On the Road Again- Attempting to Put Winter in the Rearview Through the American West

After what seemed like an epoch in Spokane I was on the move, solo again for the first stretch. My dad had decided in the days leading up to actual departure he would prefer to fly to Mexico City and meet us there. I didn’t blame him, it was cold out! In ways it was sad to ‘miss out’ on many National Parks we had planned to visit on our way through the US but I’ve enjoyed scores of trips through the American West in the past 12+ years. It seems silly now to consider the feeling of let-down that it wouldn’t be the ultimate trip as I’d be missing those sights but something even richer was in store for us. Due to the fact it was now winter in the West, camping in Wyoming or Montana with lightweight clothes and sleeping bags seemed nonsensical. Thus began a long series of wonderful visits with friends and family.

Passing through Western Montana I saw a friend whom I haven’t seen since just after high school! I look forward to exploring more of Montana with Jeff in the years to come! I made it far enough that night to stay with a great Aunt and Uncle. We visited late into the evening! I greatly enjoyed stories of the first time Keith met my mom when she was a baby and how he gained my grandpa’s respect. When they moved to Montana from central Idaho my grandpa told him they’d stay 2 years- that was 1956. Keith is the quintessential Montanan. From some of my early childhood memories of visits to their house I recall the bear and cougar skin rugs, mounted deer and antelope as well as his collection of firearms from the old west. He hunted for decades in the Bob Marshal Wilderness taking many friends from near and far out on pack horses. His German friends marveled at how far it was ‘to the next village’ from deep in the wilderness! He hunted 63 elk in his years! He showed me a pack-frame he received from some Nez Pierce Indians years ago who’s parents and grandparents used the elk horn frame to pack buffalo home from the plains back when the west was wild. Everything about their house is rich with history of the west. Pointing to a sign from a wilderness cabin they used to have with friends he told me the story of how the forest service made them burn it down in the 70′s after appealing the case in court. The exclusionary nature of US wilderness laws don’t seem to account for the fact humans are an integral part of the ecosystem and have been for quite a long time. Humans can do harm but they also live in balance and do good. Sadly I left the next morning bound for Jackson hole Wyoming, a big day of driving through wind and snow!

I passed near West Yellowstone and felt happy to be in a car with a functioning heater (even if the fan doesn’t work). The stiff head-wind was exchanged for compact snow and ice as I headed south back into Idaho. Not long afterwards darkness cloaked the land. Eventually I found myself climbing Teton Pass in second gear, the Roo taking the route of slowly but surely. Kevin is another friend I have seen only once in the past 10 years. When my Toyota was rolled in the Yukon on my first attempt to head north to Alaska in 2002 he was in the passenger seat when the roof crushed down on him after I had been ejected from a seat in the bed of the truck. We talked of this for the first time and spoke of the ways September 10th 2002 changed us forever. Both of us have also had the dream of rambling through the Americas for a long time. In his basement he has a world map with the seasons for destinations on all continents! We talked about the years gone by and the hopes and directions of years to come. We both dreamed of being back in South America. June I told him, “June is the time to meet again in the land of large mountains incomprehensible jungles and vast deserts.” And I hope we do meet near the equator in a land of mountains and jungles and deserts. Once again I had to say goodbye and was on the road again. South to warmth!

Well that would come at some point. I followed my friend’s advice and took the slower scenic route over Togwatee pass through Lander. The Subaru chugged its way up the pass through the snow but afterwards I was greeted by blue sky and orange & red dirt & rocks north of Lander. While google showed it was the same distance to drive the faster way from Jackson down through Pinedale to I-80, I had already driven that years ago. I always enjoy exploring small highways I haven’t seen before. As a bonus Kevin and his friends said that westerly section of I-80 can have a lot of blowing snow. The Roo & I are not friends with blowing snow so I was happy to avoid that for a more scenic drive. In March 2006 with the worst sinus infection of my life I was driving home from the American Southwest and had entered southern Wyoming from NE Utah on a remote road. Driving a cautious 25mph I was blown off the road by a strong gust. Thankfully a kind soul from Colorado came along & had a yank strap in his Toyota 4X4. He soon had me back on the road. I has happy to have no such complications this drive and simply enjoy the desolate scenery of central Wyoming as I made my way from one corner of the state to the other.

