We camped in the middle of August with Val and Peter, leaving Minneapolis in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, feeling apprehensive about the bad weather. When we got to the park a few hours later, the weather had turned, and we hiked in to the site to set up camp and help out with dinner. There was just enough time walk a bit further down the path to a little dock for a private sunset swim. Hiking the next morning to Lake Maria, we sunned on the dock, swimming, having lunch in our wet bathing suits—cheese, bread, stone ground mustard, apples. We picked a lunchbox full of fresh blackberries from the bramble behind the ranger’s office, our arms and legs stinging from thorny branches, our lips stained purple.
I flew to Atlanta to visit my mom, spending ten hours in the car with her driving to Florida and feeling really lucky to have her. Catching up with my grandparents over cocktails and 5pm “salties,” having really good, really real conversations. Mom and I tanned through the clouds by the pool, swimming in the rain when it started. Doing one or two (or six) last cannonballs before going in for dinner, with her laughing and running up to the pool, hugging her knees and jumping in, her hair so straight when wet.
Daniel and I drove out west and back for two weeks, through torrential prairie downpours the first night, lightning eventually illuminating the hills forming out of the North Dakota flatlands and making camping impossible. The red, brown, sage and black striated earth of Montana made us regret only driving through and we want to plan a return trip in the future.
We stayed with a friend of Daniel’s from South Pole at the permaculture farm he lives on on Orcas Island, a few hours north of Seattle by ferry. He let us sleep in his quarters, a double layer canvas tent lit with a smoky oil lantern, drink his home brewed beer, and make pancakes with fruit we picked on our walk and eggs taken straight from the chicken coop. The three of us hiked down a mountain on the island on a mossy-quiet, switchback-riddled path, short but steep. We stopped at a pair of lakes nestled on the side of the mountain, skinny dipping off of a rock ledge into the breathtakingly cold water; dark, clear and still, save for us gasping at the chill. The sunset that night was purple-orange, one of the most beautiful we have ever seen.
In Portland, we stayed a night with artist friends we met in Beijing earlier this year, comparing travel notes and catching up, eating pad thai and wandering around the funkier-than-thou jewelry shop openings, microbrew pubs, secondhand clothes shops and record stores. Later in the week we went further west to see good family friends, driving out to Tillamook and following a gravel path to their super-secret beach spot and making a huge driftwood fire in the sand. We watched riders on horseback gallop down the waterside with Mabel the Oceandog loyal at our feet.
Back east, we drove through the snowy looking sands of the Great Salt Lake Desert at sunset, coming all of a sudden through a twisty mountain pass and confronting a vast, unreal flatness. Through Colorado on Highway 14, our prairie driving mindset was again shattered by nighttime mountain driving, foxes and moose crossing our path, almost less scary not being able to see off the precipice on the really sharp curves. We drove and drove that same night, unsuccessfully looking for a campsite in Wyoming and Nebraska and gave up in the wee hours of the morning, drinking the best-ever warm beer and falling asleep on the nearly exposed mattress springs of a roadside motel, late night TV on in the background.
On our last marathon day of driving, Daniel read aloud to me from a book he bought for us as I drove, and we stopped midday for overcooked bison burgers and bitter diner coffee, the South Dakota sun warming us through the window.
In September we camped with close Danebod friends by the Temperance River gorge, clambering down slippery log stairways late at night to feel the cold Superior wind on our faces, lying on our backs on the bridge over the river, listening to the crashing water and counting the north shore stars. We hiked during the day across the red lava rock flows, pocked and studded with pale green lichen and butting up against the insanely blue water. I listened to Daniel talk about this cove or that rock formation, fond memories from his childhood, realizing with a sorrowful but excited shock how soon we’d be leaving.