22 Days of Solo Traveling: Days 2-5 Throwing away my itinerary!
So far my trip has already had a profound effect on me. The long days of driving, wandering the streets solo, and the nights alone in the wilderness have forced me to think long and hard about my life. Luckily for me I have realized good things.
Like I said in my last post I am a planner, I had a rough itinerary for this trip, I decided to abandon it on day two. My stay in Missoula was short, there was not enough going on there for me, so I left bright and early to head to the sleepy town of Cooke City, Montana. Cooke City has a whopping population of about 120 people year round, in the summer the population swells to 300 people.
To get to Cooke City from Missoula I had the pleasure of driving through a good junk of Yellowstone National Park. Words and even pictures cannot describe the breathtaking landscape. The massive mountains bursting out of the earth, stabbing into the blue sky above me, and the rolling hills that were covered with giant black buffalo. The escape from the city was something that I truly needed. Driving through Yellowstone during the day made me feel so small and insignificant. Everything was massive, from the sky, to the clouds, the animals and just the sheer space that Yellowstone took up. Seeing this beauty made me realize how fortunate I am to be able to take the time to see a place like this. The American tradition of packing up the car and hitting the road for a long stretch of time has become a thing of the past. If you can take one long vacation this year do it by car, you wont regret it. After about five and a half hours of twists and turns through the breath taking landscape I finally arrived, I made it to Cooke City.
Cooke City is a town that time seems to have forgotten, it sprawls about one city block. There are a few bars, a supply store, two or three little hotels and a gas station. Cooke City now serves as a snowmobiling mecca in the winter. Arriving here in October, the town was empty, most of the restaurants were closed for another few weeks. Cooke City was a popular gold mining town starting in the early 1870’s. The town was known as Shoo-fly until 1880 when it became known as Cooke City, MT. It was named after a mining investor named Jay Cooke Jr. He promised to use his considerable influence to bring the railroad through the top of Yellowstone Park from Gardiner. This single move would have made the mining much more profitable in the Cooke area. Congress soon put an end to the possibility and unfortunately, Cooke ran into financial difficulty and lost his bonded mining claims. The towns growth stopped soon there after.
My goal was to head to Lolo Pass campground, it is one of the most isolated campsites in Yellowstone. This trip is slowly making me want to avoid people and cities. The calmness and silence that nature provides me gives me a sense of peace that I am always searching for. When I pulled up to the Lolo Pass sign I made the left turn up the trail. This is where having a Honda Civic was not ideal. The road was very rocky, so my main worry was scraping the bottom of my car or getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, but this is an adventure so whatever happens happens!! Crawling along this winding rock/mud/dirt road at about 4-6 miles per hour became quite meditative. There was one thing to focus on, driving! No one could text me, call me or get in my way. It was just me and my car creeping along. Slowly any sign of mankind started to disappear in my rear view mirror. Like a wave it hits me that I am all alone, not a single soul for miles. If I get stuck here, it could be disastrous. After about 45 minutes of inching up the mountain I finally arrive at a spot that seems to be calling to me. A small opening overlooking Yellowstone, I was out in the open, just me.
Once I got out of the car I couldn’t help but to yell at the top of my lungs, again. My voice shattered the silence! My voice echoed right back to me, the simple joy of hearing my voice echo made me start laughing. Hearing your voice echo is something so simple, but living in the city you do not get to experience this simple joy. After yelling and hooting for a few minutes, I started to laugh. Soon my laughter soon turned to tears, which soon turned to balling my eyes out alone…
When I started my trip I knew at some point some held in emotions would come out, this was the time. As I sat on the front of my car crying, I realized that these tears were not of pain or sorrow, they were tears of joy. Finally I was doing what made me truly happy, going on this solo trip was something that I have always wanted to do. Sitting there alone I realized that I was fulfilling a promise that I made to myself. I promised myself to live the life I wanted, not being influenced by other peoples ideas. The tears didn’t stop they just kept on coming, as if a major dam broke in my mind. If you haven’t cried in a while let yourself go, and just let it all out. After crying for about 15 minutes, I went back to smiling. My body and mind were centered and together. My breathing became even, my heart rate dropped, everything is right in the world for Ben.
After I regained my composure it was time to setup my campsite. I like to think of myself as an outdoorsman… that thought vanished pretty quickly. After spending way longer than I should have setting up my tent it was time to build a fire. I have watched enough “Survivor Man”, I got this. I gathered a bunch of softball size rocks and dug a shallow pit. Gathering the rocks made me think of my childhood building rock walls with my brothers. Gathering the rocks, digging the hole, and finding logs was a blast to say the least. I LOVED IT! Now it was time to build the fire! I lit my fire starter balls and a couple of Fritto chips to get the fire started. FYI Frittos are amazing for starting fires, they hold their flames better than any match. That being said you probably shouldn’t eat them…EVER! Within minutes I had a nice little fire going.
Minutes later I no longer had a fire going… In my impatience to let the fire grow at a steady pace, I put to many logs on and it made the fire go out. Slowly I rebuilt the fire, this time I was mindful of the baby flames, I nurtured them with kindling and gently blowing on them. Once I slowed down and relaxed the fire became quite sizable. Which is a pretty good metaphor about how I live my life. When I relax and don’t force things to happen, things always work out better for me. Now that my fire was strong it was time to cook my dinner! I heated up some black bean soup in my little cooking pot over the fire. Sitting in front of the fire, that I had made has become the highlight of my trip so far. The hot soup tasted like a gourmet meal. I was covered in dirt and ash, I was exhausted… I haven’t felt so good in years.
