This is going to be sweet. But don’t make the plans too detailed. You have two physical maps and you’ll get more. Don’t forget a flashlight (or five). Hopefully Jack will be a good copilot. I have bear spray. Standard camping gear, check. Gas money, check. Camera, check. Food, check. Where’s my phone? That’s all I really need. Wait, I need to buy a tarp. Where is the nearest hardware store? Did we remember the flashlights? Well, as long as I have an open mind, we’re good. I’m so stoked.
These were some of my thoughts prior to send off. But before jumping into the nitty gritty of this crazily unplanned trip, I want to go over some seemingly flawed situations that ended up turning out okay.
And hey, I knew what I was doing and even if I didn’t, I was planning on figuring out what to do next. For a pretty unplanned adventure to a national park for three days, it wasn’t too bad.
For starters, I would like to share this moment with you, which I found hilarious and you may not. You probably just had to be there but I’m sharing it regardless.
I was driving back to the lot at the visitor center and I look ahead to my left to see a large clumped up group of oblivious tourists holding cameras to their faces on the side of the road. They were craning their necks into a patch of dense foliage. Everyone and their mother decided that it would be a good idea to just stand there and block traffic trying to get their Nat Geo worthy shot of something unseen from the road. What is going on? I thought. A park ranger was there too, standing in between the group and the slowly passing cars. Like any good ranger should be able to do, he was right in the middle of the kerfuffle, multitasking in the light drizzle: directing traffic, making sure the tourists were out of harm’s way and keeping an eye on whatever it was that they gawking at through the trees. I was a little bit annoyed at first but soon after, found it humorous. As I drove by slowly, I rolled down my window to quickly look around and again, quietly asked myself “What is going on?”. This question was not aimed towards anyone but the ranger caught a glimpse of me. We made eye contact and without skipping a beat, he calmly and in quite an unenthusiastic tone responded, “There’s a moose.” I’m really glad that small interaction occurred.
Okay, yeah, I know. I’m hardcore judging. Not cool. I like moose just as much as the next guy but why do tourists feel so obligated to stand on the side of an otherwise heavily driven road, where, yes the speed limit is low but causing even more slow down and putting everyone involved at risk of getting hurt or severely injured because there is some wildlife just doing its thing, being wildlife. It’s a big no no to get close to wildlife and especially in a park. I don’t get it. And I certainly wasn’t going to be one to quickly park on the other side of the road and jump out of my car to cross the road and join in with the others like one guy did. Are you kidding me? What just happened. I parked, we sat there for a minute, replayed the scene again in my head and laughed with Jack. I had to find some humor in that situation. On our walk through the rain to the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center, I spotted a different ranger watching the few remaining tourists on the road. They were still trying to see the moose, which was actually a cow and her calf I found out, through the trees. Okay, that is pretty cool actually. I stopped to talk to him about what was occurring. Keeping his eyes on the road while other tourist quickly walked by in the rain, he quietly mentioned how this sort of thing happens quite regularly and it’s all situational, they have to be more concerned with the unaware tourists than the wildlife. As the last tourists cleared from the road, he took out a digital camera from his pocket and showed me photos he had taken the week prior of the same moose and calf. In early morning, he saw the pair nuzzling the large bronze statue of a bull outside the visitor center. The ranger who had answered the question I didn’t ask him specifically walked up to us and laughed to his co-worker about what he had just handled. They made a quick joke and I told them how interesting it is that they experience something pretty new every day. They concluded that was definitely true and we proceeded talked about the park in general. I summed up my park ranger dream to the pair briefly and they shared some insiders tips about internships and job opportunities. What an encouragement! I cannot WAIT to be in this field. Rangers like this are the reason I have this dream.
What a way to kick off the finale of our Grand Teton National Park experience.
As many of you know, I am quite an expert with general awkwardness and though I have recently become better at managing it, I feel a bit of personal pain simply looking back on this particular interaction. Thankfully, interactions with four other super rad rangers outweigh this one by a lot.
We had overheard in that snow was in the forecast the second to last day and so that I at least felt somewhat prepared, I wanted to double check with the information desk at the visitor center. On this gloomy Monday afternoon I had the privilege of interacting with the only available employee out of five others at the help desk. An older female ice queen gave me an uncomfortable vibe before even starting to talk to her. I approached the desk but due to discomfort, I could already tell that this wasn’t going to go particularly well. I will admit that I jostled with my words as I tried to phrase my question correctly about our camping situation and the weather but made me realize my mistake and asked me what I was trying to ask and that she didn’t understand what I was saying. Of course. Freaking cool. I couldn’t help but think she was wondering where this fifteen-year-old girl’s parents were. Here I am, trying to just ask a simple question and I blew it. Can’t my least favorite form of precipitation just hold off for at least 24 hours so I can avoid this altogether and go on a hike? Guess not.
