Life is a swinging pendulum. The more you push, the more it pushes back. The last branch of our trip consisted of very contrasting experiences. Late in the game, we were tired, sore and pushed to our limits in many ways. Covering 5,000 miles in five weeks while working has taxed us both… spending all of your time with one person (no matter who it is) comes with its own challenges. In the end we persevered and absolutely succeeded. The mission was to spend a month visiting some of the Northwestern United States most iconic landscapes, while digitally freelancing. Making an income while traveling, seeing the world while living our lives. Modern day gypsies by choice… digital nomads…
Our departure from the Pacific coast was quick. For the first time on our trip, we set our heading East. We left the silvery green-blue tint of Seattle, for the Northern Cascades… tall mountains, evergreens, falling water and stone. Pulling the truck over to break, I was struck by the color of the water. A rich turquoise created by glaciers smashing minerals into tiny bits called “rock flour” which is carried downstream to the reservoirs. The vibrant colors reminded me of the neon yellow-orange water I had seen pictures of, flowing down the banks of the Animas back home in Durango…
Pressing onward we visited the ranger station and gleaned some key information about where to camp for the evening. It was early August, and I had been neglecting alpine environments and craggy peaks… thin air and clear skies… We asked the ranger if there were any designated jeep trails in the area with campsites. He laughed and said, “Not in the national park, but I know a good spot outside of it… You seem like more adventurous folk…” Taking the ranger up on his advice we camped near Heart’s Pass, just outside the quite mountain town of Mazama, WA. Two nights we tarried there, watching the sunsets fade into a starry sky… listening to the quietly creaking stand of spruce around our campsite.
Beyond the Cascades we spied wide open plains, pine forests and lakes. As the sun rose we moved like a breeze in the tall grass prairies eastward, and as it set behind us we heard calls from great sand hill cranes. Idaho and Montana, Wyoming… Yellowstone was a letdown… I should have known better. God forsake my judgement… Mid Summer, not even on a weekend… cars backed up, lines of RV’s and families geared up for a spoon-fed nature experience. Part of me saying, “who am I to judge… I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my life in Colorado…” the other part of me damning every novel I’ve read by Ed Abbey and Aldo Leopold, both of whom sit on my shoulders lecturing me about how the world used to be… I was backpedaling and stuck in line… My soul caving in more, every step closer we were to entering beneath the large round beams above the National Park’s kiosk. I was looking for the smell of conifers, thick forest and seclusion. Not these cars and people… Not all these RVs. Luckily, I was overreacting a bit… My lady Marion took the helm while I settled my nerves in the wait-line. Patience, and a a year long national parks pass got us into the expedited lane, and with a wave we were moving again through a wide open river valley.
Busy and hot were my first initial impressions of Yellowstone and the people visiting it. I was digging deep to find my gratitude… “Yay I’m outside!“, thankful to be living my dream while realizing not all parts of the experience are actually a fairy tale. We didn’t find many trails, but we did stroll boardwalks packed with tourists from Japan, Northern Europe and the Mid-west. Sitting beside Old Faithful we listened to comments like, Father – “That was it???” and Mother – “GET IN THE PICTURE!!!, 13 year old son – ” Mom, I just want to sit and watch this.‘” Every time we left an area I promised myself I would come back one year in November… get deeper into the land, when the scene is quieter and more subtle.
Since all 12 of the campgrounds in Yellowstone were full, we continued on through to the neighboring Grand Tetons. We were totally fried and beaten from driving hundreds of miles and not staying in the same camp for more than one night in a row. We retreated to the first site we found in the Tetons. That next morning we decided to pack up and find a quieter campsite. In the process we got skunked out of all the remaining campsites in the area. No going back to Yellowstone, and no staying in the Tetons was making me want to throw it all in the bag and just drive back to Colorado… Marion suggested we find a quiet creek, go swim and cool down before deciding what to do next. We bathed in the refreshing and gentle waters of the Snake River, and like predicted, the river cleared minds. Later that afternoon we consulted the map for options and found a road leading out of the National Park and into National Forest. Since it’s not in the park, it was likely to be less crowded, quieter and free… and it was. Hallelujah! That night we celebrated our perseverance high above the planes watching the sun set behind the Grand Teton.
Our commitments back in Durango drove us onward into the last leg of the journey. On the way home we visited family on the Front Range of Colorado and I welcomed a knees-on-the-ground kind of joy, now that I was back in my home state. Traveling is amazing, and so is your own bed after a long stint of being on the road. Although both of us were challenged throughout the trip in many different ways, in the end we were grateful for the opportunity to push ourselves, grow and see these iconic landscapes. Later we both reflected on the value of that special nitty-gritty time and knowledge you can only get on long road trips… As soon as we arrived home we began planning our next adventure. Which immediately includes packing up and selling almost everything I own… The next chapter will involve flying to Southeast Asia for the winter… Thanks for reading and check back for more updates and adventures!
To read other writings by Alex Pullen click here, or if you would like to see more of his work, visit him at alexpullen.com