A Floridian Wanders in Wyoming During a Pandemic

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Today is the end of a 4-day drive to come back to south Florida after leaving Wyoming on Thursday, August 6th.  That departure date marked 2 weeks since I had left Palm Beach County, by myself to make the road trip out there in 3 days.  While my body is somewhat fatigued from the endurance of the driving feat, my spirit is invigorated and refreshed.

Sabbatical During a Pandemic

Are we still in the “pandemic” stage?  I’m not trying to argue with anyone because on Thursday, July 23rd, I deleted all social media and news apps off my phone so that I could take a mental break as I broke away physically from my family and state of residence.  I’ve just turned them back on today and it seems I’ve got a lot to catch up on unfortunately.

I packed most liquids and snacks I would need so that the only stops I made when driving was for gas, restroom usage, and to stay in lodging.  Driving through several states, it seemed the consensus was that masks were encouraged inside buildings and I acted accordingly along with a cleaning ritual each time I re-entered my vehicle.

It turns out that I made an attempt to journal my trip as it unfolded, so here are some excerpts to share with you as it’s my humble intention to encourage others to take a sabbatical even if it’s only for an afternoon or evening during one day of the week.  

There were times I was with others but most of the time I traveled away from home was on my own. There is a great healing and productive reconstruction that can occur when we get to be alone especially if we’re always with others.

Thursday, July 25th

Palm Beach Gardens, FL

A blessed sign from above that all will be well+

Awoke with a clear mind in the pre-dawn hours as I shifted under the sheets in bed.  Today was the day I’m leaving on my sabbatical.  What had begun as a trip planned months ago as a family getaway has now been reduced to me going away by myself to take a mental and physical break from all this COVID-19 year has brought us. 

I got up early to finish a couple of more cloth masks at my sewing machine.  As I ran the fabric through the sewing needle going up and down, I felt my heart pinch and sink with every heartbeat at the thought that I was actually leaving my husband, children, and a grandparent at home soon for just over 2 weeks duration.

Distant thunder rumbled and there was a part of me ready to just scrap the whole plan to travel.  As I finished up my sewing work, I walked outside and saw a double rainbow in the sky along with lightning flashing behind it.

I somehow knew in that electrifying and beautiful moment that I was making the right choice to go on this trip.  Shortly thereafter the children also came outside to see me and witness the beautiful sky and although they knew I was leaving, they didn’t dwell on it too much instead giving me hugs and relishing in the moment of that glorious sunrise and rainbow near an uncertain storm.

Friday, July 24th

Signal Mountain, TN

Left Signal Mountain, Tennessee around 5:30am. As my body awoke around 4:53am, most of my physical body was all about just staying in bed and sleeping but I knew that I had at least 11-12 hours of driving ahead of me today. Today was my longest leg.

On my way out, I dropped a note to the children in the post office box off the side of the road on the mountain.

Yesterday the drive from Palm Beach County of Florida to family in Tennessee was largely uneventful except for rain and a vehicle fire off I-75 in Georgia.

Much of the morning I spent listening to the playlist that Thomas loaded onto my phone for me.  My favorite currently is listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and the song “I am not going to miss my shot”…

In the afternoon I had a meeting on zoom with my UF MBA team colleagues and one of our professors to work on one of our projects and ask questions.  Although it was surreal to conduct business in my car as I drove through Missouri at 70+ mph, it was well worth it knowing I was making good travel time.

Arrived safely at the Arbor Day Lied Lodge and was able to take a walk after the long drive in their forest trail and hazelnut rows. 

Saturday, July 25th

Nebraska City, NE

Awoke bright and clear around 3am (central time)…tried to go back to sleep but no such luck. 

So got up and readied myself—got my bearings for my upcoming MBA class later today and then checked my maps once more. Today I make it to Wyoming.

As I pulled out of the lodge area, I had to take a couple of roads to reach a state road that would eventually lead me to interstate 80 westbound.  “Pitch dark” is an understated term in this remote corner of Nebraska.  It was like driving in a black flannel blanket if that were a thing.

When I reached the state road, there was a semi-truck that I pulled directly behind and it happened to be the only truck or vehicle on this road for at least 45 minutes or more.  I was running low on gas and knew I’d have to stop soon. Made the mental note to not forget fueling up at the end of each driving leg during the day instead of waiting for the mornings.

I gratefully stayed at a safe distance behind the truck as the driver used their high beams and we drove in tandem up and down the rolling hills for about 40 miles until we reached Lincoln, Nebraska.  I used this opportunity to stop at a well-lit gas station and there was a police car there—giving me an added sense of security.

Once I left Lincoln, I caught up with I-80 and began the long trek westward across Nebraska.  As the light of dawn began and the plains rose higher upward, my body surged with excitement and expectation—as well as the effects of elevation increasing.  Finally, the digital map in my car’s front console showed the red arrow near Wyoming.

Made it in safely to Cheyenne, Wyoming in the late morning and checked into my hotel.  A full day of MBA online graduate classes and an exam was awaiting me. 

