It’s rare to be able to find the time these days to be able to take a step back and reflect upon where you are and where you want to be. To me, traveling to the wilderness has always been the most effective way to accomplish this goal.
Recently, I made the move with my wonderful girlfriend from Milwaukee, WI to our new home in Portland, OR. This provided the greatest opportunity to see parts of the United States that we had only heard of in books growing up. Places that seemed to be at a distance unable to be reached at any point in our lives.
We started by hunkering down in the car for a good long stretch of road and were able to make it to a very, very, small town in South Dakota from our starting point in Milwaukee, WI. Being that we wanted to try and save our money for more adventurous portions of the trip we opted to sleep in the car for the night. This provided me with absolutely zero comfort and only about 2 or 3 hours of semi-sleep before it was back on the road with the morning fog on the windshield.
Eventually making it to a portion of land known as The Badlands we were amazed at the incredible canyons and spires throughout the landscape that seemed to appear out of thin air amidst the endless plains surrounding it. We felt somewhat at home here due to it’s similarity with the Moab area of Utah (me and my girlfriends first long trip together).
Having traveled around the park for the better portion of the day we set off to find a camping spot a few miles off of the highway on a completely dirt road. It was at this point that we realized what the climate of this area consists of; blistering heat despite the time of year with absolutely zero shade for comfort. After pausing to get our bearings we made the decision to make the push to The Black Hills in search of a more comfortable sleeping arrangement.
After visiting the gravesite out Wounded Knee, and getting a short history lesson from a local Lakota teacher, we made our way through the poorest reservation in the entire United States. If you never left the road you would have never known this fact simply due to the absolutely amazing scenery as you continue onward. Beautiful rolling hills filled with endless trees and meadows as we chased the sun in the westward direction. Buffalo abound.
Upon finishing our short stint in The Black Hills we continued on our journey West. Pulling out our trusty guide to scenic byways the decision was made to take the Beartooth Highway into Yellowstone as it promised views of sheer cliffs for miles. But no trip can be considered an adventure until something goes wrong. At some point during our leg through the mountains of Wyoming our car leaked out the entirety of it’s transmission fluid leaving us stranded. After getting towed 60+ miles out of the mountains and spending a night worrying about whether or not our vehicle would be proclaimed dead we were finally back on the road. Because of the long stop we ended up coming into a large storm front and thus were forced to travel the majestic Beartooth Highway in almost complete and total fog; not being able to see any more than a cars length off of the edge of several hundred foot cliffs for the length of the road.
What started as a downward spiral in this portion of the trip quickly turned into a blessing as the weather passed and we made our way into Yellowstone. What we saw as some of the most beautiful land proved to only get better when we veered south to catch a glimpse of the The Grand Tetons. Finding what was the only campsite left for the season we quickly set up our tent and went on to explore our surroundings. Pulling off the road we were so lucky as to catch a glimpse of the sun shining magnificently through the cloud covered peaks as darkness began to set on the earth for yet another night. Until daylight we would sleep to the bugles of elk throughout the countryside. This mountain range, to date, is probably the single most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed with my own two eyes.
After seeing our first moose, who seemed to be having a great time to himself off of the side of a highway and ignoring all those around him, we made another hard push through the night in order to make it to Crater Lake. I wish we had been able to see more of the high desert of Oregon as these landscapes have always intrigued me being that I grew up in the lush hills of Wisconsin. Not in the cards this time. What we were greeted with, however, was the glowing shine of the sun as it rose above the lake just as quietly and majestically as it had gone down behind the Teton Range.
Staying at Crater Lake for several days we got to truly experience the awe that is the deepest lake in the United States which boasts rocks older than time itself. However, we needed to continue on our journey and thus made our way through the Umpqua National Forest and followed a river throughout the southern portion of Oregon. Before hitting the coast we took a quick stop to experience our first waterfall of the trip and leaves as big as our heads.
The next morning we woke up on the coast and proceeded to head north utilizing our scenic byways guide, once again, to experience some of the best views the Pacific Ocean and the state of Oregon conspired to create.
By the end of the two-week trip we had covered over 3,000 miles. We made our way through plains, hills, canyons, forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, and many, many roads. Visited several national parks including The Badlands, Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, and Crater Lake. We passed through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. And saw animals from squirrels, to chipmunks, to elk, to moose, to pronghorn, and everything in between. Upon completion our car had broken down once, we had been through many nights in different motels and campsites, stashed away our food in multiple bear-proof containers, hiked countless miles on a multitude of different trails and saw our fair share of crazy weather.
What did we get out of this experience? The renewed sense that the wilderness continues to be the most effective way to reflect on life, actions, and how these things affect the rest of the world around us. It also helped me to see that despite the vast differences among the land, and the people and animals that inhabit it, that we are not as different as one might think.
Although some might see traveling and camping as just other forms of recreation these activities encompass much more than that. These things represents the lifestyle that encompasses going on adventures at the drop of the hat, spreading positive vibes, and being the awesome person that is yourself.
One look at the pictures from our trip, and the trips of many others, and you’ll learn quite quickly why these experiences represent something that only comes along once in a lifetime.
What are you waiting for!? Get up and go out on your next adventure!