To the Rainbow Gathering (Days 44, 45, 46, 47, 48)

6.18.2013

So there I was,  over two thousand miles from home, stranded on the side of the road with phone and bike equally useless. US89 was remote, but fortunately, as just one of a few thin arteries through the massive state, not entirely desolate, so I did not have to wait long before a car came 'round the bend. I flagged it down, but apparently the driver had better things to do, and breezed by with a nod of affirmation that did little to help my situation.

Several other vehicles proved equally unhelpful, so I was particularly grateful when a middle-aged man in a middle-aged sedan slid to a stop next to me and Rousseau. He rolled down his window. "Anyone coming for ya?"

"Not yet," I said, "I have AAA, but no cell reception. Do you?"

He glanced and his phone and frowned. "Sorry, but me neither. But hey, if you want to give me your information, I can try to give them a call when I get into the next town." His plan sounded great to me, and I thanked him for his help, and quickly scribbled down the numbers of AAA and my membership before sending him on his way. Then, waiting for the calvary to arrive, I sat myself down on the side of the road, leaned up against Rousseau's chassis, and found myself with the first opportunity I had all week to relax and write, recounting my tales through the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Looking up at the view before me, I didn't find myself too upset by the current state of affairs; after all, there really couldn't be a more beautiful place to be stranded than the outskirts of glacier country. Plus, it had been weeks without something going wrong, and ten thousand miles without a flat, so I felt that all was fair, and aimed to make the best of my bad situation.

A half-hour passed, and then a full one, and still no tow came to my rescue. Climbing to my feet at a serendipitous moment, I caught sight of a roadwork vehicle rounding the corner, and waved them over just in time. To my luck, they had a radio box in their cab, and were able to call in to the command center, who in turned called in for a tow. They left, and another half-hour later, the unmistakable clamor of a large clanging vehicle sounded behind me. I smiled, stood, and greeted the tow truck driver, who helped me to load my beleaguered bike onto his trailer, and then we headed south to Browning, the driver's point of origin.

Once in Browning, Rousseau was unloaded from one trailer and onto another, and it pained me to see her chained and shackled in that way. I wanted to tell her things would be better soon, that she would be all fixed up, but right inside the shop a few feet away, the owners of the towing company were puzzling with what to do about a flat scooter in the middle of rural Montana. It would have to go further south, they knew, but where?

Conrad, a town some sixty miles down the road, seemed like the closest bet, and so after working things out for a further AAA tow, we got back on the road, this time with a new driver, Pedro, a friendly young gentleman of the Blackfoot Tribe who kept me talking and listening the whole way down. Arriving in Conrad and pulling into the town's only bike shop, we were dismayed to hear that the shop had no scooter tires in stock, nor the means to procure any quickly; instead, he recommended, we should head down further to Great Falls, a city another sixty miles south.

At least I was headed in the right direction, I thought, and Pedro and I got back in the truck, giving a quick call to AAA to let them know that we had to extend the tow a bit further. After fifteen minutes of waiting, I was told that that would not be possible, as my membership only allowed for one long-distance tow per year, and I had just used that.

"Right," I reasoned, "but Conrad is directly on the way to Great Falls and the bike is still loaded on the truck, and the truck is still here, so I don't need a second tow, just an extension of this current one."

The woman on the other end of the line sighed. "Yes, and that would be a second tow. A re-tow."

"Well, no," I rebutted, "A second tow would be if we dropped the bike off this truck, the driver left, and then I had to call another guy to come out and load it up, no?"

"No. Either way, it's a second tow."

"But what if we had just checked with Conrad earlier, learned they couldn't help, and asked for authorization to tow all the way to Great Falls, past Conrad, in one fell swoop?"

"Well that would be just fine. But you didn't do that."

