Thoughts of a New(ish) DM

A little foreword before I launch in to this post. I will be using the terms DM and GM interchangeably. They mean Dungeon Master and Game Master. They are pretty much synonymous terms. Dungeon Master specifically comes from Dungeons and Dragons and Game Master is kind of a catch-all term for all of the TTRPG (Tabletop Roleplaying Game) systems out there.

Please join me as we dive in to my thoughts as a new and inexperienced DM!

As you could probably tell from my previous post, I’m a bit of a TTRPG enthusiast. So it stands to reason that I would eventually get around to DM/GMing a game. It started about 4 years ago, I had just discovered Fantasy Flight Games’ ruleset for Warhammer 40,000. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer longer than I’ve been a fan of TTRPGs so it was a match made in heaven.

I went to my buddy, my partner in crime, and convinced him to help me start up a game with our friends in the Warhammer universe. It wasn’t difficult, he’s as big a dork for Warhammer as I am, if not bigger.

We roped together a few friends and sat them down for essentially a Session -1 where we taught them Warhammer 101. After that we set a date for our Session 0 and my foray in to GMing began.

The very first thing I learned immediately from Session 0 is you, as a GM, are a facilitator. Of course you’re there to have fun too but much of what you’re doing is ensuring your players are having fun and that you are providing them with an interesting experience. You facilitate this by being knowledgeable in the rules and able to get them answers relatively quickly for any questions they have. That isn’t to say you need to know every rule off the top of your head, although I wouldn’t mind if I could memorize them. In my opinion, if there’s a question about a rule and it would take you out of the moment you are in in the game, hand-wave it, house-rule it, with the expectation from you and  your players that it will be revisited if it doesn’t make sense down the road.

The second thing I learned is, as a DM, you should do all that you can to make sure all of your players are included and engaged. Even with the best intentioned of groups you will probably have one person, be they more experienced with the system or TTRPGs as a whole or simply a more outgoing personality, begin to dominate the talk-time in the session. Be sure to ask the other players directly what they are doing or if they have any input on the situation. It is a very easy way to give the player an in for dialogue and encourages them to contribute more often on their own. Encourage your players to embody their characters and become immersed in their story. They don’t have to come up with a voice for their character, they don’t even have to speak in the first person as the character, but I guarantee the more a person thinks about and as their character the more engaged they will be in each session. Reward it!

Thirdly, be prepared. But not too prepared. In my opinion there is definitely over-preparation as a DM. If you’re sitting down and writing up dialogue for specific characters you may find yourself weeping in your beer later after your players completely bypassed them or, worse, killed them without a second thought. Definitely get a story outline down, maybe a BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy/Gal) to work toward if that’s your thing, and get an idea of how you want to start the session. I can tell you from experience that I’ve come to a session with a thought of how it’d go in mind and come out of it having to spin locations, creatures, and NPCs out of nowhere because my players took a right when I expected them to go left. Don’t be afraid to think on your feet and slap down an NPC that didn’t exist five seconds ago. 85% of the time your players won’t know the difference. The other 15% of the time they’ll be thinking how great it is that you came up with an NPC on the spot because they went in a direction you weren’t expecting.

This leads into my next point.

Fourth, realize that this is not only your story. You are bringing it to the table but your players should have a say as well! They have a hand in how the story plays out, they even have their own stories to tell for their characters which will weave in to yours. Try to take their threads and add your own twist as well, surprise them as you immerse them in their character’s background. Everyone loves to be the star every once in a while.

Fifth , and I really hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out after all those previous points, do what feels right to you and your players. You will always be learning and improving what you do. Your players will grow with you and I guarantee that they will think you are awesome as you weave your story out to them.

Last and most important of all. Have fun.

 

~StrideTheEarth

 

 

Tabletop RPGs: A love story

The whole torrid affair started way back when I was a youngster (Okay, I’m still a youngster. Just humour me). My brother and I begged our mom to buy us what I recollect as either a module of AD&D or the starter set for it. We had next to no idea what it was, we’d heard it was a game of imagination you can play with your friends. To be honest, it was the artwork on the cover that captured us, we needed it.

We got home and cracked it open, pre-made characters and a scenario spilled out and we were enraptured. I don’t remember us ever getting beyond that, it was super complicated for young kids like us and we didn’t have anyone to guide us through it so I was content just reading the backstory of the pre-made characters. One was a half-ogre or half-giant gladiator as I recall.

