{Travel} The Trip That Almost Wasn’t….

In April I got a call that no child wants to receive. A call from my mom that my dad was in a head on collision. Those words were all I needed to hear and I was headed to Red Wing.

In my heart I knew it was useless because due to Covid no one, but the patient was allowed in the ER. While on my way a nurse called to ask me some questions about my dad and she said she needed me to come in and talk to him. I asked her why and she said “the doc will explain everything to you when you get here.”

On the surface he looked like his normal grumpy old self. He had some bruises and scratches, so to me he seemed ok. Then the doc came in and started explaining his Troponin level was off the charts and that he needed to be sent down to Mayo.

I stood by and watched as the EMTs loaded him up and rushed him away. It broke everything in me knowing that I could not follow that ambulance to Rochester. I could try, but there was no way I’d get in. So I did what my dad always says to do in a time of trial, I prayed. I prayed that he was going to be all right and I headed back home.

My dad had his second sudden cardiac arrest. This time it was while he was driving home from our cabin with Ruby (his trusty dog. Ruby did not sustain any injuries in the crash, she walked away unscathed to chase a turkey for another day). The Doctors figure the impact of him hitting the airbag/steering wheel restarted his heart. There is nothing they can do to prevent it from happening again. So we decided to live life, to live a full life because the next time it happens he might not walk away.

In June we had planned to go to Yellowstone, I had to move our trip to September due to his accident and Covid. September finally arrived and I was excited to get this trip underway. This was his first time on an airplane. As the plane lifted I looked over to see him in his seat pretending to fly the plane. I could feel the tears welling up and I fought them as hard as I could. It was in that moment the reality of our summer sunk in. I could have easily been traveling to Yellowstone alone.

It made me realize that these Daddy/Daughter trips will not go on forever. As much as I’d like time to stop, I know it has to end eventually. And that I as his daughter need to fill whatever years he has left with adventure and make memories. I want to have stories that I can tell to my children. Hell I want to be able to take my kiddo on trips with their grandpa, so that they can have stories to share.

In the end when the drip finally stops, all that is left of us is our stories. And I pray that you have people in your life who will continue to tell your stories when you are gone. Charlie used to tell me that “date of birth and date of death don’t matter on a tomb stone. It’s the “dash” between those dates that matters. Some of us chose to die while living and others my friend, they live while their dying. Your dash is your story, it’s the nuts and bolts of a life well lived or a life well mourned.”

Somewhere between the ghost towns of Montana and the valleys of Yellowstone, I added to my Dad’s dash. He kept saying over and over “I never thought I’d see Yellowstone. This is a trip of a lifetime.” he was right, this was a trip of a lifetime for him. We set out for Yellowstone in 2019, but only made it to the entrance due to car trouble. We vowed that day to come back, to come back and finish what we started. When I parked in the exact spot our trip ended in 2019, my dad looked around and looked at me and said “We completed our task!”

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana
Nevada City, Montana
Norris Geyser Basin

Indeed we did and all I have to say is Yellowstone is beautiful beyond measure and the mountains of Montana speak to your soul like no other place can. I would take this trip with him a million times over, including the tiny cabin with a broken heater that we stayed in.

Tiny Cabin at Pine Creek Lodge
Grand Teton National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park
Golden Gate, Yellowstone National Park

If you have a dad don’t take your time with him for granted, for he is not immune to growing old. Take the time today to start making memories. It doesn’t have to be some grand trip, it could be lunch or even just a walk in the park. Memorize his every word so that one day when he is gone you can pass his stories on. Even the highly inappropriate stories. Even the ones that make you cringe a little. When he is gone from this world his words will matter and you will be thankful that you have them to keep you company.

And as for my dad, I thank God every darn day for his third chance at life. I could not imagine this world without him and travel just wouldn’t be the same. He is and will always be my road trip buddy.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
Devil’s slide, Montana
Garnet Ghost Town, Montana

{Road Trip} To Montana You Go!

Back in November my Dad was ran over by a car while walking through a grocery store parking lot. My heart sank when we got the news that his left knee was shattered and that there was a chance he wouldn’t fully recover. It’s been seven months since the accident and he is slowly getting better. He now has a healthy fear of parking lots and a bum leg. Slow and steady is how we move in our new normal. A normal that still contains road trips.

