Going West, Chapter One: The Journey

August 25, 2015  •  2 Comments

The journey begins. Unhappy with the daily sludge of an 8-5, I saved my money and quit my job, loaded my belongings into a storage unit and a van, and drove away from comfort into the broad, mountainous unknown. A sweaty weekend at the family farm doing hard work and hard drinking put me in a relaxed and ready mood. Minimum planning has been done.

The van breaks. The van is fixed, to the detriment of my bank account. Driving commences.

The first night is not promising: a few hours fitful sleep in a Walmart parking lot, followed by a sunrise shoot at the country's smallest state park – two interesting rocks dropped from space into the pasture of uninterested cows. Coyotes yip in the distant fields, drowning out the rumble of trains.

Mushroom Rocks State Park, Kansas.

Kansas is interminable, eastern Colorado no better. Mountainous clouds tease in the distance, without materializing.

Finally, mountains. First, to navigate the concrete horror that is Denver. Then, manicured county roads past the summer retreats of the rich to a Forest Service road, the first of many I will bounce down, to a well-trod camping spot featuring the ubiquitous signs of a good time: beer cans in the fire ring, broken glass up the hillside, and an impressive array of spent shells (I find 9mm, 40 S&W, 45 Auto, 38 Spl, .357 Mag, .223, 308, and 12 gauge, in this site alone). I finally hear the wind in the trees down the valley, a calming white sizzle that I haven't heard since 2011, in the Sangre de Cristos of north-east New Mexico. I already think Colorado is not home, I don't fit the mold here: rich people that want to be hipsters, hipsters that wish they were hippies, and real hippies getting tickets from the cops whose salaries are paid by the rich people.

Roosevelt National Forest, CO

 

 

Next I drive up county roads and admire the ranches into southern Wyoming. I don't hate Laramie, except that it is flat. Winding roads and open windows lead the sunburned to Big Horn National Forest, where RV's dot the treeline and campfires bloom in the darkness. Metal sheets of thunder crackle across the entire horizon, overlapping just enough, like a good jazz saxophone section does. In the early hours of the morning, a cowboy rides into the fog across the fields. I am happy here, but this is not yet my home.

Split Rock Wilderness Study Area, WY

Big Horn National Forest, at dusk.

Big Horn National Forest, WY

Wyoming and Montana gas stations know what coffee is for. No lattes or mochas to be found here, this black nectar comes with names that could fuel a jet engine. I cross back through Big Horn, learning to use low gears to save the smoking brakes in my already tortured van. It costs me $30 to drive through Yellowstone, and the young man at the east gate looked at me like a movie martian when I said I was “just passin' through to Montana”. The land is, of course, gorgeous. It is also packaged for the safety of the tourists who tremble at the grazing bison, take selfies in front of the egg-fart mud volcanos, and get in traffic jams with docile elk herds. My camera ready, I experience my first drive-through state park, complete with “pay at the window”. No camping for me here – I see more restaurants than bears and the tents are shaded by the towering RV's instead of by trees. As I leave, rain devours everything in my mirrors, and I learn days later that an experienced hiker was being devoured by a grizzly that evening.

Big Horn National Forest, WY

Yellowstone National Park, WY

Bison at Yellowstone National Park, WY

Bozemon is strange and off-putting, the night I spend there cold and wary. Traveling then through Field & Stream-.com country, my mood improves. Picturesque cabins dot the line between grass and rock wall, and the river running north through Gallatin has as many anglers as it has trout. No tourists here. I arrive in Missoula and all is well – this town is populated by hippies and bicycles, and completely surrounded by Lolo National Forest. I sleep in the mountains, bathe in streams, and even without job or house, I feel at home. This, then, is where I will stay.

The van and I have traveled 2,275 miles.


Comments

Lauri Carr(non-registered)
Thank you for taking us with you on this impressive adventure. Beauty at every turn.
Mandy(non-registered)
What an incredible journey, and the pictures are beautiful! I can't wait to see what you blog next.
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