Being told that AAA would not authorize a tow of my bike any further than this small town that could do nothing for it, I grew frustrated, stress levels rising as I bounced from one representative to the next, Mozart screeching through the poor connection during the inordinate hold times. After a full seventy minutes on the phone, sitting on the side of the road when we could have already been in Great Falls, I finally received the okay to carry on, that my one tow was indeed just one tow, and as the scooter shops of that southward city began to shutter their doors, clock rounding 5PM, we bounded toward its limits.

We entered the city about an hour later, dropped the bike at the shop most likely to be able to help, though it would be impossible to tell until morning, and with AAA's trip interruption service footing the bill for my night's accommodations, and AAA having lengthened my ordeal by over an hour, I felt it only appropriate to splurge with a stay at the Hilton, where Pedro kindly dropped me off. I wished him a safe travel back, thanked him for his tremendous help that day, and tipped him whatever cash I had in pocket, then placed my pack in my room, showered and swam and ate, and then slept, comfortable in body but all the while worried about what the following day would bring for Rousseau's chances of repair and the very future of my trip.

I woke late the next morning, no reason to rise before the shop opened at nine, and placed a call to the company when I did. They did not have a replacement tire in stock, they informed me, but they could order one overnight and replace it when it arrived. I told them that worked just fine for me, authorized a hefty rush shipment of over a hundred dollars, and then thanked the mechanics for their help, arranging to meet them at the shop the following afternoon.

I had little to do until then, no car and crammed all the way in the corner of town, out by the airport, and to make matters worse, the Hilton had been all booked up that night for a conference, so around noon, I loaded my things, which had exploded onto the floors and desks of my hotel room, back into my pack, carrying myself and my bag across the blacktop parking lot to a Holiday Inn on the far end.

Hoping to spend most of the day swimming and floating and reading in a hottub, I was disappointed to learn that the Holiday Inn's pool was undergoing repairs and would be closed all day. Lacking other options, those conferencers having bought out both the Hilton and the nearby Hampton, I acquiesced to a room without pool access and instead wasted the day away reading and watching television while working my way through a full bottle of wine. By late afternoon, I had grown restless, and perhaps a little drunk, and headed over to the movie theater, one of just a few buildings in that sprawling parking lot, to watch a self-referential apocalyptic comedy blockbuster that turned out to be, and perhaps this is just the wine speaking, not all that bad.

When the film wrapped up, I brought myself back to my hotel room, drew a hot bath, and dunked myself inside it with a Ken Burns doumentary of Yellowstone National Park streaming into the bathroom. Some time later, eyes tired of staring at words and images all day, I headed off to bed.

I killed another few stranded hours the next morning, then called the mechanics at noon to ensure the tire had come in, and my heart swelled when I heard that Rousseau was all ready to go. Quickly, I got my bag together, called the front desk to request a cab, and thirty minutes later, I was on the other end of town, admiring her new back tire, fat and fresh and black as night. By one and as one, we were back on the road, reunited, and it felt so good.

We got back on US89 about 160 miles down from where we'd last left off, turning toward a heavy sky seeming ready to collapse at any moment. Far in the distance, I spied blue, and so we barrelled through that blackened arch of ominous clouds for safer weather, pushing forward as cumulonimbus closed in all around us. The road curved, pulling me away from my destination, and then, minutes later, the sky caved in, bullets of hail raining down, pelting my body, stinging my uncovered fingers and exposed neck, with acute fury. Still, I pressed on, hurtling toward the light at the end of the tunnel, the open skies just a few miles further. I ignored my body's cries to stop, to slow down, for doing either would simply allow the storm to gain on us, and being trapped in its depths, on that open stretch of asphalt, was not what I wanted for my first hour back on the road.

