We really enjoyed our time at Craters of the Moon National Monument. The landscape is so bizarre and beautiful. Read more about that here. https://underanelmtree.com/2022/08/11/astronauts-in-idaho/.
So, we started in Arco, ID. The plan was to visit Lowman, Idaho, and take a couple days to luxuriate in the hot springs they are known for. The towns are about 3 1/12 hours apart. So, we hooked up the RV and started on our way. I think the best word to describe Idaho is desolate. We would sometimes drive for an hour before seeing another car. The landscape seemed to be on repeat and the drive would have been boring if it wasn’t a little unnerving. I mentioned to Jason that it reminded me of a scary movie that came out about 20 years ago, The Hills Have Eyes. In the movie, a family is traveling through the desert (with a truck and trailer) on their way to California. They are attacked and killed by deformed cannibalistic people that are the result of some kind of nuclear testing done by the government. Arco literally has a government nuclear laboratory in real life. I wondered aloud if the movie had been filmed there.
I hail from West Virginia. I am accustomed to windy backcountry roads with tiny towns and miles of nothing between them. But, my experience back home doesn’t hold a candle to the remoteness that is Idaho. It’s the type of place that you should definitely travel with emergency supplies in case of a breakdown. You may go hours without seeing another person. It’s probably a good idea to carry a container of extra gasoline on the back of the pickup. I can’t imagine driving these roads in the winter with a major snowfall. Our cell phone coverage was terrible. I rarely had a signal. So, calling a tow truck isn’t always an option. Not to mention the fact that it might take a very long time for them to get to you. I was relieved when we finally spotted a town ahead. The isolation was creeping me out. We stopped for a bathroom break and checked to make sure we were still good on diesel.
With everything in order, we journeyed on. Soon after, we heard a loud POP!
“What was that?” I started checking the mirrors looking for any indication of a flat tire.
“Maybe we ran over something,” Jason said as he looked for a place to pull over. He walked around the whole rig, looking underneath the truck and RV. He checked over the tires. Everything seemed to be ok. He couldn’t find anything amiss. So, we decided to move on.
About a half hour later, a notification light came on to “service exhaust filter.” I tried to Google it. But, I couldn’t get a signal. The road started to wind up into a mountain pass. Despite the indicator light, things seemed to be working ok. So, we continued on. A little further into the mountains another light came on and we lost turbo. We haul about 16,000 pounds behind our diesel truck. We were driving deeper and higher into the mountains and we needed the extra boost to make it up the pass. Jason had the gas pedal to the floor and we were barely making 40 mph. It was excruciatingly slow and nerve-wracking. We didn’t know if we were doing further damage by continuing to drive. But, we literally couldn’t turn around. We’re pulling a 42ft fifth wheel on a narrow road. At the rate we were going, even if we could turn around, it would take an hour to get back to the nearest town. My cell phone was of no help at all and the owner’s manual for the truck wasn’t very informative either. So, I pulled out my road atlas. From what I could tell, we just needed to get to the next town-Clayton, ID. At that point, we could find a diesel mechanic and hopefully a place to park for the night. Trudging up and coasting down each hill at a snail’s pace, we inched on. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally saw a sign ahead- Clayton! Oh, thank God!
Then, we saw it. The sign read “Clayton, ID Population 7.”
I was too shocked to cry. “Seven? Seven! I slapped the atlas. NOW WHAT?! Let me ask you something. If the population of a town is seven-why even bother making a sign? What are we supposed to do now?”
The next town on my map was Sunbeam.
Turns out Sunbeam is a ghost town.
Now, the next town was Stanley. At Stanley, the road would form a wonky “Y.” If Stanley didn’t pan out, we would need to make a decision. Either continue on to Lowman (our original destination) or go south toward Ketchum. Notations on the map said that the route to Lowman “may be closed in Winter” which hinted at the fact that this road could be treacherous and not suitable for a giant recreational vehicle even when the weather was fair. The second option, the road to Ketchum, passed through Galena Summit- elevation 8701 ft. Both would pass through the Sawtooth Wilderness and both are narrow mountain passes.
