Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Write of Passage - Day 5

August 6, 2009: Battle Mountain, NE to Crescent City, CA (545 miles)

"...Take what you've learned so far and broaden it. Be a good listener. Be a good friend. But don't let people use you.....Don't forget where you came from and who you are. And remember, we all love you very much."
~Aunt Sis, Write of Passage letter, August 2009

We drove from Nevada to Oregon to California today, taking more back roads, dotted with more small and spaced-out towns. The landscape eventually began to change, but it took driving all the way through the rest of Nevada to finally see it. The sagebrush and
rocky desert continued well after we left Battle Mountain. We headed North on Highway 95, leaving civilization behind us for the better part of the day. Actually, since Cote's cell phone had no reception out here, it was road signs that became our only link to the "outside" world. We had Smokey the Bear who told us that there was a "very high" fire danger, and a yellow caution sign that warned us to watch for wild donkey crossings. (Which, lo and behold, happened to come in handy!). There was a huge black and white metal sign stating our duty to report any highway shootings we may witness while traveling the open frontier, and another sign graciously noting that it would be over 80 miles before we saw another gas station. (Yes, I heeded that one, thank you very much!).
There were signs warning against falling rock, snow zones, steep downgrades, and much more. Cote was so intrigued by all these captions, she became a "road-sign junkie," snapping pictures of every one,
digitally immortalizing them forever. There were no farms, no homes, no nothing else to really see out here. We were just a mother and daughter, on a journey, looking for signs....
Way out in the middle of nowhere, we turned off Highway 95 and took Route 140 west. This road would eventually cross us over the Oregon border, but we still had plenty of ground to cover (more than 100 miles). Occasionally, a mountain of rock would pop up,
and we'd have to trek up one side of it and back down the other, curving precariously at times as the road narrowed to a tight two lanes.
Finally Oregon arrived, and with it came a few farms, a few cattle, and a few fields. Not many. Just one here, and several miles later, another one there. But it broke up the landscape, and it gave us something to point at. Oregon also brought something else, though. A wicked thunderstorm. Somewhere out in the middle of this wide open space, a terrible storm blew in. Our car was engulfed by a sheet of rain so dense, we couldn't see past the windshield. Our wipers flew back and forth at top speed, but did no good. A grey curtain had been pulled down all around us.
There was no place to run, no place to hide, nothing we could do to stop it.
That was when the hail hit. I couldn't believe my eyes and ears. Hard packed, dime-size snowballs, pelted our roof and hood. But again, there was absolutely no place to take cover. The sound was deafening and made me sick to my stomach. All I could imagine were thousands of tiny pock marks being indented all over the black paint of our less-than-one-year-old Ford Edge. I pulled over to the side of the road, hoping that by sitting still the
pelting would be less intense. I wanted to cry, but Cote wouldn't let me. In a crazy "Freaky Friday" kind of moment, she took on the role of adult, while her mother sat curled up and sniveling in the driver's seat.
"Mom, it's ok," she soothed. "It's just a car, it can be fixed. There's nothing we can do about it, so just let it go. Everything will be alright."
Of course, she was right. So I stopped my whining, but kept my eyes shut.
She, on the other hand, picked up her camera and took more pictures.....
The storm finally passed, and when I reopened my eyes, I felt like Dorothy stepping into Oz. Everything around us had new color, new life. The air was fresh, clean. The dry, brittle, dusty feel of the past several days was gone. We put the car in gear, and drove on. As we did, the color green grew stronger and bolder before our eyes. Oregon had fields of grass and groves of pine. Trees. Beautiful, green, and soul-pleasing trees. They started out small, almost inconspicuous at first, but grew taller and fuller the farther we drove in. There was a renewed sense of hope here, a deeper shade of life. Yes, we had to weather a storm to reach it, breathe it, feel it. But sometimes isn't that the way life is?
