This time yesterday morning found me on a densely forested trail in southeastern Wyoming, locking eyes with a mother moose out foraging with her baby about 50 yards away from me and armed only with a good pair of running shoes and a healthy sense of wonder. It was the beginning of the last day of a 7-day road trip over the course of which a good friend from Seattle moved to Jackson for a new job via New Mexico with me and another good friend for company. This was to be our last run together for a long time, and it was off to a great start. We’d caught a glimpse of the two moose through the trees towards the beginning of our run, and over the course of 15 minutes or so we’d tracked them here, to the other side of a clearing, ready to cut and run for cover at a moment’s notice if things went south. But things didn’t go south. We sat there with them for what was probably only a minute or two (although it felt much longer), relatively small animals silently observing and being observed by a much larger one, and then they went their way and we went ours, out to Turtle Rock and the best scrambling I’ve ever done before completing the loop trail back to our campsite at Vedauwoo, packing up the car, and heading for the tiny Jackson Hole Airport so I could catch my flight back here to Seattle.
I’ve done a lot of road trips in my life—the solo west-coast-bound road trip was an art form that I perfected in college, and all told I’ve logged well over 300,000 miles on the Interstates and highways of the lower 48, including 15,000 miles steering an S2000 around all the best driving roads in America—but the one that just ended, Seattle to Jackson the Long Way as I’ve taken to calling it, is tied with 2005’s seminal The Outer Loop for the best road trip I’ve ever taken. First and foremost it served as the liminal space between my friend’s time in Seattle and his time in Jackson, built around a tour of some of the most important wild places of his youth; but the trip also represented a merging of the road trip tradition of my early adulthood with the backpacking and trail running traditions that have become increasingly important parts of the way that I experience the world more recently, thanks largely to the same friend who just moved to Jackson. It was an honor to be able to share that whole experience with my two traveling companions, and to get to spend so much quality time with both of them.
And it was a fantastic trip. We covered more than 2500 miles over the course of 7 days; we car camped every night except one; we ran high-altitude trails in the mornings and climbed the tallest peak in New Mexico; we had long, multi-state discussions about religion and politics and love and money and all of the other important things in life; in addition to moose we saw or heard elk and deer and owls and hawks and eagles and marmots and coyotes and perhaps even a mountain lion; and it all happened in the American West, rolling hills and huge forests and wide open plains and long, winding rivers and epic mountain ranges that were alternately our backdrops and our playgrounds. It felt like joining my experience of Seattle to my experience of the rest of the country, connecting them physically in a way that they hadn’t been connected before, and mixing in my friends’ experiences of the same places to create a richer, deeper understanding not only of the two of them but also of the physical geography of our shared country.
The experience of seeing different places through the eyes of these specific friends, both of whom are not only seekers in the true sense of the word and important people in my life but also at different life stages from me, was very powerful. The fact that I’m much more attuned to the natural world and my relationship to it now than I have been at any other point in my life also meant that this trip was much more about communion than escape, which if I’m being honest was probably the most common theme of the travels of my college years.
Communion means different things in different contexts, but I use it here to incorporate elements of community, personal growth, meaning, and adventure and exploration, the sum of which is the same kind of interface with the divine that a lot of people find in a formal place of worship. That definition was perfectly expressed in the entirety of the run yesterday, which was a microcosm of the trip as a whole. When I finally said good-bye at the tiny little Jackson Hole Airport at the end of the day, in the shadow of the Teton Range at the end of a particularly scenic day, it served not only as the official end to my summer of 2014 but also as a send-off to a friend I’m really going to miss. I can’t imagine any better way to have said good-bye.