Driving through Wyoming can be terrifying, even when the terror comes from factors not of your own doing. I’ve gone through a white-out blizzard, two zero-visibility rainstorms (in the same trip, mind you), and snowy mountain passes in June. The eight-and-a-half hour trip from Denver to Jackson is more fraught with peril than a trip on modern roads really ought to be, and yet, I’m sometimes grateful for the occasional surges of adrenaline. This is because the alternative is eight and a half hours of mind-numbing boredom.
Up until the last hour and a half or so of the trip, Wyoming is bleak. A traveler crosses the Continental Divide twice, but both times leave a weary mind thinking WYDOT is playing some kind of practical joke. As a native Coloradan, I’m well aware that this is what most people have in mind when they mentally picture the Great Divide, and southern Wyoming looks nothing like that.
So when my last drive up to Jackson passed fairly uneventfully, my mind began to wander. I’d seen the landscape so many times that even the more majestic, mountainous region where the Wind River range peters out and the Grand Tetons are about to begin failed to inspire me. Instead, I started looking at road signs. And thinking how poetic they could be. And sharing the resulting poems with poor Ethan, who knows it is in his best interests to keep the driver happy.
“You should write those down,” he murmured, perhaps with some air of sincerity.
So here y’all go. Blame Ethan if you don’t like them.
1. Winter Dangers
Roads may be icy
Bridges freeze before roadways
Slower speeds advised.
Cattle guards ahead
Deer crossing when lights flashing
No fishing off bridge.
No hunting allowed
KOA campground, next left
4. Mountains are fun!
No stopping, slide area
5. And, finally, some National Park haiku:
Do not feed wildlife
Bears are wild, do not approach
Leave bison alone.
Ponder on that while you endure your next long road trip.
That the Subaru was shuddering violently even at Jackson’s posted 35 mph speed limit was not a good sign. That it only shuddered more violently on the highway was even worse.
“I wonder what the resonance frequency of a Subaru Outback is?” I mused out loud. Ethan chuckled nervously. We had just blown through Rock Springs and were 100 miles from any noticeable form of civilization, a position not uncommon for travelers trying to get through the bland southern Wyoming landscape.
But the vibrations kind of felt like a massage after a while, and they ran together so tightly after 75 miles per hour that they were hardly noticeable. We got to Denver without winding up as discrete Subaru parts flung across the highway. Still, I resolved to take her into the dealership the next day.
The nearest dealership to my house is in Aurora. As I’ve alluded to earlier, getting from my apartment to the ‘burbs is no quick errand, and the area in which the Shortline dealership is doesn’t lend itself to lingering for a few hours. Ethan and I were invited to visit the Village Inn while they figured what was causing the vibrations.
We went through one pot of coffee. Then another. Ethan had found a copy of the Denver Post, and we each went through the headline section, then Denver & the West, then the entertainment section. We were about a quarter of the way through the crossword puzzle–the New York Times puzzle, no less–when I finally got the fateful call.
“One of the tires cracked loose from its seal,” the cheerful voice informed me, “but it looks like they all need to be replaced. Also, both the front and back brakes are worn out, the drive belt has some tears in it, and the battery started leaking acid all over its casing. That’ll of course need to be replaced, as will everything that got corroded.”
“Nnnngh,” I groaned.
“We don’t have an estimate on the tires yet,” the cheerful voice continued, “but the other repairs will total $956. Plus tax, of course.”
Ethan watched sympathetically as I audibly dropped my head to the table.
“One grand!” I shouted as Ethan guided me back up Havana, where the dealership would arrange for us to get a rental from Enterprise. “And that’s not even including the tires! I’m gonna need to sell this car to pay for its repairs!”
Ethan patted my back. “She’s four years old. We drove her a lot last year. You needed new tires anyway.”
Always reassuring, my boyfriend. I blame him for the stares we attracted as I wailed into his shoulder, attracting the stares of people waiting at the light.
The rental car, at least, got covered by the dealership. I was able to fork over $1550 and regain my car the next day. Not a moment too soon, as my other car, the one I had inherited from my mother and kept around mostly for sentimental reasons (and because it’s too old to fetch a decent price), needed to be moved out of my stepbrother’s garage. Since it had been in there for so long, it needed to be jumped.
I jumped it once and got it out of the garage and into the alley, where it died. I jumped it again and got it almost out onto the street. The third time, a combined team effort of my boyfriend, my stepbrother, and myself were able to get it moved to a parking spot along the street. That night, I joined AAA, which said they, like most health insurance companies, would not cover “preexisting conditions.” I resolved to wait two days before calling a tow truck.
Fortunately, the tow was free. Unfortunately, replacing the alternator and drive belt on this car would not be. “Second verse, same as the first!” I thought to myself as the mechanic totaled up the damage. $750.
“These cars better be fuckin’ indestructible!” I screamed to Ethan as I got off the phone.
“It could be worse,” he pointed out.
“Oh?” I said through gritted teeth.
“Yeah, remember how we took the cat to the vet yesterday? At least he didn’t need surgery!”