It was years from when we first discovered it until I played my first tabletop game.

In 2007 my best friend was working at a book store called Borders. I’d visit him pretty often to hang out while he was working and it was during one of these visits that we stumbled on D&D 4th Edition.

Immediately we were excited.

Both of us were humongous nerds but neither of us really had much experience with the game. We split the cost of the DM Guide and decided we needed to get a group together. Unfortunately it took a couple months or so to wrangle up people for a group but we got there. We had our session zero and everyone made their characters. Making your character is something magical, and Wizards certainly knows that. In 4th edition they were slightly more clinical about it but in the 5th edition guide they show you how to go about making your character and even give you an example of another character as you move along, a well-known and beloved character of the Forgotten Realms setting.

They know that a character you craft is one that will leave a mark. On both you and those at your table.

I love all of D&D so when I say that Session 0 is my favorite session I need you to know it’s not that I love it more than the rest necessarily, it’s that the uniqueness of the session is what draws me to it.

Everyone is learning together, some are new players who are delving in to this for the very first time with the help of the more veteran players. Everyone is learning what the DM has envisioned for the group, usually with some basic details about the campaign world and how your party may have met. The players are learning about each other’s characters, and learning about their own!

I love the feeling of open-eyed excitement that comes with embarking on a new campaign. The possibilities for your character and your party are before you. It’s the wide-view that you begin to lose as you dive in to the game.

As you get in to the campaign your vision narrows to the immediate. Your character, your party, the battle at hand, the drink at the tavern at the crossroads. It’s a different kind of feeling as the DM lays his story out before you and you add your own flair to it.

As you get deeper in to the campaign, you learn more about your character. Traits and backstory you’d never even thought of in session 0 begin to emerge and immerse you further. You learn more about your party and their stories and flaws as well.

You become attached.

You may have unexpected emotional sessions where your character has a heart-to-heart with another player’s. Or you’ll have to say goodbye as the campaign comes to a close.

Last weekend I spent my Saturday evening tuned in to a stream of a D&D game for a group called the “For Science Crew”. It was the swan song for their campaign. I’m not quite sure how long it had been going on but this was their last session and it was obvious how invested they were in their characters. As a group they wrapped up a few loose ends but the masterstroke was what happened after. The DM had epilogues prepared for each character. It sounded like the players each gave the DM an idea of what they wanted their character’s ride in to the sunset to look like and then she made it in to a loving farewell. Even though this was my first time catching their stream I was rapt. It was a four hour stream of emotion.

These are the things that draw me to D&D over everything else. I love killing the bad guy and getting loot, experience, and gold as much as everyone else but.. there is something about seeing the story unfold in front of you and watching your character take steps in to a wide world of possibility and become the hero (or villain if that’s your thing!) that is just unmatched by any other medium.

Nothing else out there allows you to completely live in the skin of a character of your own making like this.

Or to craft a story for others to romp through and delight you with their attachments, or infuriate you with their peccadillos.

D&D is pretty great.

 

-StrideTheEarth

The Road Trip: The good, the bad, the boring.

So it’s been a little over a week since I got back from my road trip and I figured I would look back on it and talk about what sticks out to me most. What I liked, what I loved, what I would change for my next trip.

I was texting a co-worker on that Tuesday while I was still in Colorado and she commented that I was really moving quite quickly, I was already coming back east and on the return leg home. I thought about it after she texted me and it was true, it was a bit of a whirlwind roadtrip.

I had started on Saturday morning and drove through North Dakota and got more than halfway through Montana on a marathon drive. Sunday I made it to Glacier and spent a few hours there seeing the sights and taking pictures. Monday I set out from Dubois Wyoming to head toward Colorado and ended up in Eagle by the end of the day. Tuesday I set out on the road and I didn’t really stop until I got home at about 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Glacier National Park is where I spent the most time sightseeing, which makes sense since this entire roadtrip started out with that as the main objective. It’d been on my list of places to see for such a long time ever since I randomly saw a picture of it. Every other stop I made on the trip was either out of necessity (gas, food, bathroom, or to stop for the night) or just a quick stop to take in the sights and snap a picture or two.

I have to say I do not regret it. I don’t know how most people enjoy road trips, maybe they like to load up on stops and places they like to see but to me it’s the open road. The miles stretching out behind you and the horizon before you. One of the biggest things that made my heart soar was heading west and seeing the mountains rise up before me. Packing my itinerary with stops at museums and the biggest <whatever> on roadtrips is definitely not me. I’ll save that for destination trips, where I’m flying somewhere specifically.

