What Wyoming looked like last week
(written on Thursday, January 10, 2013)
This week I’ve had the unique opportunity to take a last-minute cross-country road trip. (So that you’re not distracted with why I might have had this opportunity, here’s the deal: I flew to Georgia, bought a car, and then have had to drive it home to Utah.) I do a lot of driving every day any way, but that’s just around town. Long-distance road-tripping sans kids is like a vacation for me: all the music and podcasts and Dr. Pepper I can handle.
For being January, I have had a surprising lack of bad weather. On Tuesday I drove from Augusta, Georgia, to Champaign, Illinois (770 miles). On Wednesday I drove from Champaign to Lincoln, Nebraska (538 miles). Today (Thursday) I started out from Lincoln with the intention of making it all the way to Provo (897 miles – longest day and totally doable). Instead I’ve made it to Lyman, Wyoming (762 miles). Stupid snow storm.
Today’s drive has had me thinking about Mormon pioneers, they who crossed the plains pulling their belongings in handcarts and setting up camp each night as they walked (and walked and walked and walked) toward their Zion. The first thing I realized is that I don’t know many details about Mormon pioneers. If memory serves, though, more than a few companies of traveling pioneers left later in the summer season than they should have, resulting in their facing brutal winter storms, the effects of which left many dead along the trails. Like I said, I don’t know the details, the dates, and I’m not sure they were still marching along in early January, or if they were anywhere near what is now Interstate 80, but maybe they were. I just know that it was frigidly cold then, just like it has been this week.
I drove on bridges that crossed rivers. The rivers were mainly frozen. I thought of the dread of facing that obstacle on an impossible journey. As a mom with kids, I can’t imagine the heartbreak, the feeling of defeat, coupled with the only option: press forward.
At times the wind blowing across the road forced me to reduce my speed for safety, and I glanced out over the barren landscape. I was sitting in a car with a heated seat, not walking in a dress and a coat. That bitter wind was too much. As a mom who has had to bury a child who has passed away, I can’t imagine the horror of having to do so in frozen ground followed by hoping against all hope that as soon as you leave the wildlife won’t attack the body you’ve had to so unimaginably painfully leave behind.
As I approached Rock Springs I got phone calls, text messages, and tweets from friends: “Get off I-80! The storm is intense! Abort mission! Get a hotel room!” I told them, “I’m fine! I’ve checked the weather reports, and I haven’t seen even one snow flake.” Then, as I realized that I seemed to be one of the only cars on the road, it started, and it came out of nowhere: first the flurries, and before I knew it, I could barely see the road. Luckily I was able to exit and make my way to a pleasant motel (Gateway Inn in Lyman, Wyoming – check it out) to spend the night in a warm bed. As I’ve settled in, my thoughts have drifted back to the pioneers. They were also caught off guard by storms, but they spent the long winter nights outside. No hotels, no heaters, no other options. All for the cause of their faith.
To be honest, each time my mind has wandered to think of those pioneers, I stopped my thoughts: to really consider it was entirely too much. In my family I’m a pioneer, but the first time I crossed the plains was when I moved to Utah from New York, and I did so in a Jeep in August. In no way can I compare my experiences this week with those of the early pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (other than the area traveled). But I’ve realized that to consider them, consider their experiences, can be a strong lesson in examples of faith that may help us to be grateful for what we’ve got.
(Also, I should mention, my thinking about the pioneers has only just begun. This summer I’ll be participating in a handcart trek reenactment. More on that later. )