I’d be lying if I said we weren’t nervous about crossing the mountains that stood between us and the west coast. There’s really no avoiding them. We relied heavily on Google in our decision to take route I-90 from South Dakota, through Wyoming and Montana and into Idaho.
We left our campground bright and early, but had to backtrack 30 miles to the Rapid City airport to return out rental car. So it wasn’t bright and early when we finally got on the road for the day. Both Nick and I could easily drive a car for 8 to 10 hours. Driving Arvie is another matter. Our maximum comfortable driving day is 4 to 5 hours. Also, in a car we would take advantage of the higher speed limits on the western highways, but in Arvie we feel safe at 60 mph or so. If you do the math, you’ll see that we can only drive about 300 miles per day.
The highway out of South Dakota was straight and flat, and traffic was light. Thankfully, it would stay that way for quite a while. We made it all the way Billings, Montana, where we pulled into a Cabela’s parking lot to camp for the night.
Cabela’s is extremely RV friendly. They have dedicated spots for free overnight parking and an RV dump station. This Cabela’s had dog kennels and outdoor horse stalls, too. There was a small park nearby where Bella could get off-leash. Most impressively, the store was dog-friendly.
We parked among the 15 or so other rigs. There was one high-end RV that had to cost $400,000. There were a few that probably wouldn’t sell for $4,000. Our immediate neighbor had an old, rusty pick up truck with an even older camper cap on the back. He struck up a conversation with Nick when he saw Bella. It turns out that he had two female Cattle Dogs that he bred with a Wolf. Yup, a Wolf. He said that the Cattle Dogs were a little crazy, and the Cattle Dog-Wolf pups turned out wild and mean. But he kept two of the pups and bred them with a Husky. Two of those Cattle Dog-Wolf-Husky puppies, all grown up now, were living with him, his girlfriend and at least 3 other dogs in the back of the truck. They’d stayed at the Walmart parking lot in Billings for about 6 months until Walmart called the police and had them forcibly removed. Now they were living at Cabela’s. It was a sad, crazy story.
It was pretty hot outside and in our RV, so we decided to take Bella shopping in Cabela’s. Nick bought a new hat and big single burner propane stove so that he could cook outside. I found a few things on sale. Bella’s favorite part was the huge tank full of giant trout. Our free overnight parking ended up costing us about $110. Overall, we were happy with the Cabela’s experience.
The next day the terrain changed dramatically. The maximum road grade on I-90 (or any interstate) is 6%. That doesn’t sound like much, but a 6% grade over a few miles is quite significant. We knew we’d be climbing when we saw a “chain up” sign. Likewise, we were all the way down when we saw the “chain removal area” sign. Thankfully, we’re traveling in summer, so no chains were required.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the Bozeman Pass turned out to be the most dramatic mountain crossing we made. At an elevation of 5,702 feet it was quite a climb. It was also pretty curvy and there was more traffic than we had seen on the previous day. But Arvie climbed it like a champ, and she didn’t run away from us when we got to the downhill side. After the Bozemen Pass, we continued to go up and down through the mountains, but it wasn’t so bad. We found a campground right of the highway outside of Missoula, and set up camp for the night.
The next leg of the trip would take us into Idaho. I suggested that we aim for Coeur D’Alene. My knowledge of Coeur D’Alene was pretty limited. It’s a common New York Times crossword puzzle word, and I’d heard it was pretty. Nick found a campsite and we set the GPS for it.
There were still a few mountains to cross, but nothing like the Bozeman Pass. As we approached Coeur D’Alene the landscape changed to something that felt very much like home. Lots of green trees, smaller mountains and a beautiful mountain lake.
We stayed one night at a campground too far away from town before moving to a better location. Neither of the Coeur D’Alene RV campgrounds would win awards for their beauty, but the second campground was an easy walk or bike-ride to town. It was right on the Coeur D’Alene River, where it enters the lake. We were tired from several solid days of marathon driving. This seemed like a nice place to stay for awhile while we planned the next leg of our trip.
CoeurD’Alene was lovely. It’s a small city nestled up to a beautiful mountain lake. It had a nice mix of vacationers and locals. We ate out a few times. Walked a lot. Took Bella swimming. Caught up on our laundry. The natural beauty reminded us of our own Lake George in upstate New York. But we could feel the pull of the Pacific Ocean, calling us West.
Next stop, Washington State!
Lynne, Nick and Bella