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WOW: Yellowstone East and Breaking Points

A woman has to know her limits and I found mine.

I woke up in the middle of the night to light shining through the tent, certain it was someone’s spotlight left on across the way. I put on my glasses and unzipped the tent window a little, and there was the moon, making it look like dawn. I checked to see if the view of the stars was good enough to risk waking the boys at 3 a.m., but it was a little overcast, so I tried to go back to sleep and did, eventually. By 5:25, I was awake again to watch the sunrise over the mountains. 

I love sunrises, but I think I’ve only been awake early enough a half dozen times to see the sky turn from pitch black to that hint of color. It seems like the sun rises for three hours before it really puts on a show. Whenever I remember that it isn’t the sun that’s rising but our planet that’s turning, my continent that’s taking another peek at daylight, my mind does a somersault.

So, as Shoshone National Forest made its slow, steady return into the sun’s light, I practiced deep breathing, inhaling the aroma of sagebrush that filled the canyon, listening to the roar of the river next to our tent, feeling ever so grateful to be here.

Only the most generous, creative, abundant, powerful, majestic, mysterious God could have conjured up such a place, and I get to experience it with all of my senses.

I don’t know that words can do justice to all we saw in Yellowstone the first day. Wow. Amazing. Beautiful. Stunning. I pulled out every descriptor and exclamation I could think of to shake things up, returning to “wow” most often. The whole place just overwhelms me with gratitude. 

I made eye contact with a slow moving buffalo. It was kind of like trying to pass a tractor. He was clearly judging me for passing him on the wrong side of the road.

We watched the mud and guts of the earth bubble up to the surface and cause all kinds of stink. We stood on the edge of mountains, seeing the tops of mountains 100 miles away. We leaned over and felt the spray of waterfalls. We touched the snow that still coats pockets at the top of Mount Washburn. We ate lunch next to trees with scratch marks made by elk.

And then we began our collective meltdown.

It started with Elvis, who got mad at Henry because I asked Elvis to take something to the trash and Elvis asked Henry to do it instead and Henry said no. Sulphuric clouds ascended out of Elvis’ ears. I allowed Elvis to opt out of the next couple of stops along the Grand Loop Road. We entered from the east and got as far as the Petrified Tree before experiencing awe and wonder fatigue. Henry’s stomach started to hurt. I had a blistering headache. It was 2 o’clock.

“Why don’t we call it a day, go get settled into our campsite, roast some marshmallows, and start over tomorrow?” I suggested. We punched in the address of our next campground, which turned out to be two and a half hours away.

Sometime around 3 I started to fall asleep behind the wheel, which isn’t really recommended any time but especially not in Yellowstone, so I pulled into a sight we didn’t bother to see and closed my eyes for fifteen minutes. By then, Henry’s stomach had started to feel better, and Elvis’ mood had lifted. I woke up from my cat nap awake, but without the ability to keep from wincing my head hurt so much.

We drove and drove and drove, looking at nothing, trees and hills and trees and mountains and cliffs and grass and hills and rivers and cliffs and mountains and trees yadda yadda yadda. After a quick stop at a grocery store, we finally rolled into McCrea Bridge Campground.

Before I go on, you have to understand that Clearwater Campground last night was Eden to me. I thought to myself, I could do this forever. I could be Walt, the volunteer camp host, learning the details and secrets of my valley, knowing the creatures who walk into my camp individually the way I know the difference in the deer that wander through our backyard. I even pondered investigating artists in the parks programs I’ve heard about in the future, maybe when the kids are out of the house, maybe I could convince Brandon to do it if we had a nice enough camper.

I forgot that all campgrounds are not Eden.

We pulled into McCrea Bridge, which is nestled against a river. People pulling boats and jet skis lined up at the dock to unload their boats. The road nearby was busy. With my left eye shut to try to alleviate the pain in my left temple, the boys and I put up the tent and started to make camp. Our spot didn’t have electricity, again, but I am a problem solver. I can make this work. 

We figured out why the griddle wouldn’t work connected to the truck’s electric outlet—the griddle is higher wattage than the outlet. No problem, I remembered to buy firewood this time, we’ll just make do and cook grilled cheese on the grate above a fire. Except Elvis and I couldn’t get any of our stuff to light, not paper or the block of fire starter that I bought expressly for this purpose. And the children in the rented camper across the way were screaming, and the mom kept screaming obscenities at them, and the children kept screaming and added on crying, and Henry said he’d like to take a nap in the tent, but then there were gnats gathering at the top of the tent, and I was coated in layers of bug spray and sunscreen and bug spray and sunscreen, and this is not what I imagined our last camping experience before Boise to be.

I sat in the breaking camp chair and started to cry.

“I don’t want to eat peanut butter and jelly for the eighth time!” I wailed to my sons.

The signal was really spotty but somehow Google made it super easy for me to find last-minute bookings, because capitalism! It didn’t take me more than five minutes to decide on a roadside cabin with beds and air conditioning and a mini-fridge and a shower, put down my credit card, and give up. I gave up.

I just couldn’t imagine one more night sleeping on the ground with a pounding headache in a place that wasn’t as beautiful as the last place we camped. I just couldn’t imagine spending the next day, which is our last day in Yellowstone, cranky and sleep deprived. 

But maybe most of all, I just couldn’t imagine eating peanut butter and jelly for dinner one more time.

A woman has to know her limits, and I found mine.

(The face of a woman who is so done.)

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