Fortunately, the pain paid off; eventually the hail stopped and the skies cleared and I left the storm in my rearview, still rocketing forth to Yellowstone, a straight shot south from there. I arrived at its original arch, its north entrance, a few hours later, and snaked my way through its roads for roughly another hour, happening upon a rather chilly and violent windstorm in the process. It was still early, maybe just five or six, but I had made it and was comfortable settling into my tent for the night; alas, each campground I passed boldly declared "Full!" at its main gate. And so by the third campsite, nearly an hour after the first, I simply stopped caring, parking my bike and walking over to a nearby restaurant where I aimed to warm my bones and to plan my next few days in Yellowstone until dark.

Darkness came around nine, when I headed over to the Canyon Village campground to scope out a spot on which to lay my head. I entered through the campground's amphitheater, where I almost literally banged into a park ranger, a young, energetic woman whom I'd actually met a few hours earlier, at the Canyon Village information center, when I asked her if the Village's campground was full and she told me yes but that the Lewis Lake site, about an hour further south, was open, when I'd said I'd head down that way and thanked her for the help and wished her a good night.

Busted.

She eyed me curiously, seeming surprised to see me, and I said hello and quickly fabricated a small mistruth about waiting to see if there were going to be any last-minute cancellations at the Village lodge. I was killing time, I said, and was hoping to find a program in the amphitheater to aid my pursuit.

I don't think she believed my story, but there seemed to be an innocent mutual attraction between us, so she didn't question me further on the subject, instead informing me that, indeed, there would be a program that night, and in fact, she'd be hosting it.

"It's on owls!" she declared proudly..

I confessed I knew nothing about owls, that I was something of an ignoramus when it came to birds, but that I'd love to learn a bit, which was entirely true, and so I grabbed a seat and we chatted about Yellowstone and federal employment and our respective opinions on the national parks in our mutual memory, and then others began to file in, families and couples and children, and the program got underway.

How glad I am that I did not go straight to the campsite and thus miss that wonderful program. The ranger was a delight: intelligent, entertaining, informative, eloquent. The audience, it turns out, was just as spectacular. Early on, a young kid, ten or eleven maybe, broke from his family and sat up front right next to me, and all throughout the presentation  he supplemented the ranger's talking points with trivia of his own, sometimes whispering to me and other times standing and raising his hand and calling it out to the whole group. There were others, too, children of varying ages all so intrigued, all so interested, all so engaged in the program, and I felt grateful that there were such good parents in the world, for children like that could hardly come from anything but.

Kids do, indeed, say the darndest things, and so all of us, the children and the adults and the ranger, passed the hour in fits of laughter. But the program was, to be sure, far more than mere entertainment; the amount I learned about owls in that short hour was simply staggering. Accompanied by a riveting slideshow of amazing photographs, I gained a new respect for those nocturnal hunters, for birds in general, and felt my experience of Yellowstone, of nature, would be that much richer for having been a part of that program.

When the hour concluded, I thanked the ranger, who was being swarmed by questions, and raced off, hoping to make her job of turning a blind eye to my own nocturnal hunting that much easier. My prey, in this instance, was simply a spot of land, unlit and outside the boundaries of any other campsite, and I found just such a spot about ten minutes into my hunt, and swooped down at it, talons of tent stake digging into the ground, and there I feasted on a late-night Clif Bar, safe in the confines of my tent, before drifting off to sleep.

Sleep was hard to come by, for Yellowstone, at its eight-thousand-foot elevation, was cold, but I cocooned myself in my sleeping bag as well I could and shut my eyes for as long I could and, by six the next morning, I was back up, breaking down my tent and thus destroying any evidence of my crime, and then making my way back to the Canyon Village restaurant for some hot tea and granola. I passed a few hours there, waiting for the mountain air to warm, refining my plans a bit further and then taking off to Dunraven Pass, the trailhead of my first true hike in Yellowstone, up to Mount Washburn.

In my travels, I climbed many canyons and hiked along many mountain ridges, but my plans to actually summit any five-digit mountain, Mount Rainier and Mount Elbert and Mount Shasta and Longs Peak and Lassen Peak and so forth, all were thwarted by surprisingly frigid temperatures that left me, without an ice axe and snowshoes and proper attire, simply unable to make it above the treeline on any of those. Thus, I was excited to be making a climb up Washburn, a marvelous hike through Yellowstone's sub-alpine tundra and some of the park's most majestic views.

