Monday, September 5, 2016

A #BucketList Trip To #Yellowstone!

To properly begin this story ... err ... saga, I need to go back one year. Last summer, I had recently re-connected with my childhood best friend via Facebook. We hadn't seen each other for nearly twenty years! Turns out she was into photography, much like myself. I was wanting to take a photography trip to Yellowstone and threw out the suggestion that we should go together the next summer. She said sure!

Fast-forward to this summer. I saw some new photos she (Lisa) shared, and it reminded me of the Yellowstone thing. I still wanted to do it. Not really expecting her to say yes, I shot her a message, asking if she wanted to go. "Sure!" she said. What? really? Really. For two months, we formed a rough plan, and set the date for early August.

Now, you might be thinking, "Won't that be awkward?" I can see where you would think that being stuck in a car, alone, for over 2,000 miles with someone you haven't seen for twenty years as odd ... but we were totally okay with it. You see, we're kindred spirits. The kind of friendship, bonded at a young age, that will forever stand up against the test of time. (and life) While our friends and family were skeptical, we were unfazed.

Logistics. That was our greatest dilemma. I don't know if you have ever tried to plan a trip through Yellowstone, or the Jackson Hole area, but accommodations are extremely limited (and expensive). Things fill up fast and early. If you haven't reserved your camping spot at least a year in advance ... HA! Good luck. Unless you are willing to pay around 400/night in Jackson, better bring that tent and hope to get in on one of the very few first-come, first-serve sites in the Grand Teton park.

(Just to help you all out, here is a map)

(photo credit National Geographic)

After making some random comment about my upcoming trip on Facebook, I got a very unexpected offer from a FB friend (Debbie). She is a fellow author, and someone who has helped me out a great deal for the past six months or so with my children's books. We have never met, nor even spoken on the phone. However, she resides in Jackson Hole through the summer, and very graciously offered the use of her cabin on the outskirts of town, at the edge of the Grand Tetons National Park. Now, again, you might be thinking, "But you've never even spoken to her. How do you know that the cabin exists? How do you know that she exists?"  This whole trip already had a kind of 'on the edge' vibe to it, so why not? Plus, while it's hard to explain why, I never doubted the sincerity nor the reality of my friend in Jackson. :)

Everything was set. We had our maps (via my friend in Jackson, with not only accommodations laid out, but also a slew of activities), our cool cabin in Jackson, a rough plan of events and timeline. Really, the only important aspect remaining were our cameras.

Then, the day before we were to leave, my back went out. Now, I have of course known several people who have said that their back went out, and having worked in an ER for many years, helped take care of people making the same claim. I, however, had never experienced this for myself. It basically involved me going to stand up from the couch on my way to bed, and abruptly falling back down, and not being able to move again for about half an hour. I eventually slid onto the floor, and crawled around to where I could pull myself up, and eventually walk down the length of the couch, all the while yelling encouraging words to myself, as if I was about to go into the game for the big play.

I was supposed to go to work that night, and then leave very early the next morning for our epic road trip. I couldn't even walk. Instead, I did go to work, but as a patient. A few hours later, I planted myself once again back on the couch with anti inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and a heat pack. I spent the day like that. Then that night. Then the next morning (the day we were supposed to leave.) By that afternoon, I was ready to take a test drive, and I made it around running errands okay. It hurt, but I could do it. I was determined. I WAS going on this trip! We left the next day.

Our mission started (for me) in the Pacifc Northwest, from a small town called Sedro Woolley. This is just about a 40 minute drive from the Canadian border in the NW corner of Washington State. I picked Lisa up from her home in Eastern Washington, and we continued on our way, our belongings crammed into the spacious trunk of my Ford Taurus.

I kept the seat warmer on, the advil handy (not the muscle relaxants ... can't do that and drive!), and stopped to stretch at regular intervals. We made good time getting to our first stop, Missoula Montana. Here, Lisa was reunited with my mom whom she hadn't seen for thirty years! It was if no time had passed at all. 

