The Frost River Made in USA Road Trip was as much about visiting old friends and meeting new ones as it was about getting out and seeing the country on a traditional journey:
the great American road trip.
To start such an epic trip, we traded the old Denali in for something more fitting, something more Frost Rivery -- versatile, built for the job, and just right for a road trip, a van. Lacking any pizazz though, we covered it from bow to stern, hoof to antler, with graphics of packs, bags, waxed canvas and Henry the Frost River caribou. And so, Henry the Frost River van, was born.
To get started, we got our wheels turning by heading east and tracing the history of this great country where we build our Reliable Softgoods. We stopped in Pennsylvania on our way to New York to meet up with some friends thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. We parked our bright red van at a quiet trailhead near the Delaware and treated our friends to some homemade pizza brought all the way from Thirsty Pagan in Superior, Wisconsin. Needless to say, it was devoured. Before long, it was time to say goodbye, and we were dropping them off to continue their walk. We all had much further to go before the end of our grand adventures.
After many hours, we’d dropped out of the rolling wooded hills and were caught in the throngs of motorists headed to Manhattan. Henry was quickly swallowed up in the bricks, the buildings, the steaming underground and the honking many. We wove and drove, leaned on the horn like the locals and finally got to Times Square. There we were, in the lights and traffic and everything, proudly showing folks in the big Apple our softgoods-bedazzled van, Henry, and telling our humble story of building gear by hand in Duluth, MN.
A few days later, after we'd greeted old friends and met new ones at Capsule Show, we packed up and headed out to a quiet lake in Maine. Eagles soared, the water lapped, and the quiet of nature filled us with energy. Refreshed, we grabbed our now-empty growlers in their growler packs, the cribbage board and our flight bags, and were on the road.
After a long drive overnight, we made a quick stop at our home base in Duluth to refit and refuel. With new oil, new tires and new gear, we headed west. We were headed to Outdoor Retailer (OR), the biggest outdoor show in the world. It's one of the best places for us to meet new partners, and we get to meet up with old friends, too.
We talk about how pictures and illustrations are nice and all, but to get a feel for our packs, you’ve really got to feel our packs. That’s why it’s so important to us that we work with partners in all corners of the globe where you can actually get our packs in your hands, feel the grain of the waxed canvas, the supple hand of the leather. Once you feel the canvas, pull the straps, try the packs on, the appeal is apparent. At OR, we get the chance to meet new partners and connect with old friends who help promote what we do by stocking our packs and bags in their stores where others can see the value as well.
We met with our friends from Save the BWCA and hosted their happy hour at our booth. They had a petition canoe at OR, a Wenonah, covered with signatures. It was called Betty Jo. With no plans for getting Betty Jo the signature canoe back to MN, we told them we had more space on our roof rack and would be happy to haul her home. Soon we were strapping the boat alongside our Stewart River wood canvas solo canoe.
OR was over before we knew it and we were headed into the mountains. We visited friends at Westerlind in Powder Mountain, Utah, then set up our Campfire Tent next to a quiet river in Sun Valley. The stars climbed in great fans of Milky Way over the canvas, and we sat in chairs under the awning, drinking Bent Paddle Lollygagger. In the morning, we tried our luck with a few flies in the River. The fish weren't having it though so we packed our poles and headed north.
We drove up to Montana. Henry bounced along the interstate and we marveled at the rolling crags of the Rockies. We met friends in Missoula, and were finishing dinner and plotting a route up the Blackfoot River to camp when a tempest blew in. Trees whipped and sheets of rain soaked the streets. We weren't swayed, but soon, we were outside preparing Henry for the drive as lightning popped and branches fell. We acquiesced. Feeling defeated, we found a room in town. A couple checked in after us, their whitewater kayaks nearly dwarfing their small car. They'd been headed up the Blackfoot as well, only to be stopped by trees that had fallen across the road. We'd made the right decision by not going. So we slept, rose early and bounced Henry up the canyon as banks of fog rolled off the river. We were determined to get on the water, to experience some of the magic of the Montana river. Around a bend, we turned off the engine and launched the Stewart River. It was fantastic. Our paddling was more subdued in the wood canvas, but the thrill of the paddle and the pull of river was exhilarating. After we’d pulled the canoe up and out of the water, we realized that it wasn’t enough. We needed a real canoe trip.
We drove to Bozeman. There we met up with a friend, and before long we were headed out of town to a lake we’ve sworn not to reveal. As the sun set, we launched the Stewart River and Betty Jo and loaded them with food, tents, sleeping bags, and tackle. At the far shore, around a quiet bend, we made camp near a gurgling inlet under the soft peaks of tree-covered mountains. As twilight deepened, we tried the flies and pulled in beautiful rainbow trout. At night, the firelight danced and the stars sparkled with the first hint of the Perseid meteor shower.
