Navigating a pandemic with a career in the hospitality industry
With a new season comes a new job. At the end of season nine we had a mishap on the road that delayed our travels slightly but did not stop us from arriving at our destination for the summer and the start of our next adventure.
When we decided to take the jobs in South Dakota the Covid-19 pandemic had just begun and there were so many unknowns. At the time, securing a job and somewhere to stay still for the summer seemed like a priority in keeping ourselves safe from a health and financial aspect. It was a difficult decision to make and we were very nervous about working in the hospitality industry. We didn’t know what was in store for us. Would we become victims of the pandemic either in health or employment? Even with all of the uncertainty we pressed forward. After all, most of our lifestyle and life decisions have been rooted in the unknown; that is the adventure for us and we have become comfortable to a certain point with not knowing.
We were excited to start our new jobs and explore our home for the summer, the Black Hills of South Dakota. The temporary home that we would make our domicile state. One of our first excursions in the Black Hills was on a UTV (Video 17). Often times there are perks that go along with work camping jobs. These jobs don’t pay very much by way of hourly wages. However, this is made up for a lot of times with other benefits. These benefits could include free or discounted rent or free/ discounted admission to area attractions. The UTV was a benefit of our employment this season. We took it out on forest service land trails and got to see the remnants of an abandoned mining site. The UTVs were also street legal and it was thrilling and felt a little reckless to drive it over 45mph.
The benefits with our job allowed us to do much more than ride a UTV. We explored the National Presidential Wax Museum (Video 18). The only wax museum in the world to hold wax depictions of every U.S. president.
We drove the Needles Highway and Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park and took in the sights of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument. We chose our excursions carefully due to the pandemic and grew more and more concerned with our safety. We also did a few boondocking weekends in order to get away from the property we were working on and do something away from other people. (Video 19 & 21)
When Lauren’s family (mom, dad, and grandfather) came to visit we revisited some of the Black Hills attractions we had already explored earlier in the season and added Bear Country (a drive through zoo), Reptile Gardens, and Prairie Berry Winery to the list (Video 22). Lauren’s grandfather was in the Coast Guard and as a servant to our country was asked on stage with the other veterans in the audience for the flag folding ceremony at Mount Rushmore.
And then we had to make a difficult decision. With the continuance of the pandemic and an increased concern for our safety we made the decision to leave our jobs. Up until this time we had only left one other job without finishing a contract (for a family emergency) and this time Lauren’s family was visiting. It took a little more coordination to leave because now we were traveling as a group. We came up with a plan quickly to spend some time boondocking in a few of the sights we had explored earlier in the season. We would start on North Pole Road and introduce Lauren’s family to boondocking (Video 23). This would be their first boondocking trip and we would have to give them a crash course in boondocking 101 and help them with their power needs. Their travel trailer did not have the battery power to sustain their power needs longer than a night and no way of recharging their batteries. To solve this, we came up with a plan to connect their RV to ours and support the power needs of both rigs. This worked beautifully and we spent a few days enjoying good food, good company, and the view. From there we moved on to the Badlands (Video 24).
Nomad view dispersed campground was somewhere we had been earlier in the season and were excited to show Lauren’s family. Being only a few minutes outside of the Badlands we made plans to check it out before we had to part ways. At the campground we were treated to viewings of wildlife including bighorn sheep and the scarier discovery of a rattlesnake just off the edge of the cliff we were parked on. On one evening we were entertained by a group of powered parachutes flying above us. When it was time for Lauren’s family to leave we stayed. Now that we did not have a job to go to we had to figure out what we were going to do until our next job and the next season began (Video 25). We found some places where we could do some extended boondocking in South Dakota and both got haircuts to help with water conservation. We spent a night at Rocky Point Recreation Area and then adjacent at the Belle Fourche Reservoir. While at the Belle Fourche Reservoir we discovered that our front driver side tire was losing air (Video 26).
Thanks to our battery power and solar we used our corded impact wrench to remove the flat tire and put the spare on. Luckily, we had cell phone service and we were able to locate a tire shop in the town of Belle Fourche. So, we loaded the flat tire in the back of the truck and drove the short distance to town. The tire shop was very busy that morning and we were asked if we were in a rush for it. We weren’t but did ask if there was anything we should check out while in town.
They suggested the Center of the Nation Monument. First, we had to get fuel and top off the air in the other tires. Before we had even completed that task, the tire shop called and our tire was repaired. We were very happy with the speed and service we received. Having the stress of our other tasks lifted we went to check out the monument. At this time, we had spent several weeks isolating and felt safe in moving on from South Dakota (Video27) to go do some Moochdocking in Colorado.
We hadn’t gotten very far into our trip to Colorado when we realized something was not right with the truck. We pulled over in a truck stop and Ben got into his coveralls to check out what the problem was. He quickly realized that a part in the steering assembly had loosened up and after tightening it back up we got back on the road only losing about an hour. When we got to Ben’s Mom’s house we were relieved and happy to see his Mom and Step Dad. It had been a while since our last visit. And, like many other moochdocking stays we had a long list of things to take care of (Video 28). We had to change the oil, transmission fluid, change the water filters, deep clean the fifth wheel, and detail the truck and while we were at it Ben’s Mom’s truck too.
It was a busy visit and a wonderful stay. We departed their house for Pawnee Buttes in Ault, Colorado which would serve as a short stop over on our way to Nebraska (Video 29). Pawnee Buttes was beautiful, there were walking trails and wildlife viewing routes in the area as well as historic remnants of the dust bowl. We explored some of the area but still have plenty more to explore on our next visit.
Nebraska was pretty awesome and we spent time in several dispersed camping areas. We never knew how much opportunity there was for camping in Nebraska. We spent time at the Nebraska Public Power Camping Area as well as the Smith Creek Recreation Area. And, along the way discovered the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles which was a very interesting diversion. From there it was time to move with a faster pace as we had plans now and a schedule to meet. We were headed for Indiana to an RV technicians’ class. On the way there we found a gem of a campground in Iowa. Grant Park was free camping and the first free campground we had been to that had fire pits inlaid in a cement patio. It was impressive and immaculately maintained. Our last stop before Indiana was another interesting campground located along the Hennepin Canal in Illinois. We got to camp along the canal at one of the lock locations. Lock 17 to be precise.
The class in Indiana was three days and quite an experience (Video 30). We both learned a lot. It was the first thing we had had on the calendar in a while. It was time to prepare for the next season and job.
But before we got too far we had to make a quick stop in Michigan to see an old college friend of Lauren’s. They had not seen each other in a long time and Ben had never met Kelcey. It was great to catch up and for Ben and Kelcey to meet. The visit was very brief as we had to keep moving east towards our next job and a new season.