Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Picture(s) of the Week - Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, Wyoming with the Teton Range in the far background

Looking north from Snow King Mountain over Jackson Valley

The Tetons from the other side looking south towards Jackson
*Blog title picture is Carter with the Tetons in the background.

If money and politics were no object, Jackson Hole, Wyoming would definitely be on my list of top places to live and raise our girls. It's one of the most majestic and beautiful places I've ever been, and it is an outdoor enthusiast's Mecca. However, due to it's celebrity status real estate prices are through the roof. And, due to it's location in Wyoming, a cowboy-conservative hotbed (think Dick Chaney), it will have live on in my memory and simply remain a stunning place to visit.

I snapped the photos above on my road trip from Oregon to Ontario with Carter (our dog) in July 2011. Karen, Momo (the cat) and #1 went by air, our belongings went by truck, and Carter and I went by Subaru Outback (perfect car for this kind of trip BTW). I had pre-planned the first couple days of our trip in order to secure hotels that would accommodate dogs. The rest of our trip would either be spent sneaking into hotels if we had to (Iowa), or tent camping, which we did further east in Wyoming and again in South Dakota at Badlands National Park (pictures forthcoming). 

Carter and I arrived in Jackson Hole on our second day after spending our first night in Boise, Idaho. Jackson had me at hello. I expected it to be idyllic, scenic, and outdoorsy. It delivered on every level. I was captivated by the quaint small town setting and surrounding mountains before even stepping out of the car. Once I did step out of the car at our hotel, I checked us in and immediately booked another night. 

It was like this place was specifically designed for me and the dog. Those who know me well will attest to the fact I'm driven by some inner urge to run or hike up any mountain or hill that provides the opportunity to do so. Karen and I trekked the Himalayas in Nepal for a week basically as an extended first date after having met in the Kathmandu airport. We hiked the Machu Picchu trail in Peru on our honeymoon. We (Carter included) spent our years before #1 routinely hiking trails in Oregon with 3000 - 4000 feet of gain (Dog Mountain, Ruckle Ridge). While living in Portland, if time allowed, I'd set off on runs up into the West Hills where you can gain over 1000' in a mile or two. On past family vacations in Mexico and Hong Kong, I set out on runs with the intention of navigating my way through the city to the top of the nearest mountain. In Hong Kong that means Victoria Peak, which towers 1800' over the bustling city below. It's an amazing juxtaposition. Something about getting to the top, or as close as possible, has always compelled me.  

Hong Kong - I started to the right of the "X" building down by the water.
Well, similar to Hong Kong, Jackson Hole has a mountain, Snow King, that juts right out of the downtown core. However, unlike Hong Kong, which is obviously at sea level, Jackson sits at an elevation of 6,200' and Snow King rises straight-up nearly 1600' from there. Needless to say, the first thing Carter and I did was walk the three blocks from our hotel over to the base of the mountain, which serves as a popular place to picnic and chillax during the summer months. There were trails leading off in every direction and I had every intention of hiking to the top with Carter on-leash. Imagine our surprise when we soon discovered the entire mountain beyond the designated picnic area served as an off-leash dog park as well. Elated and invigorated by the scenery before us and the surrounding mountain gods, we power-hiked to the top.

As we reached the top, and evening approached, a beautiful thing began to happen. The clouds, which had been partially obscuring the Teton Range range in the distance (pictured above), started to part as the sun descended to the west. It was a magical moment. Everything before me was on such a massive scale. The valley. The Tetons. The King. The moment. I had to capture this on camera. However, my camera was back in the hotel room and the sun was setting...fast. We ran...fast.

Rather than taking the main trail back down, which had several switchbacks, we opted for a less used side trail with a more direct route to the base of the mountain. Ripping down the mountain leaping off rocks, stumps, and logs was an exhilarating experience I will not soon forget. There's nothing like jumping off a few logs on a trail to make you feel youthful, giddy, and in the moment.  

I quickly dropped Carter off, put on my running shoes, grabbed the camera, and made my way back to The King. I raced the setting sun back up the mountain and stopped to take pictures along the way. When I reached the top for a second time I finally took a moment to sit and reflect on the serene beauty before me as well as my life in general.

#1 was only nine months old. I had read somewhere that having a child and moving are considered two of the top five most stressful things in life, and here we were just getting used to the reality we had created a human life that we were responsible for loving and rearing, AND we were moving our entire lives from one side of the continent to the other. Not to mention Karen was embarking on going back to school for four years as part of a career change, and I would be seeking employment (another top 5). This was some heavy shit. I wanted Karen and #1 to be able to experience this moment with me.

However, ultimately, this was meant to be a solo mission. Not only did it afford me the opportunity to reflect on the trajectory of our lives, but it also served as closure to a deeply personal, emotional journey that had started back in Oregon, which spanned many years and spread across many countries. This moment and this place specifically was also about my buddy, Matt, who had lost his battle with cancer the previous year.

I had known Matt since Little League baseball. We had lived together in college and for a couple years post-college in Portland. We had travelled together for six months in SE Asia in our early twenties. In the ensuing years I went on to teach English in South Korea and Singapore, and he went on to film school in Miami. Though life took us in separate directions we remained good friends and had recently reunited in Portland.

Matt had a special affinity for Jackson Hole, and after he passed away his family spread some of his ashes in the surrounding hills. This was our moment together. I'm sure those clouds would've spread and the sun would've popped out on its own that day, but part of me likes to think it was Matt making sure I made it back up to the top of The King to soak it all in.

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