The miles passed, and California closed in, as more green foliage closed up the sides of the roads. Gone were the wide open spaces. Now we were cocooned inside the safety of the trees, nestled in the arms of their outstretched limbs. The coast was somewhere just beyond the next towering pine. We couldn't see it yet, but we knew we weren't far. The air had a distinct smell, fresh, powerful. The ocean breeze was faint, but growing stronger. Night was drawing
near by the time we finally crossed the California border. Looking at the map, we had only about 50 miles to go before we reached Crescent City, but Highway 199 was a road full of twists, turns, and pull-offs, which allowed faster moving traffic to pass. A foggy mist had settled in, followed by a light drizzly rain, making the drive even slower for those of us unfamiliar with the territory. It was painstaking. Cote and I knew just beyond the next curve, the next tree, the ocean was patiently waiting for us. Yet every mile we logged seemed like ten. We were tired, exhausted, anxious with anticipation.
Finally Highway 199 ended, and 101 was there to welcome us. The fog still loomed along the edges of Crescent City, but we were thankful to be here, as we pulled into the first motel we could find, a Best Western. I went in, asked for a room, and was told they were booked solid. What??! No!! I returned to the car, and told Cote to start praying. She had been talking with Hannah on the phone, so she petitioned her sister to do likewise. The Best Western people told me our only hope for a room would be the Hampton Inn, down the road. The one sitting right on the water's edge, with the beautiful ocean view. I could only imagine the cost. But we had finally arrived at the coast. Cote and I had driven over 2300 miles to get here, and had done so with minimal amount of spending. I was ready to pay full price, if need be.
One thing I had learned back in Steamboat Springs, CO, however, was that hotel prices could be negotiated. I'll share that story some other time, but suffice it to say, after being successful in Steamboat, I was wondering how I could fair in Crescent. I walked up to the counter and was greeted by the manager. Or at least I assumed he was the manager. He looked the part, anyway. He had also just separated himself from the younger "manager-wannabe-looking" guy stationed further down the check-in counter, who was helping someone else book a room.
"Good evening, may I help you," my guy asked.
"Yes, do you have a room available?"
"Only a few left tonight, but we do have one on the third floor, with a balcony over-looking the ocean."
"Uh, huh. And how much does that one run?"
"Well, our regular rate would be......." He wrote the figure on a small piece of paper and then slid it over for me to see. $259.(!) My heart hiccuped. "But, I can discount it for you tonight, and let you have it for......" Again he scribbled. $159.
Of course, this figure had me breathing again. But still I wondered....if my guy is being so secretive, what exactly does this mean? Am I supposed to counter-offer? Is he expecting me to?
I smiled, and asked what amenities his hotel offered.
"A full hot continental breakfast, of course. Use of all the facilities, free wi-fi, etc."
I did my best to look both pleased, but also slightly unsure.
"Oh....hmmm.....you know.....my daughter and I just drove all the way from Michigan to see the Pacific coast. It's been a really long haul. You don't by chance, have a special Michigan-rate, do you?"
Then I smiled as sweetly as my tired face would allow.
"Well, I suppose for our guests from Michigan, I could let you have it for....."
Scribble, scribble.....$139.
Of course, I grabbed it. Yes, it was only another $20 discount, but hey, it paid the taxes.
The room was gorgeous, the view would surely be spectacular by morning. (It was still foggy and overcast). It didn't matter that we couldn't enjoy it tonight. By the time Cote and I dropped our backpacks, we were ready to call it a day. I did, however, have to return to the lobby about 20 minutes after we checked in. As I passed through, I just happened to over-hear "manager-boy-in-training" tell a new arrival he was sorry, but the hotel was completely booked for the night. So, it was true. We did get one of the very last rooms at the Inn. Our prayers had been heard and answered. I had a quiet feeling, though, that this had been part of some master plan all along. That Cote and I ended up right where we were supposed to be. Something told me, come morning, we would open our eyes to this vast ocean before us.....and see just how far we'd come......and realize just how endless life's possibilities would always be.