The Good

The roadtrip itself, driving through all these states and just being on the road was so liberating. Not having to be anywhere at any specific time and being able to take everything in made me feel alive. The western side of just about every state I visited. North Dakota, Montana, Colorado. I know I’m dramatizing it a little bit, but I swear the states got more interesting the further west you were. North Dakota was flat plains and grassland until you got west in to the badlands area and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Montana was just as flat as eastern North Dakota until you got very close to Glacier, although I may have fallen victim to my chosen route more than anything. I had a choice of going through central Montana or northern and I elected to take the northern route. While I was in the north I could look south over the entirely flat farm and field area and see mountains in the distance and be a little irritated.

Glacier National Park. I know I’ve raved about this in pretty much every time it’s come up in the blog but I cannot say it enough. It was absolutely beautiful. The mountains, the lake, the glacier. I was awestruck before I even got in to the park and I had a smile on my face the entire time I was there.

The solitude of the trip. I thought of inviting someone else, or multiple people, on the trip. I even had a couple people hint that I should invite them to come with. Some people just outright saying they wanted to come with. But I knew it was going to be a bit of a grueling pace and I knew I needed this to myself. I wouldn’t say it was spiritual, but it was something I needed to experience alone.

The Bad

It’s hard for me to say anything was explicitly bad for this trip, it was all an experience that I don’t really regret but what follows are a few things that could have been better.

Yellowstone National Park. Not the scenery of the park itself and no one’s fault but my own. Because I didn’t plan this out at all it put me in a situation that was much less than ideal to actually see Yellowstone so I got maybe an hour of daylight to check things out before it got too dark to see anything. Plus it was also raining pretty much the entire time I was there so my consolation, seeing Yellowstone by moon and starlight, was completely shot.

The food. When I started thinking about this trip I had this daydream that I’d stop at hole-in-the-wall but awesome restaurants and eat great food as I drove along. Once again no one’s fault but my own, I didn’t really research what there was along the way and I ended up not wanting to structure my trip where I’m stopping at prescribed places at certain times. I ended up getting probably 85% of my food on the move which facilitated me staying on the road and keeping everything rolling so it was a bit of a trade-off.

You know what, the boring doesn’t even get a header. It doesn’t deserve it. There were times on the trip when I thought “Why?”. Such as the majority of North Dakota, the route I took in Montana, and pretty much all of Nebraska and Iowa. But you know what? I do not regret them. If I hadn’t gone through North Dakota I wouldn’t have seen Painted Canyon. I wouldn’t have glimpsed Medora which, despite being completely touristy, was a pretty cool sight to see. If I hadn’t taken the northern route in Montana I wouldn’t have had that jaw-dropping moment of my eyes focusing on the horizon to see the mountains slowly rise in to view.

My night in Yellowstone is really the only thing I wish could have been different. I don’t even want to change me driving through at night, I want something changed that even I can’t control. If it had been a clear night I would have been driving through a beautiful national park under a nearly full moon with the stars shining in the sky. I can’t even imagine what that would have looked like.

So really, is there anything I would have changed? I mean, I would have loved to have had dinner in some hidden gem local favorite restaurant every night but that isn’t really realistic. Plus planning that kind of thing out would have killed the spontaneity of the trip. I may not have felt the freedom that I did, I may have felt more harried because I had a plan to be in a specific place at a certain point. Or I may have felt like I was wasting time because I wasn’t on the road.

That said, this trip definitely informed a few things I’d like to do in the future. Next time I go to Glacier I’ll probably pack more camping/hiking supplies, including bear spray. Yes, bear spray. Take a look at the following picture. I was planning on hiking to a waterfall about a mile and a half off the road in the park but then I read this sign and thought “Uhhh, maybe not.”.

20180527_113623

Now that I’ve had this solitary journey I definitely want to bring my friends in the future. One, it’ll be nice to have that conversation and to share the experience. Two, there were so many sights I saw on the road that I simply couldn’t grab a picture of because there was no way to stop, such as the I-70 route through Glenwood Canyon route in Colorado. That was definitely one of the best sights of the journey and I didn’t even get to share it with you guys. Lastly, having a couple extra people to throw at the inevitable bears while hiking in Glacier wouldn’t be a bad thing you know?

