Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Expanse

I felt like I had gained enough experience and personal insight to fill a couple lifetimes as I had made my way up the western coast in the last couple weeks and so now, finally, it felt time for me to navigate my way back to my starting point. Driving east from Seattle, I had just as many definite plans for my return trip as I had had for the journey westward: zero. Let's see what happens, yeah?

Of course, as to be expected at this point, the scenery was breathtaking. I'm almost legitimately grateful that I live nowhere near most of the places that I passed through simply because I'd hate to become desensitized to the kind of overwhelming, natural beauty that surrounded me.
If only I hadn't broken two cameras along the way already and formally resigned myself to a photoless fate for the entire 1600 mile trek homeward...

Oh wait I totally bought a third =)
That being said, take a closer look the next time you come to the Dunwoody/Lyndale intersection right off of I-94 because I'm sure you'll eventually recognize a lanky, penniless, filthy drifter wearing pseudo-designer labels and clutching a digital camera in his oversized, grimy hands as if it was his child.

Driving east through Washington, it's easy to say that the most scenic area I passed through was near the Wild Horses Monument right off of I-90. It's made to look as though a herd of stallions are stampeding right off the edge of the bluff, and can be seen in the distance from a nearby bridge. The horses have been graffiti'ed over the years but that really does nothing except make them all the more interesting to look at. I can quite possibly say that the best view of my entire trip was given to me as I stood alongside these immense, metallic broncos.

I had initially thought of potentially hitting up both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone if time and funds had permitted but the latter, at this point, was looking a little undernourished. I decided to shoot just for Yellowstone since it wasn't very much at all out of my way, I certainly felt like I needed an adventure that took place in a more native, uncontrolled environment than that of a major metropolis and I felt certain a 3300 sq. mile national park could provide just that.

I successfully managed to spend an entire day in Yellowstone, fording a river à la Oregon Trail and climbing into and through the massive lodgepole pine forests. There was a moment of slight panic when I realized I didn't know where I was, as I had been walking in (what I hoped was) one direction for a couple hours, not bothering to do much other than to stop here and there and take in the view. Somehow, though, with the help of an all-but-useless broken compass and probably some primal ability to smell the trail that my own b.o. was leaving behind, I managed to find my way back to the river, pass back through it and locate my car.

Here's the inner monologue I had as I was heading out of Yellowstone, after about 15-20 minutes of driving:

'Gawwwwsh, this is pretty! I really should stop to take more pictures, or at least take some as I drive by.'

*rummages through backpack as I drive, feeling and looking for camera*
*continues to rummage, slightly alarmed*
*pulls over in a panic and empties backpack onto the driver's side seat*

'You...have be shitting me.'

That's right, folks. I definitely either left my camera sitting somewhere on a mountainside or it had dropped out of my backpack somewhere along the hike back.
This is the moment despair hit me in the same kind of way it hits a fourteen year old girl who can't stay out past 10pm. This was a tantrum that I'm sure all of creation heard:

'Fuck...FUCK!!! GOD DAMN IT! How could I do this?! How could I have something happen to it AGAIN!? This is the WORST TRIP EVAR!!! BAHH LET ME CRAWL UNDER A ROCK RIGHT NOW AND DIE!'

Alright, I had gotten that out of my system and the adult was slowly taking over again.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the 'sane, reasonable, cut-my-losses-and-move-on' adult that probably should have been present, but instead the wild-eyed 'I will NOT stand for this, I will scour every INCH of Yellowstone National Park until I find that missing camera!' crazy-parent kind of adult that grabbed me by the balls and started running.

What did I do? You better bet your grandmother's blood pressure medication that I DEFINITELY turned the fuck around, somehow recognized the turn off on which I had pulled over and started to retrace my goddamn steps through the wilderness as dusk started to break.
I was a man on a mission: I pulled off my hiking boots, charged through the freezing river like a yeti on steroids and started to make my way into the forest on the other side. I brushed past the pines and walked all of 40 feet when something blue caught my eye near the ground....

My gorilla arm camera mount was laying right there near a shrub, with my three day old camera attached to it.
Obviously, I single-handedly saved a houseful of orphans from certain death in a past life and this was God's way of thanking me for that. Luck ain't got nothing on this shit.
I made my way back into and through the river, all the while with the horrifying vision of myself dropping the camera and seeing it being swept away by the current. Just a momentary hallucination, thankfully. I managed to get my camera back into my car and drive away as the sun was setting.

Something else that's of some importance to note is that there is NOTHING in Montana except for the scenery. That includes any semblance of a coffee shop to relax for a bit and recharge my ipod.
My music library and roadtripping playlist was one of the few things that kept me sane throughout my adventure and it wasn't long before it needed to be recharged, which was mirrored with my complete inability to do so.
I decided, then, to see what kinds of radio stations I might be able to pick up in an area like this...

Hm...alright......static....static...static...a preacher bringing me the good word of our Lord Jesus Christ (thankfully) being drowned out by static...and...Hey! Music!
Well, shitty music. But it's something, right?
Suffice to say, the only radio station I could pick up for a good 400 miles was, no shit, 95.1 FM: THE MOOSE. Yikes. Alright, I'm in no position to argue. I'll take what I can get.

I drove into the night while still in Montana onto some small highway that would presumably take me onto the Interstate at some point. Even at night, the panorama was incredible. Faraway lightning storms lit the sky into a fiery orange for seconds at a time and you could see any and every star the universe could possibly grace us with by simply looking upward. I remember passing not a single car, farmhouse, or even road sign for miles and miles at a time. There was a point when I started slamming on my car horn on occasion just to break up the nothing that surrounded me.
The was the prelude to the only moment that I started getting legitimately nervous on my entire trip, and this includes being lost in a forest bigger than most metropolitan areas:
My GPS started to falter. It would start to blink, and eventually the screen started to wash out and it would reset itself, asking me if I wanted to continue my trip, as if it had the advanced stages of some kind of electronic Alzheimer's.
Here, in the middle of the night, in the heart of mountain country, it looked, for a while, like I might have to find my way back to civilization myself.
I managed to turn it off and reset it enough to have it lead me to a small town where I spent the night, but I was still a little unnerved about the rest of my trip.

I pulled myself through South Dakota with minimal help from my GPS. I would see how far I had to travel on a certain road, turn it off, and when that distance approached, turn it back on until I knew how much further I had to travel on the new drag. Rinse and repeat.

Yes, I saw all of the ridiculous sites that I absolutely needed to see while passing through South Dakota: I drove past Rushmore, taking a picture as I sped by (up yours, $11 parking), stopped at Wall Drug to walk through and relive some awkward childhood memories, and briefly stopped in the Badlands National Park before moving on.

Yeah, man: almost home. I may smell like an old woman's foot at this point from not having bathed in four days but ya'll better be waiting with forced smiles and open arms when I get back. I probably missed you a little, too.



Lynn September 4, 2011 at 1:47 AM  

I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed are a good writer!!! Very entertaining. You've got some talent, my friend! ohhhh, you missed the 909er anniversary, so happy anniversary!!!! miss you!

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