“Just two hundred dollars worth of diagnostic tests and pills,” I sighed, looking at the lovely scratches across my hands from where the cat dug his claws into me as I gave him said pills. He’ll need two a day for the rest of his life.
So I hope neither car needs replacement parts again for a good, long time. I also hope cars and cats can live well with only Ramen noodles as fuel, because such will be my lot in life for the next few months. We all know misery loves company.
It was our second day of hiking in a row. Today we were going to hike the eyebrow-raisingly named Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park.
“I hope we see some wildlife today,” Ethan said.
We turned to go to Moose Junction for some sandwiches. Cars were parked illegally, clogging up both shoulders, and a slew of out-of-towners hovered on the side of the road. I craned my neck and found the source of the commotion.
“There’s some wildlife for you,” I told Ethan, casually pointing to the moose grazing fifteen feet from the road. I chuckled. “A moose in Moose!”
“I’ve never seen a moose before,” Ethan said in awe. He declined my non-existent offer to park the car so he could join the crowd of gawkers, citing a pressing need to visit the restroom.
Sandwiches purchased and innards relieved, we bounced over a dirt road that might have contributed to my car’s $1600 tune-up (why, oh why, do they have to wait until they’re no longer under warranty to fizzle out?). After the longest mile imaginable, we reached the trailhead and geared up to go.
“Huh,” Ethan murmured, leafing through his backpack. “You have the bear spray?”
I snorted. “Sure do,” I said. “In Denver.”
“Oh,” he said, glancing nervously at the “Be Bear Aware” signs posted ominously throughout the parking lot.
“When was the last time you saw a bear on the trail?” I sighed, rolling my eyes.
“There was that one near the road two months ago. That wasn’t very far from here.”
“That was in the car, and he wasn’t on the road. You’re just letting all those menacing reports in the local paper get to you.” I shouldered my backpack and locked up the car. Ethan quietly did the same.
The trail wasn’t as steep as we’d been led to expect, at least not right away–my dad’s friend had told us that the first two miles of the trail were breathtaking in a literal sense–so Ethan blathered on for the first hundred feet. I nodded, paying the usual amount of attention I gave him, and scanned the trail ahead.
I thought I saw something moving just twenty feet ahead, but I shook my head. “Rubbish,” I said to myself, the inner monologue pleasantly drowning out my boyfriend. “That’s no bear, and you know it. Remember the last ‘bear’ you saw on a hiking trail?” Not two months earlier on a Yellowstone trail, I had rounded a switchback and stopped, nearly causing Ethan to slam into me.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
I took a deep breath, trying to gently point to the bear just off the side of the trail as I frantically tried to convince my bladder not to empty its contents. Then I took a second glance. It was a burned log with a couple of smaller branches atop it serving as the ears.
“I stubbed my toe,” I hastily explained, carrying on with an affected limp. I trotted away as quickly as I could so Ethan wouldn’t notice the little bit of urine that had escaped.
Since we’d just been talking about bears, I reasoned on the Death Canyon trail, obviously my mind was playing tricks. I took a determined two steps forward, coming around a slight curve, and stood shock still.
Ethan was blabbering on one pace behind me. I took a hasty step back and grabbed Ethan’s chest. “Bear,” I whispered.
He stopped talking and gawked. Sure enough, twenty feet ahead and right in the middle of the trail, a black bear leveled his gaze on us.
I raised my arms slowly above my head. “Make yourself look bigger,” I hissed to Ethan. “Avoid eye contact, and let’s just slowly back away.”
Ethan did as told, and we shuffled back three steps. I glanced up quickly each step to see if the bear was still watching. Each time, he was. The expression on his face seemed to say, “What are you two idiots doing here?”
I was wondering the same thing myself. I was also wondering if I could at least get a picture of him and post it to Facebook before he mauled us. Before I had the chance to slowly reach for my iPhone, however, he decided we were boring and bounded off into the woods.
Ethan and I looked at each other, shrugged, and kept going. Every time we passed someone going back the way we’d come, we’d exchange the usual hiker talk–“It’s a good, steep one, but it only took us two hours,” etc.–then I’d break into a huge grin.
“We came face-to-face with a bear less than a tenth of a mile from the parking lot!” I said cheerily. “Keep a lookout!”
And our fellow hikers, being generally as nuts as we are as evidenced by their already successfully ascents of something called Death Canyon, got a strange expression on their faces.
“I don’t know if we want to run into him or not,” they’d murmur, dreaming of Facebook posts of their own that would warrant innumerable exclamations of, “OMG!!!” “R u ok?!?!” and, “Scary!!!!!”
The only wildlife we saw on the rest of the trip included a few chipmunks and a Brit who was headed down as we were headed up the truly steep part. “Nahsty bit of work, isn’t it?” he asked sympathetically.
“Quite,” I couldn’t help but answer.
On the trip back, the moose was still in Moose, although it had moved to the other side of the bridge, and my bear spray remained in Denver. But at least my boyfriend could be satisfied that we had, indeed, seen much more wildlife than we had the day before.