This journey is over but there are more to be had and I’m already looking forward to the next. Thank you for coming along with me!

-StrideTheEarth

Road Trip – Day Four – The Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and home to Minnesota Marathon

After a decent night’s rest I woke up early again, in time to watch the sun rise majestically over the parking lot of my hotel.

I wanted to relax a bit before hitting the road so I grabbed the complimentary breakfast from the hotel and hung out in my room playing “Golf Story” on my Switch. I hit the road around 10 a.m.

Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming have been my favorite states by far on this trip. By this point you can probably guess why. I love the mountains and natural beauty of the places I visit.

I really can’t say enough about how lovely the I-70 route through Colorado is. From the Glenwood Canyon I went through the day before to the mountain passes heading toward Denver. I was able to snap a couple pictures as I went along. Including a neat one I caught of what looked like a tour train. I saw smoke rising from a ravine and when I looked down I was assaulted by the massive blast of the train whistle. Scared the bejeezus out of me.

 

After the pass, and after Denver, Colorado flattens out in to a lot of grassland that seems to be used for ranching and farming so it begins to look and feel a lot like home.

I passed out of Colorado in to Nebraska, looking at my GPS, intent on getting home on this last leg. I didn’t want to spend another night in a hotel. It’s not like I had any bad experiences in the hotels I stayed in but they simply weren’t home and I was longing for my own bed.

Nebraska has its own charms but nothing as visually striking as the other states I’d already been in so I just went straight through in to Iowa.

Iowa I’d actually been to on a previous trip with friends. We’d heard about a place called ‘Zombie Burger’ which serves, you guessed it, zombie themed burgers. They also do shakes which are pretty good too! I had a thought of getting back there on the drive back but by the time I got to Des Moines it was far too late for any thought other than “Keep going.”.

One thing I have to say about Iowa is they had the nicest rest stops of all the states I’d visited on this trip, including my home state. It may seem trivial but when you’ve been on the road for hours and want to get out to stretch your legs, to go to the bathroom, to grab a snack, a clean and modern rest stop with good landscaping and decent options for snack food is a huge morale and mood booster. So good on you Iowa!

After I hit Minnesota it was just a “Just Keep Swimming” mentality. I’d come this far and I wanted to be in my own bed by the end of the drive. So around 3:30 a.m. I pulled in to my driveway, exhausted but triumphant. I grabbed most of the things out of my car and went inside to be greeted by May, my sweetheart of a cat, who can be seen here.

20170921_214137

After unpacking the essentials I finally rewarded myself by flopping in to bed and promptly falling asleep.

Roadtrip complete.

 

6 States visited, not including my own of course.

3,260 miles traveled.

50 hours 53 minutes on the road.

Memories and sights to last a lifetime.

Road Trip: Day Three – Wyoming and Colorado

After last night’s ridiculousness I was just hoping for a relatively uneventful day today. I set the alarm on my phone for 9 am hoping to catch a decent amount of sleep but of course not. I ended up getting up around 7 and decided that the day may as well start.

After loading a few things in to my car just to get it done and ready for when I checked out I went and grabbed a bowl of frosted flakes from the dining room and went back to my room to work on the blog post for the previous day. I spent about an hour on it and got it up before heading out on the road.

Wyoming was completely empty, at least the route I took through it. I saw very few towns, and the ones I did see were all relatively small.

I loved Wyoming.

The reason I’m on this roadtrip is to see the landscape. I love to drive and I love to see the interesting things around me while I’m going, it fuels me. To see the cliffs, bluffs, buttes and mesas of Wyoming dot the landscape with the far-off mountains looming in the background was just fantastic.

20180528_122706
I saw a little gravel pull-off alongside the road and had to stop to grab this picture.

The majority of my drive through Wyoming was uneventful, there was one bit that got a little harrowing though. I had just turned off Interstate 80 on to 789 and I saw clouds off in the distance. About 15 miles down the road the rain started. It wasn’t bad at first, I was happy that my car was going to get a wash, it was still dirty as hell from the drive through Yellowstone.

20180528_091642
Mud bath courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

Well the lighter rain turned in to heavy rain that soon transitioned in to hail. I couldn’t hear my radio over it. (It was a podcast actually. The Critical Role Dungeons and Dragons podcast. I highly recommend it). Every car I passed on the road would chuck a sheet of water at me making it impossible to see for the second it took for the wipers to clear it away.

