Just before the turn of the century, I created an extraordinary opportunity for myself.

Taking full advantage of the privileges of youth, I decided to use my new home in the Tetons as the launching pad for what I would later call my “last great adventure of the 20th Century”.

GNP-GttSr-McDonaldCreekFor eight months I planned, prepped, scrimped, and saved, working a second and sometimes third job to sock away enough dough to take six weeks off (unpaid, mind you) to travel the western US and parts of Canada, free as a leaf on the wind. Well, as free as a leaf could be if, wanting to get the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it had a well-planned route and a fairly rigid schedule to see everything it wanted to in the time it had.

Despite my best efforts, every time I tried to route a shorter trip the main attraction at the apogee was always just a few hours from another “always wanted to see” place. After half a dozen extensions, I had a grand loop around the western third of the US and I knew I couldn’t do it any other way. So in the late summer of 1999, maps and sleeping bag in hand, I hit the road with one close friend and one acquaintance to tackle the amazing and mostly unseen-by-me western US, an undiscovered land that held so much to see that I just couldn’t do it half-heartedly.

A testament to my organized and preparatory nature, I am proud to say that in those six weeks we travelled over 6000 miles, visiting 9 states/provinces, 17 National Parks or Monuments, and 16 cities, almost all of which I had never seen before (nor since).

The entire trip was two-sided: exhilarating and educational and mind-blowing and liberating, as well as arduous, confounding, exhausting and at times nerve-wracking. My travel mates were reassuring and fun and hilarious, and also useless, maddening, and foolish. I was vitalized and intoxicated and inspired and often nervous, anxious, and annoying. We ran the gamut, to be sure, and it was worth every second.

GNP-StMary-RisingSunPtI packed away the memories in that month and a half, and the ideas, and the stories. I was an unquenchable sponge, absorbing as much as I could given my timeframe and shoestring budget. And my investment and risk surely paid off a hundredfold

That being said, as I reflect back on that trip, and noting both the highlights and lowlights that reappear in my mind or are chronicled in my journal, one moment in particular stands out as the happiest, the most peaceful, the place and moment I was most grateful to be.

Surprisingly, it was not the breathtaking views from Going-to-the –Sun Road, nor was it the swirling sea of culture and dialects in downtown Vancouver, nor the gorgeous, genuine, and savvy exotic dancers in Victoria, nor the Pacific sunset from Flattery Rocks, nor the love and happiness of the Hawthorne District, nor the Globe stage in Ashland, nor the sacred seclusion in Tall Tree Grove, nor the majesty of Yosemite Valley, nor the solitude of Kings Canyon, nor the awesomeness of General Sherman Tree, nor the vast expanse seen from the North Rim, nor a cherished sunset on the red cliffs of Zion, nor the peace of Lake Solitude, nor the roar of Yellowstone Falls.

GNP-LakeSherburneReflectNo, that most vivid moment of joy and elation came not at all when I anticipated it would. After so much planning, preparation, and expectation, after six weeks of new sensations and worldly experiences, it was only as I opened the door to (and smelled the familiar but previously unappreciated scent of) my tiny, rented, single bedroom in a cramped condo on Flat Creek that my heart truly leapt, and a broad, satisfied, endless smile seized my entire face.

I’d like to say it was the sense of accomplishment; I’d like to say it was the swell of pride at having sought, planned, embarked on, and survived an epic adventure. Yes, I’d like to say that, but the truth is I was just happy to be home.
GNP-GttSR-ClementsMtnI know it is as simple as that because my “home” at the time was nothing short of pathetic, far shy of anything to actually be excited about: a mattress and box spring on the floor, a closet full of smoky bartending clothes, a few dozen books, and my trusty, dusty Powerbook 150 sitting on a makeshift desk cobbled out of 1×6, OSB, and milk crates. And though it sat among the willows on the banks of a calm creek at the southernmost tip of the valley called Jackson Hole, that had nothing to do with it. It looked, smelled, and felt like home and I knew it was where I wanted to be.

I’ve gone on a few, much shorter, adventures since then, though it has been nearly a decade since the last one, and I’m sure I’ll have more in the years to come. Each time I return home I have a small resurgence of that grounded, peaceful feeling, but none have ever been as powerful as after that long, incredible journey. And for all the memories and experiences I gained from my well-earned odyssey, and the lessons they taught me, perhaps the most reassuring and affirming and relieving was the last.

I’m a homebody at heart.