In the past he would follow me anywhere. It didn’t matter how far or how high, he was always there right by my side. This trip was different. I had to think about walking distances and terrain. I had to ask myself “can dad walk to this? Can he climb these stairs? Can we drive up to it or…..” Those thoughts echoed over and over in my head as we drove closer to Montana. I wanted to make this trip accessible for him and not have him wonder if he could do something.

There were many times where I went ahead as he took his time or sat on a bench awaiting my return. My heart broke a little each time I walked away from him. A daughter should never have to leave her father behind. This is our reality now, he is never going to be the same crazy active 67 year old that he was. In this season in life I will enjoy the Dad that I still have and be thankful to God for what he can do.

The internet told me that dinosaurs once existed in Montana. So naturally I put on my dinosaur t-shirt and headed west. We stoped in at the Glendive Dinosaur Museum in Glendive MT. The museum is small yet well executed. The staff is knowledgeable and extremely friendly. Now I should warn you this museum isn’t for everyone due to its religious undertones. The founders of the museum do not believe in evolution and they believe that Noah brought baby dinosaurs on the arch (pretty cool theory if you ask me). The theory of Creation is sprinkled through our the museum in a very tasteful way.

We said goodbye to the dinosaurs and continued westward. Destination: The Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield. I have watched numerous documentaries on the Battle of Little Bighorn and to see it in person just takes your breath away. As the wind swirls around you, you can start to imagine the battle on the land before you. As you look around you start to wonder “why this land? Look at all of these hills, no wonder the union troops lost.” A single stone with a black shield sticks out among the small white stones. This stone, isn’t a stone for a regular soldier, this stone is Custard’s. As you travel through the grounds you will notice clusters of stones through out the fields. A white stone marks the place of where a union soldier fell. There are also red stones but those are few, the red stones mark where a warrior fell in battle.

The park closes at 6PM each night and with that we decided to mosey on to our next stop. Google told me about Pictograph Cave Park and I was excited to see it in person. If you are an out of state resident $6 gets in to the park. The trail to the cave is a little steep but paved. There are cameras everywhere along with signs telling you vandalism is a crime. Not to mention a sign warning you of rattle snakes.

The Cave was bigger than I thought it was going to be and it was beautiful. If you take a moment to readjust your eyes the pictographs start to pop out at you. Red warriors painted to the left, along with guns, Buffalo, and a funny looking guy with a shield. This land was sacred to them and they forever left their mark that withstood the test of time.

The beartooth pass is something I googled and googled and googled again. I stalked the MTD’s website for any updates about the roads opening for the season. Per the website the planned 2019 opening was Memorial Day weekend and I could wait! I even watched videos of MTD clearing the snow from the pass.

Lucky for us the pass was OPEN! But only halfway open! We didn’t care so long as we got to go. This road is a white knuckle you better pee before you get on it road. And just incase you are wondering my Prius did just fine on the pass. I have no words for how beautiful this road is. Snow capped mountains and vistas that go on for days! My dad even threw a snowball or two, thankfully it didn’t hit any cars below.

From the pass we drove to Yellowstone National Park….. this is where our adventure came to an abrupt end. The below photo is the only thing we saw in Yellowstone. As soon as we paid our $35 fee to get into the park, my rear breaks went out and we had to limp it back to Billings. In which by the grace of God I happened to catch a mechanic on Saturday night and he took pity on us and agreed to fix my car. Top Tech Automotive in Billings MT was amazing and I am so grateful that the owner Darren gave up his Sunday to help us out.

With new rear breaks installed we hit the road and started heading back east. We stopped off at Pompey’s Pillar and I climbed up the steps to look at Clark’s signature. Lewis & Clark stopped at the pillar and named it after an Indian guide named Pompey. The Indians also used the pillar as a bat signal. They would go to the top and send smoke signals to warn near by tribes that the whites were coming.

The walk up the pillar is easy. There are wooden steps that take you to two different viewpoints. There is a park ranger stationed at the signature to make sure no one damages it.

From here we continued on our journey back east and we made a quick stop at Theodore Rosevelt Park, ND Badlands.

Jamestown is home to the sacred white buffalo and the National American Buffalo Museum. The museum was closed on Memorial Day so we strolled through the frontier village which has goats!

We said goodbye to ND and continued east to home sweet home, Minnesota, this trip wasn’t what we expected but even in chaos we found adventure. My dad was excited about taking his first Uber ride and we discovered that MT is filled with a lot of kind folks who take putty on weary travelers.