(mom, me and Lisa)

Considering, I was doing very well! Um, except for the headache that started when we headed over one of the three passes between my home and Missoula. The next morning, I felt like I had a hangover, and decided not to take any more muscle relaxants. (I had taken one before bed)

We were off for Jackson Hole! The drive was great. The conversation was fun, and it was like we were kids again. My middle grade mystery series, The Samantha Wolf Mysteries, was actually conceptualized back when I was friends with Lisa. The two main characters were originally based on the two of us, so this trip took on a little extra meaning because of that.

We made it to Jackson Hole that night, and other than being a bit stiff and fighting a persistent headache, I had no complaints! We made our way to the hotel that my friend Debbie worked at, to finally meet in person. She was just as I had pictured her (and very real ;) ), and it was an absolute pleasure! After snacking in the hotel restaurant, she took us out to her cabin (again, very real), and we were floored! I think that all I have to do is show you this picture of the view from the living space. No other words are needed!

Grand Tetons, as seen from the window!!! 

We slept well that night, under an amazing sky ripe with the persieds meteor shower. The next day, I opted out of white water rafting like we had originally planned (no way my back could handle it), and instead we drove through the Grand Tetons National Park, and found an amazing, gentle hike to Taggart Lake.

Taggart Lake

Me taking a picture of Lisa taking a ... well, you get it. ;)

I couldn't help but snap a picture of some foreigners who were thoroughly enjoying themselves!!

We got back to the cabin that evening feeling like we were making the most of our time, since both of us love the outdoors, and landscape photography. The scenery of the Grand Tetons is breathtaking!

Grand Tetons

We shared an (almost) equally breathtaking dinner that evening with Debbie. Now .. I can't say that I'm much of a steak eater, and I hadn't had buffalo before. But, after having a divine buffalo steak, I was hooked. ;) On that note, unfortunately, I also ate more buffalo than I saw ... but that's another story. ;) Over dinner (I think Debbie) mentioned that perhaps I had altitude sickness. Hmmm. I hadn't thought of that. We were at 6,200 ft. Back home, I reside at a measly 56 feet above sea level. (Yes, I am near the ocean)  Come to think of it, I realized that the last couple of times I visited Montana, I suffered a headache for a couple of days, both while at Missoula and Flathead Lake.

When I got back to the cabin that evening, I did some research. (yes, we also had wifi ;) ) Missoula was at 3,200 ft and Flathead was 2,900. It's not typical to suffer symptoms that low, but I also reside near sea level, and I had all the symptoms. In fact, it was a bit concerning how severe my headache was still (it came back with a vengeance that night), and according to the online info I dug up, if it doesn't go away in three days, you are to see a doctor. Well. Here was to hoping it went away, because we were heading into day four. Of course, I did absolutely everything I wasn't supposed to, including drinking caffeine and alcohol (both in moderation. I thought it would help the headache), no strenuous exercise (does hiking count?) and getting lots of rest. 

The next day, the headache was less severe. We went over our options of activites. We had been hoping to do some horseback riding, and then hit the local ski venue that is turned into a bit of a theme park during the summer. This included a gondola. We decided that rather than press our luck, we would settle for a nice drive through the Grand Tetons National Park, and perhaps another hike. We were leaving very early the next morning for a marathon dash through Yellowstone.

Our drive took us down Moose Rd, were we encountered .... a Moose!

We then took a cruise through the teton village. The gondola was quite tempting, but when I found out that it climbs about 4,000 feet, I decided that my head was likely to explode! (on a more serious note, it could have actually been dangerous, since I still had altitude sickness symptoms. It could potentially have caused increased pressure in my brain)

Okay, we did see one other moose. But I don't think this one counts. (it was in the restaurant at Teton Village)

Our drive took us past a trail marker for Death Canyon, and of course, we couldn't resist that! It ended up being what I consider the most beautiful hike that we took.
Part of the trail to death canyon

Lisa and I at the top!

