Kathy Oppenheimer, Bus Driver

Trip Start Jun 05, 2009
1
4
22
Trip End Jun 17, 2009


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Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Saturday, June 6, 2009

SATURDAY

As we prepared to take leave of the lovely KOA in Cheyenne, I noticed the sweet on-site mini-golf course, that the boyz would have LOVED to try out...if we happened to be staying there for a week or two. Wanting to chronicle every thought that twittered into my head with a photo, we stopped the bus, and I went to open the door.  This led to CO's entry entitled, "Oh, No!  We Can't Get Out!"

Repair of the door under our belt, smugly thinking how resourceful we were, we headed out...to Walmart...for a few of the items that we couldn't live another hour without.  While in Walmart, we realized that we wouldn't make it to Hill City, SD by nightfall if we stopped for lunch.  So, we bought soup and sandwich supplies and dined in our luxury coach...in the Walmart parking lot.  (While everyone must have been wondering what rock star was traveling through town on "that crazy bus," little did they know it was just us...white trash on wheels!

CO wanted to teach me how to drive in the parking lot, but since it was Saturday, there were too many cars and not enough wide-open spaces, so off we went - Mt. Rushmore or BUST!

As we drove through Wyoming, we had a chance to see some amazing scenery, unlike any that we see in our in beautiful California.  The rock formations, and the mesas which have a completely flat and level surfaces, for as far as the eye can see, are such a testament to the awesome power of nature.  (For those of you playing along at home, name the TV show that that is from.  Whoever emails me and gets all these answers correct, will receive the tackiest souvenior of the trip!)  Jono was snapping photos (whenever we could drag them away from the computer...6 hours is a long time to play license plate bingo, so we did let them take advantage of the InternetInMotion(tm)  and play a little bit on the computer.  Funny thing, their cousin Matt was also on the computer, so they were playing a three-way internet game, while Matt was at home, and we were cruising down the highway!  We also kept seeing those long, snake-like trains of 100+ cars that haul our coal, staples and other necessities across the country.  We laughed at a truck that was stopped, waiting for one of them to pass.  (Note to self - Don't laugh at anyone else's misfortune...especially when you're out of your comfort zone!)

Having had a nice big sandwich for lunch, after about 175 miles, CO was beginning to need a break.  We pulled over to a rest stop, and he went to stretch his legs.  About 10 minutes later, he called my cell phone to say he was just laying in the sun to recharge his batteries.  A few minutes later, when the sun went behind some thick clouds, he reluctantly re-boarded the bus to drive the final 144 miles (but who's counting?) to Hill City, SD, where the award-winning KOA is located at the base of Rushmore.

We got about 5 minutes into this leg of the trip - 139 miles to go, and he looked at me and said those magic words..."You want to drive this thing?"  I gulped, looked ahead and saw a sign that said "Three Sister's Truck Stop."  Being the third sister, I figured this was the universe's way of telling me that CO should take a break from driving.  So, into the driver's seat I went.  After making a few turns in the truck stop parking lot, impressed that I'd not taken out any of the gas pumps...CO asked if I was ready to take it on the road...there was no turning back now!  Fortunately, the Three Sister's is located in a town called "Manley" - Population: 47 (Gotta love those odds...3 women, 44 men!) so there wasn't a lot of traffic on the main drag.  I turned left to practice on the road, before attempting the highway.

It seemed pretty easy...I brought the beast up to speed, practiced slowing down, stopping, etc. and figured was ready to go.  One 3-point turn later, I was headed back through Manley towards the highway.  Oh, did I tell you that the Three Sister's was located right at a railroad crossing?  Well, guess what...wait for it...that's right...here came a long, snake-like extended train through the crossing.  Oh well, I thought...good time to keep practicing my stops.  Had a lot of time to do it, too, as the first train was halfway past, a similarly long train came through from the opposite direction!  Karma...it's a good thing to remember about!

I successfully maneuvered onto the highway, and quickly realized that this is NOTHING like keeping a car at 60 miles per hour!  I'll save the fine details for 1 on 1 instructions for anyone contemplating driving a bus.  But, the main difference is that since you are so high up, the only way to judge your position on the road is the yellow center line.  And, since you're so high up, your perspective is off.  So, CO taught me that you align the rear-view mirrors (6 of them, each with a different angle) OVER the far side of the yellow center line.  Let me tell you, when those first few semis passed going in the opposite direction, my heart was in my throat!   And, keeping the rear view mirror aligned requires constant adjustment to the wheel.   After about 15 minutes of this, I began to feel more comfortable.  CO asked how I was doing, and I said that I felt like every muscle in my body was tense.  (Hope one of my girlfriends will be up for a massage when we get home!)

We ate up about 120 miles before we knew it.  I'd become comfortable enough that we were enjoying some "Rockin' Down the Highway" tunes (thanks Jewelee!) when we came to our final junction.  Stella, our GPS told us to take the right fork, Route 18, but CO said take the left fork, Route 16, since it looked shorter and more like a straight shot.  Seemed like an inspired and educated decision.  We made great time, I was feeling good.  Since the gas gauge was near a quarter tank, we didn't want to risk anything, we stopped in Newcastle, WY, last stop before the KOA. (Apparently, we were near the home of the Annual Sturgis Harley Rally, so if anyone wants a Harley t-shirt from Stugis, SD let me know.  We'll make the stop on the way out.)  $209.57 of diesel later, we were on our way.  CO took the wheel to bring our baby "home."  (Think he didn't want the other KOA Kampers to see me driving...some of these Kampers look like they wouldn't take too kindly to a bus-drivin' woman.  (No offense, Corby!)

