I got home this evening from a quick weekend getaway to Astoria, Oregon. The sunset was beautiful and the weekend was amazing! On toward summer.
Somewhere, in that space between the loss and the letting go of it, you must feel its whole, heavy, crushing weight. That’s what grief is. No one prepares you for how heavy that weight is, how hard it is to carry, or how long it will linger in your heart. But you have to feel it in its entirely, in order to feel the light begin to peek in the cracks on the other side of grief. It will never go away completely; you will always carry some of it with you. It changes you, but in time the light will come back and you will see the road forward with new eyes.
My last three years have been largely about grief. The end of my marriage, a job with a toxic environment, the loss of two beloved cats, and having my life upended by my father’s sudden death.
There were nights I cried myself to sleep, and days I felt so numb that I thought I may never cry again. I walked with that weight pressing me down, invading every inch of my soul. I walked even on days when I thought I couldn’t possibly have any more strength. I lay awake most nights at 3 am, turning over every word, every feeling, every look I had received, trying to make sense of what went wrong. I did this even when I knew logically that I did the best I could, I did exactly what I was supposed to do, I upheld my end of the deal. Not perfectly, but I did the best I could.
I lay awake with the weight of knowing that you can’t make somebody else step up to the plate, or keep the promises they made. Knowing that sometimes you just run into assholes, and kindness won’t make them stop being assholes. Knowing that sometimes we all get the shitty end of the deal, no matter what we do. When I did sleep, I had vivid nightmares. My brain is very, very ruthless. For me sleep came and went, with the insomnia returning with each new trauma. At some point, the sleepless nights once again became nights where I slept more peacefully. It creeps up slowly, so you aren’t really sure exactly when it happens. I still have those nights that I wake up at 3 am and turn over everything in my mind; they are coming less often now though.
The light seeps into the cracks, and you find your smile returning. Sometimes other people notice it before you realize it’s there. You find yourself laughing where you faked it before. You find yourself looking forward to things again, instead of seeing each day as something to be endured. My road trip helped me immeasurably. With each mile that I drove, and each place I visited, and each kind person I met along the way, the weight lessened. My heart lightened. But time played a part too – and the distance that time creates.
No, it never really truly goes away. You still have the memories. The good memories, that bring you joy and peace. And the bad memories hit you like a gut punch when you least expect it. They also remind you that you can get through it, as long as you don’t give up. You change. The grief will still be a part of you. But it will no longer define you. So yes, somewhere, in that space between the loss and the letting go of it, you must feel its whole, heavy, crushing weight – there isn’t any other way. I’m not quite there yet, but one day, it will feel lighter.
Day 7, Sunday, July 22, 2018
After I visited the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, I still had plenty of time in my day. I headed over to the Old Montana Prison. For some reason, I have a morbid fascination with old prisons, and this one didn’t disappoint!
The Old Montana Prison was in use from its construction in 1871, all the way to 1979. Much of the present facility was built using convict labor, and the sandstone walls are 24 feet tall and extend 4 feet down into the ground to prevent prisoners from digging their way out. Construction of the exterior walls began in 1893. The oldest buildings currently standing at the prison are the original women’s building from 1907, and a 1912 prison building.
The prison is huge, and you can wander on a self-guided tour to see the cell blocks, cafeteria, women’s block, exercise yard, warden’s office, workshops and more. I don’t think I would want to visit at night though; I’m sure the place is haunted! The exhibits in the prison included information on the 1959 riot there, which resulted in the death of Deputy Warden Rothe and the murder-suicide of the two inmates who initiated the plot. Several guards and other staff were held hostage for about 36 hours, before the Montana National Guard stormed the prison and ended the riot. The inmates were rioting over the poor conditions at the prison, which got worse after the riot ended.
Another notable story is that of “Turkey Pete” Eitner, who was convicted and sentenced to life for murder in 1918. He became a model prisoner and was eventually put in charge of the turkey flock, which he proudly cared for. His mental illness led to him believing that he owned the flock, which he then “sold” for a profit. More entrepreneurial ventures followed, and he soon “owned” the prison. Prisoners were permitted to humor him, and they printed checks on the prison printing press to pay for various things, and Turkey Pete “paid” for all the expenses at the prison. When he died in 1967 after being incarcerated for 49 years, he received the only funeral ever held within the prison, and his cell was retired.
