Broke College Kids Take On Yellowstone
A roadtrip, a tick bite, a trip to the clinic, baby bison, & more
Somehow after my last final ended, I found myself in the car with five other engineering students on a two day road trip to Yellowstone National Park, where we would be camping for 10 days.
10 days. Camping.
Suffice to say I was more than worried. I’d never done a trip like this before. But when one of my new apartment roommates invited me to go, I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
This camping trip would be something entirely new. I’d only been camping twice before.
At 19, my view on camping was slightly (ok, really) pessimistic. Where would we shower? How would we fit everything in the car? Who would drive? How the f*** would we pay for it?
I like a plan. And I really wasn’t getting a plan. Being one of the two girls going on this trip, that left the boys planning it, and you can guess how that went. They needed a LOT of help, and thankfully once I met with everyone and really discussed everything at length, I felt a lot better about everything, even though I still wasn’t sure if we were really ready.
Back to the car.
Crammed into the back of a 2007 Toyota Sienna with way too much stuff, we were off. (My dad actually claims that when we arrived back home, the back of the minivan was sagging under the weight of everything)
I generally don’t really like being in the car. I get car sick. I’m slightly claustrophobic. Ugh.
We rotated between drivers and music, traveling into the mountains and climbing higher and higher in elevation. My ears began to pop, my head began to spin (really starting off on the right foot). But when we finally reached our destination, I quickly forgot about all that. Ok not really, but things did get better from there (at least for a little bit - more on that later).
I’d heard about Yellowstone but I didn’t realize how beautiful and awe-inspiring it really would be. Thousands of trees towered well into the sky, herds of bison caused traffic jams (bison jams, if you will), the air smelled suspiciously fresh, and our campground was really just a cute little neighborhood of friendly travelers.
(Loved the campground yes, but after this trip, I’m ruling out camping for any future national park visits. It makes everything more complex - getting ready for the day, sleeping, even going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Not to mention the snowstorm in MAY, which caused me to practically freeze to death one night. The only thing that saved me was wearing ten layers of clothes, but I digress)
One of my favorite parts of this trip would have to be the baby bison - definitely one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, adding a picture for your reference and so that you can see that I’m not exaggerating
We came out strong - maybe too strong. The first day comprised of us setting up the campsite, and of course, our first hike.
Now I should say that at this point, I felt that something was wrong. I had woken up that morning and my face was slightly swollen (not super unusual - I always look tired in the mornings, doesn’t everyone?) but at breakfast, my friend pointed out a little “bug” on my neck, quickly removing it. He told me that my neck was bleeding where the bug had been. Maybe you know where this is going.
A tick. I had a tick on my neck, and who knows how long it had been there?
The words of my mother rang out in my head. What had she said before I left? “Watch out for ticks, be careful, you can get really sick.” Internally, I went into panic mode, but externally, I shrugged it off.
“I’ll watch the bite and make sure I feel ok,” I told him. Nothing more to it.
Fast forward to that afternoon and to the hike. My group had decided to do a 3-mile uphill trail ascending a small mountain. Fantastic.
I felt extremely uneasy the entire hike. No barriers to prevent me from falling, and being as clumsy as I am, I tripped and almost fell multiple times. I began to feel dizzy and hot, and noticed a large rash beginning to spread on both of my arms. What was happening to me?
When we returned to the campsite that night, I had chalked it up to me just being dehydrated. I drank a ton of water and electrolytes, took some Advil, wiped myself down with a couple baby wipes (AKA a shower - camping style), and went to sleep.
(No showers for ten days caused my group to get a bit creative, from jumping into the ice-cold river one day to get clean (and almost getting chased by a bison!) and then getting a huge rash all over my body, to me pouring pots of water over my head to wash my hair - it was a wild trip).
I woke up feeling hot and sweaty, and my neck was stiff as hell - it hurt to even move it. My ears ached, and my body was more swollen than it had ever been (especially my face - it was almost as bad as when I had gotten my wisdom teeth out, and that was really bad). I sat up and almost immediately laid back down, why was my head spinning? My throat hurt and I was extremely congested. I had never felt like this before.
My mind flashed back to the tick on my neck the day before, and quickly my hand went to my neck. Sure enough, the bite had grown and was 2-3 times the size it was the day before.
The next two days I was completely out of it. Feeling sick, angry, and upset that I couldn’t really do anything, I just wanted to feel better. I tried to enjoy myself, but internally I was feeling terrible.
During a trip to Old Faithful, I finally had cell service and was able to share with my parents what had happened.
Saying that they freaked out would be an understatement. “Can you go to the doctor? Do we need to come pick you up? Describe your symptoms to me.” We were only four days into the trip, and here I was worrying my parents to no end.
Thankfully, there was a clinic at Old Faithful as well, and the next day I was able to be seen by a physician’s assistant.
My clinic visit really is a whole story unto itself, but I’ll summarize.
The PA that saw me was a young guy who had only just started working in the park a couple of months ago. We started with the typical “how are you feeling, what’s wrong” chat. After I explained everything, he was quiet for a minute. He went to speak and then closed his mouth. “This might sound a little weird,” he said. “But just this morning my balls were really hurting.” Um.. what the hell?
He continued. “Anyway, I went to the back of the clinic to examine myself, and I had this huge-a** tick on my balls. It had definitely been there for at least two days. Do you want to see a picture?” He paused again. “Of the tick I mean.”
I kind of awkwardly laughed and nodded and he showed me the tick. It WAS huge. If the tick on my neck was only attached for a couple of hours and could do that much damage to me, how much damage would that tick do to him after being attached for two days? I didn’t want to think about it.
Continuing with the visit after that weird turn of events, the PA was convinced that something else was wrong with me, and the tick bite was only worsening things. Having sparse resources at the clinic though and not being able to test me for anything, he prescribed me antibiotics to fight whatever infection the tick had brought. If I got better, then it was solely the tick bite that was causing these symptoms. If I didn’t, something else was wrong, and I needed to go to the doctor when I got home and get tested right away.
(As I write this, I’ve been home for several days now and finished my prescription a couple of days ago as well - I’m not sure if I’m completely better or not, so I’m going to the doctor on Tuesday to make sure, wish me luck!)
After that visit, my trip gradually took a turn for the better (besides me throwing up in the car the next morning. Always take food and drink water with your medicine - please). I still felt sick for a little while, but I was feeling better, which made me happy. I could finally enjoy myself. We spent an entire day just exploring the park in the car, stopping wherever other people were stopped too to catch a glimpse of whatever animal was out.
We saw bears, mountain goats, regular goats, elk, moose, a fox, wolves, deer, more bison, etc. It was fantastic. (We even saw a black bear and two cubs while walking on a trail - maybe a little too close for comfort)
Want to see all the pictures from my trip? Check out this album.
Yellowstone is known as the Disney World of national parks, and it really is, for good reason. Beautiful landscapes and mountains, tons of wild animals, geysers and hot springs you can’t even imagine. I really did love it, besides the negative start to my trip. Any vacation has its downsides though, in this case it was getting sick, surviving stupid arguments, and even surviving a snow storm (in May!).
Resilience is something I pride myself on, and it’s occurrences like these that allow me to see how truly resilient I am. I found it too ironic that by the time I was feeling better and ready to get out there, it was pretty much time to go home. Which of course means I’ll have to go back some day :)