It was July and hot in the Salt Lake valley. I had moved to Utah only a few months previous and decided that with only one online class and no job I could pull off a couple of days of vacation with the small amount of money in my bank account. I’d been planning on returning to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park for a while and decided that that was the perfect opportunity. With a desire for adventure, I packed my car with camping gear, a bag of clothes, some food, and set out to Wyoming. I had done research the night before and settled on staying at Curtis Canyon campground right outside of Jackson Hole. I hit the road early morning with a strong feeling of freedom and of course… a couple of energy drinks in my center console.
Shortly after passing the Idaho border, I was stopped by some road construction right before entering a national forest. I didn’t mind the wait because I had such good conversation with the people patrolling traffic through my car window. After about a 15-minute delay, I continued my drive into the mountains and was instantly taken by the beauty of Idaho, a state that I had never been to and honestly thought there was not much but potato farms and good fishing. A short while later, I arrived at Curtis Canyon which was only a 10-minute drive from the always-wonderful little town of Jackson. I chose a site closest to the valley, set up my tent, stuffed my face with turkey lunch meat, and headed off to the Tetons. Just after exiting the campground, the full mountain range was straight ahead. And let me tell you…it is a sight to behold.
After buying a week’s pass to get into Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, my first order of business was finding a spot by String Lake to hang my hammock and rest after my days drive. I found two sturdy trees and there, right by the cold and clear water, I took one of the best naps I ever did have. With evening fast approaching, I headed back to camp to get to bed early so I could have the whole next day to hike and sightsee. I blew up my mattress pad, put on two pairs of socks, two long-sleeve shirts and a jacket on top, a pair of sweatpants, a neck cover, and a hat to prepare myself for the night’s freezing temperatures. It was when I turned off my lantern that I realized I was alone, next to a valley, in pitch darkness. I set my Coleman knife and bear spray next to my pillow to give me a sense of peace and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t wake up till the morning sun began to warm the inside of my tent.
Eager to start my day, I quickly chowed down a protein bar and some almonds then made my way back into the Tetons. I stopped at a popular sight at an old barn then spent a majority of the day hiking around Jenny Lake. There, I met a sweet woman named Wendy. We walked some time together. She told me about her job as a weaver, we took pictures of each other on a bridge that ran over a river, she introduced me to her husband and son, and we exchanged contact information in case I ever found myself in Sedona, Arizona (where she lives) so that we could meet for an afternoon hike. After a few miles, some stops for food, and an hour swinging on the hammock, I headed back to my site to buy some firewood and make dinner. With a stomach full of sandwiches and salt and vinegar chips, I sat by the fire listening to early 2000’s Coldplay until the sky darkened and the clouds broke apart to reveal a sea of stars above me. Apart from stunning scenery, the placidity of walking alone, and making conversation with travelers from all over the world- star gazing was always key in my desire to escape the city. I remember being mesmerized by a dark, clear sky since I was a little girl. It brought me overwhelming emotion and wonderment. It’s a feeling that I had been chasing ever since. So, I continued to sit there with my head tilted up -in awe- until I could no longer keep my eyes open.
I spent the next two days in Yellowstone. My first destination was the Old Faithful geyser. The smell of sulfur and waiting in the crowd for the eruption brought me back to my first trip to the park with my family. Man, did I miss traveling with those goofballs. I captured some pictures and videos for my parents then continued my journey. I stopped periodically for short trails in the forests and around geyser fields. On my last day, I was surprised to find that I had driven all the way to the southern Montana border. I stopped for lunch at a river off the road where I was accompanied by a large Moose. She didn’t seem to mind me, so I continued to enjoy my lunch at a safe distance while she enjoyed hers. I drove a couple of hours back to Curtis Canyon and packed up my gear. I had the pleasure of meeting two women from New England before heading out. I was so intrigued to hear about their life living in a camper on the road. I told them how much I admired their lifestyle and lively spirits, I said my goodbyes, and I made my way back to the interstate. After about 10 minutes of driving, I came across an overlook right off the highway. I stopped so I could enjoy the beauty of Wyoming for a few more minutes. I ended up sitting out there on the trunk of my car for a while. I put my headphones in to drown out the sound of the 18-wheelers passing behind me. I found myself not wanting to leave. I thought about all the great places I saw, all the wonderful people I met along my way, all my naps in the mountains. I had been alone for the past five days but hadn’t once felt lonely. I thought about others that I knew and how they were afraid or unwilling to venture out on their own. Look at what they’re missing out on, I thought to myself while staring out to the mountains and Evergreen trees.
To them and anyone else reading I say- you don’t need anyone else to experience joy or fascination. Growing up, my dad would always spill wise words to my sister and I to inspire us to live out extraordinary lives. “See the world and don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Live fearlessly,” he would say. The older I get and the more challenges I come to face, the more I try to live by those words. I dare you to live by them, too.