Westbound Pt. II: The Road
“Last call for Boston!” the woman at the end of the dock shouted down McMillan Pier. In typical fashion, I was late, running with my 60 L Osprey pack to catch my ferry back to the mainland at the last possible moment before I missed it completely. I had said my goodbyes that morning, to dear friends both old and new that I had made in town, and wished them well, promising to send pictures and postcards whenever I could. I said a last goodbye to my friend who had run with me down the dock, boarded the ferry, and felt the whirlwind of everything that was happening spin the thoughts swirling in my head as the boat took off and the wind whipped my hair around my face as we picked up speed. As I watched Provincetown diminish on the horizon, I wondered at how quickly I had grown to feel a sense of home and community there, wondered what would’ve happened if I had stayed. Whenever faced with the option, stay or go, I almost always choose to go. A couple days earlier, I had thought again about when or if I would ever choose to stay, and then remembered the words of one of my favorite authors, in his book about his road trip out west:
We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?
It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
I want to repeat one word for you:
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn't it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.
We slipped through the deep blue water past Herring Cove, the Long Point Lighthouse, the breakwater where I spent so many evenings in its marshy tide, a silent sanctuary just a few minutes from the hectic town center. In the growing distance, I saw how the sand cupped a protective arm around the small town, its eclectic collection of residents who arrive, stay, and return year after year because they feel, in some way, protected and safe in the acceptance of others there, something, they say, they do not find anywhere else. I found this to be true as well, was surprised at how perfect strangers reached out and watched out for me, welcomed me into their lives and stories and mealtimes unprompted. These strangers quickly became friends.
When I got off the ferry in Boston, I said my last goodbyes to the Atlantic Ocean, knowing that the next time I’d see the sea, it would be the at the Pacific coast in Seattle. I met Paul at a restaurant by the dock, hopped in his Highlander, put my pack in the trunk, and we set off for New York. In the week that followed, there was hardly a moment of rest, as we drove through 12 states, Massachusetts to Wyoming. No road trip is complete without a soundtrack, and ours was a montage of story-based podcasts, the alphabet game, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Band, and The Hobbit audiobook. We stayed with friends along the way, in New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and I was thrilled to get to see two good friends so soon after graduation. (Here I'd like to thank Ping and her family, Spurge, Payton, Shahani, and the Sill family for being our gracious hosts along the way!)
The night before we drove through half of South Dakota and all of Wyoming, we camped in the Badlands, falling asleep to coyotes yipping, waking up with bison outside our tent. We were in new territory, and I realized that at some point in the previous day we had passed whatever line it is that distinguishes the east from the west. It passed in a blur, and there are too many vignette stories to write about here, so I will just leave you with the pictures.
After crossing the South Dakota-Wyoming border, I saw that the state flag features the white silhouette of a bison. I remembered the necklace that hung around my neck, a silver chain that I had bought from a Columbian woman street vendor back home before I left in June. I bought it because it reminded me of Alberta, the province in Canada where I was born and spent the first 9 years of my life. The charm that hung from it? A silver bison. Even my impulse buys were pointing me West!
Wyoming is massive, with more acres of land filled with cattle than there are people. Most of eastern Wyoming that we passed was only moderately hilly, mostly brown as far as the eye could see, and featured the occasional stray butte but not much else. I began to worry about the landscape I would be spending the next month and a half in.
“Is this what Jackson looks like?” I asked Paul, driving.
“Kind of. Sort of. It’s different. You’ll see.” he replied with a slight smirk, purposely being vague.
“But…there’s like trees and stuff, right?” I pressed, gazing warily out the car window. A storm was brewing ominously on the horizon, which extended so far it could've been a hundred miles out.
“Haha yeah, don’t worry. There’s trees. And water. You’ll like it.”
He wasn’t wrong.
The land soon began to rise, hills turned into buttes, turned into mountains and canyons. The sun was beginning to set, making our entrance into the Teton Valley all the more spectacular. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw the jagged mountain range rise up out of nowhere, silhouetted in front of the setting sun, like larger than life paper cut outs against the pink-blue sky.
I had a few days to find a place to stay, figure out a way to make money, and get around town. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I had shown up places before and not known where I was staying that night. I was too excited, too exhausted from the journey to think much past the bed I’d get to sleep in that night. I’d figure out the rest in the morning.
To be continued