I’ve seen quite a lot of Western America in the last two weeks. In fact, I’ve traveled over 1,500 miles by car and by raft, in what started as a three-day float on the Snake River in Hell’s Canyon, before crossing that same river by bridge in several more states across the country. On the river, we saw a black bear, big horned sheep, and plenty of rapids that threatened to overturn our boat, or sink us all together.
I was home for nearly 48 hours between three days and nights of sun, rapids, drinking and camping, and a five-day road trip from Oregon to Colorado. In my hungover state, I packed my Nissan Xterra with clothes still on the hanger, bags filled with random items and, as I would discover upon unpacking, far more recreational equipment than items necessary for moving into a new house. I should have packed more road trip essentials, but instead I simply packed my car full and called it good, hoping I had everything I would want when I arrived.
I was leery in thought, worrying about packing up my life into a car. Then I reminded myself: For the past two years, I didn’t need any more than what fit in my backpack.
Soon, when the windows were covered and there were only two holes left, one for my dog and one for my friend, I felt disappointed that I had so much stuff. So much unnecessary stuff. All I really wanted was my snowboard and boots, my computer, camera, dog and a few clothes. Unpacking all the rest, however, was far too much work.
This is probably not a normal reaction to moving across the country…
I’ve been talking about this move for two years now, but the timing just never seemed right. When moving to Colorado first popped into my head, I hadn’t yet realized my dreams of traveling to Asia, but I knew something was amiss. Then, after nearly seven months abroad, in April 2012, I was forced to decide between travel and graduate school while I overlooked the river in one of my favorite cities, Luang Prabang, Laos.
The past two years have been unforgettable, and they’ve proven to me how important travel is and will continue to be in my life. I still have many more destinations on my USA bucket list, but for now it’s time to check off another item on The Life List: a Master’s Degree.
However, I couldn’t just move to Colorado without seeing some of America The Beautiful on the way down. I said goodbye to family and friends in Condon, Oregon, picked up my friend Autumn in Bend, and hit the road. That first day, we stopped for lunch in Boise, Idaho and drove all the way to Pocatello. It took us nearly 10 hours to reach the small college town in Eastern Idaho where the cows smell and the entire town closes on Sunday, but the journey was full of laughter, girl talk and horrific singing (on my end. Autumn’s actually pretty good).
Sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination, but boy did we show Pocatello a good time! We caught a live band, ate some delicious Chinese food, and hit up the town bar before crashing with a good friend.
We started the next day slowly, with way too many Bloody Marys and a nap. Then, we were off to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and it didn’t take long to realize I was in love with Jackson.
And Grand Teton National Park.
And Yellowstone National Park.
All are within an hour drive, and all are uniquely stunning. Before arriving, we had envisioned digging our cowgirl boots out of the back and finding some cute cowboys to take us out dancing, but the Tetons, with all their splendor and wildlife, enchanted us before those cowboys ever had a chance (a love letter is coming shortly). Then, in Yellowstone, an elk crossed the road right in front of us and Old Faithful proved her faithfulness with a brilliant show of spouting hot water before a crowd of hundreds. That night, we couchsurfed with some pretty cool guys in Jackson, who guided us toward the scenic route to Fort Collins.
We knew that Wyoming is the least populated state in all of the U.S.A., but we were unprepared for the vast nothingness we encountered. Nothing, that is, except nearly every kind of mountain formation, including rock, red clay, rolling and pointed. We had lunch and another bloody in Lander, where friendly locals were happy to have us and a blind man sold me a rotten CD (we were desperate for some new music by this time. Anybody ever heard of The Tibor Brothers?).
When we finally arrived in Fort Collins, my new home for at least the next two years, we were exhausted and thrilled to have reached our destination.
In the past few days, I’ve been acquainting myself with the city, getting settled into my adorable little house, and meeting up with old and new friends in Denver. So far, I think I’m going to like it here. It might even be love.
And thank goodness for good first impressions, for this road trip as a whole was just as much about the destination as it was the journey. And so far, both of exceeded my expectations.
If I have to be ‘stuck’ somewhere, I’m glad it’s here.
Have you ever been on a road trip? Where did you go? What was your favorite part about the journey/destination?
Road Trip America: Oregon to Colorado