Not long after I crossed in to Colorado, green rolling hills greeting me as I came over the border. Driving through Colorado was a joy too, winding roads through the hills and mountains with green as far as the eye can see. The occasional building or house perched on a hillside.

But the real joy was when I got on Interstate 70 heading east. I jumped on at the city of Rifle, I had already decided I was going to stop early for the night so I looked at the map on my GPS and settled on staying in Eagle.

I passed through a city called Glenwood Springs. Ahead of me was an awe-inspiring surprise called Glenwood Canyon. I-70 meanders through this canyon, flanked by mountains on either side and twining with the Colorado river below. I kept one eye on the road and the other taking in the sights around me. Part of me wishes I had a co-conspirator on this roadtrip simply so they could have gotten pictures of this leg. I did stop at a rest stop and got a few pictures of the surrounding mountains but I don’t think I did them justice.

 

 

After the canyon it wasn’t much further to Eagle. I got all checked in and settled, happy to take a breath and look forward to a couple hours of relaxation instead of having to flop down in to bed immediately for sleep like the last couple of nights.

Tomorrow is Denver and beyond folks. We’re on the homeward leg of the trip, I love being out here seeing the sights but I’ll be happy to flop down in my own bed again!

 

Roadtrip: Day Two – The day I fell in love with Montana

Another disclaimer: Apologies for the formatting today. Apparently WordPress is not a fan of text copied and pasted to it. I had to do some of this post offline as I had no internet connection. When I make my next stop I’ll attempt to clean it up some! 

Update: I cleaned up the formatting, hopefully it’s easier to read now!

If I see nothing else for the rest of the trip, it will have been completely worth it.

Once again I woke up bright and early, not quite as early as yesterday but I think I deserved a little extra sleep.

I got up and got ready for the day. I was only 3 and a half hours away from Glacier and I was ready to go. I got my complimentary hot breakfast from the hotel (I had a belgian waffle.) and then checked out and hit the road.

As I got further and further west, Montana’s landscape began to get more interesting. I see the beginnings of a trend here. The mountains hove in to view as I drove down the state highway. Montana’s speed limits are the best, by the way. 70 miles an hour on the state highways and 80 on the interstates. Has Minnesota beat hands down.

I passed through the last town of any real size, Browning, before making the final leg to St. Mary and Glacier National Park. It was quite desolate with a few abandoned buildings along the way. The road began to move in to the mountains here and I grew more and more excited. The place I’d seen before only in pictures was right here, I was seeing it! I got out of the car a couple times at turn-offs to snap a few pictures and then jump back in and keep going.
Eventually I got to St. Mary’s, a little strip of buildings, I wouldn’t even call it a town, on the outskirts of the park. As you get to St. Mary’s you drive around a curve and laid out in front of you is a long lake, water the color of aqua reflecting the sky and the mountains rising up behind it. I was awestruck before I even got in to the park proper. I pulled through in to the drive, going past the sign that said in big letters “Welcome to Glacier National Park.”. I stopped at the toll booth and actually bought the National Parks annual pass. This trip I was planning on at least going to Glacier and Yellowstone so it almost pays for itself, and I get to support the national parks which definitely is a good thing.

I got to chatting with the park ranger at the tollbooth, it wasn’t busy at all yet, and told him where I was from. He smiled and said he’d come up from Tennessee and loved it so much he decided to stay. I told him that this place has been on my list of places to see for a long time and he told me it wouldn’t disappoint.

It did not.

I was constantly stopping at the pull-offs to gape at the landscape and take pictures, a giant dorky smile on my face the entire time.

 

I spent hours in the park and could have spent hours more. Unfortunately the road wasn’t entirely open so you couldn’t drive from one side of the park to the other. Eventually you have to turn around and go out the way you came in. I was a bit disappointed when I learned about that before setting out on the trip, but I wasn’t when I got there. I’m sure that it’s an amazing experience to go from one end to the other but I did not miss it this time. Next time I’ll be sure to go when the road is completely open though.

I came back down the road and stopped at my favorite overlook to take a few more pictures before heading all the way down to the park entrance and visitor center. I looked around the souvenir shop and then decided to call it a day for Glacier National Park.