The hike itself was enjoyable, a worthy challenge, and crawling over large mounds of ice blocking the trail was a small price to pay for such terrific vistas: meadows and dying forests and mountains and glaciers and Yellowstone Lake stretching impossibly far to the horizon. As I climbed, of course, the weather cooled, wind picking up speed and snow even flurrying about toward the summit. The summit itself was adorned with a large fire tower, a much needed escape from the frigid cold and katabatic winds, and I spent a good hour in there, reading and warming, before regaining the energy to return to the trailhead.

About a mile into my descent, it occurred to me that I had taken the wrong trail from the summit, and thus was headed in the opposite direction of Rousseau. I thought to turn around, but was enjoying the scenery and the increasing warmth, and a second climb to the peak seemed far more work than a bit of hitchhiking, so insead I continued onward to the trailhead of that second route.

Reaching the nearly empty parking lot, I stuck my thumb up and out and attempted to flag down a presently passing driver and his passenger, who simply waved and kept on driving, which vexed me for a number of reasons, first because I could see his empty back seats, second because there was only one way down the mountain and as such any excuses of going another way were invalid, and third because I'd rather just be ignored than waved to, as if to say "I hope you're enjoying your stroll through the parking lot; so long!"

My thumb met the same fate for the next two drivers, to my dismay, and finding little value in standing in a virtually empty parking lot, I simply followed the cars, albeit much slower, down the road. Cars passed me on their way up, and about ten minutes after I'd started walking, one of those cars was already headed back down, and I again hitched my thumb with low expectations, but this time the vehicle stopped, a blue truck with four passengers, and one of them poked their head out the window and asked if I needed a ride, and I said certainly, and she told me to hop in.

It felt wonderful to be in a warm car, and I thanked my new friends for their kindness. Candy, Sheila, Tim, and Mickey, their names were, two elderly couples from Oregon. They were visiting Yellowstone for ten days, well into their third, and said not to worry about it, that they were happy to give me a lift. My appreciation grew even more when we reached the main road, at which they were heading north and I was parked south, and despite my protests that I would gladly hop out and hitch another ride back to Rousseau, they insisted that they'd return me to my vehicle, out of the way as it was.

And so, the surprising generosity of those four individuals canceling out the lack thereof of the last several, I reboarded Rousseau a few minutes later with a warm body and a warm spirit, and steered her south toward our next stop, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Having seen the actual Grand Canyon, along with Bryce and Zion and Gunnison and more, I didn't expect much from Yellowstone's canyonland: a mere sideshow, I figured, to Yellowstone's real headliners, its geysers.

Incorrect.

On my journey, I've seen some beautiful things. I've laid eyes on America's most renowned landmarks, its most photogenic vistas, its most fabled  landscapes. Each and every one of those was spectacular, and to compare any to any other, to call Yosemite Valley "more beautiful" than the Chisos Basin, for instance, would be to compare apples to oranges, I thought.

You see where I'm going with this, I gather. Hands down, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, as viewed from the very end of the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, off in Canyon Village of Yosemite National Park, Wyoming, is undoubtedly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

The trail ends at the brink of the Lower Falls, that is, at the literal tipping point of an enormous waterfall, cascading unimaginable thousands of gallons of water down its precipice every minute. The turquoise water, already foaming from its crash down the Upper Falls just a few hundred feet to the left, plummets hundreds of feet beneath one's feet, where an explosion of inexpressible magnitude shoots a mist halfway back up the falls, and everywhere in that radius.

