On the road again

If I seem especially relaxed, tan and well-rested this week, it is because I come to you fresh off the heels of a 10-day vacation. I know, it may seem like gloating, but it was the first official have-the-neighbors-water-the-plants and lock-the-house-up-tight trip I've taken in eons, so I feel I'm entitled.

Besides, it's not like it was the spa-and-pamper variety of trip. This was econo-trip all the way. Like all good Americans on a budget, I loaded my camping gear, toys and loved ones into the family yuppie mobile and hit the open road to check out our nation's great wonders. Typically, this type of trip tends to be more work than those that involve lounging in a mud bath with cucumbers on the eyes. But some would argue that riding in a crammed vehicle watching the miles tick by, eating bad food, listening to staticky AM talk radio and wearing wrinkled, dirty clothes day after day can have just as much of a restorative effect on one's psyche.

"The whole point of a vacation is to make you appreciate where you live even more when you get back," a friend reminded me as I began to question the sanity of carting a small, restrained child half-way across the country.

And the trip couldn't have come a moment too soon. Not only had downtown outings started to feel like spawning season, but I also had begun fearing for my life. Every step out into the crosswalk was like a giant leap into the unknown. The final straw came when I narrowly escaped becoming a hood ornament for a black Ford Excursion with out-of-state plates. Perhaps my blood-curdling scream was an overreaction, but when you realize that your last moment on Earth is going to come at the expense of a huge chrome grill, it's easy to get hysterical. From this point on, it was obvious a trip away from Durango was just what I needed to regain perspective.

Of course, I realize I'm one of the lucky ones. For most Durangoans, summer is gravy time; time to bust your hump, put in the doubles and add a nice layer of fat to the bank account. So, for those unable to get away for that little get away, below are some of the highlights guaranteed to put a new shine on that daily grind:

Day 1: Can't help but get over the nagging feeling that I've forgotten something

Stop at gas station to feed yup-mobile in Monticello, Utah, home of the world's largest Big Gulp, which requires both hands and a bladder of steel. Truly awe-inspiring.

Day 2: Pull into Forest Service campground somewhere in Utah at ungodly hour. Immediately notice overwhelming stench of burning yak dung. Consider leaving to find another, less odoriferous campground when it is discovered smell is emanating from travelin' tyke's britches. Ro sham bo. Lose.

Wake up to breakfast in Logan, Utah, home of koffee kreamer and the raspberry-white-chocolate bran muffin. Strangely delicious.

Arrive at first destination: Jackson, Wyo. Find our accommodations have been upgraded from backyard family tent to Mallard camper suite, complete with mini fridge and toilet. Score.

Begin first day of several days'-long geographically-imposed Atkins diet.

Day 3: Continue Atkins diet with breakfast at a place called "Bubba's," aptly named for one's increased waistline upon leaving. Discover the beauty of chicken-fried steak.

Burn off Bubba's by spending rest of day lounging by pool (after nearly passing out trying to blow it up.) Club Med eat your heart out.

Day 4: Decide to make use of the kayaks we lugged 600 miles. Haul gear, boats and world's heaviest toddler down steep trail to Snake River only to find highly touted surf wave is washed (knew we shoulda checked with the local shop first). Try to surf it anyway and get shown up by old guys on surf boards. Leave in disgrace.

Day 5: Decide to go into town for lunch. Must've taken a wrong turn and found ourselves in some sort of Wild West theme park. Become extremely disoriented somewhere near a giant antler arch and make mad retreat back to the safety of the yup-mobile.

Day 6: Leave for second destination: Bozeman, Mont. Decide to take scenic route through Yellowstone National Park despite urgings from friends not to do so. Assume position for next several hours behind diesel pickup pulling horse trailer going 45 mph.

Come across what looks like a horrible accident as people slam on the brakes and run from their vehicles only to realize we are experiencing the first of what is to be many "wildlife moments" in this case, the rare and elusive black bear.

Do drive-by of old Faithful.

Exit park via West Yellowstone, Mont., snowmobile capital of the world and land of real beer in convenience stores. Stop for dinner of Red Vines, Chex Mix and Bud.

Day 7: Legitimately forgot what day it is. Could have something to do with the two bottles of wine with dinner, but think it probably is just a sign of a good vacation.

Day 8: Still not quite sure what day it is, but know the end is drawing near. Had first real wildlife moment when I came within 10 feet of momma bear and baby bear. Didn't get close enough to find answer to age-old question of whether bears defecate in the woods, but can be certain scared mountain bikers do.

Day 9: Begin journey home, via Dillon, Mont., home of highly coveted Patagonia outlet as well as Sandy Kay's Fritos and cheese dip special (served in Styrofoam bowl.)

Outlet was a bust but decide to start adding more Fritos to diet.

Drive through eastern Idaho, but may as well have been dark side of the moon.

Day 10 : Breathe huge sigh of relief as topography begins to look more familiar and see an increasing number of green license plates. Become downright teary heading over Red Mountain Pass, but mostly because after 10 days, stench in yup mobile has become unbearable. Pass out somewhere near Purgatory, possibly from fumes.

Wake up outside my house, which is still standing much to our relief, and finally remember what it was I had forgotten: home.

Missy Votel




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