Lucy and I hit the road for our first trip of “self unemployment”. We drove to Ten Sleep, WY and met up with some friends for climbing and camping over Labor Day Weekend. We camped at a brewery, just outside of town. Beer, food truck, live music, and a campfire. Not exactly roughing it, but it was fun!
It poured that night, forcing me into my tent early. Some people stayed out, playing “stump” in the rain, but my introverted self wasn’t going to fight it. Talking to climbers is funny. Crimpers, pockets, jugs. What do you prefer? Stemmy? Hand jams? I overheard a guy trying to impress a girl. He made it sound so technical and hard, I wanted to immediately pull up the Mountain Project dictionary to see what it meant.
I’ve been around the climbing world enough to hear the talk. The way climbers talk about the rock. I really like climbing, but I don’t talk about rock that way. Maybe it’s the difference between people who remember movie quotes and those who don’t (I don’t). In fact, I forget what the rock felt like almost as fast as I went up it. What did you do there? Oh um, let’s see. I uh, see the rock sticking out there… umm… I just put my foot there and then grabbed the rock there. Talking to me about climbing is painful (I can imagine). But I suppose I don’t do it to talk about it. What stands out for me is what my head felt like. Was I scared? Did I feel strong? Shaky? Tired? It’s meditative. But not like driving a car. You can’t just cruise on auto-pilot. You have to be aware all of the time. Aware of your body. Aware of your breath. It’s not about the grades, although progress is nice. But the level I’m climbing at is the level that makes me think, “What the fuck am I doing? Okay. Keep breathing. You got this.”
We got off to a slow start the next day, finally getting to the crag around 1pm after getting lost on the approach. All of the easier warm-ups were crowded and we had to wait to get on anything. Then, It started to rain, threatening to cut our already short day, shorter. It was starting to look like we drove seven hours from Denver to hike and then turn back. The rain forced most people off the walls and back to their camps, while we stuck around and waited.
Our patience paid off! The sun came out, or at it least tried, the rock dried up, and we were climbing. I didn’t climb anything particularly noteworthy, a 5.11a, a 5.10a, and a 5.9, but it was good to get on real rock in a new place. We wrapped up around 7pm and headed back to camp. The food truck was just packing up, but took our order anyway. In fact, he said, “you can have everything, I won’t be back for a few weeks and it’ll all go bad.” So we did. We ate all of his brisket, mashed potatoes, french fries, and coleslaw while he told us stories about living and climbing in the canyon. After dinner and a few beers, most of us settled in for another night of intense rain and thunderstorms.
I’ve been wanting to do a solo trip for a while and since I didn’t have work to return to, I figured this would be a good opportunity to see Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone, and spend some alone time on the road, just me and my dog. So Lucy and I packed up camp the next morning, said goodbye to our friends, and continued on to Jackson.
I camped that night on National Forest land overlooking Grand Teton National Park, free camping just a few miles down from the park entrance. The sky was clear and I had camp set up by 7pm. The fire danger was high and there was a fire ban, so I headed into the park to kill some time. There’s something special about being in a national park at night. No crowds. No rangers. But you’re definitely not alone. As the moon dipped down behind the Tetons, the Milky Way came out and lit up the sky. I pulled over to set up my camera gear and looked up with my headlamp to see two glowing eyes stalking me from across the road. It started to come closer and I slowly backed towards my car. It stopped, watched me for about 60 seconds, and finally ran across the road and into the trees. I don’t know what it was, but it was big and it moved like a cat.
The next morning was cold. Temps were below freezing and fog coming off the Snake River had formed a thick layer of frost on the outside of my tent. I forgot gloves on this trip, making breaking down camp painful. It was cold enough that morning to leave Lucy in the car while I went for a quick hike. I hiked to Inspiration Point, 6 miles round-trip around the south side of Jenny Lake. I was one of the first ones on the trail, thinking I’d get to the lookout and have it to myself. Half way there, I started hearing ferries shuttling groups of tourists across the lake, literally by the boatload. By the time I reached the lookout it was overrun with several large groups and I headed back the same way I came.
I ate lunch in the parking lot, out of the back of my car as other tourists circled for an open spot. I took my time, eating chicken and sweet potatoes out of tupperware and enjoying the sun. I got to know the cars circling and picked which one I would graciously allow in my spot. I waited for him to circle back around and flagged him down to tell him he was the one. He let out a sigh (I’m sure) and put on his blinker to let the others know this one’s his. I headed to Yellowstone.
Old Faithful reminded me of a theme park, except not as fun. Crowded, long waits, underwhelming, and a long drive back. I actually don’t have a whole lot to say about Yellowstone, although I probably only saw about 5% of it. It’s huge! It took 45 minutes from the park entrance just to get to Old Faithful. But it’s mostly flat with rolling forested hills. I saw a coyote. I saw some geysers. But the rest of it was pretty bland. There’s nothing impressive and grand, and I already missed Jackson and the Tetons. So I headed back.
I was dying for a shower. The night before had been so cold and the last thing I wanted to do was break down camp in sub-freezing temperatures again. So I went into Jackson, hoping I could find a cheap room, $50 being my max. I was laughed out of town. The worst looking place I could find started at $179, and I would have had to lie about Lucy or leave her in the car. Camping it is. It turned out to be pretty warm that night, in the low 50s when I started my car the next morning. I made coffee, packed up, and hit the road back to Denver.
On my way home (via I-80), I passed a car that looked like they were clearly coming back from Black Rock City, aka Burning Man. They say the “Burning Man” represents “The Man”, aka, Corporate America, or whatever “The Man” represents for you. In a lot of ways, I spent the last several days expressing my own way of saying “fuck the man”. And just like them, I’m returning home with a new perspective. That’s really why we do these things. That’s why we travel and have interesting experiences. To find a different perspective and spend the short amount of time we have on this earth with a little more meaning and intention.
So did I have any kind of spiritual awakening or “finding myself” moment on this trip? No. It got lonely at times, but there’s something powerful about not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night, but knowing that you’ll figure it out. It makes you question what you really need in life and to appreciate the small things you often take for granted. As Yvon Chouinard said, “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex.”