P/S.....for those who may be wondering.....our car was just fine. Not a mark on it!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Write of Passage - Day 4

August 5, 2009: Steamboat Springs, CO to Battle Mountain, Nevada (664 miles)

"You know, the Wise Men also traveled west...
~Peter T., email of encouragement, sent August 2009

I was awakened at 2:00 a.m., by the sound of typing. The clicking noise was distinct even though I was submerged in total darkness. For a moment I couldn't remember where I was, but that wasn't the immediate question spark-knocking inside my brain. Instead, I was wondering....."What in the world is she doing texting at this hour?"
"Are you texting?"
"What are you doing?"
"Are you calling someone?"
"Then why are you awake?"
"I'm looking at a map Kwaku's son sent me."
"So you're on your computer."
"You're lying....how can you be looking at a map, if you're not on your computer?"
"What are you talking about?"
This was when it hit me.....Cote was talking in her sleep! I was having a full-blown argument with someone who wasn't even semi-awake. What threw me on the defense so quickly was her immediate response to the very first question (accusation?) I threw at her. Cote practically sat straight up in bed, and barked a clear, precise answer. I thought for sure she was trying to "hide" some kind of electronic activity under cover of darkness and blankets. For almost 30 seconds, she kept pace with me, answering every question I catapulted her way. And yet she was totally and completely oblivious to the entire exchange taking place.
Unfortunately, about the same time I realized she had been sleeping, Cote became fully awake. And in that moment, the only thing she remembered was me calling her a "liar." Which technically wasn't true.....I said she was ly-ing. I didn't say she was a li-ar. Which is a huge difference. But not at 2 am, it seems. Cote was ready to do battle, her honor was at stake. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep and put the whole misunderstanding behind us.
"I'm sorry, go back to sleep."
"No! You called me a liar."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did."
"Cote, I heard a noise and I thought you were texting. But you were sleeping, and then talking in your sleep. So, just go back to bed."
"No! You called me a liar."
So begins Day 4 ......
Both of us eventually cooled down enough to fall back asleep, but the incident was far from being over. I knew it had only been postponed until morning light.
When the sun did break through the crack in our curtains, I got up and readied myself, letting Cote sleep a few extra minutes. I thought giving her this little "peace offering" would lift her mood and help smooth over our midnight mayhem. No such luck. When Cote crawled out from beneath the covers, I could tell she was still very much put out with me. What's more, given the nature of our "fake" argument, I think we both had to admit that a few unresolved "text-messaging/facebooking" issues still lingered between us.
I'll say one thing for small motel rooms.....there's no place to hide. We were forced to face each other over the next 20 minutes. We brushed past each other as we moved to brush our teeth. We exchanged silent glances while we silently packed our bags. Finally, it became just too much for the both of us. I don't remember who offered the olive branch first, but it was finally extended, accepted, and reciprocated. Cote and I sat down and talked about why we said what we said, why we felt what we felt, and how bizarre it was to have such disagreement in the middle of the night. By the time we were ready to check out, we were laughing at ourselves and each other. We were ready to move on.
And move on we did! We left Steamboat Springs by 9 am, (Mountain Time), and logged almost 700 miles before the end of the day! We skipped the jaunt north to catch the faster-moving I-80, and stayed instead on the lonely, quiet Highway 40. This back road was a long stretch of really not much. We saw some beautiful red foothills and a few very small towns, but really nothing more. It was rare for us to even meet another car.
We passed Hayden and Maybell, Elk Springs and Dinosaur (yes, that's right). Itty-bitty blips on the map that hardly registered any kind of arrival or departure. Cote and I stopped only once, somewhere out there in the middle of nowhere, to buy a stick of beef jerky and a frozen Snickers ice cream bar from a lone standing convenience store. We kept moving towards Salt Lake City and civilization. We didn't dismiss the passing landscape, though. Cote and I were still first-time explorers in all of this. We took note of every rock, tree, bush, and blue horizon. Even a desolate route such as Highway 40 held its own kind of beauty, hopes, possibilities. We were mindful not to take a single mile for granted.
Around 1:00 we passed a sign for Park City, Utah. Having been to this little storybook town myself several years ago, I made a quick decision to take the exit and take Cote. I told her about the quaint, mountainside village full of unique shops and one-of-a-kind boutiques. It would be fun to check out together, and it would do us good to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. We pulled into town, and snagged one of the last available parking spots at the top of the hill. Opening our car doors, we were slammed by 100 degree heat, shocking our well air-conditioned bodies. Who was it again that thought we needed this air?
Despite the overwhelming temps, we decided to browse a bit. After passing a few store-fronts, however, it soon became obvious that we were not in the mood to shop. Something about all the excessive "materialization" in front of us contradicted the simple "rite of passage journey" taking place inside of us. Nevertheless, we looked through a few more windows, we stretched our road-weary legs.
