It all started with a wedding out in Idaho. It was a good friend of mine, and I really wanted to go, but the flight costs were murder. So I did some quick math and realized that driving would be less expensive and entirely do-able. Plus, I’d get to see part of every northern state from the east coast to the west coast. How could I say no?
The plan became solidified when I found people to drive with me. Stephen from Virginia and Annie from Ireland both wanted to go to this wedding, and somehow we made it work. I drove down to VA and got Stephen while Annie flew into Chicago, and we picked her up on the way.
We made a couple quick stops on the way out west – Sioux Falls, Mt. Rushmore, parts of Yellowstone. All were beautiful beyond compare, and I was glad to be with two other people who would appreciate it in the same way. It became a real adventure when the electrical socket for the GPS blew a fuse and we no longer had digital navigation. It’s impressive how fast you remember how to read a map and road signs. Sort of.
Unfortunately we had to rush, as Stephen was in the bridal party and had to be there early for the rehearsal dinner. We may have been able to take our time a bit more, but as it was we saw a lot and we were happy to see friends at the rehearsal dinner, especially the groom who we would only get brief moments with on his wedding day.
After the scramble to find a hotel with a vacancy (we’re really good planners) everything went smoothly. The wedding was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, and the toasts were fantastic and entertaining, and the reception was good fun. If anything, it was over too quickly.
I’d planned to spend the following day doing a little exploring of my birth-state, but I ended up spending a day and a half with college friends who were either in the area or there for the wedding. This pushed back my adventuring plans by a few days, which I didn’t really mind. By the time I got away and was able to set out on my solo adventure, I was more than ready for some solitude.
I bought two large maps of the area, which I’m very glad I did because they turned out to be extremely useful both during my adventure and in making my way home a few days later.
The first night I drove from Coeur d’Alene up to Bonner’s Ferry. I was looking for an old family friend who I hadn’t seen since I was an infant and subsequently don’t remember at all. But my father was good friends with them and told me where to find their ranch, so in the spirit of adventure that I couldn’t escape, I set off looking for them. By the time I got near their location it was deep black darkness, and the roads of northern Idaho are frequently unmarked. I couldn’t find them. But I wasn’t worried.
I drove back into a town and found myself a nice parking lot and bundled up in a blanket in the back seat to take a little nap. An until-morning nap. And then I set off again. This time I chose to drive around a bit of the area closer to where my parents had lived at the time, which is across the river from Bob’s ranch. The house my parents had lived in apparently didn’t have a street address at the time, so there was no way for me to really look it up, and there was nobody around who knew what “the old Annie Hall” place was anymore. So I set off to find Bob again.
This time it was easy. Well, a lot easier than it had been. The catch was that the mountain Bob lives under was kind of on fire. A lightning strike had started a blaze, which I’d seen and stared at in wonderment in the dark the night before. So as I drove the winding wooded road below the mountain, I kept being stopped by rangers to ask where I was going. (Can I just throw out there that these were really fit, too-handsome-to-care men, and it was hard not to stare?) Eventually I found the place, ironically in exactly the last spot I’d looked the night before – I just hadn’t gone far enough down the rocky road.
I’ve also gotta say – a tiny little baby Prius is not the car you want to be off-roading in in northern Idaho. Lesson learned.
So I met Bob and his wife Mary, and needless to say they remembered me a lot more than I remembered them. They asked me to stay for lunch, and while Mary was getting that ready, Bob had to get back to making his hay bales, and he asked if I wanted to join him. So I did.
We chatted for a while and watched the helicopter trying to put out the forest fire for a while and listened to the radio for a while and sat in silence for a while. Then he asked me if I wanted to try driving the tractor. Since I’ve never done something like that before and I’m a rather klutzy individual I told him that I’d love to, but only if he wanted his tractor to break down. He laughed and told me it would be fine.
And it was. I made 30+ bales of hay that day. That may not sound exciting to you, but it was the most wonderful day. (I’m starting to realize that I get excited about a lot of truly mundane things, but to me they’re just the best!) I also rode in a motorboat for the first time, drove a pickup truck for the first time, and ended the day up at the bar my parents used to bar tend at when I was born. How strange is that?
I also had the unique opportunity to try Bob’s home made beer and home made wine in the same day. Let me just say now that both were unbelievably good.
The day passed too quickly, and what I’d planned as a couple of hours with some folks I didn’t know ended with me staying the night in the guest bedroom and leaving at the crack of dawn with hugs and a jug of Bob’s wine and promises to keep in touch. There’s something profound in that, though I can’t say just what.
Having spent much longer than I’d planned, I didn’t get a chance to go back and find my parents’ house, though one day I will surely do that. At the time it was all I could do to fill up my gas tank and be out the door at 5am. I drove briefly to the church where I was baptized, and found that mass was going on, so I stayed for that. It was beautiful. But then I was really kicking myself in the butt for not being on the road, so I bought some coffee and a sub, and settled in for hours and hours of solo driving.
I decided to take a different route home than the one I’d come in on, so as to get to see more. Even running late for my own schedule wasn’t enough to stop me from taking the scenic route. Instead of driving through Wyoming and South Dakota, etc., I decided to go through Montana, North Dakota, etc. It was a beautiful choice, for the most part, and I’ve been in more states than I know what to do with now.
I saw my first live moose shortly after entering Montana. It was charging back and forth in the middle of the road for unknown reasons, and at first I couldn’t even figure out what it was. It was huge and nearly black and pissed off. When it finally stopped its dance kicking up dirt in the road it charged off to the side, running right past my car and making me realize that if it had come at my my Prius wouldn’t have stood a chance. I just wish I’d gotten a picture of the thing, but I was too busy staring in awe.
The rest of my trip home was uneventful. There was beautiful scenery in western Montana but then the road flattens out into a pin straight ribbon that extends farther than the imagination would expect. Being a girl with an iron foot helped a little, but driving for 5 hours with no radio stations to tune into except religious talk radio can get a little tedious. No regrets though, truly. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
I also didn’t have any sort of cell phone reception until a day and a half into my trip (it’s a three day drive, basically, even when you only stop to sleep for 3 hours one time.) I only stopped for gasoline and occasionally some food. The silence and the expanse and the stopping of time was glorious. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since.
I had a lot of time to think, and think I did. I’m not going to write about all the thoughts that went through my head, but I think that I learned a lot on this trek, and I got this feeling of timeless understanding and longing. Just, everything about it was beautiful. I guess that’s why I keep referring to it as my spirit journey. That’s what it felt like.
I think I’m going to move to the northwest eventually. Even taking into account the other countries I’ve been to, it is so far my favorite place in the world.
My trip ended in a pit of exhaustion three days later. I felt like I could sleep for a month afterwards, but I had my job interview for that job I’ve got in China, so I guess it was good that I didn’t sleep through that. It’s hard once you’re home from a great experience to force that peace to linger, but I think we all do the best we can with that one. Fortunately I have so many (blurry though they may be) photos from this trip, that even just looking back through them floods my memory with a sense of the tranquility and calm that I experienced on my trip.
I guess at the end of the day all I can say is that for a day with my new friends Bob and Mary, and for three days of driving alone, my head and my heart and my soul felt full in the most wonderful way, and there’s nothing that can ever top that.
I can’t wait to get back out there.
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