“Don’t fall in love with the first cowboy you meet,” warned her Uncle, poking fun as he hugged her goodbye in the Billings Airport in Montana.
She hugged him back with a hearty laugh, wrestling with her reading material – Montana, Wyoming, and Bridal magazines that her cousin had picked out for her moments before. She turned to say goodbye before entering the security line. “This was it,” she thought. “This was my day.” She had already fallen in love and everyone knew it. There wasn’t a cowboy in town that could take his place on a whim.
Manic, worn thin and highly delusional, she boarded the plane next to none other than a cowboy in his hat and rustic get-up. He smelled of fire and charcoal. And she liked that. It was a natural scent to her and made her feel instantly at ease with the man.
“You from around here?,” he asked already knowing the answer. She couldn’t have stuck out anymore than she did that day, dressed to the nine; a striped blue and white dress with orange flowering jewels, a fedora hat and flip flops in the snowy wilds of Montana. She was heading to Philadelphia on her way home from a month-long journey that changed her life. Some say for the worse, but she was determined to make it for the better.
“No, I am from Pennsylvania. Are you from around here?”
“I am from Montana. I’m a fisherman. Came on vacation and never left,” he said with a smoker’s chalky laugh.
“That was my plan, too, but things have changed. It’s beautiful country out here. I didn’t want to leave,” she said with a sickening, but excited feeling in the pit of her stomach. She wanted to stay, but Pennsylvania had bigger plans for her that day.
“What do you do for a living,” he pried curiously.
Pausing, she managed to blurt out, “I am a designer. And…and, I am a writer.” It wasn’t a lie. She was still, and always would be, a designer even though she had quit her job years before. She was a writer, even though at the time her words were incomprehensible to most. That was of no matter. To her, they were gold. And the words spewing out of her mouth at that very moment had weight to carry her through the next 7 months of her life in a whirlwind of creation and collaboration like she had never known before.
“Please fasten your seatbelt,” the Stewardess motioned to them in the back corner of the plane. She was kind of disheartened in that the cowboy didn’t offer her the window seat to peer over the edge of all she had been driving through in the last week. It would have been a glorious sight to see after all these long days spent traveling the mountain ranges. Kind of like a great ending to an exciting chapter in her life.
She sat back in her chair defeated for only a only moment. She slipped into her recent memories, satisfied for the time being. Her imagination ran wild as she recalled the events that took place only the day before. “Enough of an adventure to tell a story about one day,” she thought.
It was April, snowing and wildly bitter on that night before Easter in Cody, Wyoming. I knew I had to pack up and leave because I had finally run out of money to fund my manic traveling spree. I had one more night in this small mountain town, in the Skyline Motel, where I had spent over a week with my dog, Maverick. I bought him halfway through my trip out West on a whim. He was a Siberian Husky and only 9 months old. As beautiful as a puppy could get. He reminded me a lot of myself during that time. Highly energetic, hilariously awkward, and curiouser than Alice in her Wonderland.
Not wanting to end the trip short, planning for an epic camping trip started to manifest in my brain. It dawned on me that I had all the supplies I needed. I had a tent, shovel, boots, rope, water, food, a camping knife and plenty of wood, fuel, and warm clothing. And a dog. A very apt dog in these conditions.
“It wouldn’t be that bad,” I convinced myself. I had learned all I could after countless years spent watching survivor shows. “Time to put this into practice once and for all. If no one will do this with me, I will do it alone,” I said confidently.
I drank my last 6 pack of Bud Light and smoked my last ciggies, dozing off for only a few hours into Easter morning. I was so manic at that point, that only a few hours of sleep were caught every night for a month or so.
Easter morning was like any other morning I woke up here in Cody, except this time a strangle of fear and sheer exhilaration overcame me. This was it. This was my day. I had to prove to myself that I could survive in the wild.
Yellowstone National Park was closed off and had been for a while. So long, that over 4 feet of snow piled up on its banks and entrances. But that wouldn’t stop me. Not today. I would camp there under the stars until they opened the gates. My plan was to hike in, as some people do in the Winter months. How I was going to do this I didn’t know, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t try.
She packed up her belongings and organized her gear. On the way to taking her dog out for one last iced coffee at McDonalds, she greeted the sun and returned her hotel key. The only thing that was missing was her morning cigarette. But that would take care of itself shortly thereafter, for she was resourceful and creative, and nothing stops a feign craving for a cigarette, I assure you.