We decided we couldn't resist one particular Native American Art/Jewelry store. The open doorway was warm and inviting, the pieces on display were utterly stunning. We stepped inside, taking in the beauty that surrounded us. An older, grey-haired gentleman (the owner?) stood oddly silent behind the counter, so Cote and I offered easy smiles as a way to introduce ourselves. His face didn't flinch an inch. A bit puzzled, (wasn't he happy to have company in the form of potential customers?)....we continued to browse the first floor of his establishment. It didn't take long to realize why his measure of welcome was so meager. The bracelet sparkling in the glass case I was leaning over cost $400. The picture that caught Cote's eye, was signed by the artist and price-tagged at $2,500. As we walked over to the stairwell leading up to the second floor, a large, hand-woven rug hung from the banister, with a price tag reading "$5,000" and sign next to it that said, "Do Not Touch."
Of course by then, we knew what the shopkeeper was thinking, and he was pretty much right. But without missing a beat, Cote and I raised a hidden eyebrow to each other, and let the games begin. We talked about how beautiful this item was, and how great that one would look in our living room. We moseyed upstairs, fingering trinkets left and right, and commenting on how extraordinary they were. We reached the top landing and turned to each other in disbelief and disgust by the owner's judgemental behavior. Yes, we were dressed in t-shirts and cargo shorts. No, we weren't going to buy anything here. But did we really deserve this type of treatment? Cote and I were just about to start verbally spewing our thoughts, when we heard his footsteps climbing the stairs below. What in the world??!!
He came to the top of the landing, crossed his arms over his chest, and spoke not a word. He didn't have to. His body language said it all......"please leave." So we did. Not in a rush, but at our own sweet pace. We continued our pleasantries and headed casually back downstairs, drifting out the door. Once we were on the sidewalk, Cote and I let it rip! We tore this guy's attitude apart limb by limb. We unleashed the anger bottled up inside of us over his rudeness, and stomped across the street to Cows, a highly regarded ice cream shop. Nothing like some frozen dairy to cool down a couple of hot-tempered women! (To this day, we kick ourselves for not telling that man exactly what we thought of his behavior. Why didn't we, we wondered later. What were we afraid of?)
Thankfully, the salesgirl behind the counter at Cows was as sweet as the treat she was scooping up for us. She even complemented Cote on her "fork" bracelet*, finding it totally unique and different from anything she had ever seen. We told her she could make one herself, at a cost of less than a dollar, which was a much better deal then the prices being charged across the street. We thanked her for her hospitality, collected our cones, and headed for the car. Within minutes, we put this "storybook" town behind us, and had another chapter in our own book to write......this time entitled, "Be Careful How You Treat People...Or You Might Just Find Yourself Blogged."
From Park City, we drove straight through Salt Lake City, without even stopping. The expressway was crazy, the traffic intense. But the mountains were gorgeous in the full afternoon sun. I couldn't tear my eyes away from them, even when all that was left was their reflection in my rearview mirror. As the city faded away, we noticed dirt-crusted white stuff edging both sides of the highway. Salt. The beginning of the Great Salt Desert was upon us, only to be honest, Cote and I had no clue what we were in for. Mile after mile we drove on, as the white stuff began to spread farther and farther into the distance, and become whiter and whiter. We kept going, trying to focus most of our attention on the Nevada border and the Pacific Time Zone. (Where we would gain another hour of driving time). Nevertheless, the salt grew more and more intriguing to us. What did it feel like, we wondered? Was it hard? Compact? Or sprinkled and loose? If we stepped out on it, would our feet sink in, or would its coarseness scrape our soles? Finally, with only 20 miles left of Utah to travel, I turned to Cote and said, "Let's pull off at the next spot available, and see what this stuff's like for real."
Of course, Cote was more than ready. Right then, a "rest stop" came into view. Little did we know, however, that we were actually pulling into the Bonneville Salt Flats, the place famous for the world land-speed record runs.
The salt was amazing. Hard-packed, and rock-solid. The first thing we did was taste it, finding its flavor so
intense, our tongues curled on contact. Then we took our shoes off, and walked gingerly around on the vast sea of salt, the roughness of the surface prickling the bottoms of our feet. Finally, we tried to scoop some up to bring home with us, but that wasn't so easy. The salt was packed so tight, we had to use the metal cup from our thermos to scrape the top layer loose. We snapped some fun pictures of each other, wrote our names with the few rocks to be found, and then washed up and returned to the highway.
It was late afternoon, and we still had over 200 miles to go.
By nightfall, we had made it to Battle Mountain, Nevada, about 1/2 way across this state. It was only Wednesday, and it was crazy to think we'd been gone from home only four short days, and yet we'd traveled so far. I was getting excited about seeing the coast, and a bit nervous about climbing the trees. After spending yesterday in the Rockies, I realized how anxious I became every time Cote leaned over a guardrail for a better view or stepped to the very edge of a look-out point. How in the world was I going to handle watching her climb 200 feet up a tree? This dream of ours was drawing closer by the minute. Come Saturday there would be nothing left standing between us and making it come true. Now really wasn't the time to start questioning what we were about to do. But I couldn't help myself. Minuscules of self-doubt were creeping in. Was I being an irresponsible parent in this whole undertaking? Or was I helping my daughter to live fully, and to see beauty in the world, from different angles and new perspectives. I said a prayer that the answer would lie with the latter, and turned out the light...letting faith take over from there.