That cloud of mist, at least when I approached the falls in mid-afternoon of a mostly sunny summer day, refracts the sun's golden rays, painting a rainbow directly over it all, the Yellowstone River and the canyon walls and a glacier hugging its right bank, and oh, then there is the canyon itself, yellow stone so remarkable it is the very namesake of the world's first national park, a wild container for a wild river, winding and snaking into the distance.

I spent the better part of an hour just staring, awestruck, mentally recording every minute detail of it all, before hauling myself up a short but steep trail to the surface. Along the way, and not in any particular rush, I sat on a bench for a snack and some reading, watching families go by and agonize over whether to hike the strenuous Lower Falls trail or to instead take a flatter stretch of gravel across the canyon's north rim. I eavesdropped on one family leaning toward the latter, a hike I hadn't personally done but knew, so assuredly, could not have been better than what I just did, and so I butted myself into their conversation and told them they simply must do the Lower Falls, enticing them with tales of rainbows, and they changed their minds and did just that, and a half-hour later, returned to my bench to confirm that my glowing recommendation was not ill-advised, that the view down there was quite possibly the most incredible they'd ever seen.

I spent the last hours of my first real day in Yellowstone exploring the park's east end, roaming past herds of peaceful bison and completing a few short hikes through putrid, stomach-wrenching, sulphurous mud volcanoes and steaming cauldrons. A highlight from that east end of the Yellowstone caldera, the park's rim of geothermal activity, was the Dragon's Mouth, an unassuming cave that breathed steam from its depths, pushed water outward in an incessant natural wave pool, and most notably, growled like a dragon itself, a deep rumbling roar that would undoubtedly strike terror in any passerby were they to come across such a cave in the unmarked wild. All of Dragon's Mouth, its steam and waves and roars, almost felt too novel to be authentic, the deceptive handiwork of a host of speakers, fog machines, and agitators in a plastic-lined artificial cave, and this seeming novelty, if anything, made the site all the more remarkable when realizing that it was nothing more than a natural product.

Later, I happened upon a campsite, a real vacant one, along Yellowstone Lake, and pitched myself a tent and lit myself a fire and toasted myself some bread and brought myself, at 9:30, to the campground's amphitheater for an hour-long program on wilderness preservation and the history of national parks, which was good, though not as captivating, I'll admit, as the prior night's program from the cute owl expert.

When the program wrapped up, I headed back to my tent and, wearing every item of clothing I had with me, pulled myself down deep into my sleeping bag to weather yet another frigid night at 9,000 feet.

At some point during the night, my tenuous slumber was interrupted by a howling, a series of high-pitched shrieks growing louder, and I woke with visions of a wild pack of wolves, hot in pursuit of prey, in my head. Truthfully, I have no idea how close those wolves actually were, whether they were racing along the campground's main road or far off in the distance, and fast as they were moving, the shrieks faded into silence just moments later. Again I tried sleep.

I woke once more early the next morning, or rather, gave up on my pursuit of sleep, made a small breakfast fire with some leftover wood, and departed around eight for Yellowstone's western regions. If the air was cold wrapped up in my sleeping bag and lying still in the shelter of my tent, then it was absolutely unbearable on the open road, forty-mile-per-hour winds per by driving alone, and making it to the Old Faithful area an hour later, I actually found it necessary to duck inside, take off my shoes and socks, and check my toes for frostbite. Fortunately, those digits were still intact, just very, very cold, so I purchased a hot cider, gulped it down, and then wandered outside to have a look at Old Faithful, most famous geyser in the world.

The Old Faithful geyser isn't the tallest or the prettiest or the hottest or the most frequent or the titleholder for any superlative, really; perhaps it's just the most well-rounded. I overheard a nearby park ranger tell his tour group, "It's really just famous for being famous; the Kim Kardashian of geysers."

Old Faithful erupts about every 88 minutes, but with a window of nearly twenty, and so I hung about watching steam billow from its crater for five, ten, fifteen, until boiling water began to sputter at its base and, moments later, a jet of it shot into the air. and with the cloud of steam widening at its top, the whole geyser took on the unnerving appearance of a tornado, an inverted cone of moisture writhing just a hundred feet from a large throng of onlookers.