Don't know if I mentioned it, but Andy, our GossRV rental agent, told CO that this kind of travel was not for the faint of heart.  We'd already had our "out of our depth moment" and had had to make an emergency repair, so when we saw the sign that said "Winding Road - Steep Shoulder Drop Off Next 15 miles" we knew we were having another one of those moments.  CO and I looked at each other and laughed, "Guess that's why Stella told us to go to take Route 16..."

CO took a deep sigh, turned on the "Engine Brake" (that's the feature that works as a brake when you're driving through steep grades...saves the brakes...who knew?) and I crossed myself.  Turned out, it wasn't as bad as we thought...not easy but no near death experiences.  We were passing through the Black Hills National Forest, in an area that had been hit by a 27,000 acre forest fire in 2001.  The terrain was astounding (boyz even were mesmerized...although I think Greg brought up the Trip of Terror subject again) and the hills and hills of devastated trees was almost otherworldly.  By the time we had taken a few photos, and had realized that we might make make it to Hill City alive, we brought out the video camera to film this amazing sight...just as we hit the 15th miles on the winding road, steep shoulder drop off!  So, we'll try to be a bit more prepared to film this incredible landscape tomorrow as we head out on our trip West!

We'd had such a hard time finding the KOA in Cheyenne, we were worried that we might have the same problem in Hill City.  Not to worry.  Turns out, the Hill City KOA has received the President's Award for being a top KOA site for like, the past 8 years.  The yellow/black/red KOA sign that I've always looked down upon as for those "White Trash RV Campers" welcomed us from the road side like a mom welcoming a child into her arms.  We sighed a deep sigh of relief, and proceeded into the driveway.  We saw a big "General Store" sign, and the only sign that mentioned registration took us past there, and up to an area called "Ponderosa Lodge."   I walked in and they smirked at me when I said we had reservations...apparently they are a hotel...the General Store is where (you white trash) RV Campers register!!!  Tired as I was, I sweetly asked, how the $%^&!  do we get there, and the nice man behind the counter smirked again, and said in a true SD accent, "Jus' follow the gravel path to your right."  "But, we're in a BUS," I wailed and he said, "Jus' keep turnin' to the right."  (And, for those of you who have not skipped ahead to this point...you know what happened the last time we turned to the right, to the right, to the right!)

So I get on the bus, tell CO what Cleetus has told me, and he says, "You've got to be kidding me!  It's pitch dark, and I can't see where I am with this thing!"  We figured this was a good time to inaugurate our walkie-talkies, which CO had the presence of mind to pack...just in case we ran into a situation like this.  So, I hopped out and began directing him onto the gravel path.  One thing that must be remembered when turning in a bus, is that the back wheels are not on the same trajectory as the front.  So, it would be easy to make a right turn, and have the backend take out the curb/car/plant/wife that you've just passed.  So, we finally get back to the General Store, which houses the KOA registration desk.  We got our pull-through spot assigned, "#190, right across from the Komfort Station, lucky you!" and off I went to lead the way and settle in for the night.  Well turns out, I missed one important turn, and we ended up having to circle (wrong way down a one way driveway, but hey, we're bigger than anything so everyone just got out of our way!) around again.  CO told me that maybe this would be a good time to learn to say "Swing Passenger or Swing Driver"  when directing him which way to turn the wheel, as Left or Right can be subjective.  We finally got out beast into the spot...had a little trickiness starting the electrical, but were ready to sleep by midnight!   All in all, a pretty good day!  More tomorrow!

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Comments

juliebrody
juliebrody on

Title? are they kidding?
Jono, Greg, K.O and CO,

You've already written the novel and it's only 3 entries! Geez Louise - must be pretty smooth sailing to be able to write all that on wheels! Be pretty funny if all of your pictures were from Walmart parking lots in different locals. Funny and very, very sad. So glad the Beast is cooperating. Any honks from that bumper sticker?! It's got to be a bit intimidating to stand next to that thing, let alone drive the $%#^er - you looked like a little ant family next to it! Hope the pipes are running smoothly. Have a blast! Love you all. Breaker, breaker - take me home!

corbylocke
corbylocke on

oh those trains...
Probably way more info than you want, but possibly fun math for the boys. The 'unit coal trains' are coming and going to/from Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Each train is 135 cars plus 3 or 4 engines. Each car weights about 286,000 pounds and is carrying 244,000 pounds of coal. I think the translation is roughly 20,000 tons of train cars carrying 16,500 tons of coal. The trains rumble along as fast as 50-60 mph. (Yes, I know all this from a past job, a very long time ago...) What's fun for Californians to note: most of the road crossings are marked with a sign. When the train get near, some lights flash, everybody stops and puts their car/bus/truck into park (or turns it off altogether) and relaxes. There are not crossing bars that go up and down; nor bells ringing. Gee, I wonder how many people die trying to beat the train across? Zero? Duh... Sorry, too much midwest attitude.

Also, when you drive through a tunnel (like the ones on Iron Mountain Road) please remember to honk!

Wish I was there...

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