I was sad to say goodbye to Debbie that night, but I know I will see her again. (Thank you, Debbie!!!) It was the perfect setting, and I feel blessed to have such a good friend!

The next morning came very fast, and we headed out at 5:30 am for Yellowstone! We made great time, and avoided the traffic getting into the park. We even had time to stop at a lakeside restaurant just inside the entrance for breakfast!

The view from the deck of the restaurant

An elk that made an early morning appearance in the park. Aside from a lone buffalo along the side of the road, this was the only wildlife we saw that day. Have to say, that was a bit disappointing!

Okay. The challenge was on! We stopped at a visitor station and armed ourselves with additional maps and information. Where to stop? What was worth the time and effort? It was a hot day, the traffic was quickly picking up, and we wanted to make the most of it!

Of course, we headed for Old Faithful. :) We made it just before an eruption.

Old Faithul

We dashed away towards our next destination ... and then the next, and the next. For those who haven't been in the park, it involves quite a bit of maneuvering to find a parking space, and a whole lot of walking on boardwalks that sometimes feel as if you are in a sauna! (so in other words, tiring! :) ) 

The geothermal displays are like stepping onto another planet. I have been following, and to a degree, studying the park and its seismic and geothermal history, so I found it all extremely fascinating!

We're both big goofs, so we never missed an opportunity for 'silly selfies'. 

Hard to give the proper perspective on the falls, but it was massive!

Mammoth Hot Springs. Surreal. 

Both Lisa and I agreed: If ALL we did was drive to this, the Prismatic Springs, and saw nothing else ... it would have been worth it. By far, this was the most awe-inspiring sight of the whole trip. I literally had goosebumps walking up to it.

We made it through the park and walked enough boardwalks so that we didn't think we could walk any further ... all in record time. As we passed through Gardiner, and headed for Bozeman (our destination for the night), we were feeling pretty good. It was an amazing trip, and considering I couldn't even walk the day before we were supposed to leave, we both felt content with the hiking, and photo ops that we had.

But don't think that our adventure was over! You see, we were feeling so good, that when we came upon Bozeman around 7pm that night, we decided to go for it, and head for the hotel we stayed at on our way there, in Missoula. I hit so many bugs at dusk, just before Missoula, that I could hardly see out the window by the time we got there. (not even kidding) First, the wiper fluid light came on (I used it all smearing the bugs around), then the gaslight came on as we took the exit, and destiny seemed to be telling us that this was our stop. However, as we came down the street, and saw it literally lined with parked cars, we got a very bad feeling. Sure enough, there were so many events happening that weekend, that EVERY hotel in Missoula was full. EVERY hotel. Now, if you have driven through Missoula, you will know that there are a ton of hotels. A surprising amount of them given the population. They were all full. Not only that, but every hotel the next couple of stops West were full, too. Okay ... next stop? St Regis. Well, the Super 8 was full (yikes), and the only other establishment in town was called the Rivers edge, or something like that. Luck would have it, they had ONE cabin left for $65. Although quite fearful, we didn't have much of a choice. We took it. It was now ten pm, and I had been driving for seventeen hours. I was ready to stop. My car was ready to stop .. but first, to clean the bugs off, get gas, and add some wiper fluid.

In true fashion of our counterparts, Sam and Ally, we chose to laugh and have fun.

Another hours drive over a very dark pass got us to Regis. Following the very kind keepers directions, we turned down the first road after taking the exit. As we came around the curve of this dead-end road, we saw a hotel sign, tilted to the right, sitting in the dark and half covered by tall grass. I stopped for a bit, letting my headlights shine on it, until we looked at each other and laughed. This is the part in the story when everyone starts yelling, "No! Don't do it! What are you thinking? Turn around and go back, before it's too late!" We kept going.

The cabin

I could spin some fun tale about this, but it's getting late. ;) It turned out to be just fine! Although dark, and yes, a little scary, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, after we got settled in, we made the most of what was left of the evening and celebrated the fact that our story didn't end with something involving a chainsaw.


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