When morning came, we plied the waters some more, and watched bald eagles do the same. We packed our campfire tent and canoe packs and paddled back toward Henry over a nearly glacial-blue pane of glass. Rain came quietly as we neared the landing and the lake shimmered in the steely Light. Once we'd packed the tent and the canoe packs back into the van, stowed the poles in the fly rod case and the tackle in the Little Marais, we were on the road back down the canyon.
We said goodbye to our friend and headed for Dillon to meet our friends at Atomic 79. They showed us their workshop, the beautiful boots they build by hand and the curious tools they carry and use. Before we were done they'd invited us out to their ranch. We weren't about to say no, and were humbled by the invitation. Following a set of old time directions drawn on a slip of paper, we drove Henry out into the country. A fierce thunderstorm crackled across the plain and we watched bolt after bolt slam the ground, exploding in clouds of dust. Huge, heavy drops of rain pelted the van as we bounced along a dirt road between two great fields. Then the rain suddenly stopped and the storm was gone. A most fantastic rainbow bent from one side of the horizon to the other. As we left the fields and entered a small canyon, the storm rumbled on and the rainbow glowed. After a fork and a tree and a bend, we crested a ridge and saw the welcome sight of an old-time ranch, nestled in a field of sage in the valley between mountains. A river ran past and a small pond gleamed in the golden light. An old 1960s bronco stood at the end of the driveway. Horses roamed around the farmhouse and poked at the wraparound porch. We broke bread with our hosts, eating tacos and sharing stories. It was one of the most unexpected, finest nights of the Made in USA Road Trip.
On recommendation from our hosts, we took back roads south to get into Yellowstone National Park. The line at the entrance was short and soon we were among hot springs, bison and the smell of sulfur. No American road trip is complete without a trip to Yellowstone. We found our way to the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin and parked Henry in a conspicuous spot right near the trailhead. We grabbed the Summit Boulder Junction and headed out to the causeway. In either direction were bright colors of steaming pools. After that, we drove a short distance to the start of the Fairy Falls Hike. With the Boulder Junction and North Bay Daypack in tow, plus two cans of bear mace, we started on the long flats that lead to the falls. This took us to a grove of pines that rolled for miles until the rock to our left rose up into precipitous cliffs and the mist of Fairy Falls broke out from the rock. It fell in wispy streams into an enormous bowl and pool. We sat and watched the falls. We had the spot to ourselves, and basked in the rare Yellowstone moment.
Back at the van, we cranked the AC and plotted a course for the Grand Tetons and Shadow Mountain. Another set of crazy specific directions put us on the bumpy winding dirt road up the mountain. As we passed spot after occupied spot, we realized that it was the weekend and wondered what to do if there was nowhere to camp. Eventually, we found a large open field with one Forerunner and a pair of tents. We asked the two staying there if we could join them and they said yes. We pulled Henry off the road and pitched the Campfire Tent and Henry's awning in the fading light. The sun dipped behind the craggy teeth of the Tetons and the sky glowed a deep orange. Soon the stars came and the Perseids showered from the inky black of space.
The next morning, we packed up our Campfire Tent and drove down Shadow Mountain into the valley. A long haul brought Henry and the two canoes over to Colorado, and up toward South Dakota. We pulled through the sleepy town of Hot Springs, South Dakota and made our way into Wind Cave National Park. Setting up camp, we headed to the visitor center to register for a subterranean tour and in a short while we were climbing into an airlock and walking through the wandering caverns of the Wind Cave. The beautiful formations of boxwork and seemingly endless passageways, cracks and grottos were beautiful.
The next day, Henry stopped at Wall Drug to see his distant relative the Jackelope, before we continued on to Badlands National Park. The rugged earth of the Badlands was beautiful, with colorful stratigraphy and great hikes. In the day we were there, we climbed rickety ladders on the Notch Trail, sipped gobbs of water from our High Falls Daypack, climbed from one plain to another, watched bighorn sheep, and weathered a terrific storm in our Tent. It's estimated there are over 100 Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park and it seemed like we saw every one. The original population was imported from Colorado and penned near the Pinnacles area. They now roam the park freely in three distinct herds. It was amazing to watch them nimbly navigate the rough ridges and spires of the Badlands’ gnarled landscape. During the overnight storm, torrential rains, intense lightning and strong winds descended on the plains. We got up a couple times to tend the guy lines, but managed to stay dry with our made-in-Duluth tent. We felt we’d earned the biscuits and gravy in the morning; certainly the coffee!
After that, the road brought us home. Henry was glad to see the Aerial Lift Bridge again and so were we. We’d covered thousands of miles, met thousands of people and seen hundreds of amazing places. The best part is, we’d hardly scratched the surface. There were so many stories, so many places that we couldn’t include in this post. We would have liked to include everything, but there isn’t enough ink in the internet. We traveled a lot of the country and there is still so much more, so many more places, towns, valleys, rugged mountains, winding rivers. We can’t wait to get out again, and hope to see you on the next Frost River Made in USA Road Trip.