Monday 21st November – Problems with the Law

I finished watching the race when I woke up this morning. It was a long one so I was busting for the bathroom by the time it ended, and I was starving. Hot oats for breakfast, then it was time to put the van back to single mode. It probably took a bit longer to convert the van back, but it was nice to reorganise a few things. I had to keep reminding myself that there is no rush. I can take my time with these things.

It was around 10am when the Astro was back to normal. I very much like the spacious version. Next on the agenda was shopping. Wyah had mentioned a sports warehouse down the road where he got a super-warm sleeping bag for cheap so I thought I’d check it out. I’ve never really been happy with my 0oC sleeping bag so was always on the lookout for something warmer at the right price. I also wanted to look at waterproof spray for my hiking boots. I couldn’t keep getting wet feet and socks every time I walked anywhere. I was also open to the idea of a new pair of boots since mine had multiple issues with making my feet sore.

At the Sportsman’s Warehouse I was met by a very helpful lady that pointed out the waterproof spray, then the cheapeast waterproof boots they had. I was sceptical of the success I would have with the waterproof spray so decided to go with new boots. $50 and waterproof, I hoped they would be a good investment. While wearing the boots, I wandered over to the sleeping bags and found a -25oC bag for $50. While it didn’t scream quality, I wanted to be confident I could go for an overnight hike in the conditions I’d been experiencing and my current bag doesn’t give me that. I got into one and it was a good size, if a little big so I bought that too. $100 down, I had some new gear to better help me cope with the wintery conditions.

Now I was restless to get going. I headed south from Bozeman towards West Yellowstone. Not long after leaving what was a cloudy day in Bozeman, rain started coming down, then it turned into snow. This was fine, but there was one section of road that was very much in a blizzard and there was a fresh layer of snow over the road. I slowed right down hoping that the rest of the journey to the Grand Tetons wouldn’t be like this.

It was short lived. In West Yellowstone I stopped at the visitors center to see if they had any info on the Grand Tetons. She didn’t have much but she told me which roads were closed which was good information to have. Onwards, I felt hungry for lunch as soon as I got back in the car. Typical. I kept driving until I reach the scenic route 47 where I could see some waterfalls. I stopped at Upper Mesa Falls and made lunch inside the car before deciding to head out into the weather while I ate to check out the falls. It was only a really short walk from the carpark and the weather wasn’t as bad as it looked. The rain/snow mix was only falling very lightly. Hardly enough to wet my rainjacket. The falls were pretty, but everything seems a little duller on a rainy day.

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I continued on, transfixed by “Unbroken”, the audiobook, absolutely astounded at the poor luck these three men had to endure after becoming stranded in the Pacific Ocean when their bomber crashed during WWII.

The weather hid most of the scenery, but I could see that there was snow everywhere so took it pretty cautiously. I drove through a mountain pass to get to Jackson, where I saw people with snowboards strapped onto their backs, about to hike into the wilderness in order to shred the snow coming down the mountain.

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In Jackson, I figured I’d stop in at the visitors center, even though I would get the most information from the center inside the park. It was ten minutes before closing time and turns out I was lucky. The first thing I found out is that the park center is closed for the season!

The lady in this center was very helpful, giving me a variety of maps and tips for the park. When I asked about a backcountry permit for an overnight camp it seemed it would be difficult to get one since this was the height of the off season. Again, I resolved to just fill my time with day hikes which isn’t the worst thing in the world. She also advised where I could camp. The camp I had been aiming for was a dirt road and she didn’t recommend it in the rain so she directed me towards Atherton Creek, which is a campground in the National Forest right next to Teton.

On my way to camp, I stopped in a turn out on the side of the road because I didn’t want to drive the half hour out to the campground. It was dark and the snow was coming down a little heavier. I figured I would be in no one’s way.

I updated my road map with where I’d been and re-heated some dinner while I caught up with Jon. While I was on the phone with him, I saw headlights turn into my spot. It was the law. I quickly hung up on Jon and opened my side door to greet a shining torchlight right in my face. I looked away from the beam as a lady introduced herself as the sherrif and asked if I was aware parking overnight in Grand Teton was prohibited. I replied that I thought I’d entered the National Forest and that I could move on. She asked where I was from and I said I’m Australian and travelling around the US and had come into the Tetons that night. She said I could stay the night because this was no weather to be driving in at night, but that I definitely shouldn’t be here tomorrow night. I offered to move on, but she said that was fine and off she went. That was nice of her!

I called Jon back and we finished catching up then I got into my warm bed for some blogging. About half an hour later, more headlights in my spot. I wasn’t too fussed this time, I continued what I was doing. A tap at my window. This time it was a park ranger. He gave me the same speel the sheriff had done and I explained that she’d just been by and told me I could stay the night, even though I was in the wrong. He immediately said “That’s not her call” and said something about jurisdiction which I didn’t listen to, I said I would move on to the campground in the national forest. He explained where the turn off was. Whatever, he was on a power trip.

I drove out of my camp and onwards towards the National Forest. While there was no snow settled on the road, the falling snow made visibility difficult. I drove into the town of Kelly after a few minutes, then looked out for the turn off, Google maps guiding me so I didn’t have to try too hard. There was a set of headlights stopped at the turn off and I thought maybe it was the ranger pointing it out to me. It was the ranger, but he wasn’t doing anything nice. As soon as I turned the corner, he turned on his flashing lights. What the hell? I pulled over.

He didn’t come up to my car, so I climbed over to the side door to get out. When I did, he appeared at my driver’s door and told me to get back in the vehicle. He said, “In this country, when you get pulled over, always stay in the vehicle”. He watched me as I clambered back into the driver’s seat. “I pulled you over this time because I clocked your speed at 57 mph. The speed limit is 35 mph. I even explained to you earlier about the speed sign”. I just said, “Ok”. He looked at me as if I am stupid and said, “Why were you going that fast?”. Improvising, I said I wasn’t used to driving in the snow so I wasn’t concentrating on my speed. He looked at the road ahead and said, “There is no snow”. To which I replied with silence. What an asshole. “Do you have a license?” “Yes, I do!” I said enthusiastically!

As he returned to his car, I sat, scheming about how I wouldn’t pay the fine. I was pretty sure I hadn’t updated my address with the DMV for my car or my license, so they’d never find me. After what seemed like ages, he came back, handed me my license and said he was giving me my first warning. He said it was logged in the system so the next officer would know not to go easy on me. He then gave me a speech about watching my speed as if I was a child, then wished me on my way. “Thank you sir!” I said from out the window. Asshole.

I continued driving into the National Forest, not enjoying the conditions at all. A few miles in, the road was no longer ploughed and I was really dreading the conditions. I slid a few times and I was going uphill, not liking my chances the further I went. I was stuck in the predicament of carrying on or risking turning around in untouched snow. I waited until I reached a flat spot, it was a turn-out or parking area at the top of the ridge and chose to turn around. As I did so, I figured I might as well stay here for the night, save the rest of the hard snow driving for the morning and that’s exactly what I did.

I don’t feel comfortable with a camp when I haven’t seen it in daylight so I stayed in the van the rest of the night, looking forward to tomorrow morning when I would get to explore a new wonderland that is the Grand Tetons.

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