After a LOT of hours on the road I made my way into Boulder Colorado that night after 8pm. Lynne was excited to see me. I’m not sure I was capable of emotions after sitting in the Roo for so many hours. Lynne’s sister Katy was very kind to host us in her tiny apartment! The next day Lynne was off fulfilling her dreams, “I just want to have oatmeal and quesadillas a lot.” Well that and a yoga class I took her to. I was quickly over saturated with Boulder ‘culture’ while sitting in the parking lot outside the yoga studio and “Sprouts” a grocery store calling itself a farmer’s market. From the parking lot I wrote “Taking in the wonders of a town that makes Portland look unpretentious! This part of Collarada is a strange place. May their organic asphalt lead me southward.” Lynne said I was in a snarky mood. I’m not sure what that means but it may have had a lil something to do with the fact she was also tired of the place after spending an unexpected 3 weeks there mostly by herself while I was off having fun with the Roo in the driveway in Spokane. As good tourists should we were off to the Celestial Seasonings tea factory. To see how hippies from the 70′s became uber yuppies of the 80′s, wait no, we just just wanted to drink tea. The tour was neato. I enjoyed the robotic palletizer and the double walled mint room that made our eyes water. After the tour we drank tea for 2+ hours. I didn’t know it was possible to be drunk from tea. Whoa boy! Lynne’s amusement waned, “Jon’s a surly tea drunk.” I think this also had to do with our being in Boulder. Driving under the influence of tea we went to a nearby chocolate factory then a meadery. After dark we scurried back to Boulder proper and met up with Katy, her boyfriend John, and his roommate/friend Boramey. We talked about Acadamia and math. I miss the golden years of academia in my life but not enough to return. The next morning held oatmeal and quesadillas. Lynne was living the dream! We hiked through Chautauqua Park up to the Flatirons in the afternoon and had an awesome time at a Laundromat. At a nearby Argentine restaurant (El Rincon) we met a couple of my friends from Seattle, Ethan & Obadiah, as well as Katy, John & Boramey. Lynne was sad to miss more math talk when Ethan asked about their research as she headed over to the laundromat. pphhh! (“I learned enough math in college to
realize I like other stuff better.” I on the other hand enjoy math talk as I’ve missed it greatly living in Spokane.

The next day was Saturday so we went climbing! “Yeeeahhh” Obadiah arrived at the Chautauqua trailhead about 20 minutes late which was great because Lynne & I were running late as well. Ethan’s car wouldn’t start so Obadiah headed over to pick him up when I arrived. At the crack of 12:30pm we made it to the base of the 1st Flatiron. Boulder was no longer the balmy 70 degrees Lynne had described when I was in Spokane! With a cool overcast the rock numbed our hands and feet but maybe this is the best way to climb slab. We climbed fairly efficiently as a team of 4 and made our way to the ridge and the summit for great views of the city and the coal plant below! Hiking down in the waning dusk/ dark we spoke with the joy of a fun day with friends! Lynne and I stopped by Katy’s apartment to pack our things and head to Denver to stay with Obadiah that night. We enjoyed chats about the BC Coast Range with Obadiah and felt rested the next day to begin the next leg of our journey- driving and camping our way out of winter!

Obadiah has some great photos of our day climbing here http://goacrophile.smugmug.com/Cragging/121209-First-Flatiron/27515009_xCghSX#!i=2315589285&k=P7VgNFG

Many thanks to Keith, Kevin, Katy & Obadiah for hosting and a big extra thank you to Obadiah for filling in the holes to our lack of climbing gear (Lynne now wants to buy a purple climbing helmet that’s pony-tail ready :)


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