So, I was relieved when we got a little closer to Stanley and my phone dinged. I had service! I immediately started searching for a diesel mechanic. Turns out the town of Stanley has about 70 residents. But, there is a resort that brings in seasonal visitors who want to hire a white water guide or go kayaking or hiking. Aside from the hotel, there is a general store, a restaurant, and one mechanic.
Turns out the only mechanic in town was on vacation out of state for the next week.
We called a diesel mechanic in a neighboring town that I found online. But, he only works on 18-wheel semi-trucks.
I suggested that we take a break and eat something. The only thing worse than being stressed out and frustrated is being stressed out, frustrated and hungry.
Jason started messaging buddies that work on cars and I started asking the waitresses and busboys if they knew anyone local we could call. We ate and looked up everything we could think of online to figure out how to fix the truck. Finally, Jason’s friend Jimmy messaged him back and gave him some advice about what we could do to limp it along to the next town. Luckily, Jason brought tons of tools along in case we had an issue. Jimmy thought we might have lost a clamp on our turbo boot. I have no idea what a turbo boot is. But, the boys watched YouTube videos and figured out a temporary fix. Then, we talked to a couple locals and decided Hailey, ID was our best bet for getting a qualified mechanic to fix us up. I canceled our reservations at the Hot Springs and we made it to a new campground before dark. Jason spent the entire next day at a Ford dealership. They made all the necessary repairs and we got an oil change as well.
The kids and I walked to a nearby river and skipped rocks. Then, we brought some stones home to paint. We left them next to the campground office to cheer up the nice elderly lady that owns the campground. She was so nice and let us stay well past checkout to get the repairs done to our truck.
With everything back in working order, we were ready to get the heck out of Idaho. Within ten minutes of leaving the campground, I zoned out and forgot to look for our next turn. My GPS started to reroute us and told us to turn left (I kid you not) onto Spud Patch Road and proceed one mile. Well, typical GPS navigation is made with a typical car in mind, not a huge recreational vehicle. Spud Patch Road was a one lane dirt road with a deep ditch along one side. The further we drove, the rougher the road became. This resulted in Jason driving a our 23 ft long truck and our attached 42 ft fifth wheel in reverse for about a mile. Then, make a three point turn over the ditch and into a field of sage brush. To add insult to injury, we suspected we might be on private property.
This was not a high point in our relationship.
This is the reason that in every camping store in America you can buy signs, mugs, and throw pillows that say “I’m sorry for what I said when we were backing up the camper.”
When we resumed speaking to each other, we agreed that our goal would be just to get out of Idaho. We were soo over Idaho.
So, we drove for hours.
After a lot of caffeine and diesel, we arrived in Oregon really late at night. We found our spot and pulled in. When we tried to level the RV, the front jack wouldn’t cooperate.
If the RV isn’t level, slides can’t be put out. If slides aren’t out, you can’t get to the beds. We would go on to reconnect it to the truck, pull out all the tools again, lie on the concrete to take the jack apart, put it back together, and unhook the RV again- all with our cell phone flashlights. Then, we connected the electricity so that we would have A/C, put out the slides, and finally climbed into bed. We were hot, dirty, and exhausted.
I cried while he held me in the dark. The day had been hard. What can I say? Not every day is a winner. Some days just stink. That’s life. Whether you are home living your everyday normal or if you are on the road living out your wildest dreams, things happen you don’t plan for. But, at the end of the day- we are living out our wildest dreams. We are out here living. We aren’t going through the motions. We aren’t thinking, “There’s got to be something more to life than this.” We’re exploring and celebrating and struggling. Every day is something different. We’re growing because of it. So, I slept knowing that we would venture out together ready to take on the road once more tomorrow.