*Cote's fork bracelet is really made from a fork. She had it bent to fit around her wrist, and wears it with the tines facing on top. She wears it most every day, along with many other braided and beaded ones. It's actually very cool looking....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Write of Passage - Day 3

August 4, 2009: Sydney, NE to Steamboat Springs, CO (323 miles)


"This is a view to which nothing needs to be added...This scenery satisfies my soul."
~ Isabella Bird, 1879
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

Isabella was right...the Rockies lack absolutely nothing. Oh, how my soul was satisfied today! Every minute, every vista...unbelievable. While this was Cote's first trip to the Rockies, it's actually my second. My parents brought me here when I was 12, some thirty years ago. As a young girl, I remember being blown away by the sheer size of the mountains....but today, as an adult, it was their unmeasurable beauty that captivated me. This place is simply indescribable. In fact, I'm anxious about even attempting to write today's journal entry, as there are no words powerful enough in the english language to describe what we saw. These mountains are majestic, monstrous, and magnificent. See? That's the best I can do, and yet I still fall so far short....
Cote and I started our day by checking out the small town of Sydney before getting back on I-80. Since the motel we had chosen last night was nestled right next to the very first Cabela's ever built, Cote insisted that we go inside. (She wanted to compare this outdoor retail giant with the newer version back home.) Once again, the excitement level for me was struggling to reach "root canal" on the meter reader. But it was 8 a.m., Cote's face was full of adventure, and she was ready to seize the day. We pulled up and went inside.
The place was a let-down, in both size and swagger. There was no towering mountain teeming with taxidermy, no bubbling brook trickling with trout. Just a few racks of clothes, some odd and ends in outdoor gear, and a couple second-rate stuffed animals. Cote's enthusiasm could not be curbed, however. She quickly explored the store, snapped a few shots, and even found herself hamming it up with Mighty Joe-Handsome, who just happened to be lounging in a floor model hammock.
By 9:30 we managed to route ourselves back to the highway, and head towards Cheyenne,Wyoming. According to the map, we had a decent stretch of time before we reached the Rockies, so I decided to unpack one of the questions I had brought along with me on this trip. Just a few weeks ago, Cote had broken off the 15-month relationship she had had with her high school boyfriend. The breakup wasn't easy, but Cote knew it was necessary. The fit hadn't been right, the differences between the two had been apparent for some time. Nevertheless, she was still healing and still letting go.
Although I knew Cote was ready to move on, and she knew I totally supported her decision, I didn't want her to miss any life lesson in all of this either. It was possible, in her rush to put the past behind her, that she might dismiss the relationship without so much as a backward glance. Or worse, come to think of the past year as a huge "waste" of time. I didn't want that to happen. In every relationship, no matter how long it lasts, there is something brought out, brought up, or brought to your life. It may be a quick jolt of laughter, or a long term commitment. A new outlook, or a new look within. The relationship may change the compass settings of your life, or brush the fog from your view, making your path that much clearer. Over the past 15 months, this relationship had planted seeds of growth and maturity for Cote. I didn't want the sprouts to become raked over and buried under mounds of muck and mud.