The eruption lasted about three minutes, after which the geothermal activity and the crowds died down in equal proportions, and a little cold myself, I stepped away as well, seeking warmth and sustenance in the nearby Old Faithful Inn, a glorious old timberframe lodge looking out over the geyser basin. My second breakfast of the morning, a tofu burrito stuffed with greens, was far more filling than the first, dried toast with peanut butter spread, and well-fed and well-warmed, I returned the basin for a walk around Old Faithful's neighboring geysers.

Old Faithful's neighboring geysers, it turns out, are far more interesting than the world's most famous geyser. Sure, Old Faithful erupts far more powerfully and far more frequently than most of them, really just hiccuping puddles in the ground, but the diversity and the character of those hiccuping puddles are absolutely splendid. Some gurgle, some belch, some growl, some boil; some are red, some green, some blue, some orange. Some rise up from platforms above the ground, others from depressions within it, and all of them, each and every one, has shaped itself into some unique polygon, making names like Ear Pool and Heart Spring and Goggles Geyser not just cute recall devices, but utterly appropriate titles.

Working my way around the looped boardwalk, I approached a rather humble formation, perhaps four feet high and four feet wide, a dome with a small crater in the middle. Not thinking much of it, I began to pass it, when suddenly, a jet of water, some six feet high, began to shoot out of a crack in the ground near its base. I stopped, waiting to see what unfolded, and as I waited, crowds began to rush over, nearly pushing each other off the boardwalk to make it there. This was the Beehive Geyser, I overheard a fellow spectator tell a friend, and the small torrent at its base was a sure sign that it was due to erupt any minute. Her voice was excited, enthusiasm uncontained, and after another few moments of eavesdropping, I learned why: the Beehive Geyser was not a predictable one, not like Old Faithful; though it might still erupt a few times a day, it might also sit dormant for ten days straight, and thus waiting for it without eruption symptoms was a fool's errand.

I felt fortunate to have walked by at such an opportune moment, ready for a good show, but what happened then far exceeded my wildest expectations. In an instant, the puny six-foot jet of steaming water at the Beehive's base was accompanied by one from the beehive itself, but a fifty-foot one, spiraling up from the dome to the clouds, literally spiraling, and in the process soaking us, us lucky onlookers, with its what-goes-up-must-come-down truism. The force from that geyser was unbelievable, as though gravity were irrelevant, as though the geyser were a waterfall flowing upside down. For nearly eight minutes that glorious bridge between earth's crust and its mysterious mantle displayed its power, its strength, before finally calming, slowing, and then stopping.

The audience applauded, because at that moment there was nothing else to do but clap at the planet's wonder, and then seconds later, a call from my right, "Grand is about to blow!"

Grand Geyser is another unpredictable geyser, somewhere right in the middle of Old Faithful and Beehive on the reliability spectrum, with most eruption projections coming with a three-hour window of possibility, so calling a sure eruption was a rare event. Grand Geyser, it so happens, is also the largest geyser in the world, its jets shooting eight stories in the air. I raced over.

Arriving at Grand just a few minutes later, I learned that the call was a false alarm, but not by much: though the geyser hadn't blown yet, it was just minutes away from an imminent eruption, nearing the very end of its prediction window. So I sat and waited, watching the geyser's mist climb toward the clouds, watching for a minute, for five minutes, for ten minutes, and then, finding this the perfect opportunity to get some reading in, I drew out my copy of The Plague and thumbed to my current page.

Eight words in, I was startled by a cheer from the crowed, and looked up to find Grand Geyser bubbling violently, waves crashing over its shallow walls, and then it exploded, boiling water rocketing high into the sky, a brilliant liquefied fireworks display, burst after burst firing upwards. This eruption, like Beehive, lasted for nearly ten minutes, and then it slowed, and more clapping, and even a chorus of "Hallelujah!" from some jovial travelers on the far side of the overlook.

