Earlier this summer, I embarked upon a road trip across the country. It was a fantastic journey, filled with sights and sounds and new experiences, and it changed my life. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to top it, let alone a mere two months later.
But I did. My trip to Ely was better.
Then again, I had somebody very special waiting for me on the other side. That makes all the difference in the world.
If I Had A Bucket List…
I’d be able to cross off no fewer than three items on this trip. But more on that later.
I already wrote about my drive down to Ely and the first night there. Did I mention the incredible sense of excitement that built up with each passing hour as the gap between us shrank? We were both giddy with anticipation. It tripled for me once I crossed the Nevada state line. There is no better feeling than knowing you are just a few hours away from seeing somebody special to you. I wish I could bottle that build-up juice and sell it on the open market. The world would be full of anticipation junkies.
So. Thursday, after lounging around Tara’s house in the morning, I drove to her office in town and met her for lunch. I got to meet her coworkers, who were friendly and welcoming, and hung out in her office while she finished up some business. She looked pretty cute sitting behind that desk being all official. When she was done, we stopped at Economy Drug in downtown Ely for lunch at an old-fashioned soda counter that looked like it was straight out of the 50s. Probably because it was straight out of the 50s. Tara and her mom had hyped up a drink called an Ironport, a soda that is similar to root beer but a little sweeter and spicier. It was pretty damn good! We then drove around Ely for awhile, Tara pointing out the various sights. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the town. Downtown is quaint and old-fashioned looking, with a little bit of neon glitz mixed in for contrast. This is Nevada, after all. The surrounding mountains provide a rugged backdrop. Tara had to go back to work for a few hours, so I took a drive a few miles east to a spot called Cave Lake, where I wandered around for a bit before returning to her house. I tried to take a power nap – I had gotten very little sleep the previous two nights – but I was too wound up with excitement. Around 3 PM Tara came home, and asked if I was ready for some four-wheeling. I’d always wanted to ride an ATV, so I eagerly climbed on board behind her and off we went, traversing a series of dirt trails in the hills around Ruth. What a rush! The wind in our hair, bumping and bouncing over rocky terrain. We switched places and I got to drive for a bit. Bucket list item # 1 – complete! We checked out the local copper mine, then sped up Garnet Hill to search for garnets and take in the breathtaking, 360-degree view. “I wish I could freeze this moment in time,” I told Tara, and what do you know…I guess I did.
We rode back home, and after a mishap involving a lost phone – Tara had dropped it somewhere on our adventure, and amazingly retraced our route and was able to find it – she cooked chimichangas and baked pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Her friend Ray joined us for dinner, and he is quite the character. Real nice guy. He left, Tara and I got cozy on the couch, and my first full day in Ely came to a close.
Ladies & Gentlemen, Our Cruising Altitude is 10,000′
Friday morning we headed east to Great Basin National Park, a little over an hour away from Ely. Our fist stop was Osceola, a ghost town and former mining camp. We walked around an impressive little cemetery on a bluff, and drove over a rocky dirt road through what was left of the town before meeting up with the highway again. After a stop for lunch at a little bar and grill in Baker, we headed into Great Basin. Unlike many of the national parks I’ve been to, there is no admission charge to get in. We stopped at the visitor’s center and then took a 90-minute guided tour of Lehman Cave, a spectacular underground cavern of stalactites and stalagmites. The cave was a cool 50 degrees, and Tara and I were the only ones without jackets, but we managed to keep each other warm during the tour. I loved holding her hand – not just there, but wherever we walked. That’s the type of simple but affectionate gesture that is missing from my life.
Following the cave tour, we drove up and up…and up…until we were suddenly at 10,000′ elevation. The view up there was remarkable! We then took a hike on the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, a 2.7-mile jaunt past rolling fields and stands of Quaking Aspen and fir trees, with majestic Wheeler Peak looming in the distance. We stopped at both Stella and Teresa Lakes, and saw a couple of deer along the way. I will admit, the first part of the hike was strenuous; it wasn’t that steep, but at 10,000 feet you have to struggle to fill your lungs with oxygen. We took frequent stops and drank plenty of water along the way. I’m used to hiking alone; having somebody to enjoy the scenery with was pretty nice.
Afterwards we drove home, and Tara made us another fantastic dinner. Homemade beer bread, salad, ribeye steaks, and these fantastic sauteed mushrooms that I am so going to have to make myself. We ate dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed, exhausted.
Jealous, Dirty Harry?
