I’ve put off writing about my road trip this summer.
It was an amazing month full of wonderful strangers, endless hikes, starry nights, and self reflection. But it also was a month of heart break. An hour before heading on the road, me and my boyfriend of 4 years admitted something wasn’t working. Three weeks later, we realized breaking up wasn’t the right solution (um actually the completely WRONG solution) and spent a few hours on the phone talking it through and about how terrible it was to be apart for 3 weeks. So though this story has a happy ending, the first three weeks of our trip was a roller coast of emotion for me. Losing the person who is the foundation of your life, your support system, and your best friend turns your life upside down. I was constantly battling the gut-wrenching feeling that I lost the love of my life against the overwhelming joy and happiness life on the road was giving me.
Wyoming helped me through this.
I cried everyday but I also smiled endlessly. Wyoming does that to you. The people, the animals, the mountains. As soon as I saw the Grand Tetons, I was beaming. I made my friend pull the car over on the side of the road so I could truly take in the first glance I had. The picturesque mountains raising out over the yellow fields of grass. The herds of bison grazed slowly through the meadows while the moose, elk, and caribou made frequent appearances out of the forest. Wyoming felt like home in my heart.
The rain forced us into town several times. Jackson Hole is an adorable town. It’s very walkable, has free parking, and great coffee shops. Being who we are, we sampled all of the coffee in town. I’d recommend Cowboy Coffee Co. for the best environment and a nice cup of yum. Around the corner was a small bookstore, Valley Bookstore, that I happened into. I was immediately drawn to a paperback named “Walking to Listen” by Andrew Forsthoefel. I bought it without hesitation. The owner was a sweet old man that gave me a discount because I looked like I needed it (I did). This has nothing to do with the Grand Tetons but I can’t talk about my trip without talking about this book. I related to Andrew’s story and his struggles so much. It helped me process my breakup, reform my life dreams, and feel okay with not knowing my path. I cried along with Andrew and felt his triumph. I can’t recommend this book enough. That night, I set up my hammock, read and cried while looking at the sun beams breaking through the clouds and radiating off the peaks.
The next day brought no relieve from the rain. We took the time to explore the visitors centers and the lodge. Craig Thomas visitor center offered the best education, exhibits, and gift shop. Jackson Lake Lodge has a large grand room, open to the public for free, that has floor to ceiling windows with a view of the Tetons and Lake Jackson, as well as an outdoor patio with Adirondack chairs. The moose patterned couches and grand fireplaces give it a cozy feel. There is also a small café and overpriced gift shops (though I bought an adorable bear mug on sale for $10).
My favorite way to explore parks is to ask the people that know them best. Even with tons of internet research, all of the best recommendations I’ve gotten from park rangers. The Jenny Lake visitors center was stockful of badass female climbers that gave us the best hikes. We hopped right onto the Taggart Lake trail. Pretty short at 3.3 miles, it offers beautiful views of the Tetons, wild flowers, and the lake. I thought a lot about bears and Juan but the views comforted me. With the Ranger’s advice, we spent the night on national forest land underneath Shadow Mountain. There’s a national forest dispersed campground that is probably the best free campground I’ve ever stayed at. There’s about 10 spots (not that there is anyone patrolling but to minimize impact, it’s important to respect your environment and camp in pre-established sites when you can). The campground faces the meadow and offered clear views of the Tetons. Seeing our Maryland license plate, a women named Sarah, her adorable black lab, and family immediately approached us, offered some food, and great advice. The man on the other side looked like a modern John Muir with a big, long beard and lived out of a big blue converted school bus (aka the coolest man alive). Fellow campers from all different walks of life greeted us as we cooked and stopped to give us advice on places to visit on our trip.
The rain and lack of 4WD made getting back to our tent an adventure every night. Skirting down the road in our bright red SUV, tires sinking deeper and deeper as we lost control of the car, and the two of us making weird noises to keep each other calm as our back wheels spun out in front of us. We made it back safe and sound, laughing nervously at how close we were to being shit out of luck.
Once the rain cleared up, we spent the day hiking the Jenny Lake to Inspiration Point trail. Almost completely alone on the trail, marmots and moose ran wild. Every bend in the trail offered new breathtaking views. Most people opt for the shuttle you can take across the lake (shortening the hike to about a half a mile), crowding the area surrounding Inspiration Point. We tend to hate people (no offense) so as soon as we reached the top, we swiftly turned back to our isolated trail. To add in some extra miles, we took a detour to Cascade Canyon. As we climbed, the snow got deeper and deeper. We joined forces with some crazy college kid in basketball shorts and Nikes as it became harder to follow the trail. The three of us eventually found the opening of Cascade Canyon and the 15 feet of snow covering the remainder of the trail. We turned around defeated but we’ll be back. We’ll climb every peak and hike every trail.
Since that first glance, the Tetons haven’t stopped calling.