After I finished eating my dinner, I wanted to collect more wood for my fire, so I went of to find some logs. Everything was wet from the afternoon rain, but being an avid “Survivor Man” fan, I remembered that inside of the log is usually dry. I found the mother load of logs, they were all soaked though, and I didn’t have an ax. Caveman Ben came out in full force! I grabbed my first of many logs and started to slam them on the ground, as if I was Thor yielding his mighty hammer. Sadly I am not Thor, the log didn’t break, it just sent vibrations throughout my hands. Back to the drawing board. I found the perfect rock near my tent! I started to slam the logs into the rock, bits and pieces of wood started to explode after every mighty swing! I proceeded to smash logs into this rock for about an hour! Screw the gym, give me a rock and some wood and I am all set. I was dripping with sweat, my hands were aching and my body was satisfied with the work that I had put in. I took all of the wood pieces and laid them around the fire to dry out.
It was now night time and I was ready to go to sleep, so I thought. I crawled into my sleeping bag aka my coffin, and instantly freaked out! My feet were trapped and I couldn’t move my arms, this was going to be a long night! As my heart rate raced from my claustrophobia of tight spaces, the temperature nose dived. It quickly went from 40 degrees to about 20! I was able to sleep briefly, I was awoken sharply to a bone chilling gust of wind. The rain cover on my tent was gone! The rain cover on a tent is vital to keeping you warm, it keeps the heat in the tent, Without this I was essential sleeping out in the open. Then something amazing happens, I looked up and saw the most beautiful sky I had ever seen! Being frozen left my mind for a few minutes. The sky was filled with the largest stars that I had ever seen, every inch of the sky was glimmering. They blanketed every inch of the sky. “Lucy in The Skies With Diamonds” came to mind, this was on a whole other level though. Once again the feeling of being small returned!
After my feeling of aww dissipated the cold snuck back into my sleeping bag! I became a human burrito, made up of multiple layers of clothing. I was wearing long johns, sweatpants, a sweatshirt, my winter jacket and a hat all while tucked into my sleeping bag which was zipped up around my face. Without that rain cover I was fighting a losing battle. After about 20 minutes of having all the warmth zapped out of my body, I threw in the towel. Fuck this!! I broke down my tent and put everything in my car! I was heading back to town!
When I arrived back in town, I realized that everything was closed for the night. It was about 3:30am and there was not a single soul to be found. On top of that I had no cell phone signal! I went on the hunt for an open wifi signal, after checking all 3 hotels and having no luck, I had a little bit of trepidation come over me for the first time. As I inched up the dark desolate street searching for wifi, a glimmer of hope popped up on my phone. Bear Claw Pub had an open signal!! Just as quickly as it popped up it was gone. I stopped my car, slowly I tiptoed backwards as if I was the Pink Panther n the direction of the signal. The barely there signal popped up! I was able to get directions to my next stop Salt Lake City Utah. My long drive was underway.
Driving through Yellowstone during the day was magical, at night is another story, it was terrifying! Animals were everywhere, darting across the road. There was not a single street light and the road was covered in fog from the many geyser’s that littered the roadside. I put my car into neutral and rolled through Yellowstone, my foot on the brake pedal for every second of the slow drive! The thought of hitting a deer or another large animal was in the front of my mind the entire time. After about 6 hours of white knocking my steering wheel I finally made it out of Montana and into Idaho, where I promptly passed out on the side of the road. I was awoken by a friendly highway patrol officer knocking on my window. We chatted for a while about my trip, and where I was headed, he directed me to an awesome rest stop up the road, where I fell asleep again.
After my much needed nap it was back to driving. A few hours later I finally arrived in Utah around 12pm. Driving through Idaho was torture, it was the most boring drive I have ever done. It was just flat farm land. Arriving in Utah was breathtaking, the giant mountains jutting up into the pink sky was a sight to be seen! Utah is one of the few places that I am visiting that I have a planned place to stay. Knowing that I had a warm couch in my future was awesome. One of my best friends Joe was letting me crash with him. Once I arrived at Joe’s house we gave each other a hug then soon reverted back to our college days together! We did what we do best, we ate a ton of food! Joe took me to “Vertical Diner” an all vegan diner that served up comfort food! We stuffed our faces to say the least, I had the “egg” sandwich with home fries, biscuits and fried brussel sprouts! Vegans this place is a must if you are in Salt Lake City!
Joe had to work for a good amount of time that I was in SLC, so I turned to my phone and went on “Tinder” to find an attractive girl to hangout with for the day. If you are unfamiliar with Tinder it is an app that locates single women within a set radius of you. You then swipe right for yes you find them cool or attractive and left for no. If you and a girl swipe right on each other you can then send text messages to each other. It is a great app for new cities! I was lucky enough to meet up with a very attractive 21 year old University of Utah girl named Jamie. We went to all of the coolest spots on Salt Lake city and Park City. One place that I highly recommend to my bibliophile friends is “Atticus Bookstore”. It is in the Sugar Hill neighborhood. Atticus is a small bookstore with the feel of what Seattle once was. It was warm and cozy, they made one of the best Matcha Teas I have ever had. Following Atticus Books we went to where they hold the “Sundance Film Festival” every year. This place was not my scene, it seemed better suited for an older very wealthy white couple who drives a Mercedes convertible. By this point we were both starving, so we headed to “Mazza” which is a fantastic middle eastern restaurant, another must for my vegan friends. Following dinner we parted ways.
The first few days of my journey have been nothing but amazing. Already I have met many great people, some of those meetings were bitter sweet. There was definitely a few very strong connections with the people I have met. It just makes me sad that they all don’t live in Seattle. Maybe my days in Seattle are numbered?
After a full day of hopping around SLC, it was time to plan my next leg of my adventure… Boulder Colorado!