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Re-Living The Beartooth Mountains

Highway Tales
Article Date: May, 2011


It began with a bump in the night.

Early that day we packed up our Itasca Suncruiser, left the KOA in Red Lodge, Montana and headed for the Beartooth Mountains. We were looking forward to this day because it was our first major trip with an RV and we were excited to hit the road with our new motorhome. For the initial climb up the switchbacks we disconnected our toad and drove in tandem as Leann followed the motorhome in the Grand Cherokee while the 8.1 liter Chevy engine slowly lugged the motorhome up the steep grades of the north face. Once we crested the summit at Beartooth Pass we made our way over to Top of the World Store, which literally is the top of the world, resting at around 10,000-feet on the Beartooth Highway. We had made arrangements with Bart, the store's owner, to stay at one of a handful of campsites that were located in a clearing next to the store. There's no electrical service on mountain tops so Bart powers his store and home with a small single cylinder diesel generator that thumped away in a storage shed 24/7. But he has sewer and water hookups and our motorhome came equippped with a generator so we were excited to be able to stay there. The rest of the day was spent touring the side trails and beautiful scenic vistas of the Beartooth Mountains with our Grand Cherokee.

Around midnight everything began to rock. Now, I'm a heavy sleeper so you'll have to turn the motorhome upside down to wake me up. But Leann is a light sleeper and she woke me in the middle of the night and told me something was shaking the coach. Not really wanting to get out of bed I dismissed it as the kids moving around in the front of the motorhome. But I was overruled when she checked and found they were sound asleep. I then heard noises that were coming from beneath our bedroom and noticed that the RV was being jostled around a bit. Not just any ruckus. A gnawing, chewing noise.


Our coach was parked on uneven rocky alpine terrain so it was jacked up fairly high on the rear corner to attempt to get it somewhat level. It seems that a young grizzly cub had gotten underneath the bedroom area during the night and was finding something of interest. We tried to scare him away by turning lights on, making noise, and pounding on the floor but the noises started up again. I thought about going outside to start the Jeep and shine the headlights on the motorhome but it was pitch black out and I didn't know where the cub's mother was so I decided to stay inside the safety of the RV.

After a while a loud pop was heard and our bed, which was on a slideout suddenly retracted halfway. That was the end of the noises. Trying to extend the bedroom slide only resulted in spraying red hydraulic fluid onto the ground so we left it as it was and went back to sleep.

In the morning I checked and found that the bear had chewed through a steel braided hydraulic hose that held hydraulic pressure to extend the bedroom slideout. At that point all we could do was retract the slideout and leave it in for the remainder of the trip. When we finally returned to our dealer they replaced the hydraulic line, which was covered with punctures from the bear's teeth. Definitely not covered by warranty.

The steel braid hoses are covered in rubber and Winnebago used a non-petroleum product to lubricate them so that they would pull through the loom in the frame. It must have been some sort of vegetable based lubricant because that bear picked up the scent from who knows where and he sure wasn't about to give it up just because of us. That's until he got a big shot of red hydraulic fluid in the face once he bit through the line.

While I probably won't see that bear any time soon, at least I know why they call this area the Beartooth Mountains.

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