I left the basin a little while later, having witnessed the world's most amazing geothermal features with serendipitous timeliness, and continue onward to Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring. It's difficult to explain precisely what the Spring is: it's a hot spring, sure, an enormous heated lake with mutilcolored bacteria painting its shores yellow and orange and red, but its appearance is so unlike anything on the planet, it looks so alien, that words do it little justice. Climbing and scrambling up a steep hill to get a better look at it, for all one sees at its base is steamy mist, one can't help but feel as though they're staring into the eyeball of the Earth, a portal to another world, so iridescent and rainbow and literally oozing with color. If the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was the most beautiful vista I'd ever seen, then the Grand Prismatic Spring was certainly the most unique: that spring, I'm certain, would be its own national monument were it not conveniently located within a national park.

I had been in Yellowstone for nearly forty-eight hours, and had intended to stay for longer, but I found Yellowstone to be exactly as cold as it was beautiful, which is to say a hell of a lot of each, and the fact that I had weathered its temperatures for two full nights spoke leagues about the wonder of the park, for nowhere else would I have stuck around for so long in such discomfort. But I could not, I knew, spend another night camping at 9,000 feet, especially with such a long drive the following day, and so I hesitantly moved on, working my way down to Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone's southern neighbor.

Grand Teton, translating pretty literally from French to "Giant Breast National Park" is so named for its voluptuous peaks, gorgeous rocky mountains that jut from the surface of the earth with remarkable theatrics. The Tetons are not the tallest mountains, not the grandest of any sort, but what set them apart from other ranges on my trip, the Appalachians and the Chihuahuas and the Rockies and the Sierras and the Canadian Rockies, is just how isolated they are; that is, they don't bother with foothills or smaller peaks on the frontlines: they just rise, straight from pristine Jenny Lake, climbing to their enormous height without the frivolities of a valley or secondary range. And everywhere, meadows, calm miles of cool grass, all so beautiful, so picturesque, mellow and striking all in the same breath.

I had previously picked out a fourteen-mile hike within Grand Teton's borders, a long quiet stroll from Jenny Lake to Solitude Point, but between the cold and my sore legs, my left knee feeling particularly aggravated, I thought better of it, and instead simply enjoyed the scenic drive, pulling off at every overlook, and mentally marking the Tetons as a place worthy of return later in life. Then, I left that perfect park and continued south, pulling into Jackson Hole by dinnertime.

Jackson Hole was a cute little town, a base camp for skiers and hikers and climbers, a town stuffed full of art galleries and wild west lore. I had considered a hotel stay in Jackson, my reward for a hard day's night twice over, but the room rates of that small village rivaled those of the country's biggest cities, and I decided instead to rough yet another sleep in the cold, albeit with an altitude drop of about a thousand feet.

No room in which to crash, then, I whittled away the evening at a terrific vegan-friendly cafe, catching up on writing and messages and imbibing beer after beer in the hopes of finding fortitude with which to brave the impending cold. I would need sleep, I knew, for the next day I was headed off to the Idaho border, a lengthy detour west, to meet my sister at that year's national Rainbow Gathering.

3 comments:

  1. Even though this post started out talking about your misfortune with the flat tire, I still found myself smiling at the thought of you drunkenly watching some comedy in a move theater on the edge of town, and attending a wildlife program about owls. I'm glad that the downs of the trip can be complimented by surprising ups.

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    1. After a while, I'd learned to just roll with the downs to the point that they didn't even really feel like downs. Sure, a flat in Montana was inconvenient, but it gave me a few days of much-needed rest (and a chance to answer your interview questions), so no harm done. As Steinbeck would say: "All plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it."

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  2. Jay, this is fantastic! Just reading it made me forget I was sitting in the middle of a city!

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