She had big plans for Yellowstone on this day of Resurrection. She was going to find her love in the wilderness, come hell or high water.
She had a half a tank of gas left, enough to get her to Yellowstone for sure. She had no ciggies though so she used her brain, foolishly as some would say. She had been in the midst of enrolling in Star Career Academy, for cosmetology. In her trunk were folders full of homework. On the side of the road was grass…dried grass. Sorry, but desperate times call for desperate measures. There was no way in hell she’d be caught out in the wilderness for a week without smoke in her lungs.
She pulled over between a mountain hillside and a field and began to collect the driest grass she could find. Using her homework, she ripped it into pieces and rolled up the grass into small cigarettes that looked like joints. Yes. She did. And she smoked them. And they were glorious. And funny to look at. Imagine a gal alone with her dog, smoking joint-like ciggies on the side of the highway on Easter. The sight was probably funnier to others than had she smoked weed that day, herself.
I continued on my way to Yellowstone. On the hillsides, Rams butted heads and elk galloped across the highway through the raging Yellowstone River to the right. Buffalo stood watch as the bears woke up from their winter slumber. Wolves were no where to be seen, but Maverick knew they were there for he howled and hollered the entire way down into the valley. I couldn’t help but laugh and join in on the nature calls.
I reached the end of the highway, leading into one of Yellowstone’s many entrances. Closed, as I suspected. At this point, near the entrance, it started snowing again. On top of an abandoned cabin to my right and on top of Park Ranger vehicles blocking the way in. I sat there for a while enjoying the solitude. Again, my GPS and navigation was out of range and I had to rely solely on my internal compass to guide me. But I was just sitting there, so not much guidance was to be had, or so it was at the time.
I got out of the car and took Maverick for a short jaunt to the front of the buildings that guided your way through the entrance. No one in sight…not a sound. Only hawks and eagles at this point. Suddenly, a terrifying thought came to mind. What if it’s illegal to cross through? What if there is no ‘day’ to be had? What if this was all an illusion and a trap? What if I didn’t make it out alive? How silly to risk my life and my dog’s life.
I am not sure what came over me, but thankfully I had enough of a sober mind to turn the car around and head back toward Cody. “This isn’t over Yellowstone,” I said as I drove away.
I came across the same Buffalo and Rams on my right this time and the river on my left. It was in this spot that I noticed that I had enough service to stay connected to friends and family on facebook and through text. So, I stayed put. I maneuvered into a pull-off on the side of the river. The water was raging; white water rapids ripped through the landscape fed by rapidly melting snow from the mountains above. To the right of me was a cliff with buffalo in the field below. I was so close, I could have walked up to them and gave them a hearty pat. Luckily, instinct kicked in and I decided against that as well.
Next to the river was a great place to stake my claim for the day, so I trudged down the bank with gear in hand and plopped it down in the grass. A good fire, some friendly chatter with friends, an afternoon with my dog romping, hand-rolled grass, and my day would be complete; despite the buffalo shit that lay 2 feet from my camping area. Warning, red flag. But I didn’t care. I was invincible that day, after all.
With Maverick still in the car, I started to make a campsite as best and as fast as I could in the freezing temps. I cleared a round area of grass with my shovel and dug deeper down, so that the wind would be blocked and so that I could start a fire in the pit. Earlier that week, I had gathered bundles of wood for my journey on the sides of the roads. I suppose it was instinct … I knew I was going to camp one way or another.
After I had finished clearing a site, I went to get Maverick out of the car. I went to grab his leash.
Only he had different plans.
He skirted between the door and myself as fast as a bullet, overly excited to partake in such wonderment. Off he went! Running through the thick, thorny brush near the river bend. Running wild and free. I couldn’t help but smile, although a small pang of fear rose up within the further he explored. I was invincible, or so I thought and I assumed, in my manic state, that everything I touched was invincible too. So, as you can imagine, in my state of mind, I was okay with the fact that he had run free for a small jaunt. I knew he would be back at the campsite after all options were explored on his part.
As Maverick played on the banks of the river and ran amuck through the brush, Lizzy started her fire. Or she tried. She got her fire starter out and laid it in the pit she had created. Adding to her frustration, the wind picked up and even though the sides of the pit were high and the hole deep, she still could not get the fire starter going for the life of her.
