I recently spent a week in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I met Gary The German at a hostel one day. We got to talking and he wanted to split a car rental with someone to go to Yellowstone. I also wanted to go to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton and happened to have a brother who could get me the family employee discount at Enterprise. We were hoping to find a third to lower costs, but it ended up being just the two of us. Gary is kind of like a little brother to me, now – he’s fun to be around, but gets on my nerves, much like my little brother did when he was 25.
We spent the week in the middle of monstrous, snow-capped mountains, wandering through vast forests of pine and Aspen, and marvelling at steaming, erupting geysers. Gary went fishing while I laid in the grass (or sat on a rock) and read. Each night, we camped, laying on thin sleeping pads in the (literally) freezing cold nights. We showered infrequently (there was a point where I wore the same clothes for several days straight – it was too cold to change!) We saw elk and bison in large numbers, and possibly heard coyotes howling at night.
Let me elaborate a little on some of the important/memorable points of the trip:
- Wildlife. Umm – awesome!!! Before going to Wyoming, I had never seen bison (buffalo), antelope, or elk. We were hoping to spot a bear or two, but it turns out this isn’t bear season (which was more a blessing than a curse given my completely irrational fear of being eaten by a bear in the middle of the night). When we stopped at our second Yellowstone campsite, we heard a weird kind of screaming noise. As my brain searched its repository of similar sounds, it returned to me “girl screaming”. I listened a little more and concluded that this was not, in fact, a girl screaming, but rather a new, unfamiliar sound. Surely an animal of some sort. The next evening, I heard the sound again. Lo and behold, there was a line of cars stopped on the street looking at the elk just beside the campsite (across the road). After the ranger came by and got the cars moving, there were just people left, standing on the road, observing. The noise was a male elk’s mating call. I watched for a while, and heard a female respond in a more delicate, shorter kind of squeal. The male walked around a bit, stopping near some females. I never did see the final match, but this male’s call stopped shortly after. I had commented earlier in the day “What are people looking at when they watch wildlife? It seems kind of boring”. Well, I understand now. It was fascinating to just watch them in their natural habitat (albeit slightly modified by our human installations).
- Camping. I’ve camped here and there. Once here, once there, for a week straight in Oman. But it’s never been cold. And in Oman, we bought cheap foam mattresses so it was quite comfortable. I loved the experience, and I’m learning quite a lot. The most important thing about camping in cold weather is to keep yourself off the ground, which is cold (and sometimes wet). We used a couple blankets and inflatable sleeping pads (very thin). I wore socks and bought a hat and fleece-lined tights to help keep me warm. Luckily Gary let me borrow his sweater the last few nights, because I was grossly under-prepared for this adventure and unsure if I would survive any longer without caving to a $50 purchase. The addition of one simple long-sleeve shirt probably would have been sufficient to keep me warm. Layers, I’m learning, are quite important. The air between the layers helps to insulate, so having 3 layers will be warmer (and more convenient) than having one big, heavy sweater. This is something I knew from all my reading about hiking and outdoor activities, but it’s never really applied to me. We started a fire each night, and sometimes cooked our food on it. I don’t know how I would have survived without the fire in the chilly air. Gary was the expert here, but I learned a few things and even started a fire (mostly) on my own the last night.
- Fishing/Relaxing. Gary’s main purpose of the trip was to fish. And he did. As he fished, I either explored the park on my own or sat and read my book beside the water. I enjoyed the latter most. Those were some of the most relaxing moments of this great trip. I lay on the grass with my book and a glass of wine as Gary cast his line into the water. Every now and then I’d glance up to see him wading through the water to unhook the line from the seaweed, and giggle. Less frequently, I’d look up when he screamed with joy at having caught another fish. On our last day, he caught 5 fish!!! It turned out to be too many and we ended up wasting some of it, but it was all very exciting in the moment.
- Learning. I learned more this week than I did in a month working as a teacher. And I learned things that were relevant and important to me. Things I was excited to learn. Because that’s what travel and wandering allow you to do – to explore those things that are meaningful to you. Without the pressure of a job or expectations from people around you. Many of my goals for this time of my life have to do with learning. There is so much I want to learn about and I just didn’t have the time, energy, or motivation to do it in the lifestyle I was living. Reflecting on what I learned this week just confirms that I’m doing the right thing for me, and it makes me so happy!
It’s back to the city life now. The Yellowstone/Teton week seems like a distant memory, and the amazing feeling of being immersed in nature, without a worry in the world – those feelings have faded. But I know more of these adventures await me, whether it be a day, a week, or more. I’m excited; these are the moments when I feel most like myself, when I feel happy and content with the world.
People ask me if I plan to go back to teaching after this wanderlust has been cured. I always say “I don’t know”. If I plan for that, then I limit myself, I close doors. Who knows – maybe I’ll end up working in a national park or deep in the mountains somewhere, someday.