In hindsight, I could have either waited to speak with a different park employee. As you can imagine, I was kicking myself and wondering how that encounter was beneficial for anyone. Other than it ending with breaking news of snow. How terribly uninteresting and discouraging. Would not recommend.
I think it’s just inevitable at this point. Basically, if I camp out anywhere in or north of Colorado in the month of May, bad weather is going to come. I should really just accept that at this point. It is to be expected that I experience rain or snow whilst camping in May. Finally, I’ve realized it! So it appears this certainly would not have been my first camping-in-snow experience. I was however not really looking forward to giving it another go. Though I was mostly aware of it this time, I didn’t actually become aware of bad weather until two days prior when we were driving into Jackson and checked the iPhone weather app, when it was already raining. Oh, great. And on Monday afternoon as I was standing in the visitor center, just the thought of facing the potential of snow irked me. Maybe the tent will make it. Maybe.
No way the tent will make it. Yeah, it has a good rain fly but the sides are all mesh and I just bought a cheapo tarp from a hardware store in Laramie because I forgot the footprint. It is a three season tent for a reason. No way. That should have been the forethought going into my brother and I’s unusually difficult decision-making process on how to proceed. Should we just tough it out and see how the tent holds up? Because that one hike around Jenny Lake looked awesome and we wanted to stay until Tuesday but then you think, yeah, no, we should go. This weather is looking gnarly and honestly I’m not the biggest advocate of camping in the snow dude. You heard the irritable ranger mention that the tent might collapse due to the weight of snow. The 1-2 inches of snow. Yeah, that would be fun. How ridiculous. Damn you, three season tent!
After this cluster, further discussion and questioning of the situation was conducted as we made our way towards our primitive camp site in the national forest. Our answer soon arrived about a half mile up Shadow Mountain Road. The pathway was almost entirely blocked by a totally unmovable aspen and I don’t regularly wield a chainsaw. Not a blatant sign at all, thanks Universe. Jack pointed out that I probably could carefully maneuver around the fallen the tree in my small hatchback. And maneuver we did; I barely got around it. We high-fived as I continued to grip the wheel and I kept my eyes scanned ahead rocks and dips in the dirt road. Just as I was starting to feel good about getting up the road for our tent and back down to head out of town, my confidence was shattered less than thirty seconds later. We were stopped dead in our tracks, as the road was blocked even worse by another fallen aspen. Damn you, windy Wyoming!
One 12-point later, I had enough reception to call the Bridger-Teton Forest Service number to inform Charles, a dispatch employee, of the two dinner plate-sized diameter trees. I required a chainsaw certified forest service employee, preferably that same evening despite the office closing in thirty minutes. When you finally decide to hit the road and need to gather your stranded, unoccupied tent two miles away in the national forest, of course the office closes in thirty minutes. I’m looking at you, Universe. I was put on hold, saw my phone was on the verge of dying, plugged it in and mumbled an unclear suggestion of maybe having to get up the road on foot if they couldn’t make it out to clear the way. Before I even realized the severity of the situation, Jack ran up the road ahead of me to get the tent and he didn’t bring the bear spray. I just had to stand there, hopelessly yelling his name in the forest, praying he didn’t run into a bear. That kid! Thankfully, Sam, another dispatch employee, took me off hold after about fifteen minutes of intermittent questions and told me he was sending up a crew from Jackson. Oh happy day! And, the one time I call Jack and he answers his phone we’re in a forest. I told him we got a crew coming up to save the day. He shared equally good news and told me that he got to the tent and was about to pack it up. But in a sleeping bag. Because he didn’t have the tent bag. That kid. In the meantime, a climber dude from California rode his mountain bike up the road from trail head and we talked about national parks and the lies of social media even though we both use it. The forest service employees arrived and I watched them and talked to them as they flawlessly cut away at the trees. “Who needs crossfit when you can just work for the forest service?” He said that. He told me that.
Two hours after fumbling my words to a ranger who wanted nothing to do with my frivolity, and after a quality first interaction with two awesome forest service members, one with 23 years of experience in the field, I was mentally and physically preparing for an eight hour drive back home. Life is grand.
Part of the process of life is that failure and success, valleys and peaks will meet you along the path. No matter who you are, it’s going to happen. There will be times when you have felt never more deeply afraid or astonishingly courageous. It is inevitable we are going to experience these different facets of life. Sometimes, it takes a person or place or some words to guide you through life, through all the fear and the courage. Whether it is through different people, places or words, I stand by the idea that we need these to grow through life in all the failures and successes and fear and courage. Everyone experiences life in their own way. Here is a way I have found. Sometimes, it takes your brother or a park ranger or a forest service member in a glorious national park or on a beautiful trail or in a quiet national forest and a whirlwind of thoughts to solidify the human you are constantly becoming and striving to be.
Everyone experiences life in their own way.