Other than the white noise of Rob and Nikolai snoring, it was rather quiet inside our vehicle. Tallulah had her wet nose pushed against the glass so she could keep an eye on untrustworthy strangers. I could see the reflection of the flashing crimson sign from the “Come and Go” gas station lighting up her peripheral. We had laid all the seats down and blown up the air mattress in the back of the SUV with the hopes of re-balancing our sleep schedule.
Despite the exhaustion, it was the smell of equine sweat clinging to the breeze that woke me. It felt out of place within the truck stop’s parking lot until I realized that there was a farm nearby. We popped the trunk open for better airflow and let our tangled feet dangle out the back. The temperature was near perfection but It’s hard to sleep when there is an undertow of excitement crashing over your psyche. A crack of thunder strangled the peace. Darkness danced with lightening, and the anticipation of damp earth hung like a curtain in the atmosphere.
My stomach lurched with electricity, not from the storm but from the adventure of it all. The ability to witness firsts with my family, to see things that I saw as a child with the eyes and humility of an adult. I wanted to etch every detail to memory. Thirty-one hours of driving just to get to our first destination and that didn’t include the trip back or the stops we planned to take along the way. My friends thought we were crazy but, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy the mountains… is to get lost in them.
With only a couple hours of sleep in our pocket and first morning light on the horizon, we visited the restrooms and refueled with caffeine. The first fifteen hours of driving had been uneventful but from this moment forward there would be an endless supply of amazement. You can’t (rather you shouldn’t) visit Glacier National Park without stopping by to see things along the way, like the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. There’s even an amazing town from the 1800’s where you can visit the past as beautifully preserved as if it were the present, and you wouldn’t want to miss a little town called Walldrug where you can buy a cup of coffee for a nickel.
My beautiful boy had a history book opened across his lap one day. He was sitting on his bed flipping through the pages when I heard him gasp. His blue eyes wide in wonder as his fingertips graced a picture of some faces that had been carved into stone. His mouth left agape, and his expression full of questions that had me pausing in the threshold to wait for his thoughts to materialize.
“Hey mom? What is this?”
“That would be Mount Rushmore.”
“Is it a real place?”
“It’s very much a real place. In fact, I’ve been there… more than once.”
“YOU’VE BEEN THERE?! CAN I GO TOO?! I want to see it!”
“Not today sweet boy, but I promise that someday, I’ll take you.”
I laughed a little as I walked back to the kitchen. I knew how far away Mount Rushmore was, and I had been making plans with my husband to take Nikolai to see it for a long time. He had been so disappointed that afternoon. You would think the little conversation we had back then would have prepared me for how overwhelmed with emotion he would became when he saw it for himself… but it didn’t. After bounding up the steps towards the mountain cliffs, he threw his arms into the sky and leapt as he whooped for joy.
“MOM! I’VE WANTED TO SEE THIS FOR MY WHOLE LIFE!”
“I CAN’T BE-WEVE THAT YOU TOOK ME HERE!”
“LOOK AT IT MOM! It’s so be-woo-di-ful!”
People all around us found his excitement just as intoxicating as my husband and I did. Nikolai’s slight lisp made everything he said that much more enduring. It was demanded of me that I take his picture immediately and explain how and why the president’s faces were carved into stone. I did what was asked of me with gusto. I have a passion for history and lovely places.
Earlier that morning, hours before reaching Rushmore, I could feel my palms turn icy cold with a cool sweat. The sun was skipping off the copper highlights in Nikolai’s hair. He held daddy’s hand tightly as he gazed into the steep canyon of the Badlands. Wind so strong it tugged at the curls in my ponytail and threatened to push me over the embankment.
Every inch my family took towards the edge had Tallulah and I feeling anxious for their safety. She cried out for them, and I was forced to tighten my grip on the black lead that kept her at my side. I’m terrified of heights, and I knew she was picking up on my concern as she had been trained to do. I considered what early Native American’s and settlers must have thought when they saw the Badlands for the first time.
Void of walkways and trails to navigate through it and the extra miles it must have added to their trip in order to go around. Did it feel daunting? An impossible task with the wicked heat of the sun beating on the crown of their heads as blustery hot winds spooked their horses. Did they find a way to work with the land or did they lose loved ones? It was within that moment of staring into the emptiness that I felt myself being restored from my busy life.
I get wrapped up in to-do lists, maintaining my health, and being a partner to my husband as we attempt to make ends meet. I lose my ability to sit quietly, to allow the strong winds of life to soften my rough edges but not to break me. I am horrible at trying to maintain control over events in my life but as I get older, I’m finding a newfound freedom in weathering the storm. In allowing myself to let go of things I cannot control; I have discovered a depth of peace that is unmatched.
We slid back into the car, and I realized that sometimes we all need to slip away in order to see the bigger picture. Two days into a ten-day trip and I was feeling more like myself already. The tension released from my shoulders when I allowed spontaneity to take the lead rather than trying to micromanage our plans. With an audiobook keeping us on our toes, a cup of hot chocolate in my hand, and an empty road kissing day two goodbye… I could hardly wait to see what would come next.