The Old Montana Prison site also has four other museums on the site, and your admission fee of $15 (you get a discount with AAA) gets you into all of them. The Montana Auto Museum has over 160 cars ranging from the invention of the first cars to muscle cars and sports cars. Many of them are very unusual, including historic campers, and a replica of an 1886 Benz, which had one of the very first internal combustion engines. I am not that into cars, but it was fascinating! I was also impressed that they could get them all crammed into the building. That would take a lot of planning to determine in which order they needed to be moved in, as well as some very good three-point turn skills.
The Frontier Museum has artifacts of items that were used by ranchers, farmers and frontiersmen during the Old West period. There are firearms, saddles, spurs, a wagon, and Native American artifacts. The Powell County Museum has artifacts that include mining industry items, and a local wood-carver’s collection. Lastly, Yesterday’s Playthings has exhibits on model railroads, and dolls and toys. Outside, you can explore an Old West Town, with homes and businesses that have been moved to the site. None of these other museums take too much time, but are worth peeking into!
The museum complex also has a very unique museum shop. The current prisoners in the Montana State prison system have the ability to make an assortment of arts and crafts, which are sold to the public through the museum store. There are some very beautiful and intricate items, including paintings and tooled leather bridles. I was in awe of their talent!
Soon though, I had to be on my way. I drove to Dillon, Montana and found a KOA campground for the night. I wanted to be close to my destination for the next morning! I got there in enough time to enjoy the swimming pool and sit listening to the creek that ran alongside my campsite. It was a nice place to park for the night.
Day 5, Friday, July 20, 2018
On my last day in Glacier I got up early and left the campground about 7:30 am. I was going to be driving up the Going to the Sun Road one more time and exiting out the east entrance of the park.
Since I had already seen some of the sights along the west side of the park, I just drove until I got over to the east side. I stopped at some of the viewpoints and did a short hike from there. On that hike, the trail ended up narrowing sharply and going through quite a bit of tall shrubbery and I was completely alone; I got a bit nervous that this might be prime bear habitat so I ended up turning around. I did find a beautiful creek coming through a gorge near there though and took some photos.
I passed by St. Mary Lake and stopped to take in the view and take some photos. St. Mary Lake is the second largest lake in the park, at 9.9 miles long and 300 feet deep. It has a small island, Wild Goose Island in the lake. There are boat tours of this lake too, and it would be fun to go on one someday! Interesting, the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was shot at St. Mary Lake. In case you want to refresh your memory, here it is. The views are stunning.
On the east side of the park I stopped at the Visitor’s Center for my stamp and to check out the exhibits on the Blackfeet tribe’s use of the park’s land as part of their traditional homeland; they call the area the Backbone of the World. The park and the Blackfeet have a partnership now that allows the tribe to continue to use the land.
Also on the east side of the park is a 1913 Ranger Station; it was used as a ranger station until the 1930s, when it became ranger housing. They restored it in 1976. The site also contains a barn that was originally built in 1926, and was later moved to this location. There are a few hikes that depart from the Ranger Station through the grasslands on the east side of the park.
Upon leaving the park, I stopped to visit the Blackfeet Memorial, a memorial consisting of metal tipis constructed by the tribe. There are signs at the viewpoint explaining where the Blackfeet traditional lands once extended to, as well as information about their culture, way of life, origin stories, and Blackfeet names of the mountains visible from the viewpoint. This area was burned by fire in 2006; the Red Eagle fire consumed over 34,000 acres within the boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park. It was an interesting stop!
The rest of the day was spent on a long, meandering drive through rural Montana towards Philipsburg. I had about a half a tank of gas, and told myself that I would get gas when I next saw a gas station. I had enough for about 30 more miles by the time I finally saw a gas station! This is big country, my friends, and a lot of it is very sparsely populated. Get gas when you have a chance!
I rolled into Deer Lodge, Montana that evening for two nights at the Indian Creek RV Park. They welcomed tents, but they weren’t really well set up for them – $45 for 2 nights. They parked me in the middle of a grassy lawn, and I felt a little bit like I was living in a fishbowl, surrounded by all the RVs! I was the only tent camper there. They didn’t have any picnic tables set out, just a small gazebo on the lawn, which I ended up setting up my cook stove in – you do what you have to do. For dinner, I had rice, polenta and turkey sausage – yummy! That night was the first night I set up my tent; it would have been awkward to sleep in my car because it was just parked on the road alongside the grassy area. I learned that even though it was hot during the day, it got really cold at night!
