My son and I left Oklahoma on a cloudy Sunday morning with 2,000 miles before us. The accumulation of four years of college life filled every crevice of his old Honda Accord, leaving minimal room for the two of us. The trip was intended to be a post-graduation endurance run of three consecutive 12-hour days to reach our home near Seattle.
But halfway through our first day, around the middle of Kansas, Mother Nature decided to mix things up. A late-season blizzard (this was early May) closed down miles of Interstate 70 toward Colorado forcing us to divert north to Nebraska before turning west on I-80. While our new route avoided blizzard conditions, we still encountered enough snow to make the going slow and even treacherous. We passed many a vehicle lying askew by the side of the road, tractors and their trailers in various angles of dislocation.
Our detour forced us to drive several hours longer than we’d planned for our first day. Hunger and fatigue won out near Sidney, Nebraska, not far from Wyoming’s eastern border. Some quick Googling led us to the Sidney Motor Lodge, notable for its cheap price and local charm referenced in online reviews. An old motel from the ‘30s or ‘40s, it was fine for our needs though it lacked the amenities of a chain hotel.
A local couple had purchased the Lodge four years prior and were remodeling, slowly making their way through each room. Our room was, I gathered, just further down the list. However, one of the co-owners more than made up for the loose window, thin towels, and plastic-like mini soap bars with her remarkable hospitality. She told us of nearby dining options and explained that Sidney was the home of Cabela’s, “The World’s Foremost Outfitter” of fishing, hunting, and camping gear. She asked about our destination as well. Upon learning we were heading west and because of the mountain bikes hanging on the rack on our car, she suggested we visit Vedauwoo, a park with unique rocks and trails about 20 miles past Cheyenne, Wyoming, along our route home.
The next morning, we left Sidney and, two hours later, noticed off to our right a wall-like formation of what appeared to be stacked boulders. We also passed through intermittent rain and snow. I thought, “We wouldn’t have time to stop even if the weather were nice.” But when the exit for Vedauwoo appeared minutes later, so did the sun. And who could resist a place with a name like Vedauwoo? “We’ll just take a quick look,” we told each other.
A mile or so in from the freeway, we parked at the entrance. We hiked past the closed campground toward a massive wall of stone in shades of orange, pink, and tan. On the way, we witnessed oddly balanced rocks and areas where snow still blanketed the ground. Thinking of the driving that still had to be done, I decided we would walk to the main rock formation, take some photos, and return. My feet — and my heart — however, didn’t seem to get that message.
Neither did my son.
Ten minutes in, he ran back to the car and unmounted one of the bikes. For the next hour or so he rode the single-track trails around the rocks while I scrambled over boulders. At one point, he dismounted and climbed past me almost to the top of the rock wall, which was no small feat. The wall was so enormous it made the 30-foot trees at the top appear miniscule.
About a half-hour into our mini-adventure, wafts of hail-like snow began to fall. But, as a woman in Ireland once informed me, “There’s no such thing as bad weather. There’s just inappropriate clothing.” We had our jackets, so on we went, my son racing ahead of me on his bike.
Eventually, I caught up with him. He’d stopped and was staring curiously at a small pond off the main trail. In the pond, beside a tiny island, sat a beaver lodge. My son appeared to be mesmerized by the sight, though there was something else, something deeper, to the look in his eye.
In the moment, however, we didn’t bother to chat about that, beaver architecture, or the increasing snow. Instead, we continued down the trail until we encountered a lone couple who informed us the parking lot was the other direction. So, we headed back the way we’d come, reached the car, and drove on.
As we journeyed west on the interstate, my son opened up. He disclosed that he’d been wrestling with several meaty issues for some time — graduating from college and figuring out the life ahead of you comes fraught with complications and decisions. But there, at the beaver pond, it had suddenly all become clear as to what he should do.
When on a trip, particularly in places of great novelty or beauty, the external world around you releases something within. What seemed unsolvable at home resolves in light of a new location — in this case an unexpected world of stone and water, trees and snow. And a beaver lodge.
Micro-journeys are available almost anywhere. Virtually any trip is an opportunity. To explore. To discover. And to find what you were seeking in a place you never expected to be.