Post 502: The highway in the sky

I white-knuckled my way, steering our rented Ford Fusion around the switchback roads. Up, up, up we climbed. Twist. Turn. Twist again. The Fusion hybrid changed to its electric alter ego, informing me with a leafy icon on the dash. 

“I can drive if you’re too nervous,” Nick said. But he didn’t mean it. He too was taking in the scenery, jaw on the floor.

“No it’s okay! I got this.” 

We twisted and turned, then twisted again. We stopped at a pull-off to join other gawkers. We snapped pictures. We took it all in.

Nick had read about the alpine region and its intriguingly fragile vegetation. Oh, and the marmots. We hoped to see those after being rained out of Olympic National Park in 2016.  

We got back in the car and continued our drive. Up, up, up, to the welcome center, parking lot riddled with tour buses and driving campers. 

We parked. Used the facilities. Exchanged the obligatory “It’s amazing but sad that the plumbing works up here” comments. Bought our 1-year-old niece an “ABC” book about Rocky Mountain National Park. (“‘M’ is for ‘Marmot!’”) Then we hiked. 

In a single-file line.

Up manmade steps lined by “DO NOT CROSS” ropes. Plant markers on the side of the path illustrated the delicate tundra. Stepping over the ropes means certain death for plants that had taken decades to mature in the frigid alpine temperatures. 

Nick marveled at their resiliency. 

We inched our way up the path, hanging out behind slightly overweight human beings and families with children. We reached the top, surrounded by selfie sticks, clouds of chatter, and excited exhales. 

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I said before we could take it all in.

We descended, step by step. Got back in the car, pulled out of the lot. Noticed with a start that, across the street from the welcome center, a van had gone off the road and stopped just before a steep drop. The van’s tire tracks cut through the vegetation, its family sprinkled across the tundra awaiting a forest ranger.

We stopped at another pull off at the Medicine Bow Curve and mountain-goated our way up a worn path. We passed a birder and a middle-aged couple wearing New Balance sneakers. 

Otherwise, serenity. And spectacular views. And MARMOTS.

We continued on to the other side of the park. Down, down, down, balancing responsible driving with sightseeing. 

Elk dotted the landscape. I wanted to see a moose and made up a song about it (foreshadowing: we’d see one later that very day). 

Throughout the drive we marveled at nature and man’s ability to build and maintain roads at such extreme altitudes.

And we both hoped they never try to save people from themselves at the expense of nature’s unbridled beauty.

Post 501: It’s here, it’s enough

After going to college in rural western New York, many of my peers flocked back to their big-city hometowns or left their backcountry nests behind in search of something bigger, something better.

I understood the allure — skyscrapers, busy streets, the excitement of being where things actually happen.

I wondered if it was something I wanted, too. So I applied to jobs in Buffalo (a good starting point, I thought), New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Tucson. I penned dozens of cover letters and adjusted my creative résumé using Adobe InDesign. I got as far as my starting point, where a local ice cream company said “thanks, but no thanks.”

I ended up in a small town that calls itself a city, nestled just below the famous Finger Lakes region in New York State.

“Why?” You might ask. To that I say “Well, why not?”

You’re talking to the girl who grew up riding her bike down one hill and up another, passing only a decrepit department store, an abandoned train depot and dusty store fronts as she huffed and puffed to the library. 

The girl who ran miles around cornfields and pastures, with one runway of a road – damn you, Wheater! – that seemed to stretch into oblivion. 

The girl who yearned for charming coffee shops, lunch spots and, at the very least, a one-screen movie theater. 

Today, all that is here. And it’s enough.

I frequent several local coffee shops and lunch spots, and I cruise down busy streets to riverfront paths on either two wheels or two legs — it doesn’t matter which. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized this place is as city as Emily gets, and riding my bike or walking downtown to a lively main street full of restaurants, ice cream shops, and trendy bars will never ever get old. 

Now when I visit home I relish in the long, empty roads dotted by farm creatures and picturesque barns. I appreciate what I had, what I have, and what will be. And today if I were to bike to the library from my parents’ house, I’d pass a coffee-shop lunch spot, the two-in-one deal I never knew I needed.

It’s today. I’m here or there, and that’s enough.

Oh, and did I mention the theater here has two screens?!?

Nick is one of my favorite photo subjects.