Thanks very much for your sentiments of support. These were much appreciated this morning, when I woke up feeling like I’d been rammed by a truck while Ivy and Eliza unconcernedly began whining for breakfast.
Eliza is still whining now, but it is bedtime and I am attempting to distract myself by writing, with the hope that she will please lord FALL ASLEEP REALLY FREAKING SOON. Amen.
We’re camped in amazing Moab, Utah, where there is a ton to do and see and it currently reaches a hundred degrees by noon every day. We’ve only just arrived, and as you know it’s been an Ignominious Beginning, and there’s not much else to report yet (although Jeff and the boys hiked to a huge, gorgeous arch last night and had Fun With A Video Camera, plus on the way back to the car they got to see the light from their flashlights reflected in spiders’ eyes).
Anyway, I’m going to back up to Missoula, Montana, where I left off my travelogue nearly two months ago.
But first, in case you held the misconception that our family is on “Vacation,” I want to just mention that our family is NOT on “Vacation.” At all. In fact, I’m not sure what to call what we’re on (haha, I’m just GIVING that one to you!), but you can rest assured that it’s the exact opposite of a “break, holiday, recess, respite, rest, sabbatical, time off, furlough” and “a few days off.” What it IS, among other things, is an amazing opportunity to live our predominantly crazy lives in various amazing places, and within the craziness experience frequent wonderful, adventurous, and exploratory moments.
Just so we’re clear about (it not being a) “Vacation.”
(Also, apart from the week of the Matilsky family reunion, Jeff has been working full-time since June 1.)
After Missoula, we spent a wonderful two weeks in Billings, Montana, where we visited Wyeth and Donna and their daughter Parker. Jeff and Wyeth were college roommates, and as you might recall, a few years later they rode their bikes across the country together. Which is how I met both of them: http://lifeisapalindrome.com/book/chapter-14-jeff-and-wyeth
Back when Jeff and I were living in a house and barely traveled, we kind of lost touch with a lot of people, including Wyeth. In fact, he and Jeff hadn’t seen each other for ten years - since Ben and Parker were three years old!
So when we pulled up in Billings with our camper and four kids, and Wyeth and Donna stepped outside with their nearly-grown-up daughter, we had a lot to catch up on! Which we spent the next two weeks doing, over hectic dinners and chaotic bike rides and nostalgic slide shows and insane mini-golf games (just imagine Ivy and Eliza on a mini-golf course…or don’t), even a couple of guy-dates for the guys (during which - I heard afterward, although it’s hard to believe - Jeff and Wyeth conversed _without interruption_ for minutes on end!), plus a double-date during which all of us adults went out to dinner while the big kids watched the little ones.
Ivy doesn’t remember when she didn’t live in a camper and get to visit all sorts of wonderful friends and family just by walking out into “Ours New Campsite.” This was the day when she was getting to know Uncle Wyeth:
Ivy: Wat kid...is in wat car?
Ben: His name is 'Wyeth,' Ivy!
Ivy: Wat kid is Wyef?
Ben: He's an adult! Not a kid.
Ivy: Not a kid?
Eliza: He's an Aah-DOLT! Adolt!
Ivy: Wyef is....ah-dog?
Eliza: No, Ivy, he's an ah-dolt! Not a dog!
Me: Try, 'grown-up.’ Uncle Wyeth is a GROWN-UP.
Ivy: Wyef is...not a kid - he a grow-up?
Me: Yes! He's a grow-up, Ivy, definitely...
Billings is a cool place, with a gorgeous river, an amazing “rimrock” surrounding the city on two sides and adorned with a smooth bike path, and some great second-hand stores. :) Good thing we have such great friends there! We drove out of town tearfully, vowing not to let ten years pass before our next reunion.
Here are a few photos from our time in Big Sky Country: https://goo.gl/photos/iLSpA13gRjyYf6Y4A
And then we arrived in Thermopolis, Wyoming, where we pulled into an RV park with absurdly tiny sites, very clean bathrooms, fantastic proximity to the famous hot springs…and Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Terry with their camper, in an adjacent campsite! The best part was that this was only the beginning of five weeks together.
For five days, we spent every spare minute (which wasn’t always that many minutes, but that’s probably why god generally grants a person lots of them per lifetime), at Hot Springs State Park. We loved the commercial mineral pools, which also included fantastic water slides with the price of admission; we enjoyed the free public pools that exist only because of some long-ago and amazingly still-active native American treaty; we had a picnic dinner and walked around the boardwalk over mineral terraces; Jeff and I had a lunchtime date at the hot pools, Just Us; and Ben and Jem got to have an additional water-slide field trip with Grandma and Grandpa.
The hot springs were amazing, but we had destinations farther south. On Thursday we drove through the Wind River Canyon, climbed some mountain passes which both Jeff and I (separately) had ascended on our twenty-years-ago bike tour (except neither of us can remember the actual ride - good thing I wrote down the details! http://lifeisapalindrome.com/book/chapter-29-grand-tetons ), and then…
Wow oh wow oh WOWIE zowie, many poets greater than I have described the gorgeous mountains and the landscape surrounding Jackson Hole. (And sorry, Early Horny Male French Settlers, but “The Three Breasts” just does not even come close.) It is true that when you arrive in this unique valley, full of perfect forests and heavenward mountain peaks and amazing animals and glacial chasms and blue rivers and bluer-than-blue sky, you tend to get a lump in your throat. How can you ever look at the rest of the world in the same way again, after spending a bit of your life in Grand Teton National Park?
Even the volunteers who clean the campground bathrooms wax rapturous: “I clean toilets and I get to have a campsite HERE!” said an energetic lady with short hair, as she enthusiastically worked over the worn out old bathhouse. It’s clear that while the National Park Service is woefully underfunded (public visitation increases every single year, and has for decades, while the Park Service’s budget has shrunk, or remained stagnant, every year for decades), the land that is protected here inspires a great many people.
We camped for two weeks at Gros Ventre (say “grow vahnt”), a spacious, simple campground on a beautiful river bluff in the southern part of Grand Teton Park. Jeff was working every weekday, but since we had no cell service in the campground, he commuted to the nearby visitor center - a bit of a hike, but what amazing views from his mobile office!
During our time at Gros Ventre, we had lots of dinners with Grandma and Grandpa (a nice rocky path connected our two campsites, so Ivy could run back and forth to visit “Grandpa and Grandpa” every day), I took the kids on a gorgeous and challenging hike (more on that later), Jeff and I took the older kids to Teton Village (with movie tickets and not-bringing-Ivy curtesy of “Grandpa and Grandpa”) and took the tram Really Far up the mountain to admire the views, Dad brought me to a fantastic harpsichord concert at the Teton Village Music Festival, Mom and I had a few Mother-Daughter dates to obtain supplies in Jackson, we all stuck our toes in the roaring and frigidly cold river - and we all, in various permutations, rode our bicycles along the beautifully flat and wildly scenic bike paths and dirt roads which make Jackson Hole a fabulous spot to pedal. For Jem’s tenth birthday, we braved the madding crowds and went to Jenny Lake, and by switching off as van-driver and small-child-watcher, Jeff and I each got half of the bike ride while Ben and Jem rode the entire thirty miles.
To Be Continued…