Driving across Wyoming we decided to get off the interstate and take some scenic byways. Getting off the big highways and traveling on smaller, prettier roads had been something we'd talked about doing from time to time. I mean, the unfortunate fact is, you can't do it all the time, as much as you'd love to. Driving through and stopping in small towns...pausing at pull-off areas with majestic overlooks. It's the best. But it also sometimes takes you about three times longer than the major thoroughfares and, let's face it, we've got to get home at some point. Let's be practical. J and I read about the Big Horn mountain range in one of our guidebooks, which pointed out that the beauty of the Big Horns sometimes gets lost in a state that also boasts Yellowstone National Park, and so we decided to divert from our highway path, and take US 14 and then US 14A through the mountain pass to the other side where we'd make our way to Cody and stay for the night.
We wanted to be careful about it, though. I mean, it was only early November, sure, but states like Wyoming, we were finding, do things like close off roads in the winter because of the sheer amount of snow they anticipate. It hasn't been too cold so far - which is both good and sort of sad as I'd love to run into some snow while on this trip - but still, we wanted to make sure we weren't going to run into an ice patch at 10,000 feet and, you know, drive off the mountain.
Plus, it was approaching 5 p.m., and from what we'd read about the route we were going to take, the road was going to be winding and we were going to be headed up steep up and downgrades. So we didn't want to end up driving along somewhat treacherous roads in the dark and ice and possible blizzards and wind gusts.
You see where this is going. We started to totally psyche ourselves out. We've both driven in icy conditions. We've both driven up mountains. We've both done stuff way more risky, like the time I jumped off a 50-foot cliff into the ocean below after having tons of rum punch while on spring break in Jamaica my senior year, just because everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun, for Christ's sake. What were we scared of?
No matter, we were scared. We started thinking things like, who did we think we were? Two punks from North Carolina trying to drive through a mountain pass in the winter? And, I mean, it was like 50 degrees that day and we were still freaking out. Sure, it was probably colder up there in the mountains, but we were getting kind of out of line.
After calling the Wyoming road report line and listening to a recording that said conditions on US 14 were "dry and favorable" and doing a bit more research in our guidebooks and still feeling nervous, I finally found a number for a visitors center in the Big Horn Canyon area, on the other side of the mountain range, and spoke to a kind park ranger who was willing - even though I'm pretty sure this isn't his job - to talk us down from our self-imposed feelings of terror.
He explained that, "Um, first of all? US 14 is a state highway, so, you know, you don't really need to worry," and I think what he was getting at was while we'd been envisioning one-lane gravel roads where death confronted you at every turn, that was actually not the case. He went on to tell us that the weather was good, that he crossed through the mountains that way every day, and that we'd certainly get through to the other side before the sun went down. "Just drive carefully," he said. "You'll be fine."
I thanked him and told him that, see, we were from North Carolina. I really wanted to play up that aspect of our worry, maybe so we'd seem less like idiots, maybe so we'd seem more so, I don't know, but he was very good-natured about it. "You sound like what we call 'flatlanders,'" he said.
Yes, I told him. Flatlanders, indeed.
Naturally, the trip up through the mountains and down the other side was totally safe and not that difficult except when J had to navigate some sharp curves while heading down steep slopes on the way down. There were guardrails though, of course. When you are caught up in devising your own worst nightmare atop a mountain, you forget about things like guardrails.
We forgot all about being scared upon taking in the amazing views from up there. Getting over our initial, and pretty ridiculous fear was, very clearly, totally worth it.