Friday Flashback: Goin’ Out West (or travels with Eunice)

I just booked our family trip out west to Bozeman, Driggs, and Littleton for July and that got me excited about being back out west. I’ve been out a few times–Frontier Ranch, a few drives around with Sarah, a trip or two to Red Rocks… Below is a flashback to a trip I took in 1997.

My second freshman year, first at GW, I had a class with Dr. Tom Coates called Outdoor Adventures. We did a lot of things including canoeing in the toxic looking swamp called Lake Hollifield–powerful incentive not to flip over. The culmination of the class, though, was a chance to take a trip out west, camping along the way, and doing some work at a couple of National Parks. It was a top trip of my 43 years!

We loaded up our 15 passenger van at Mars Hill and took off to Maryville College in Tennessee. We camped there for the night with our trip mates from Maryville. It was a solid fit. A lot of 19ish year old dreamers trying to make a difference and have a pretty good time doing it.

We drove through Iowa and Indiana and into South Dakota where we camped at the Badlands. Amazing sunsets. We visited Mt. Rushmore which was underwhelming to our idealistic minds–still is to mine. We did some time at Devil’s Tower–a majestic and glorious sunset, moonrise, and hike up to the base at that spot. It was quite something.

Hmmm… maybe Little Bighorn and a few others spot along the way before we arrived at our destination: Yellowstone National Park.

The task for our work crew was to repave with asphalt one of the walking paths that led to and from the boiling mud pits. The air was thick with sulfur and it wasn’t cold since it was the summertime. But we worked. And we worked hard. They had set aside the entire week for us to finish the project, and we knocked it out, with quality, in just a few days! Get a couple of idealistic 19 year olds together and things can happen!

So… they came up with a new project for us. We rode about 45 minutes across Yellowstone Lake and ended up on an island. Our new project was to repair a horse corral out there. Now that I’m typing this, I’m not sure why they would have horses on this island, but I’m pretty sure that’s what we did.

But… wow. The few days we were out there we had Elk tacos and Lake Trout. And we sat out on the pier and saw fee billion stars and THE NORTHERN LIGHTS! If you’ve witnessed anything like that, you know there’s no point in attempting to assign words to it. Awe. Pure awe.

The mosquitoes were a real thing too, though. We used 100% deet and those monsters laughed at us. Although I did find that spraying that level of deet on a tent was a bad idea as it ate through the material–makes you reconsider lathering up with that stuff on your skin. But anyway… Yellowstone Lake.

We concluded the work part of our trip at the Grand Tetons. We built and finished picnic tables. That work was a bit of a letdown because we could do anything since we were young and full of it. Haha.

Jenny Lake was gorgeous and the snowcapped sunsets. But the highlight of the Tetons was a hike we took up to Lake Solitude. There were wildflowers along the way up that had colors that I don’t think I had ever witnessed before. Then we got to the top and there was this isolated, quiet lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. Lake Solitude. Snow lay all around. And wisely my friend from Maryville named Dusty and I decided we’d hike all the way round. I’m sure I wasn’t into impressing anybody. Even if I was it didn’t turn out too swift.

As I hiked around I stepped into a snow drift and gashed my shin on a rock. Bleeding. Had to pack snow onto it. Embarrassing. Still have the dent and scar in my leg to this day. Hiking down was not quite the event as I was hobbled in many ways. But still…

I kept a journal during the trip. Turns out all the dreaming and contemplating about Beauty and Truth and such is nothing new for me. I’ve been ruminating on those ideas for more than 20 years at least. I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at the time as well. I ate up the wisdom from Dr. Coates and the leader of the Maryville group. His name was Tom. And he was wise in the lore and thinking of many of the Native peoples. It really was a life changing trip! Although, beware, the word change is one that I may tackle some day soon.

I made some good friends and had some fascinating conversations along the way. On the pier. Up the mountain. At Devil’s Tower. Amye (yeah with an e) and Dusty and John and Amy were thinkers as well. Someone I could talk to, you know? 🙂

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