Friday, September 05, 2008

evening thunder

evening thunder
Originally uploaded by rod lewis
August 12, 2008
To Cody, Wyoming
289 miles (6,709)

I awoke this morning about to pop (sorry for TMI) and shivering, so I fumbled around, found some pants and sprinted to the bathroom. On the way back, the light coming over the mountain across the river behind me caused everything to glisten. How odd and beautiful, I thought, and when I got back to my campsite, I noticed that my motorcycle was glistening. I scraped my fingernail across the saddle and scratched up an ice-cube sized chunk of, uh, ice. Very hard freeze.
Once the sun reached over the hill, it didn’t take long for things to warm up, and it was already nearly 70 degrees when I came through Jackson again on my way to Yellowstone. I
was glad for the warmth, but made a mental note to be aware of time all day because, obviously when the sun goes down it get very cold, very quickly.
Almost immediately north of Jackson, I entered the Grand Teton National Park. These glacier-cut ridges are tremendous with sharp, jagged edges, and glaciers flowing down around the summits. I stopped at the visitor center to get my passport canceled, and the first of a series of unfortunate events began, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I put the Grand Teton Stamp in the Pacific Northwest Region rather than the Rocky Mountain Region. No big deal? Of course not, except that it bothered me a little bit, but only a little bit until other things began to go wrong. Then I began to dwell on every little thing, being distracted from all the beauty around me.
So I paid my half-price motorcycle fee, and entered the Grand Teton Pay area, and moved on toward Yellowstone. I was cold for a good long time through the long loop of the park. But managed by frequent photo stops. I successfully made it to Old Faithful only minutes before it erupted to throngs of people cheering, and screaming, and applauding. Within 5 minutes of the eruption, the entire area was empty save a faithful few. Everyone had moved on, having seen the climax of their visit to Yellowstone. I was unsure how long between the faithful eruptions, so I sat down beside a couple to contemplate the whole ordeal. The man was David Eveningthunder, and he sat quetly playing a wooden flute while his wife stared off at the rising steam from the geyser.
When I sat down, David immediately quit playing and struck up a conversation that eventually led to his giving me his address and asking for a postcard to announce my safe return home. I also heard the short version of his life story, past experiences in this very spot as the big dipper slowly circled Polaris, and brief theology of his spirituality.
David Eveningthunder was definitely the highlight of my visit to Yellowstone, and as it turned out, I could have met him a year ago when I passed through Livingston, Texas on my way east to the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Soon after I left Old Faithful, I saw an Elk that I thought might be a Moose grazing about 100 yards from the road. I stopped suddenly to get a photo. I was in a hurry, so I pulled off, carefully steady the bike, and climbed off. Not carefully enough though, because when I relieved the bike of my weight, the front wheel slipped in gravel and awesome and strong, and tough as I may think I am, I was not strong enough to keep the 600 pound bike from toppling into the ditch beside the road. I stood and stared, terrified that it would be un-ridable. Momentarily, 5 Mennonite boys sprinted across the road to help me right the bike. I told them to be careful of the hot pipes, which they did, while I burned my shin. I gave the bike a careful inspection a number of times, and the only damage I could find was that my brake lever and master cylinder had been turned (not bent) on the handlebar. The handlebar was not bent, there were no scratches, and the bike fired only a little bit reluctantly. My prayer of thanksgiving was whispered even more earnestly as I engaged the clutch and returned the bike to the road.
As evening wore on, and chill began to permeate, I realized the long, slow miles to Cody would also be cold and dark if I didn’t start a purposeful trek toward camp. After this realization, the first thing I did was to miss a turn east and head north toward Mammoth Springs. In all honesty, I have no idea, why I realized what I had done. I didn’t even remember the junction. But it occurred to me that I was going the wrong direction amidst those hills, and creeks, and rivers and waterfalls, so I turned back and within 8 miles, came upon the road I should have taken.
Whew, only 16 miles, and 30 minutes wasted.
A brief stop at Artist’s Point, and I was on my way out.
No sooner than I’d set my destination beyond the park, I found myself sitting still in the middle of the road in a long, long line of traffic. After 2 hours (I am not exaggerating) I learned that we were stopped for a herd of bison that were just being stubborn a couple of miles up the road. After the 2 hour wait, and another hour of weaving between loud, huge buffalos, I reached a much needed gas station, long after I’d expected to have arrived in Cody and fallen asleep. I put on all the clothes I had, installed a T-shirt as a scarf, and headed off into the desolation and wilderness that doesn’t lie within the 90 miles between my present location and Cody, Wyoming.
The road between was long, dark and winding, with, as promised, absolutely nothing. There were several wildfires along the way, strangely lighting hillsides and sending off a haunting glow. I could actually feel the heat at times – probably why I didn’t freeze during the ride. Though there were many signs warning me to prepare to stop for fire activity, I never had to even slow beyond the careful, intentional speed at which I was already traveling. (I was later to find out, in Cody, that the fires were such big news that many folk at the campsite heading west, had decided not to move on to Yellowstone because of them. Maybe they’d been over-told in the news, at least as far as their danger to travelers.)
I did make it to Cody, though, and strangely less than frozen. Stiff and chilled, mind you, but still alive. I hadn’t eaten since the night before, so found a Wendy’s drive through open til 11, and walked through, at 10:55. I had to get the teenager in the SUV behind me to pull up beside me so the drive-through kids would see that I was there.
I found the campsite with no problem, and unlike the other sites, where everyone was fast asleep when I arrived at 8:30pm, this site was alive with nocturnal camping pleasures, with golden, dancing flames all around and quiet voices and occasional outbreaks of quiet laughter. I began setting up my tent, and a girl about the age and demeanor of my adopted college daughters asked if I’d like to come share their fire when I finished setting up. I, of course, obliged.
She, her brother and his wife and 2 wee ones occupied the site next to mine. I laid in the grass looking up, warmed by the fire, watched countless meteors until I woke, realizing it was time to climb into the tent and warmth of my sleeping bag.
Good night moon, good night bears, good night new friends everywhere.