Sunday, December 23, 2007


I am a creature of habit. I can't help it, I have my ways of doing things. For instance, my clothes all hang in the same direction in my closet and my drives to Idaho are just as regimented. I like knowing what to expect and when to expect it. I-25 takes me to Fort Collins, where I cut up Highway 287 to Laramie, bypassing Cheyenne altogether. Then it's around Elk Mountain––which is terrible regardless of the time of year––a quick stop at a familiar truck stop in Rawlins, a straight shot through Rock Springs and Green River, down the hill, through the tunnel to Little America where I stop, pee, refill my mug with hot water or cocoa, then take the exit to Pocatello where I travel through Kemmerer, Cokeville, Bennington, tiny little Dingle and the myriad of small, no-stop-light towns, down through Lava Hot Springs and McCammon, jog onto I-15 and head straight into Pocatello. I've done this the fifty-eight or so times I've made this trip over the course of the past eight and a half years. Sometimes at night, if the sky is clear, I pull off the road, turn off the car and stare at the stars and all that space I can't see through Denver's orange-colored night. Idaho skies are brilliant and vast, bigger each time than I remember and my reward for living far from home.

This trip, however, was different.

I elected not to cut from Fort Collins to Laramie, but to go through Cheyenne and over the pass, thinking it wise to avoid Highway 287, the third most dangerous stretch of road in the country, sticking to the interstate all the way. I put the idea to Duncan, sitting in the backseat, and when he didn't object I changed our course, heading straight into some of the worst weather conditions I've ever navigated. The skies were blue, the sun was out, the roads were clear, but damn if the wind wasn't a bitch. And not just a bitch, but a raging bitch with 55-60 mile an hour gusts, blowing white powder over the road, erasing it almost completely and reducing my visibility to little more than 20 or 30 feet in front of the car. But we did it. We were cautious and careful and came down the other side of the pass, dropping into Laramie safe and sound.

It was Rawlins where everything changed. Wyoming is always windy, in sunny Summer weather or bitter Winter. It never changes, as if the entire southern portion of the state is a prison where the worst winds have been banished to spend their days and nights screaming bloody murder. It's a barren place and even the sage brush seems to struggle there. Only antelope and gas refineries are plentiful. And big trucks, monster rigs that rumble and kick up road gravel which the winds are more than happy to send flying right into your windshield.

We stopped, refilled the gas tank and went for a short walk along the perimeter of the parking lot, which was little more than the frozen mounds pushed and piled up by the ploughs. The wind kicked up more snow, which cut our faces and eyes, stinging like relentless needles piercing my tender cheeks, turning my cheeks pink, chapping our lips. We were more than happy to leave, but The Powers That Be weren't so keen on the idea. Not half a mile out of town the traffic ground to a halt and we came to a stop. The roads were closed-every route out of that crappy little brown, industrial Wyoming town were denied us so we sat for three hours, listening to music, dozing off, venturing out to walk the median and stretch our legs despite the constant bite of the wind. Three long hours, which had not been written in to the itinerary.

A quick thanks to the folks who talked me off the ledge and kept me sane while I waited: Kelly, mom, Kevin and Kevi, who reminded me that not only was I learning to trust myself and my will to travel alone again, unafraid and confident, but that I needed to learn flexibility as well. I sat with the bag of feathers in my lap, telling myself that so many people were rooting for me, that the feathers were reminders of that. I pulled them out, examined each of them, whispered words of thanks to the little talismans that had been sent to me, and learned that even feathers are flexible. They bend and move, adjust when they need to adapt to the changing environment and stay aloft despite the conditions that work against them.

As frustrating and claustrophobic as those three hours were, even they contained value. I am learning and remembering what John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

It doesn't matter what we endured, or even how long. It matters only that we endured and managed, after fourteen long hours, to arrive in Pocatello safe, strong and together, the moon shining bright, painting the snow blue and night bright. My mother's driveway was the most beautiful place in all the world, and Kevin's hug was the equivalent of crossing the finish line.

"See," he said. "We knew you could do it. And you did."

And here I am. My good dog curled at my feet, watching the fire burn near my mother, who is sleeping in her chair. The air smells of fig tea candle and my mug of eggnog is waiting for me to take another sip from it. My belly is full a delicious meal I shared Kevi, Mike, Elijah and Jonah, and my heart is warm. This is all the Christmas I need.

I could not be happier.

Thank you all. I am home again and my dreams have come true.

1 comment:

Kelly Medina said...

Yaya! I'm really proud of you. This is a huge step for you! :)