Now this is where I tell you that T-Mobile sucks. Yesterday while driving I get a text from T-Mobile saying that my roaming data is about to run out. I’ve used 160/200 megabytes of my allotted data. I was very confused, I didn’t even know there was a roaming data cap. Well, I hit my cap today while at Glacier. My next stop after Glacier was Yellowstone and Wyoming. Yellowstone actually being more of a ‘See as I drive through’ sort of thing. Well, I couldn’t pull out my route because I was out of roaming data of course. I sat in my car for about 10 minutes actually planning out a route using the map. This must what the pioneers felt like, right?

I was about an hour in to my route when I noticed that I had 4G signal! I pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed my phone, getting Google Maps to plot me a route. Finally the GPS came up and I let out a cheer. Go ahead and laugh at me, I know I do.

So my new route is to Gardiner, a teeny tiny town that’s the gateway to Yellowstone from the north. It’s five or six hours from Glacier National Park to Gardiner and I figured that’d give me a decent early stop for the day so I could relax for a bit and then hit the road and see Yellowstone in the morning.

Whelp, no not really.

First let me say that the drive to Gardiner once you get off the interstate on to the state highway is insanely beautiful. The mountains flank you on both sides with the Yellowstone river flowing past.

Anyway, back to the disappointment. I get in to Gardiner and see it’s pretty busy. They have several hotels and most of the parking lots are packed. I pull in to the Best Western but see the “No Vacancy” sign and do a quick U-Turn. I see the Comfort Inn across the way has “Vacancy” lit up and jump over there. I go in and ask the guy at the desk if I can get a room for the night. He’s super kind and very helpful, he fibs a bit and gets me as many discounts for the room as possible.

Two hundred and eighty-five dollars.

I was shellshocked. When he told me that I just repeated it back to him incredulously. The other clerk next to him smirked at me and said “Welcome to the resort.”. Settle down buddy, you’re a Comfort Inn. I know what he was saying but good god the way he said it brought my hackles up.

The first guy was very helpful and told me about a few other hotels around that might have vacancies if I wanted to price shop. I thanked him and was leaving when one of the other guests.. customers? I don’t know what to call them. He told me if I could wait a second his wife had an app on her phone that lets you look up hotels with decent prices. I think it had to do with only staying one night or something and I honestly can’t remember the name of the app.

(Everything written before this was written the evening of Sunday, May 27th. Everything after on the following Monday, May 28th.)
I talked to him and his wife for a bit, they had very nordic accents but their plates were from Florida. Both of them were several inches taller than me. I’m not a giant by any means, but I’m 6’3″. The guy was at least 6’8″ and his wife was probably 6’6″. I’ve met a lot of nice people on this trip and it was just fun to sit and chat with that couple for a few minutes, it’d already been a fairly long day of driving after all.

I got back in my car and on the road. I thought about checking out those other hotels but I knew they would all be expensive as well. As I was driving to Gardiner I was trying to decide if I wanted to stop there for the night or push through Yellowstone. Seems it was decided for me by penny-pinching.

I pulled through Gardiner to the entrance of Yellowstone. Call me a nerd but for some reason it felt to me like the scene in Jurassic Park when everyone is loaded in to the electric SUVs and are going through the gate in to the park. I didn’t quite feel the awe for Yellowstone that I did for Glacier but it was still impressive.

I showed off my annual pass to the ranger at the toll booth and drove in to the park.

Entering from the north side of Yellowstone was a good choice, it was very rocky and mountainous with several switchbacks along the road affording you a great view. There’s a little curated village at the top near the Mammoth Hot Springs. As I was driving through it all I could think was “If it’s $285 out there, I don’t want to know how much it’d cost to stay here.”. It was a little touristy with everything branded “Mammoth “. I saw a sign for “Mammoth Restrooms” for example. A neat little place all the same.

20180527_201422

So I wasn’t feeling all that tired at this point. If you remember, I was going to stop in Gardiner so I could have a little relaxation time and to be able to see Yellowstone in the morning and have a nice leisurely drive.

The sun was beginning to go down and Yellowstone was just beautiful. I stopped at a couple pullouts in the initial climb up, including the Golden Gate area. I couldn’t pass that up.

 

After grabbing a few pictures I got back on the road. Another aside, I used my phone exclusively for pictures during Day Two. I think they’re higher quality than the camera I had brought along for the trip.

As you get to the top of the switchbacks and the Mammoth Hot Springs a huge plain spreads out before you with snow-topped mountains rising up in the distance.

