out of college? One of them will be working on my Apache, I thought skeptically. They were nice and funny and seemed like good guys, but did they even know what a carburetor looked like? They assured me they did.
Later, for fun (and exercise), I climbed atop the Apache with an old straw broom and swept the heavy accumulation of snow off the roof, pushing and prodding the thick white powder over the edges and onto the ground around the vehicle. I kept having the tip over the dog ramp that I had leaned against the back door for the Berts - the snow kept covering it, making it unappealing as a means of getting outside for the snow-shocked Chihuahuas.
For the heck of it, I got into the driver's seat, put the key in the ignition and started the RV. The engine turned and roared as if nothing had happened. I quickly turned it off, as if I'd discovered some evil scheme, and went into the service station for clarification.
I was told that I had a bad starter and that sometimes, out of the blue, the engine would start again after continuous failed attempts. Worried that I was being duped, I also called my favorite mechanics at Fairbanks Dodge in Coconut Creek, Florida and left a message with the Apache's symptoms. Their message back to me was either a bad connection from starter to battery or a bad starter which could, on occasion, still start.
So the verdict on the Apache was a bum starter and the part had been ordered early in the morning with an early afternoon ETA, but by the evening, it was apparent that I would not be going anywhere yet. The parts truck had made it into the park but couldn't make it to us as the roads throughout the park closed.
In the early evening, after the service station closed, I took Sam up on his offer that I could use the hot shower in the dorms behind the station where he, Rory and Bob lived. I packed up my bathing gear, loaded on the winter wear and snow boots, and went to shower. Definitely a relief to be clean.
By Thursday, the snow had stopped and the air was warmer as the sun struggled to shine through heaps of clouds. The thick, luminous blankets of snow wre changing into muddy slush with dozens of boot prints marring the once-pristine surface. I took this as a good sign.
Sure enough, by early afternoon, the part had arrived and I was again able to start the RV and drive it up so the Apache's nose was nudging into the entryway into the service station, but it was too tall to fit inside. The entire replacement of the starter would have to happen with the mechanic, Bob, on his back on the ground.
In less than two hours, the starter was in. When I turned the key in the ignition, it started up so quickly, that it made a high-pitched grinding sound. I realized that I had been compensating for a worn-out starter this entire time and that I would have to get used to using a different touch when starting the Apache.
I checked with a park ranger who told me that the road leading to Yellowstone's SouthEast gate was open and clear which gave me the thumbs up to hit the road and make the hour drive out of the park.
While the roads were clear of slush or ice, the landscape in the park as I left was still touched by the dazzling white sparkle of snow. For a while, I took photos of the scenery as I drove, marveling at the contrast from only days before, the greens and browns covered over and muted.
Then, as the Apache faithfully climbed the mountain pass that led to the SouthEast gate, I gripped the steering wheel and held my breath as I realized that the narrow shoulder to the right of me dropped suddenly into a sheer cliff. One false move, one patch of ice, could send the Apache tumbling like a child's toy into an abyss. I straddled the middle line on the two-lane road, easing over slowly as an occasional car came toward me. I wanted to be as far from the edge as possible.
Finally, on a flat and wider road again, I noticed something large and dark ahead, in the road on the opposite side. It was a lone bison, strolling along at a tranquil pace. Disregarding the "100 foot" rule as in "Stay 100 Feet from All Wildlife in the Park," I felt a false sense of safety behind the wheel of the Apache and pulled up slowly beside him. He kept walking, not even turning toward me, only his large, brown eye turning slightly to peer at me from his humongous, fur-covered face. I snapped a photo.
"Bye, baby," I said as I slowly inched the Apache away, hoping my soothing tone would be enough to keep him from charging the RV. I guess it worked.
As I left Yellowstone, the snow only mottled the lush, green grass and brown earth. I was now entering Shoshone National Park (ironically driving my Apache through it and wondering if I might get in trouble for that).
The landscape turned into large, reddish rocks jutting through the tops of pines and soon the snow was just a memory, a fairytale fantasy of glimmer and sparkle.
As I left the park and headed to Cody, WY, the snow-capped mountains in the distance were the only proof that an intense, 2-day snow blizzard had covered us, trapped us, kept us in the park.
The air was hot and dry now and the sun blazed through a thinning haze of clouds, opalescent and glowing. The drive was easy as the roads flattened out, through light brown, gently sloping hills.
I turned up the radio, finding a classic rock station out of Cody, and sang along as I drove. At one point, I stopped at a rest area to take photographs of a minty-green lake that stretched across the horizon, winding between hills and into the mountains in the distance.
I pulled into Cody in mid-afternoon, charmed by its small size and Western-looking center of town. My first stop was the local Chamber of Commerce where I got a map and directions to the nearest Mailboxes, Etc. where I proceeded to send an urgent package that had sat in the RV while I was snowed in at Yellowstone.
Next, I went to the only health food store in town, a sparse shop with more vitamins and herbs than food, but I bought some yogurt and farm eggs. Then I went to Albertsons which actually had a small selection of organic produce and bought some groceries for meals for me and the Berts.
After that, I drove out of town about seven miles and found the Cody KOA which turned out to be the first franchised KOA in America. I was unaccustomed to the flatter and lack of shady trees this KOA had as compared to many of the others I'd visited, but was happy as always to find clean showers, a big laundry room and the usual amenities that make KOAs such a great place to stay.
They even offered free pancakes every morning for breakfast, something I decided I wouldn't partake in as I tried to eat healthy now that I had fresh vegetables and could no longer use the excuse for poor eating on being snowed in at Yellowstone.
I set up camp, finally experiencing the winds of Wyoming that people have talked about. It felt as if some supernatural force was creating pressure around me so great, that I was pushing through a wall of moving air. The wind was so strong that it felt like a presence but not wild and whipping or out of control. Still, I couldn't light the hot water heater, no matter what I did, so I retreated into the RV, defeated by nature.
That night, I opted not to go to the famous Cody Night Rodeo and instead made a healthy salad for dinner and tried to tune the TV to some local stations to catch up on the news.