Dan works as a DJ, which has conveniently allowed him to work from the car/hotels/wherever we are staying since he is currently in off-season for weddings, so he does not have to do much in-person work right now. This summer, he DJ'd a wedding for a lovely bride named Laura Ann, who I know from a few different encounters. Laura Ann recently sent me a Facebook message letting me know that her sister, Jeanne, and her family live near the North entrance of Yellowstone and would be happy to let us stay there and/or give us some tips. Crazy how life works, right? Anyways, I gave her sister, Jeanne, a call and Dan and I headed to their home in Gardiner, MT.
When Laura Ann said that her sister lived near the North entrance of Yellowstone, she wasn't kidding. Their home was literally across the street from Yellowstone's entrance. We arrived there around 8:00pm on Tuesday evening and were greeted by Jeanne, her husband Bob and their son Baxter (their daughter, Bailey, had stayed home from school that day and was quarantined upstairs). Their house was beautiful and we soon learned that Bob actually works at Yellowstone as the Youth Program Director after taking on multiple roles in the park for the past twenty-something years. He was excited to share with us the work he and his crew are doing in regards to community outreach programs. They work with Native American communities, school districts, and have even shared their resources via Skype with classrooms in 4 foreign countries. Bob offered us some Huckleberry Ice cream-- apparently huckleberries are a big thing in Montana -- and gave us some insider tips for our exploration through Yellowstone the next day.
We woke up bright and early the following morning, thanked our hosts for their generosity (and willingness to trust two strangers in their home) and headed to some local bakeries/stores/whatever we could find in the seasonal town, with a population of 800, to load up for our next RAK.
We asked Bob how many individuals were working in/around his office at Yellowstone during the Winter season and he gave us the total: 11 in his direct office, four in the visitor center and one guard at the front entrance. With that in mind, we picked up a dozen donuts of different kinds, four muffins and a few cinnamon rolls to distribute to the workers of Yellowstone, who had to be freezing. It was around thirty degrees...and then even cooler once it started snowing halfway through the day. Dan and I checked out the Mammoth Hot Springs, went on a five mile hike that ended with the start of the snow, made friends with some wild animals and then headed to the spot that Bob had told us to look out for, The Boiling River. This spot is not advertised and is a local favorite, because the boiling water of the hot springs and the chilly waters from the river blend together to create a nice hot tub of sorts. Dan and I stripped down to our bathing suits in the snow and wind then waded in for a while, which was well worth the struggle of walking back to the car in freezing temperatures with wet hair and clothes.
With some adventures at Yellowstone under our belt, we drove through Montana while dodging quite a few deer families and met up with Dan's brother Tim, who we would be spending the next few days with. Tim lives in Spokane, Washington, which is where our weekend has been spent. Tim is an honorably discharged Sergeant of the Marine Corps who served seven months in Iraq in 2008. When he learned of the goal of our road trip he asked us if we could do something for deployed servicemen who were not stationed at a base, but rather are on patrol, and live without the luxuries so many of us take for granted. So, we thought that Tim would be the perfect person to help us create some care packages to send to the troops over seas.
Our first thought was to send a few packages over to random soldiers who needed a pick-me-up, but then after some research we found out that this is no longer an option because of security risks. Our online research did lead us to a website called Any Soldier where officers and Corps-men sign up as a representative for a group of soldiers (groups can range anywhere from four to 100 something) and give a blurb about some of the items that they need. You can select the branch of military you'd like to support as well as other details like to which country you'd like to send the package. We selected a unit of 10 Marines serving in Afghanistan, and not stationed at a base. Tim spent his tour patrolling the country in convoys, and sleeping in train stations and Iraqi homes, where many luxuries we take for granted are not available. He wanted to make sure we picked a unit in a similar situation that did not have the amenities provided on the bases.
So, between what their Sergeant had requested and what Tim knew they'd be happy to have, we assembled a package comprised of: baby wipes, gum, candy, jerky, coffee, hot chocolate, lotion, 5-hour energies, a hat for each of them, some hand warmers, flash lights, a couple decks of cards, magazines, cough drops, peanut butter, power bars, mints, and a table tennis set that can be used on any table. We each took a moment to write a letter to them all to let them know a bit about ourselves and why exactly we consider them RAK-worthy.
|All the goods|
|Ping Pong Table of your dreams, right?|
We are sending out the package on Monday since we took pretty much all day to find the perfect items to pack. We have a whole lot of respect for those who are risking their lives for the USA overseas, so we felt that even though this was one of our more expensive RAKs, it was more than worth it, because it's also one of the most important to us and many of our donors.
If you're interested in sending your own package overseas (note: you do not have to make yours as large as ours, many of the groups are simply asking for a few items), I highly recommend going to Any Soldier. Otherwise, there are plenty of websites dedicated to creating care packages made up with the help of donations. I would recommend Googling "Care Packages for Soldiers Overseas" and seeing if there is an option that interests you.
We have quite a few RAKs coming up for Thanksgiving week, so get excited...we definitely are! If our mission and RAK Roadtrip ideas suit your fancy, you can donate right here.