It was a brisk and early morning in Yellowstone, and upon hearing my phone alarm go off, it took every ounce of willpower I had to shimmy out of my sleeping bag and throw on my jacket, hat, and shoes. First up was making coffee and downing a Cliff bar, next was taking down the tent, and last, loading up Lorraine so we could hit the road for the morning. I tend to take a little longer than Alex to pull myself together, so I hustled and thankfully was able to be ready to go at precisely the same moment he was. A huge relief, because I hate being the one holding us up.
Within five minutes of us being on the road, I lost most of the feeling in my fingertips, but that was very quickly forgotten as the magic sank in
of what it was to ride Yellowstone National Park at sunrise with no one, and I mean no one, on the road with us. This is beyond rare, if not almost impossible, and it isn’t lost on me how special of a moment this is.
And we take it all in. More bison lingering near the roadside, herds of elk grazing in the distance along the Yellowstone River, a Mama grizzly and her cubs eating huckleberries in the meadow, and additionally, the breathtaking sight of what felt like infinite clouds of geyser steam strewn about the horizon, the haze brilliantly billowing toward the sky in the cool morning air. The spectacle of it brought tears to my eyes.
Welcome to Wyoming, a land of incredible wonders and majesty. This is a place which inspires artists, enthralls our souls, and humbles even the most traveled vagabonds. And it is also, the land of my reckoning.
Welcome back, to the journey.
Thus, we rode the entire loop of Yellowstone National Park, hitting many of the major attractions, none of which truly struck me the way the first hour on our bikes did. My heart craves the pastoral, those rural and idyllic scenes of nature that aren’t shaped or curated – the raw, the real, the natural. That’s not to take away from the park at any capacity, because Yellowstone is remarkable, a place I wish everyone could experience, and the effort the park service puts into maintenance is obvious, with accessibility I am pretty sure is unmatched by just about any other National Park in the United States. It is pretty damn incredible.
By the time Alex and I reached Old Faithful for our last stop on the list, the traffic and crowds were growing by the second, and we were mentally ready to head on to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole.
And the Tetons? They are stunning. A mountain range towering high into the sky, and their beauty is magnified by the serene and exquisite Jackson, Jenny, and Phelps Lakes at their base.
First up was a stop at the T.A. Moulton Barn, one of the most iconic structures just outside of Jackson Hole and additionally one of the most photographed buildings in the area.
Next, it was off to Jenny Lake, yet while en route, we captured some very strategic riding shots of Alex, which consists of me frantically jumbling around with GoPros with one hand and gripping my throttle tight with the other to film. In the weeks we have been on the road, my skillset in this category has drastically improved, though there are always a few moments here and there when I scare the hell out of myself by not watching the road and being more focused on him.
Jenny Lake was absolutely breathtaking, gracing us with some piercing views of the Tetons, as well as a very necessary break from the blistering heat in the shade to eat a quick lunch of our favorite meal…Subway.
By the way subway I am pretty sure we have earned a sponsorship by now. Have your people call our people.
We began our commute to our primitive crash spot for the night, a collection of campsites up and around the forest roads of Shadow Mountain. Reluctantly, we had to hike our gear in about a third of a mile from the bikes, which was a total sweat-fest as the sun went down. Alex jetted off to quickly shoot some drone footage while I set up camp and changed out of my disgusting riding kit (because yeah, we are hitting a crusty point here), just in time to see the sun setting behind the Tetons.
I happen to stumble upon one of the most gorgeous overlooks of the range I had ever seen, illuminated by the bold sunset colors of amber, crimson, lavender, and sapphire paired with a symphony of crickets and birds. Feeling flooded with awe, I sat down on a boulder and stared out at the mountains in their magnificence and glory, so captivated I completely forgot about mosquitos for a few minutes, feeling a pull on my heart strings.
If there was one skill I have acquired to deal with grief, it was learning how to compartmentalize, so for the first week of my trip on the road with Alex, I didn’t realize my emotions were essentially a tiny pressure cooker, getting hotter and hotter, ready to explode. Once it did, it hit me like a tidal wave. And right there, at our camping spot on Shadow Mountain overlooking the Tetons, the pressure cooker detonated.
Involuntary tears suddenly poured out of my eyes, startling me. Out of the blue, I was overpowered by a complexity of extreme emotions I didn’t quite understand, and no matter how I tried to calm myself down, there was no stopping the floodgates. Whatever was in there was coming out, I just had to let it. So I did. I let it all out, and the more I surrendered to this surge of sentiment, the more I could gradually comprehend what was happening to me.
It has been a little over three years since my divorce, something that fractured my life to such a degree I honestly wasn’t sure I would survive it (no exaggeration, it was my dark ages). I lost everyone, including my family for a while, and had to learn how to survive on my own after ten years of an extremely codependent existence. The aftermath was an uphill battle with myself, and discovering just what it was I wanted to do with my life; however, where I struggled the most, was being okay with not being the woman I had been before. Pieces of her were coming with me, yes, but a lot of her I was leaving behind. I’d outgrown her, and moved on from the life she fit into. For three years, every day was a stepping-stone to heal and move on, and I wouldn’t wish the pain or the anguish I experienced during that time on anyone. With the end of that era, a part of me died, leaving a hole in who I was – and it was then, sobbing like a maniac in front of the Tetons, I grasped the hole was no longer there, and that very sunset, was the final stepping-stone for me.
The next morning, I woke up early, grabbed my Jetboil, and made coffee so I could be awake for a sunrise shoot with Alex. An ideal transition, of not wishing to dwell on what had been brooded over for far too long already. I am also unbelievably fortunate, to have experienced these dramatic shifts in this environment, because the reality is, it would be a lot harder to do if I wasn’t out here in the chaos with my best friend. Because sure, we are out here to do a job, to be professionals and film, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that life…happens. And having the support of my partner in crime during pivotal moments of cataclysm, certainly lessens the weight. There is a very organic sense of understanding and respect in our friendship, and the longer we are on the road together, the happier I am, almost like discovering a whole other part of yourself you didn’t know existed.
It is a fantastic feeling, to be appreciated.
Our morning photoshoot was phenomenal – the lighting was brilliant, Alex and I were perfectly in sync, and within an hour, we caught a glimpse of paradise on film and in photograph. It was one of my highlights of the whole trip thus far – we got exactly what we wanted, something that very rarely happens in these content shoots, and damn, I cannot wait to see how it looks in the end.
But what struck me on a larger scale on our ride back to Cody through Yellowstone, was the clarity of just what happened to me the night before.
What had been weighing on me for far too long, was only there because I was repeatedly making the decision to carry that burden with me. Once I was on the road, my mindset began to shift, and I embraced the change, let go of the past, and fully trusted, that I am right where I need to be. I didn’t need to be afraid of who I used to be, I needed to accept the present for what it was, and let myself move forward.
It is with hindsight we see, that in moments when we lose everything, it is because we are meant to gain everything we could have ever dreamed of. Life sometimes breaks apart so we can put it back together, only to find the pieces fit better in the aftermath of ruin. I am better, because of my struggles, as are all of us – following our hearts is not an easy path, and it is especially hard to recognize the benefits during times of hardship, but in the end, this path of the heart…is the right one.
For my own part, the evolution within myself was exceptionally prevalent. On that road to Cody, I felt so much lighter, lighter than I have since I can remember. Laughing, teasing, purely enjoying every second of being alive. Turbulence will surely rise again, and tough times always come and go, but it didn’t change the fact that within 48 hours, I finally got to the place I’d been endeavoring to reach for three years.
I was whole again.
Until we meet again, keeping smiling everyone. Live wild. Ride free.