Saturday was more of a leisurely day, but still full of fun. We drank coffee and sat on Tara’s deck, enjoying the morning sunshine and quiet, before heading into town to check out the farmer’s market and Renaissance Village. It’s nothing like the acres of tents and produce stands I’m used to at home, but the few tents and buckets of fresh fruits and vegetables just screamed small-town charm. I ended up buying a jar of pickles. We were hungry by that point, so we headed to Rack’s Bar & Grill (once owned by her dad) for burgers, and shared a basket of fried pickles that were really damn good. After lunch we went back to her house, where we took the quad out again, and that is when I crossed item # 2 off my bucket list.
I shot a gun.
Not just any gun – a Ruger 9-mm semi-automatic pistol with a twelve-gauge clip. Oh. Hell. Yeah.
I’ve never been a gun person, but had always been curious and wanted to take a shot. Literally. So Tara took us out to a spot a few miles from her house, set up a few cans to shoot at, gave me a quick lesson on how to use the gun, and then handed it over to me. I surprised myself by not only managing to hit my targets a few times, but by actually taking out three cans in a row, one after another, at one point. Sweet! It was a real adrenaline rush and I felt all sorts of studly. I see the appeal now.
When we were finished shooting we drove through town and out to a rock formation on the outskirts of Ely called The Gap. Along the way it started to rain, and I experienced what Tara had told me about countless times before: when it rains in the high desert, the sweet smell of the sagebrush perfumes the air all around you. It’s an incredible aroma. We had planned to take the Ghost Train tour – a ride aboard a steam locomotive – but the Ely Depot had just changed to a fall schedule and the train we wanted wasn’t running. Well, it was, but two hours later and $44 more, so we decided to skip that and spend a quiet evening back at Tara’s house. We lay entwined on the couch, watching a couple of movies, and the evening was romantic as hell. After leftovers and Bloody Marys it was getting late and, because I was getting up early the next morning, we went to bed. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. We both read for awhile, and then switched off the lights. I lay there in the dark a long time, my arm draped around her, not wanting to let go and fall asleep because I knew when I woke up, it would be time to leave.
But I did. And it was.
I Feel The Need. The Need For Speed.
I did not want to leave Tara; every fiber of my being screamed at me to stay. But I couldn’t. Reality intruded and demanded I get into my car and drive away, but not before a sweetly tender embrace and a promise to see each other again soon. I pulled away from her house, waved goodbye, and made the lonely drive through downtown. It was 39 degrees, the wind was blowing, and it started to rain. I pulled over across the street from the Hotel Nevada, brightly lit against the predawn darkness, feeling the rain on my skin and wishing so badly I could turn around and go back to her.
So many emotions…
(And did this really just happen yesterday? Did I hold her in my arms and kiss her a mere 29 hours ago? Already it feels like an eternity).
I gassed up my car, pulled onto the highway, and watched Ely disappear behind me. Tried to take my mind off the sad fact that such a fantastic trip was over in the blink of an eye by listening to Built To Spill as loudly as I could. Once the sun rose, on one particularly solitary stretch of road, I pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Driving 100 mph was the third item on my bucket list. I hit 102, and have the picture to prove it.
The long ride home sucked. I knew it was going to be hard, but I truly wasn’t prepared for exactly how difficult it would be. Every passing minute took me approximately 1.25 miles farther from Tara, and when I crossed the Idaho border I felt a pang in my chest. We were no longer in the same state. God, I feel pathetic writing all this! Can’t help it, though. She’s gotten to me in a big way. I’m crazy about her.
And I get that our situation is far from ideal. She’s 840 miles away. On the plus side – she’s 840 miles away. A little more than a 12-hour drive, close enough to make the occasional visit, even on the spur of the moment. This is my glass-is-half-full side saying it could be a lot worse. She might live in Fargo. Or Birmingham. No offense to either of those places, but I like Ely a lot better. Plus, her goal is to move out here. I know that it won’t happen for awhile, maybe even a year or longer.
But you know what I think? Finding a real connection with somebody is difficult. Tara and I click in a way that feels incredible. We have a long past and a ready-made foundation from which we could build upon. A mutual respect and admiration for one another. And a hell of a lot in common, including a few things that surprised me. I think the sky’s the limit, and anything is possible should we choose to take that step.
I, for one, am no longer afraid.
And in 37 days, she is flying up here for another visit. We’ll be staying with her mom (hi, Tracy!) in Seattle for a few days and attending a three-day music festival. We’ve already purchased our wrist bands and have our calendars penciled in. I’m excited as hell to see her again.