Travel journal: the unexpected, Part I

Town of six buildings includes a coffee barn

To sum up my vacation: bears and bars.

The dichotomy of obsessing about grizzly bears and full Internet connection on the same trip is puzzling even to me.

Let me explain. I had in mind a somewhat outdoorsy trip. I wanted to do some challenging hiking and climbing, but I also knew that with a five-year-old in tow I was not going backcountry camping. So, I left the tent at home and instead hauled my laptop computer and digital camera along so that I could post daily. (I don’t know what made me think I’d post more while on vacation than I do at home.)

The plan died a quick death. Immediately outside Wisconsin, I began experiencing spotty service. When we arrived in southwest Montana, it became clear there would be no Internet unless I was willing to make an effort to find it. Phone service? Forget it. So much for the mighty Android on Verizon. No bars for this girl.

Feeling like a pouty baby who lost her binky, I wondered when connectivity became a vacation priority. For a while, I let my disappointment and frustration cloud the treasures laid out before me. I realized I’d once again become disconnected from nature. My online world threatened to dominate my life.  And damn is it hard to shake that monkey off your back. (Later into the vacation during a mountain climb, I almost lost my footing on algae-slicked log stretched across a rushing stream. I didn’t think about hypothermia or broken bones or a bruised ego that would follow a spill, I thought about my camera and phone tucked in my daypack and what would I do if they got wet.)

Here we were in this rugged canyon a few miles outside national forest north of Yellowstone National Park. While the cabin had modern amenities such as a dishwasher and a laundry room, only the log walls and metal roof separated us from true wilderness. Hike a small distance outside the door and find mountain lion tracks and animal bones. Signs and notices beg us to remember we are in grizzly country. On the kitchen counter, nestled with the salt and pepper and sugar, is a large canister of bear spray. (More on this in the next post.)

Here we are for a week in what we called a cabin; the proprietors market it as a retreat. After discovering a little wooden buddha carved from a log and perched amid the landscaping, I knew I had to honor the sentiment. I was on a retreat. I took my morning coffee alone on the wooden deck overlooking the valley.  I attempted to memorize the zigzag horizon carved by rock and pine. I inhaled the stiff breeze infused with sage, juniper, and ponderosa pine. I listened to the sighs and whistles of wind sliding past limbs and leaves, the mechanical whirr of the unseen humming birds, the roar and gush of the river below.  I sat in the perfect balance and harmony of the world.

I read two books.

I napped by the side of a snowmelt lake.

I scribbled in my paper journal.

I climbed scrubby, rocky mountain sides, my heart racing for signs of wildlife.

Unless we ventured into the valley, we saw no one else. When we did explore, rarely did I see anyone with their attention and energy directed toward a little screen. Folks were casting fly rods, paddling kayaks, hefting backpacks, pedaling mountain bikes, adjusting lenses on cameras, working with horses or cattle on their ranch, or just relaxing. They were living in the now.

I paid attention to that. I pondered this unnameable “thing” that draws me to this part of the country, that opens something inside me that is fused shut most of the time. My mind assembled a scrapbook of images: well-muscled bodies, beautifully weathered natural faces, an ethos of survival and practicality, a need to live on the edge, an understanding that nature is a powerful force, one that you cannot outwit or outrun.

Just when I felt this “thing” infuse every cell in my body, when I was truly a transformed person, we moved on to Wyoming and Colorado. I gained a strong, clear signal. The door to my online world opened, beckoning me to return. The more platforms I opened, the more I realized how one week can set you behind, how easy it is to slip into the endless stream of other people’s minutia. I felt the anxiety boiling inside. I closed the laptop, grabbed a blanket, and huddled outside under a dome of sparkling black. I counted shooting stars.

The Internet is as vast as the universe above. Why does one soothe while the other agitate?

Much of my anxiety stems from too much online and not enough outside. Oh, and then there’s the need for thrills and drama. What of that?

More in the next post.

 

2 thoughts on “Travel journal: the unexpected, Part I

  1. I get very angsty when I’m not in a service area [and with AT&T, that’s pretty much everywhere]. Panicky, even.

    I need to get over that fear of unplugging.

  2. Suniverse: I know what you mean. I felt that, too. I had the idea that we were not safe because we had no phone service. Every other time we’ve visited we’ve done without phone and Internet. Makes you wonder how our predecessors got through life. On the other hand, a phone is no match for a growling grizzly bear.

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