So I composed my question carefully. I turned to her and asked....."Cote, knowing what you know now.....what will you look for in your next relationship? What are some of the qualities you liked about "M" and what are some that were missing for you?" The question opened up a flood of conversation, sprinkling water on the soil of her past year. It also revealed a few stray weeds, which we plucked from the ground together. We talked about the good, and the not so good, the obstacles, and the break-throughs. What she learned, what she liked, what she would repeat, and what she would leave behind.
As our heart-to-heart grew deeper, the mountains in the distance grew closer. Before we knew it, we had turned south on Highway 25 at Cheyenne and crossed over the Colorado border. We were headed for Trail Ridge Road, one of the more scenic routes in the Rocky Mountain National Forest. (or so I had read in one of the many brochures that had littered my bed last night.) We had a day to play in the Rockies, we wanted to make the most of it.
As we entered Estes Park, on the outskirts of RMNF, I was overcome with childhood memories. The mountains before me sparked scenes in my mind from 30 years ago. All of a sudden, I had the urge to call my dad back home. I pulled over to the side of the road, right in front of this Welcome to Estes Park sign, with the Rockies looming large behind
it. I dialed his number, and after a few quick rings, his voice came on the line. I immediately said, "Dad, guess where I am." Somehow, (to this day I still don't how), he knew and guessed correctly. Then he started reminiscing, pulling his own memories out for me to see while I sat there in the Colorado sunshine. Suddenly it was 1978 and I was 12 years old again.
"Let's see, if you're just outside of Estes Park, that means you drove through Big Thompson Pass. I remember you kids throwing snowballs at each other when we stopped at the Continental Divide, and then you got sick. Do you remember that? How we had to take you to the hospital in Denver?" He talked about Pike's Peak, Grand Lake, and how if he could, he would do it all again someday. He told Cote and me to enjoy ourselves, to see as much as possible, and drive safely. And that he loved us.
My Dad. My lifeline to days gone by...
From here on out, the day was wild! We drove up Trail Ridge Road, and stopped at every lookout we could find. We hiked, we climbed, we snapped picture after picture. Not one, however, came close to capturing the magnitude of beauty before us. Cote explored every inch, sometimes right out to what seemed like the very edge. We discovered hidden lakes, and encountered hillside elk. We drove to the highest point (12,183') and back down again, oohing and ahhing at every vista. (Side note: the whole way I was secretly praying that we wouldn't run out of gas....I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't because I wasn't paying attention this time. I actually thought we would have plenty of fuel to cover the 50+ mile stretch of Trail Ridge Road, but once the car started climbing these incredible mountains, the gauge started dipping...drastically! Come to find out, there is not one gas station to be found inside the RMNF. Who knew?? But eventually we reached the other end, and at Grand Lake we fumed our way in to the one and only filling station around.)
We played in the Rockies until well past 5 pm. (We even brought two huge fallen chunks home with us.) But like I said earlier, trying to describe it all would be impossible. So I think I'll stop right here, and let the pictures below do the rest. Let me just close out today's entry by saying we took the very winding, very lonely, Highway 40 west out of the RMNF, heading towards Steamboat Springs, to spend the night. It took us almost 3 hours to reach our destination, and it felt like we had driven hundreds of miles. Yet according to our map, we hardly moved an inch. We'll have plenty of driving to make up tomorrow, but I wouldn't change a minute of today.

Powerful Words

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable. ~Kahlil Gibran