“This isn’t happening!’ she screamed, “I can always get a fire started no matter the weather!”
After all the sides of the fuel-soaked wrapper had been lit and squelched by the wind, Lizzy finally gave up. She was in panic mode now, as night was setting in and there was nowhere to go from here. Little to no gas, no money and no one to come to her rescue. She called her mother in desperation and anger, begging her for more money to spend one more night. Which we all knew would turn into twelve nights, so the answer was undoubtedly, “No.”
Screaming at the top of her lungs in her most impressive satanic impression ever, Lizzy berated her innocent mother…her voice echoing off the mountain tops. She was surprised no bears came wandering by to see what was for lunch in that moment. Her screams were that of prey; panicked, petrified, and colder than ice on bone. Her wonderment gaze quickly turned into a survival mode glare as she collapsed in her dirt pit on all fours, bawling with her mother still on the line.
She had to do something and fast. But Maverick was nowhere to be seen. She couldn’t leave him there anyway.
But she had to. For the sake of her life and his, she had to leave him in the brush to go find some help for this evening. The temps were too cold to camp without fire and she knew this. So, fetching a cowboy in police uniform was her only option. There was no way for her to break through such thick and thorny brush. Only a puppy his size could fit through that.
I ran to my car and sped off, remembering a police station not far from where I was on the outside of Yellowstone. Before I had left, I had enough sense to leave my rope hanging from the sides of two side posts. I also hung my white jacket on a post as a sign of surrender and danger. I wanted to warn whomever came across it to look for someone, mainly my Dog.
Rounding the bend, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend when I was in South Dakota. “Go to the police if you need help, not crazy people,” she begged. It was kind of serendipitous to remember the conversation and it pointed her in further toward the cops.
I pulled into the station and stated my name, handing over my license. I was in tears at this point, frantic and panicked about my Dog.
Soon, the doors unlatched and I was able to walk inside to state my story and ask for help. I told them about my harrowing day and that I had lost my dog on the side of the road outside Yellowstone. They took the information down and asked, “Do you have a place to stay tonight? Do you have food?”
“No,” I cried. The cop disappeared behind mirrored glass.
I sat there, again, on chairs not unlike the ones in Niagara Falls four years before in Immigration and not unlike the ones in International Falls in Minnesota, again, in Immigration. I looked into the wild beyond the hills and simply broke down. All this travel for this? To lose my dog, my love and possibly my life? The mountains seemed to understand me; steadfast, unmoving, and unshakeable … gleaming their hope in the setting sun.
The policeman walked from behind the glass, handing me a voucher for a one-night’s stay at the Super 8, food hotlines and the Yellowstone Department of Transportation’s phone # so I could call them about Maverick. They also said they would look for him that evening and in the morning when the sun rose. They left me with some homemade chicken noodle soup and homemade biscuits as my last meal.
My heart still broken and with little hope left for my 9-month old puppy, I gathered myself and went to the hotel. I was very thankful for a warm place to stay. I knew in my heart though that Maverick would make it through. I talked to my cousin that night and he convinced me to fly home with help from my Uncle and himself. They would drive from Duluth out to Billings, MT and meet me in a day or two, fly me home, and then my cousin was going to drive my car all the way home 2 weeks later.
I was beyond delusional. I was exhausted. I was manic and high. I thought it was my day the next day, so I agreed. With or without Maverick, I would be leaving the State to fly home and continue on with life.
Of course, it was all a ploy to get me home, safe and in a mental institution. Which I am now thankful for, because as it was going I was about to hurt myself in grand ways. The mania and psychosis was getting really bad. So, I ended up there. Unfortunately they did not find Maverick that night nor the next day or the next week.
The police from Cody called me about a month after my arrival home and they told me that Maverick was found about a week and a half later on the side of the road by an adoring couple. The police said they had developed quite an affinity for the dog and he had become quite accustomed to the family. The choice was mine to make. Would I let him be in peace after a harrowing trip? Or would I selfishly drag him away from a loving family and fly him home into a unstable world.
I am happy to say that I let him stay in Cody, Wyoming…where he belongs. Where he can run on ranches, chase horses and explore the wildlife til the end of his days.
“Will you ever return?,” asked the cowboy as he peered out the plane window.
“Yes. I plan to live here someday and that is for certain.”
Yellowstone had had its day. Maverick had his. And I was about to have mine…