The weather has been a bit erratic this week. We had snow that melted in a few hours, then snow again a few days later. The days have been mostly sunny and cold overnight, but warming up nicely during the day.
I was greeted with this stunning sunrise a few days ago; it is too pretty not to share.
Day 10, Tuesday, July 3, 2018
After we left Bath, we went to an early dinner at the Stonehenge Inn. It was an all-you-can-eat carvery dinner (all-you-can-eat is generally wasted on me since I can’t eat that much but I tried!) with four kinds of meat; ham, pork, beef and turkey, along with veggies and Yorkshire pudding, and ice cream for dessert. I love the big Thanksgiving style meals in England, but I was also craving a salad!
After dinner, it was finally time to see Stonehenge!
Stonehenge was built beginning in 3,100 BC; it was initially a raised circular embankment. It is theorized that the earthen embankment was originally a burial ground, as bones have been found during the excavation. About 300 years later the blue stones were added. Blue stones is a generic term; some of them are igneous dolerite stones. They are believed by most to have been transported by the builders from Preseli Hills, about 150 miles away in Wales. Approximately 600 years after that the sarsen stones were placed. These are the 30 large standing stones, with another 30 stones capping the ring.
More blue stones were added later on, and stones were moved around over the years, although it is unknown why. They stopped using Stonehenge during the Iron Age. I guess it depends on where in the world it is, but the Iron Age in Britain seems to be approximately 550 BC to 800 AD. That’s quite a bit of squish in the knowledge about Stonehenge. Researchers can only speculate on Stonehenge’s purpose; they do believe that it was a place of spiritual significance because the monument lines up with the sun at the winter and summer solstice. Excavations have revealed animal bones that lead researchers to believe that people gathered there in winter.
When we got there, we walked up to the site as a group before getting our pre-viewing briefing, which basically consisted of “Don’t be the jerk who touches the stones.” “If you touch the stones, you will get kicked out and have to go wait on the bus.” “If you touch the stones, everybody else will jeer at you and mock you and throw tomatoes.” “Got it?” It wasn’t quite like that, but that was basically the gist. We were split into two groups and let loose among the stones for 30 minutes for each group. The only drawback of the sunset tour is that when you arrive, the Visitor’s Center is already closed for the day. I would have liked to see that.
While the other group was in the inner circle, we got to wander around the outside.
Standing inside Stonehenge and seeing it up close was incredible. It was a very spiritual experience to see this monument built thousands of years ago, and to wonder what the makers intended it for. The lowering light of the sun was amazing to see on the stones and between them. While it would be cool to see Stonehenge on the solstice, it was nice to be here with so few people (there were about 40 of us on the tour). It was really a bucket list experience, and I’m afraid words can’t really do it justice. The photos will have to do.
Tube Stations: None. We disembarked from the bus on Gloucester Road, which was less than a mile from our hotel, so we walked home from there (you also have the choice to disembark back at the bus station where we left from in the morning).
Costs: Golden Tours day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, with an inner circle sunset viewing – $175 (note: this price is in U.S. dollars), carvery dinner – $15 pounds
Fitbit Steps: 14,022
I’m in California; almost at the end of my long road trip. I have driven over 13,000 miles, and have traveled within 32 states (and Washington, D.C). 10 have been states that are new to me in my adult life, although I didn’t explore a few of them at all; rather just driving through.
Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hamphire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and finally California. It has been a long, enjoyable drive, and I have seen and done so much along the way. I still have one more state to pass through before reaching Washington once more.
I’ve been having some down time, in California, and as often happens with me, once I stop to rest, that is when I get sick. I have been pretty lucky to have not been sick while on this road trip, but now I’ve gotten a cold, complete with sniffles, sneezes, coughing, and exhaustion. I’m taking some time to recover, resting and sleeping a lot, with lots and lots of cold medicine. The cold medicine is accompanied by strange, crazy dreams, but I guess that’s a small price to pay for being able to breathe.
Fortunately I can take some time to get better. I’ve been thinking a lot about what my future holds; new opportunities that weren’t clear at the beginning of this trip. Onward…