Yellowstone was pretty busy, even at this time. Not really surprising seeing as it’s Memorial Day weekend. Still, being in a large line of vehicles cruising through a national park was kind of surreal.

The sun had retreated beyond the horizon at this point and I made the decision that I’d camp out in Yellowstone for the night. I’d get some pictures of the night sky framing the mountains with the bright moon shining down. Well every campground I passed was full so I figured I’d just find a good pullout that had a treebreak so I wouldn’t have headlights shining in to my car all night and roll my sleeping bag in the back of the SUV.

I was to be disappointed on multiple fronts.

It started raining, the cloud cover pretty much complete, so my hopes of sleeping under a starry Yellowstone sky were dashed immediately. Also, on an unrelated note, did you guys know that it’s not allowed to ‘camp’ anywhere outside the designated campgrounds? I didn’t.

I was snugged up in my sleeping bag in the back of my Rogue actually working on this blog post so I could get it up the next day when I hit civilization and had internet access. I had been there about 45 minutes when a vehicle pulls in to the parking lot and I figure that it’s either someone that really has to pee or has the same idea as me. The vehicle pulled up directly behind me, headlights shining through my back windshield, and I’m thinking “So is this how I die?”. That’s when the red and blue lights came on.

I fumbled open the door which set off the car alarm (Whoops). The park ranger explained to me the above, no camping allowed outside designated camping areas. And they have a loose definition of camping, basically anything that constituted a sleeping area. I’m guessing that means you can pull off the road and take a quick catnap in your seat but my sleeping bag was well out. He suggested I head back the way I came and go out the west entrance to an area where this type of camping was allowed.

I apologized profusely and thanked him for his advice, then promptly ignored it. I didn’t want to backtrack, so I set back on the road. I was doing Yellowstone on hardmode, at night in the rain.

About 10 miles down the road I came up behind a white SUV who looked like they had the same idea as me, just get through. He was my traveling buddy for the next 50-60 miles, he had his brights on and my headlights gave him a little back-up. The rain let up after about a half hour and the moon broke weakly through the clouds to give a little extra illumination.

By the time I got out of Yellowstone and through the Tetons (Nice) park I was flagging a little bit but I wanted to push through to Dubois, Wyoming. The next town along the road that hopefully had a place I could crash for the night.

Only an hour or so down the road.

The hour was a bit harrowing with steep downgrades and sharp curves but I finally made it. Heaven is a Super 8 motel after 14 hours on the road.

I have a few regrets that I didn’t get to see all of Yellowstone in the daytime, what I did see was beautiful though. I imagine the roads I passed down through to get to Dubois had some beautiful sights too, I would have loved to see Jackson Lake pass by below me in the daylight as well.

But I’m looking forward. Today, more Wyoming on the way to Grand Junction, Colorado. The Rockies await.

Roadtrip: Day One

I apologize in advance for the readability of this post. I’m pretty well burned out after the driving today and this feels like just a lot of thoughts thrown out there instead of anything coherent.

Last night I spent some time wrapping up my packing and making sure I didn’t forget anything. I probably did but I haven’t figured out what yet so it can’t be that big a deal can it? I got to bed around 12 a.m. in the end, still excited about starting out on the trip.

I was planning on leaving this morning by 9 a.m. at the latest. Well, I ended up waking up slightly earlier than I expected. About 4:30 am or so. I woke up and actually went to roll over to go back to sleep but a song was stuck in my head. It’s the ending credits song from “Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.

 

This song is pretty much the anthem of this road trip, and the movie was one of the inspirations for it. If you’ve not seen the movie I would highly recommend it. It made me realize there’s a wide world to see. It won’t come to me, I have to go to it.

This song was stuck in my head and I kept going over the things I needed to make sure I didn’t forget. So naturally I couldn’t get back to sleep. At around 4:45 a.m. I said screw it and popped out of bed. May as well start early since I wasn’t getting any more sleep.

I got myself ready and everything packed in my car by 5:45 and I was on the road by 6. I put on the music and started to let the miles roll by.

I can’t quite explain how driving on the open road makes me feel. I get a big smile on my face and I start laughing because I’m so giddy. Today was no exception! I was barreling down the highway singing at the top of my lungs and smiling from ear to ear. Probably for the best that I’m going on this trip alone.

