I was not excited to go to Yellowstone.
The trip was mostly my friend’s idea. She wanted to go camping. To say I don’t like camping would be an understatement, though I prefer to say I have a healthy appreciation for the indoors.
But I still agreed, because I’m easily talked into things and because I thought visiting Yellowstone could be a fun adventure, and hey, maybe I didn’t hate camping as much as I thought I did?
(Spoiler: I really, really did.)
So we packed up my friend’s car with a $50 tent from Amazon and an assortment of camping gear that I couldn’t help but think we wouldn’t need if we had gone to California or Hawaii or somewhere else with a hotel on the beach.
Although I mostly agreed to the trip under the persuasion of my friend and the fact that I’ve always wanted to see Old Faithful, there was one other reason that nudged me toward Yellowstone.
A few months before the trip, in March, my grandpa had passed away after a long, slow battle with illness. Before he died, he wrote a partial memoir of his life that consisted of about ninety pages of disconnected stories featuring his early life. In the time between his death and the trip I read all of it, and the stories revealed more about him than I ever got the chance to know when he was alive.
One of those stories involved driving through Yellowstone.
It wasn’t a central story or even a very long one. It was written in a single, long paragraph, and described a time during the winter of 1969 when he drove my grandma and their then-three-year-old son, my uncle, along the highway that runs through the park.
He writes that they entered the park in the lower southeast corner, and planned to drive from there to the northeast exit. According to him, this was a ten-hour, 300-mile drive. The drive was part of a longer road trip, and they did not plan to stop for the night in the park; at the start, he believed they would make it through without any issues.
As the drive went on, he began to worry he may have miscalculated the time and gas it would take to get through the park. He writes of icy roads, of everything being shut down, of no gas or lodging for miles and miles, and a car with a gas gauge dipping lower and lower.
My grandpa describes the fear he felt as the gas level dropped, no gas stations in sight, late at night, with his wife and son unaware that they could be stranded at any moment in the cold with no help around for miles.
The anxiety he talks about is a feeling that I am well acquainted with and yet would never have associated with him when I was growing up. To me, my grandpa was a strong, steady man who always had an answer and did not spend too much time worrying about anything.
His worrying ended up being for nothing; they made it through the park without any real problems. There were no breakdowns, no car spin-outs. This is a running theme in many of the stories he wrote: that of tremendous anxiety, only to find that nothing ended up being nearly as bad as he feared.
On my own trip to Yellowstone, I found myself identifying with my grandfather from all those years ago; I, too, felt as though I may never make it out of the park.
Now, there were, of course, very different reasons for this. My grandpa was worried that the gas in his car would run out and he and his family would freeze to death in the cold. I was worried that I would walk off a cliff just to avoid sleeping in a tent for another night.
(No one needs to mention how much of a wimpy city kid brat I sound like. I know. I KNOW.)
I wish that I had had a better experience in Yellowstone, I really do. I wanted to enjoy myself. It truly is a beautiful place.
But it is only now, a few months later, looking back on the photos I took that I can really appreciate the beauty of what was around me.
This is something that I struggle with in general—enjoying the beauty of moments while they’re happening, instead of in retrospect.
But while I had a hard time enjoying myself on that trip, I did think about my grandpa a lot. Had he driven on the same road we were on? Seen the same sights? Or had he been too distracted by his own anxieties, as I had, to appreciate any of the surrounding beauty?
It hurts that I’ll never know. It hurts that there was so much I didn’t know about him, that I never even would have thought to ask him, while he was still alive.
In the end, I left Yellowstone feeling happy to go home. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to go back with a more appreciative spirit. I would like to.
For now, I’ll just have to enjoy the pictures, and wish my grandpa was here to enjoy them with me.
Is there a place you wanted to like but had a hard time appreciating while you were there?
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