Sunday, July 26th

Cheyenne-Kemmerer-Jackson Hole, Wy

Recently renovated state capitol building, first state to afford women the right to vote!

Day began with the quiet recognition that I needed to get up promptly for my MBA class sessions starting early because they were at Eastern Standard Time and I was now on Mountain Time in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

My dreams had been fretful and filled with episodes with my children and hugging them.  When I awoke I felt guilt again that I was not at home to help with the morning routine of helping with everyone.  The demanding school schedule this morning helped me focus on proceeding with my classwork instead of dwelling on my misgivings of being gone from the children.

It was a bittersweet set of class sessions because our cohort does miss each other as we used to meet in person once a month in Gainesville prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But at least one of our professors was doing a great job of trying to help us be more productive by putting us into virtual breakout rooms where we got to work with each other more intimately and fulfill our assignment requirements.

I had to check out of my hotel, however, as I was due to be in Jackson Hole by sundown.  Once our first class finished I was in the car again without a beat and was hurtling down I-80 westbound once again.

It was a little awkward logging into the Zoom class session from the road but thankfully except for a couple hiccups the Wi-Fi connection in the car worked well.

On the way to Kemmerer, I had to stop in Rock Springs at a Walmart in order to pick up a new camera since the one I was borrowing wasn’t working.  I was still logged into my class on my phone and so just went in, with a mask no less and purchased a camera and still listened in to class. Ah, technology. 

By the end of class I was pulling into Kemmerer and able to take a photo of the J.C. Penney mother flagship store in town and then make my way to a private fossil quarry where I was able to find some slabs of rock with complete fish fossils intact.  I got a little woozy driving up and a down a gravel road at 7000 feet to get to the quarry–once I was parked and walking on the ground of that particular quarry, I had a fun time breaking up rock with a metal chisel and hammer along with the bruises and scrapes to boot.

Stopped afterwards to enjoy a short trail in the Fossil Butte National Monument nearby and then started the drive up to Jackson Hole and made it in town before sundown to check into my lodging for the next couple of days.

A messy affair, but quite cathartic to chisel away at rock
Outside Kemmerer, no buildings for miles on end

Wednesday, July 29th

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful 

My spirit continues to wander and I don’t know much about how to tame it.

The wild mountains, meadows, rivers, and countless other wonders I’ve seen here at Yellowstone today have me wanting to let my soul wander free as well.

Thursday, July 30th

Yellowstone National Park, Canyon Lodge

The day flew: it began with trying to get my laundry done at the Canyon campground area and then heading to my horseback ride nearby. 

The ride went relatively well—although I was pretty tired physically having already endured a half day mountain trail ride on a horse earlier in the week while in Jackson.

I realized just how sore I was in an acute manner when the horse was going downhill and such.  It was then I also thought about the fact that I don’t want to really go through the physical duress of another mountainous horseback ride next week when I’m near the Bighorn Mountains.  If I were fresh, maybe, but not now.

Had some conversation through my mask and bandanna while riding, turns out there were a couple of families from Texas along with me the Floridian. Weren’t we the coronavirus hotspot misfits in this corner of Wyoming?

Although I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here at Yellowstone, I feel terribly guilty after finding out there is a hurricane brewing offshore Florida and husband is having to deal with work duties accordingly.  Of course, I leave on a rare sabbatical and there is a storm threat, thanks 2020.

As much as I feel this is where I want my spirit to be, I feel tugged to go back home and take care of everyone again.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Johnson County, Wyoming

Amazing. Here I have made it to the other side of the Bighorns and all I want to do is have a bison burger and a whiskey drink to take the edge off of a crazy day of road travel.

Began the day around 6:00am and driving out of Yellowstone.  Didn’t like that I had to part with my in-loves after spending a couple of days together hiking around YNP.

As I rolled out of the Canyon Lodging area, I saw Dad Thom Bean walking on the side of the road for his early morning walk.  Was grateful that I was able to give him a final hug goodbye.

Afterwards I took the left at the stop sign to head toward Yellowstone’s Fishing bridge. There was heavy fog but at a particular clearing where there was a great stag with large antlers. Most beautiful animal I have seen in my life this far because there it was in its powerful presence and behind him the fog was lit up by the fiery orange of the sun rising.  My iPhone couldn’t do it justice, it was incredible in person as I had “quietly” pulled up with my car and put my window down. At least I used my new Canon camera and it seems that it may have captured this rapturous moment of a stag in his solitude as the sky behind him was awash in passionate colors of the rising sun.  

The drive out of the park started smoothly, although I keep forgetting how steep the grade is going through and downward from the Sylvan pass for the east gate of Yellowstone.

Stopped at the Pashuka(sp) tourist shop to pick up some trinkets for the children.

Cruised through Cody and headed toward Powell and Lovell. Passed the Heart Mountain area where Japanese Americans had been interred after the Pearl Harbor attack in the 1940s.