A few hours down the road I made it to my first stop, Fargo. A co-worker and I searched up a couple restaurants in Fargo the day before for my first meal on the road. I ended up going to C.J.’s Kitchen

 

I got the biscuits and gravy, something any self-respecting southerner or midwesterner should recognize. Unfortunately it wasn’t really anything special. It was good, but not something you’d go back specifically for.

After breakfast I was back on the road! For about 200 feet, I needed gas. This is where my favorite part of the day happens. The gas station I stopped at was called ‘Loaf and Jug’. It was attached to a payday loan place (Ugh) called ‘EZ Money’. As if payday loan places weren’t sleazy enough. Anyway, I saw a kid who was about 10 years old walk in to the payday loan place. I kept an eye on the door while I was gassing up because I have to say that’s not something you see every day. A couple minutes later the kid came out with a small stack of bills in his hands. My eyebrows went up until he fanned them out and I saw they were all ones. I had to keep myself from laughing at this point, he had about $10 in ones fanned out in his hands.

Next this kid saunters over to Loaf and Jug and goes in, a minute later he comes out with two King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy bars. At this point I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. I told this story to my friends immediately after I saw it and one of them had the perfect response. “What a baller.”

Now I actually was back on the road, I punched in ‘Theodore Roosevelt National Park’. Google Maps is super helpful though. As I start the navigation it informed me that the park is closed today, and Sunday. Seriously, how the hell is a national park closed on the weekends?

I kept the GPS for it regardless, I would just figure out what to do when I got to Medora, it was 4 hours away anyway. I have to say that the majority of the ‘Blah’ North Dakota gets for its sights is well deserved. I stopped at a couple rest stops and there wasn’t a whole lot to see. One did have a view that impressed me though.

There’s a thin length of land with railroad tracks running through the lake here. A train actually passed through a minute or two before I got to the point. I wish I had gotten there in time to snap a picture of it!

This one place being the exception rather than the rule. There are a lot of flat farmlands with not a whole lot to see. But when you start to get in to the western edge of the state, be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

 

After stopping here I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to bother going to Medora. I wanted to get as far as possible today so I didn’t have a huge drive tomorrow and I figured Medora may just take more time out of the drive. I finally decided to at least check it out.

Boy that was a mistake. Medora looks like the stereotypical tourist trap. It’s basically an entire small town built around the tourist industry. It has a ton of small shops lining the main street. It also had some museums to check out from what I could see. But, to be completely fair, I didn’t stick around to give it a chance. The place was packed with tourists and it definitely did not look like my kind of place. It was all the excuse I needed to punch ‘Glacier National Park’ in to Google Maps and get on my way.

As you continue west through North Dakota the landscape begins to get a little depressing. Oil derricks begin to dot the landscape, big propane tanks, industrial-looking buildings. It seems North Dakota’s fracking industry has taken a bit of a toll.

As I was coming up on the North Dakota/Montana border I remembered that a friend suggested I stop at the Flying J gas station and convenience store.

 

Problem was I remembered that as I was barreling past the exit. I drove about four or five miles down to the next exit, turned around, crossed back in to North Dakota, and stopped in at the Flying J! It’s basically your run-of-the-mill convenience store and truck stop. But it sells little souvenirs that were pretty neat so I picked up a couple things for the people back home.

After that stop I got back on the road and crossed over in to Montana, for realsies this time!

I’m actually finding it hard to say anything about Montana at the moment. It may be that I’m just toasted from the drive but the landscape hasn’t been especially interesting. It could be the route I took. I had a choice of going through the middle of the state or going north. I chose north because, for some reason, my mind associated north with mountains. That is definitely not the case.

Unfortunately I also do not have any pictures of Montana yet. Mainly because most of my pictures have been coming at rest stops and scenic overlooks. I did not come across any of those on my route through Montana so far. Probably because I’ve been on a state highway instead of the interstate.

After something like 14-15 hours on the road I finally pulled in to a town in Montana called Havre. I’ve checked in to a hotel where I’m writing up this post and I plan on absolutely crashing here soon. I have 3 to 4 hours of driving tomorrow to get to Glacier! I’m trying to decide if I want to do that drive and then take my time and hang out at Glacier the majority of the day then get a hotel room out there for the night then get back on the road on Monday. I’ll probably make that decision on the spot, seems to be how I’ve been running this roadtrip so far.

This concludes day one of the roadtrip, it was a doozie. I’ve been in three different states today and have driven over 900 miles!

Here’s to tomorrow.