A day on the Lewis & Clark caravan

 ... continuing the saga, the Bergs encounter buffaloes

by Russell Berg

Russ Berg and Dorothy O'Connor Berg began this trip in the late spring of 2000. They were part of an Airstream caravan, and the route they took pretty much follows that taken by Lewis and Clark some 160 years ago. The saga picks up at Medora, North Dakota:

Medora, ND, July 10, 2000

We have twenty-two RV's from fourteen states on our caravan. This is about half way into our trip. Yesterday was somewhat more active than usual, so it makes an interesting day to write about. Dorothy and I decided to get up early and leave before the 'parkers.' (Parkers are caravan members assigned -- each caravanner is assigned tasks and they are rotated -- to precede the caravan so they can arrange who will park where at the next stop.) We are not supposed to arrive at a new camp before the parkers have time to decide how to park us. The parkers are going to leave at 8 a.m.

Plan A. Dorothy and I decide to leave at 7 a.m. and hang out somewhere on the road and let the parkers pass us, and we will arrive at the appointed time. We can travel leisurely and all that good stuff. Jeff (from San Diego) comes by and asks if we could travel together. When I mention seven o'clock, he replies that it was too early.  

Plan B. We negotiate to eight o'clock. Now, we are leaving when the parkers are leaving.

Plan C. Wait until the parkers are out of the way.

Anyway, Marci, Jeff's wife, is a slow starter, so Jeff told us to go ahead and maybe he will catch up. I know there is no way that he will catch up, so we negotiate another ten minutes.
Around Plan E or F we are off. Marci is a good navigator, so they take the lead. Pretty soon we pass the parkers who have stopped for breakfast. I am a little surprised that Marci and Dorothy are not chit-chatting on the CB radio. Jeff and whoever isn't driving in our car use the CB for comments, driving decisions, etc. (They have a motor home and tow a 1960 Volkwagen).

The weather is pretty typical (changeable). So far on this trip we have spent two sessions in tornado shelters. We were in and out of rain most of the trip yesterday. In the flat areas we pass vast farms that go on to infinity, or maybe Infinity. The feeling is more mystical here than in Ohio where the farms also go forever. The roads are covered with sand that looks like it was left over from last winter. It gives me an uncomfortable feeling about traction. Then the truck and the trailer get a mud bath for about five miles where the road, waiting to be paved, is covered with wet dirt.
Part of the day's trip is an excursion into the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. This is an area of the Bad Lands. This National Park is in the northwest of ND. To the eye, the Bad Lands have spectacular beauty. They are hill after hill or butte after butte with deep valleys. The underlying rock is exposed in layers or strata. We start into the park with us in the lead, when we come upon a herd of buffalo all over the road. Females, males, and calves number maybe fifty, and a big bull that stays behind the herd. He looks like he is assigned to put multiple dents in our grill if we threaten the herd.  

Now we are going uphill at three miles an hour. Pretty soon I hear distress from Jeff that his engine is overheating, and I am not too happy that my transmission is at 400 degrees. We turn off engines for a while and let the herd go on.

It turns out that the herd is moving to a new meadow, and the road drops off on each side so they couldn't get out of the way if they wanted to. After a while the herd gets to their new meadow, and we go on to a pull-off.

Jeff wants to go back, but I sell him on going on once again to see what is around the bend. Well, another buffalo herd is around the corner. This time we are on the level, and they are out of the way in ten minutes instead of a half-hour.
More council at the next pull-off and it is decided that we turn around. Jeff can't make a U-turn with his big turning radius, so he has to unhitch, turn the motor home around and rehitch.  

We leave the National Park and hang out at a Dairy Queen until it is time to enter the trailer park. At the park we all break park rules and wash down our muddy equipment. (Today it is still muddy.) The weather is fine and we hope it will hold so that we can have our dinner (which is a steak dinner cooked in a peanut oil fondue on a pitchfork). The setting is the top of a butte looking at the Little Missouri River and the railroad, both about a thousand feet down from our altitude.

The weather holds perfect for the dinner. Then we go to a show at an outdoor amphitheater built into the side of the butte. Now the sky is clouding over in the west. Pretty soon serious lightning begins and a few drops of rain, and then they call off the show. We go down the steep grades back to Medora and the trailer park in the rain.

All this had nothing to do with Lewis and Clark's expedition, of which we have had plenty to experience. I am inclined to nonchalantly pass this off as just another trailer day. Fortunately, not all days are as active as yesterday.

Today is laundry day and a ride on a real stagecoach is planned, but yesterday we saw the coach on its side in a ditch. (The rumor is that one of the horses spooked and the coach was dumped). So we are going to 'chicken out' on the stagecoach ride.

Hardin, MT. Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Much of this trip is a follow-up on GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL, and, of course, UNDAUNTED COURAGE. I try to visualize scenes as they were, and bring back the settings 200 years ago or when they occurred. Except for the mosquitoes at one site it is a stretch, but I try. One of the rangers here pointed out the manliness of individual trappers who operated alone and fed and clothed themselves, dealt with isolation, extreme weather both winter and summer, sickness and wild animals, and survived. They were men, or more properly MEN. And it turns out there were quite a few WOMEN.

Dillon, Montana, Friday, July 21, 2000

Last night we had a boat ride through 'The Gates of the Mountains.' This was 6.5 miles of river through a gorge with 1,000-foot rock sides that go right down to the water. We saw many deer, mountain goats, and blue heron along with spectacular rock formations. We had a roast beef supper in the gorge and a superb sunset on the ride back home.

'Home is where the trailer is.'

September 7, 2001

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