When I was approaching Big Horn Canyon, I stopped in to check with the park ranger there because I was feeling nervous about my plan to head up to the Medicine Wheel on Medicine Mountain. Not familiar with this pass and northern part of the Big Horns, I asked Austin the park ranger if he thought the drive was alright. Enthusiastically he remarked that he’s driven up there himself and tried to prepare me that there would be a “bump” or two as the construction signs would indicate. 

Armed with a few more maps and Austin’s tips, I started on the road up…and up..and like super up.  Like “up” on crack and steroids at the same time. The speed limit never went beyond 20-30 mph, another clue that this was a steep climb.

I felt like a horse that has blinders on as I purposely didn’t look around because as I kept going up each switchback—whether it was long or short didn’t matter the reality is I was aware of how very high I was going.

When I finally seemed to clear the climbing part – I realized that I was back in a place where doing 50-65 mph was acceptable and safe. 

Kept looking at my navigation and saw that the Medicine Wheel turn should be coming up. Sure enough, before long it was time to turn left and I was relieved to see the sign. What I wasn’t prepared for was the secondary sign to the right that told me the actual parking spot was still another 1.5 miles up, as in UP the gravel, rough road ahead that had no guard rails and above there was the large spherical FAA radar dome –no Medicine Wheel entrance in sight.

Resigned, I thought, “I’ve made it this far, I can go up this road at the very least.” Unfortunately, as I continued up the “hill” my body began to tense up worse than it had already been for the past hour or so of the climb up these damned Big Horns. It was near impossible to block out the fact that here I was climbing up this mountaintop—literally.

The open space on both sides expanded so far and wide with nothing but sky.  There was finally a space to the left to pull out and so I pulled over and a pickup truck was coming up behind me and passed on area and parked further up. 

After a couple minutes I went ahead and pulled out to follow where the pickup truck went and parked again and put on the emergency brake. I was still so shaky and just broke down in disappointed tears—I just could not go any further. It was solid. There was no way I could keep going.

Truth be told, I was nearly frozen solid in movement. Literally wouldn’t drive any further. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was wondering if I shouldn’t just call 911 and ask the dispatcher if the state troopers there could be sent out to come rescue me and drive me down this mountain. I guess 9,000 feet plus in elevation with no trees around magnified the altitude in full effect for my Floridian sensibilities.

So I sat there for a few moments and cried tears of frustration and despondency since I really wanted to visit this Medicine Wheel archaeological site but it was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere. For more information on this site you can google it or check out: https://www.summitpost.org/medicine-mountain/451567

Thankfully was able to text back and forth with someone and it helped me gather the mental courage and strength to say to myself that it was time to head down the gravel road back to the main road and head for the other side of the Big Horns. 

When I finally made it down to the Burgess Junction I took a right turn and evidently went through Granite Pass and didn’t even know it—that’s how steep that previous climb had been.

Thankfully the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful—especially as I was getting adept as using my lower gears to shift while driving downhill.

Saturday, August 1st

Johnson County, Wyoming

Today I ventured out to check out the parade in town in celebration of the end of the their week with the Johnson County Fair. I had my scarf and a mask at hand in case it was needed, thankfully most folks were staying spaced out and I only used it when someone came to speak to me in close proximity.

Went to the rodeo later and had fun watching the various events displayed, only the 3rd rodeo I’ve witnessed and have to admit that I’m hooked.

On the way back to the cabin I’m staying in for next few days, took the car through a drive-thru car wash—all those mountain passes in the past several days have definitely dusted up the vehicle!

Monday, August 3rd

Johnson County, Wyoming

It has been a wonderful day of lounging in to sleep late in the morning, especially given the full moon last night gave me little ability to rest well.  

Once I was up with some tea, coffee, and pancake in a cup ready—went outside to set up shop again with my paints and canvases. It is almost impossible to convey how peaceful it has been to just sit and listen to the Clear Creek, drink, and paint at my leisure.  I’ve even snuck in a couple of mini Romeo y Juliettas mini cigars to puff my cares into oblivion. 

Tuesday, August 4th through Thursday, August 6th

The last few days in town have been a blessed blur.  Knowing that I must gather up my paintbrushes, supplies, clothes, and spirit (or at least what I can salvage), it’s time to get ready and rest up for my drive back to Florida.

Grateful for the time away even with the COVID-19 taint on everything. Although the idea of leaving all my responsibilities was terrifying, I know I feel refreshed and strengthened with the days I spent out west and ready to tackle what’s ahead back in SoFla.

R.V.S.B.

One of many musical earworms: https://youtu.be/V5YOhcAof8I

Comments

  1. Sophia Christakis says:

    I’m glad that you had a much needed escape from all the noise of the media and the pandemic craziness. You’re paintings are incredible and your courage is amazing. May God bless you as you reenter your responsibilities here in South Florida.

  2. Good for you! I’m glad you got away. Peace koumbara!!

  3. Wonderful!

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