Sunday, August 8, started out as any other day, except that I was almost 800 miles from home and making my way to Yellowstone National Park with my boyfriend and our four children. We had planned on leaving much earlier in the morning and was about four hours late (no huge surprise here). But we still figured we would be able to trek our way through Yellowstone National Park, see some awesome sights, and get home an hour or two later than we had originally planned.
We set our course to head through Yellowstone National Park by way of West Yellowstone, then upon leaving the park, we decided we would take the highway over to Cody, Wyoming, and then cut north. This route would add additional miles to our trip, but it would prevent us from having to drive up in the mountains.
Everything was going according to plan, despite our late start, and we were seeing some beautiful scenery and awesome wildlife. Using a checklist as a guide, our kids marked off that they’d spotted a black bear, a Grizzly bear, elk, mule deer, swans, pelicans, ravens, and several other wild creatures, including buffalo.
Oy, the buffalo. This is where our day ended up going downhill. Did you know that buffalo are virtually impervious to schedules? Traffic was backed up for probably an hour while a couple of buffalo decided to meander aimlessly down the middle of the highway, stopping occasionally to bellow at travelers taking multiple photographs. I never knew buffalo were such divas, posing and glamming it up for the cameras.
We finally got past the buffalo, and we realized we were running much later than we thought we were. After a quick consultation with the map (too quick, it turns out), my boyfriend, in his infinite wisdom, decided that instead of cutting over to Cody, Wyoming, we would now cut through Tower Junction and head north sooner, via Beartooth Pass. With a brief glance at the map, I agreed that the new route definitely seemed to be shorter. In two dimensions.
Having lived in the flat plains of North Dakota almost all my life, I forgot that life is sometimes in 3D.
We headed out of Yellowstone National Park, and we kept climbing higher and higher in elevation. One sign said we were over 8,000 feet above sea level. Again, in my ignorance, I didn’t realize what exactly this meant, except that I had a huge headache.
Higher and higher we climbed, and we were soon out of Yellowstone National Park by way of the Northeast Entrance Road. Higher yet we drove, and soon the roads grew narrow, and the speed limits diminished to 35 miles per hour, then 25 mph, then 20. I thought I was doing pretty good, especially considering that even “normal” curves scare the hell out of me, but then my boyfriend said, “Uhmm, okay.”
“Yeah. I’m getting nervous.”
Thanks for the vote of confidence, sweetie! I did my best to reassure him as I’m secretly panicking on the inside. Okay, it wasn’t a secret. Every little twitter from the backseat was met with a loud and anxious “shhhhh!!!” I’m pretty sure I threatened violence to anyone who made a sound above a whisper.
As we climbed, the temperature outside dropped from 70 degrees to 45 degrees, yet I kept the air conditioner on. I needed to keep a clear head. “We’re cold!!” cried the children from the backseat. “Too bad!” I screeched from the driver’s seat. Apparently, the higher we got, the higher my voice got.
The drive was nerve-wracking. They were doing road construction up there, so several guard rails were missing. I was acutely aware that we were mere inches from the edge, and even an ill-timed sneeze would send us hurtling to a fiery death. The roads got narrower, the curves got sharper, the drops got scarier, and soon we were looking down at the snowcaps on the tops of the other mountains. We were on the highest peak in Montana.
Then I saw it – a road sign that read “Top of the World – 1/4 mile”. Woah. I pointed it out to the boyfriend and he said something about how we were over 10,000 feet above sea level.
Confidently, I sailed right past the Top of the World. Okay, I white-knuckled it and crawled past it. But still, I made it.
I conquered the Top of the World, and my boyfriend drove us down the mountain.