A couple of weeks ago we went on vacation to Red Lodge Montana, just outside of Yellowstone. Michael, Chad, Kent and I all went in my Prius that gets great gas mileage. Because of all the medical equipment, ventilators and concentrators, that we have to travel with we scrimp on everything else so that we have enough room in the car for the medical equipment. We only take a few changes of clothing and no groceries. We bought the food needed once we arrived at Red Lodge.
Red Lodge is nestled in the bottom of a ravine. The access to it is up on the ridges and while driving into the town you are able to look down on it. It looked like we traveled to a quaint village. Very picturesque. As we drove through this quaint town, there was a gurgling river running through it with parks that were snuggled up next to the bank. It felt like Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life.
We found our time-share on the ridge on the opposite side of the city. It was on a bluff surrounded by mountains. Everything was green and lush. After getting settled in and a good night’s rest we started to get acquainted with the area. We arrived on a Friday so we spent the weekend getting to know this temporary home. We bought groceries at their local market and traveled to surrounding sites such as an old abandoned mine. Both Saturday and Sunday had rain but it was just a pleasant drizzle.
On Monday we planned to visit Yellowstone, hoping that we had avoided the weekend crowds. With all of the physical needs of my family that occupy a lot of our time, we weren’t ready to head out until around noon. As we drove through town on our way out we saw lots of barricades and police lights. We could see that the river had over-run its banks and that most of the exits out of town were blocked. We didn’t realize that they were barricaded because the exits were washed out. We found a way out of town, heading to Yellowstone. After the bridge that led out of town we stopped at the next rest stop. It wasn’t like we had been in the car very long. We’re not sure why, maybe hoping to find a map to figure out the best route to Yellowstone.
I was looking at the map on the wall when a gentleman came up to me. He said “It’s none of my business but are you planning on going to Red Lodge.” I said that we had just come from there, “Why?” He introduced himself as Gary and said that all of the exits to Red Lodge were washed out except for the bridge that we had just traveled over. Gary was in contact with local authorities and they expected the bridge that we had just traveled over to be washed out in two hours isolating Red Lodge from the surrounding areas for up to a week. Gary gave me his business card in case I needed to reach out to him. By then, Kent had joined me in the conversation with Gary.
We hurriedly got back in the car and headed back to town as we explained to Michael and Chad that we needed to pack up as quickly as possible and get out of town. We couldn’t afford to be trapped outside of town without our medical equipment nor could we afford to be trapped in town for a longer length of time than we had medication for. We arrived at our timeshare and quickly packed up. I was amazed at how quickly we had the car loaded. We were ready to head back out of town after only 40 minutes of packing. Supplies weren’t as organized as usual so there were lots of items surrounding Michael and Chad in the back seat but we told them that once we passed over the bridge we could re-organize.
Kent drove so that I could start making phone calls to figure out where we were going to stay for the night. It was too late in the day to travel home. Plus we thought that if we found a hotel then maybe we could stay a couple more days and still get to visit Yellowstone. We had no idea that Yellowstone was being flooded at the same time as Red Lodge.
We found a room at Best Western in Laurel Montana. It was the only place with availability in a 50 mile radius and we heard the front desk manager turn to other employees shortly after we were check in. He told them that they were full for the night and couldn’t take any more reservations. Now we could get unpacked and take a sigh of relief.
While unloading our car Kent started to visit with a lady from Red Lodge who had also evacuated. She explained that the water treatment plant in Red Lodge had been flooded and that the drinking water was contaminated. That was a new realization. We had all been drinking the water in our time share that morning and Michael had even used his feeding tube for hydration which meant that he had consumed 16 ounces of water directly from the faucet. Uh oh, we now needed to watch everyone closely to see if they had reactions to contaminated water.
The next morning we ate breakfast provided by Best Western. Whereupon Michael started getting sick. He was throwing up and felt like he needed to sit on the toilet at the same time. Things were coming out of both ends. It was heart wrenching listening to him gagging and throwing up. I was overcome with feelings of powerlessness. This was scary. After his stomach settled down a little I gave him a Zofran for nausea. I have my little medical stash that I travel everywhere with.
We were so vulnerable with our physically compromised family so far from home. We decided that it was time to drive home and get ourselves in familiar surroundings. It was a 10 hour drive. We paid close attention to everyone because we didn’t want any medical emergencies if they could be avoided. We made sure to pay close attention to Michael making sure that he could keep his stomach settled and didn’t get dehydrated. It took 24 hours but Michael's stomach fully recovered. The drive home went well and we were relieved to be home in our safe and familiar surroundings.
I realized that we had a story to tell so I reached out to the local media. Channel 4 did a news story on our adventure. You can find it at https://www.abc4.com/news/local-news/utah-family-barely-escapes-yellowstone-flooding/