Geez, we’re a long way from home!

I will preface this blog post with an apology for all of you who have been sitting on the edge of your seats for the last six months waiting for this entry. Once back at home, my blogging priorities were pushed aside by more mundane things like work, walking with Bruno and spending time on the sofa.

Now, back to Idaho….

We had projected the 3500km return commute from Ketchum, Idaho to Erin, Ontario to be approximately four Clifford-days. Even though this was the return leg of our six weeks and change journey, we were excited for this part of the trip. Although we hadn’t exactly been training hard or had any-pre-race jitters for Rebecca’s Private Idaho, there is always some strange relief when the race season comes to an end. No more thinking about the training ride you were about to embark on, or regrets about the one you missed. Just the comfort and safety of Clifford, cruising across the continent.

We left Ketchum and headed east on US26 towards Wyoming. The day was non-eventful, we enjoyed the changes in scenery throughout the day. Early in the day, we were bewildered by the lava rock formations as we drove by the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. But, with much ground to cover, there was little time to hang around. Bruno had a quick #1 and #2 and we snapped a pretty picture.

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The drive over the Teton Pass crosses from Idaho to Wyoming and is “only” 8500 feet at its highest elevation, but the long stretches of 10+% grade were especially tricky on the descent. We were quite comfortable with the 2nd gear ~25mph climbing by now, but we hadn’t encountered such long/continuous descents without a chance to cool the brakes on our trip. Oh well, what’s an adventure without a soft brake pedal once in a while?!?!

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After our last mountain pass of this wonderful journey, we drove through Jackson along US191, nestled between the National Elk Refuge and the Grand Teton National Park. The scenery was most epic, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.

We pressed on to Dubois, Wyoming for the night. As this was a “transit day”, we were quite content in selecting the local KOA for our accommodations. Before arriving in Dubois, we found a nice mountain plateau for a little outing with Bruno. Warm, windy and full of prickly growth – but so much fun for the little man after spending most of the day in Clifford. Sadly, we did miss the Wyoming State  Chariot Racing Championship by ten years or so.

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The KOA was relatively nice, and mostly empty. The hosts were getting ready to shut things down for the season and head to Arizona for the winter.Robin and Bruno enjoyed the company of the larger four-legged creatures at the campsite.

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The next morning, we pointed Clifford toward the much-underrated state of Nebraska. The drive through the eastern portion of Wyoming was made more exciting for us by what appeared to be Clifford’s first mechanical fault in the six weeks we had been on the road. About an hour into the drive, the fuel pump would cut out intermittently, causing a momentary lack of forward thrust from the trusty 2.1L Wasserboxer. I pressed on, deciding that I was not going to replace the pump until it quit. The condition lasted a few minutes and wasn’t bad enough for us to come to a stop. This symptom would repeat itself a few times on this day, but I had little interest in getting under the van for arm and facefulls of fuel to replace something that was kind of working. I’m sure Robin and Bruno didn’t want to travel with anyone covered in Eau de Unleaded either.

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Although the drive across eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska wasn’t bad, the plateaus of the great plains just weren’t as magnificent as the mountains we had become accustomed to. We drove through the sparsely populated northeastern Nebraska along the historic US20, also known as Bridges to Buttes Byway. The towns were somewhat frequent, but many of them were almost completely deserted, with population signs reading numbers as low as 20 or below.

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It was a hot day and it was tricky to find any shad for a daytime walk with Bruno. We stopped along US20 and did a short walk on the Cowboy Trail, a rail trail built along the old Chicago & Northwestern Rail line. Apparently cattle are not welcome on the trail.

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We made it as far as the Cottonwood Lake recreation area for the night. The recreation area was nearly completely deserted, so we commandeered a nice spot by the lake and settled in for a little frisbee fun. We had spent ten rather hot (at least it was a dry heat!) hours in Clifford, and the setting sun brought along nicely cooling temperatures for a little R&R.

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In the morning, we packed up quickly and pointed ourselves east once again, towards the more congested parts of this great continent.

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This day’s drive took us across eastern Nebraska and into Iowa. We had reached the part of our journey where we had no choice but to travel on the Interstate to get us home and avoid the congestion in populated areas. The fire roads and small rural highways quickly became a distant memory as we coaxed Clifford to speeds of 70-75mph for extended periods. Thankfully we could split the driving duties, for once the monotony of the bigger roads sets in, travel isn’t quite as fun in Clifford.

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We drove another long day, and decided to simplify our stay for the night by staying at the Des Moines KOA, the very same campground we had stayed on the second night of our outbound journey six weeks earlier. We did a quick/light setup, went for a little hike with Bruno and settled in for a decent night of sleep.

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We left the Des Moines KOA at 8:30AM in the morning with a plan to drive to a campground in Michigan for our last night of the trip. As we approached the Greater Chicago area, we entered a large system of precipitation which, as our luck would have it, was moving east just as we were. All weather predictions pointed towards a wet evening after ten hours of driving.

Simultaneously, we were somewhat suddenly anxious to get home, the congestion and the noise of the interstates was not something we had encountered for a very long time. I was quietly doing the math in my head – what if we did non-Clifford thing and pushed all the way home on this day? I figured we could be home by 2AM, assuming no hiccups en route. Driving into the evening and the night would also give us relief from the suddenly more humid heat as well as the benefit of reduced traffic volumes.

I built up my courage and suggested the idea to Robin, and it was almost like she had been thinking the same thing. Driving 1400km in one go is far from a strange thing to us, but normally those types of days are completed with equipment somewhat different from Clifford. We decided to press on, making adjustments to our plan to include nice, but abbreviated, rest stops for a few minutes of leg stretching, frisbeeing and switching drivers.

Sadly, in hindsight, we didn’t really take any pictures after we left the Des Moines campground. But, we did make it home, arriving at 2:30AM totally exhausted, but excited to be home.

The trip had been absolutely epic, Clifford had performed nearly flawlessly through the punishing mountain passes and at times technical fire roads. Bruno had enjoyed almost every moment of the trip (just don’t mention the last day of driving…) and we had nothing but brains overflowing with positive memories from the journey.

The next day, well, it was back to work for me. I did manage to put together this snazzy summary of Clifford’s fuel consumption for the trip.

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Now, onto planning for future adventures!

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