Jackson & Grand Teton National Park

The next destination on our trip was Jackson WY. Our friends in Casper, Wyoming told us how beautiful and scenic the area was and we were excited to visit.  The first encounter of wild animals we had on this trip were the bison that hung out by the highway on our way to Jackson. The animals were grazing as people drove by in slow motion trying to get photos of these unpredictable and fascinating creatures.

The drive there kept getting better and we spent some time exploring Jackson Lake along the way. The 191 HWY ran along side the Snake River that eventually emptied into Jackson lake and was controlled by the Jackson Lake Dam.  The Lake was vast and expansive and there were lots of rock stacks along the lakes edge, so we made our own contribution before heading into town.

The first couple of days consisted of working at cafes (because we still need to earn our way through this trip) and exploring the downtown area.  The most amazing breakfast burrito was served to us at D.O.G cafe and they even gave Izzy a treat and topped off our coffee cups. The town was very dog friendly and all the stores allowed pets which made things really easy for us and Izzy.  We also stopped by UPS to send a few packages out and met a Hungarian Gentleman named David who opened up “Gourmet Food Truck” in Jackson 5 years ago.  He said that Food trucks are actually not allowed in the State so he improvised and made his restaurant stand look like a food truck.  He uses organic ingredients to make crepes, soups and he cooks a Goulash that locals love.

Afterwards we headed out to our first camping location in Kelly, WY just a few miles outside of Jackson.  Gros Ventre Campground was a paid site ($28) and it sat in the foothills of The Grand Teton.  We also had our first van cooked meal! We fired up our Outdoor Oven/Stove and made pasta! The thing is, because of the space it felt like there were too many cooks in the kitchen.  The pasta though, turned out great and Szymon and I finished it off before heading to bed for the night.

We decided after paying for a camp site the first night, that we would rather find National Forests to camp in because they are free, but the following day we found a campground called Atherton Creek.  The spot was a lot better than Gros because it was right by a lake and the price was much better for the same accommodations ($15). We filled up our water tanks, set up camp, pulled out our awning for the first time, put up the hammock, did some bike work, did yoga in the woods and ended the night by a campfire.

The next day we started the day with our second meal out of the van.  We stopped by a really cute store called Pearl Street Market in Jackson a couple days before and picked up some groceries.  We fired up the stove again and made croissant breakfast sandwiches and they were freaking delicious.  After breakfast and sometime writing in our personal journals, we wandered out to the lake and jumped in.  We nearly froze, but having the first road shower experience afterwards was worth it.  It was warm out and the NEMO portable shower worked like a charm. We do realize that the weather won’t always be so accommodating for an outdoor shower, so were grateful that the first experience was a good one.

We then headed back into Jackson for the last time.  The day consisted of running more errands and having our first laundry day (while working because Jackson Laundry, which is brand new, had WIFI) and instead of heading out to another remote area, we stayed parked in that lot so we can enjoy a box of Pizza and the season finale of Game of Thrones. Sometimes, sleeping in parking lots are great. To be Continued…

Joshua Tree National Park

Shortly after driving Gaia the van across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles, an opportunity to go to Joshua Tree National Park came up. A friend of Kyuri’s extended an invite to go climb the boulders & rock formations at the national park, and to camp overnight with his group of his friends. A short distance drive from Los Angeles, the iconic Joshua Tree made famous by the U2 album cover is located in the Mojave desert of Southeastern California. The park is very popular with rock climbers, with thousands of climbing routes available at various levels of difficulty. It didn’t take long to convince me. Climbing gear, sleeping bags, and food supplies were packed, and both Kyuri and I headed out for a short weekend of climbing and van camping.

I’ve done a small amount of indoor climbing, but this was to be my first time rock climbing the outdoors. Climbing is a sport I’ve picked up as an internal physical and mental challenge to myself, especially since I fall into the not so great with heights camp. I’ve gotten more comfortable climbing the 50-70 feet tall walls at indoor gyms, but was really looking forward to getting that first outdoor climb off my bucketlist. Through gym practice I’ve gotten familiar with tying the figure 8 follow through-knot, and belaying, but was told by friends that outdoors poses different challenges.

As our group settled on a climbing spot and got the gear ready, I had the opportunity to watch some of the more experienced climbers lead climb their way up to set up a top rope for the remainder of us. The sight of the 100+ foot wall in front of me was making me a little anxious, but eventually it was my turn to try my hands at a 5.9 route. I began my way up and the first thing I noticed was how much more grippier the rock was compared to gym holds, and then when further up how much more abrasive the rock is on one’s hands. The approach is also a bit different in that there are no color coordinated holds, and one has to find their own way up. I immediately enjoyed that aspect of outdoor climbing. After getting up halfway through the approach, I made the rookie mistake of looking down (for someone with a fear of heights). My first reaction was to get back down and get more comfortable with a few more attempts, but some encouragement from the group & belayer below spurred me to take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and proceed up.

Halfway up the second climb looking down.

The climb was going well, and I got about 7/8’s of the way up before a more challenging section got the better of me and I ended up getting belayed down. Despite not making it all the way up, I was glad I gave it a try. It could have been easy to back out and not make the move up when I was halfway up, but it’s amazing what a small change of mindset and internal pep talk can do. Not only in relation to climbing, but in all walks of life. I ended up trying a 5.11 approach that required a different technique, and also made it a decent way up. That one also felt good, and I can’t wait to do some more outdoor climbing.

Our group left the climbing spot right around sunset, and we headed out to our camp spot right outside the park. There were a couple of children amongst the group, and one of the more memorable moments of the trip for me was when one of them asked me why I pronounce Theo as “Teo”. The TH sound is almost non-existent in Poland, so I naturally pronounce TH as T. Let me tell you, getting taught proper pronunciation by a five year old can be a trip!