Racing like a crazed mule in my old, heavily-loaded Jeep Wrangler, I just barely made it to the Devil’s Tower entry gate for a sweet few minutes as the sun set and lit up it’s dramatic face. An otherworldly apparition rising out of the surrounding plains and forests, I had first learned of this cool, geological feature from Spielberg’s movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, having watched it with good friends in 1977 at a US Air Force theater just outside of Madrid, Spain. Now, halfway around the world, I’d finally get to see the actual site 32 years later.
As I drove up the winding forest road to the base of this unusual tower, I caught a female ranger locking up at the gift shop, smiling and waving at me as she got into her USFS-issued pickup truck and drove away. Her friendly gesture was an warm invitation to stay a spell even though it was after six. She’d likely radio over to the entry gate and have them look for me on the way out; I was the only one there that November day.
I had been hired to run the cash office in a subterranean, windowless room at a ski resort on Mt. Hood and the low-paying, seasonal job promised us a foothold in our quest to relocate out West… at all costs, we were so desperate to leave the pressure-filled, DC area. It paid an absolutely tiny fraction of what my wife made at her international organization, but we knew we could make it work by selling stuff and simplifying.
With the Jeep loaded to capacity, I plotted out my route across the US from Maryland to Oregon and scoped out some interesting stops along the way; the US map filled with pointy sticky notes. Looking back now, eight years later, I have to laugh a bit at my insanity and impulsivity; but, I’ve also learned in life that the prize (in whatever form it takes) goes to He-Who-Sees-GrandVision and dares to take a risk and chance failure… and fail miserably I did. I was not prepared to move so quickly with cash and receipts in that abysmal room, locked behind the plexiglass window with holes for 10 hours a day, while the world above was skiing freely on one of my favorite resorts; Mt. Hood!
The cruelty was unbearable. Were the adventure Gods having a good laugh at my expense, I wondered? Nasty Gods.
But not all was lost. Some of the sights along the way were amazing. The stop to the place where Custer made his last stand was profoundly haunting. Just a quick pull off from Interstate 90, the approach to the rolling hills now dotted with headstones from Natives and US Army forced one to pause and to reflect.
Later that day, on my endless drive across Wyoming, later sitting on the bench watching the sun fade on Devil’s Tower proved to be another almost religious moment. The last of the day’s Fall rays rose up until only an afterglow of dusk remained. Not another person around. Wish I had had a fancy iPhone to run a time lapse video.
The following day, as I wound my way up into the western Montana roads approaching the Idaho border, the stop at the National Bison Range had me laughing when the polite ranger with the pained expression quietly informed me that they had all migrated over the mountain pass for the year the week before.
No less impressive, a couple of days prior, was my detour to South Dakota’s Badlands, a place I could clearly recall seeing in some of the old Western movies I had watched growing up; and, of course, Mount Rushmore was quite impressive… though admittedly, not a defacing project I would condone in this day and age. The Black Hills are a wonder to behold as they seemingly rise up to meet the traveller from an endless sea of rolling grasslands; a type of oasis.
When I return with my wife, we’ll have to find the Crazy Horse project in the area; a similar monument that looks to be equally if not more impressive.
Well, so life teaches us to get out of our comfort zones, not overthink, and to learn from failure. The drive back home to Maryland had a very different feeling to it… for I had some “splainin'” to do. We’d have a few more, non-life-threatening, false starts after this debacle and as I look back, the anguish and heartbreak at the delays were all worth it.
“If you are not failin’, your not really tryin'”.