I love paintings for different reasons. This one of a lake reflection in Medicine Bow National Forest is my favorite as far as technical skill goes. I was very happy with how it turned out: I love the texture in the different plants and rocks, I like the transparency of the water and seeing the rocks beneath the surface and the sky reflected in the water. I like the composition and the velvety nature of the brush strokes. I've painted four paintings so far of this area and also this experience.
In addition to loving this painting because I love my technical development as an artist through this painting, I love it because THE EXPERIENCE!
I relocated all the way across the country this summer to upstate New York to spend time with my partner and best friend before he deploys next year. I spent the last part of my summer in Washington and Oregon visiting friends and doing a few backpacking trips before starting my drive across the country to Watertown, New York. It took me almost a week to make that drive. I drove it pretty much straight through. I had been adventuring since April and honestly, the funds were running low so I didn't sight see much on the way, just drove mile after mile after mile sleeping at KOA campgrounds, Walmart parking lots, and miraculously in this spot that I painted! It was the highlight of my drive across the country and possibly the most beautiful scenery I saw all summer including the month I spent in Colorado.
I had stopped in Salt Lake City to pick up the rest of my things that I left at my friend's house and decided to cut through Wyoming on the drive. At this point, I was very road weary. I had been driving 7 hours a day plus and if you've driven across the country, you know that there are parts of the US that make you hope you never have to make that drive again...NEBRASKA...cough cough...eastern Oregon to Boise...cough....
I had used iOverlander to scope out sleeping spots for the night near Laramie, Wyoming so my goal for the day was to get to Laramie and then get horizontal on my comfy bed in the back of my truck. Let me digress for a minute with an ode to Gertrude, my Nissan Frontier. I used to have a Toyota Tacoma, Johnny Utah. Yes, Johnny was rugged; big tires, 4 x 4, silver mid-sized beast, roomy, but screw the seats in that truck on a long drive! Tacomas are not made for long drives if you have big girly hips like I do and a bad back. My back killed me on long drives in the Tacoma. So before I left Seattle on my crazy adventure during the pandemic (I traveled to remote parts of the country living in my truck for eight months during the pandemic), I traded my Tacoma in for a Nissan Frontier. A cute, tiny Nissan Frontier and I got a Snugtop canopy for it. Then my friend and I built a bed platform with storage in the back of it. I bought a tri-fold memory foam mattress for the back of it and the back of my truck has literally become a place of refuge and peace for me. I mean, when I visit friends and they offer up their spare bed, I'm like "No, that's okay, I brought my bed with me." I'm a small person, 5'4" on a good day, and I can stretch out and be overly comfortable in the bed of my truck. My partner, on the other hand, cannot. His feet hang out the back window when we camp in the truck. He takes up alot of space, as men will do. Gertrude's seats are heated and literally the most comfortable seats I've ever had in a vehicle. I have zero back pain after a long drive in the Frontier and it still does all the truck things the Tacoma did, but with a little less clearance. I highly recommend if you're putting in the miles.
So on my way to Laramie, I hit the worst traffic I've ever been in. I mean miles and miles of stopped traffic for two hours. I had time to apply for three jobs in New York by using my phone as a hot spot to my laptop, make a sandwich on the tailgate, and take a nap. It was awful mostly because I had been chugging on water and there were zero places to pee without every single person on the highway seeing me do it. So when I got to Laramie, I was exhausted and wanted to the easiest place to stop hurtling through space on pavement at 80 miles an hour. Initially, I was going to sleep at a spot that was meh, but available. I think I had considered the Walmart in Laramie. Then I did a little more research and saw that there was a national forest nearby with mountains and a few first come, first serve campgrounds so I decided to push through the exhaustion to get something out of the drive.
It only took me a extra 30 minutes of drive time to get into the national forest and I was rewarded with the view on the right! A beautiful alpine lake stretched before me, no traffic, just serene nature. I already felt the stress and tension of the road rolling off my shoulders as I drove further into the forest.
I ended up at a trailhead and had hoped to sleep there for the night. There were signs that said no overnight camping there, but sometimes you try to get by that especially if backpackers are leaving their vehicles there overnight. I try to be respectful of policies 100% of the time, but sometimes you just need to park and crawl into the back of your truck and hide for 8 hours. I definitely understand why they have that policy especially with the rise of van life. You don't want a popular trailhead completely filled with van lifers. There was a campground right down the dirt road that I assumed would be full so I walked from the trailhead to the campground just to see and by sheer luck or fortune, I found the very last camping spot for the night and snagged it for the steep price of $10. I was overjoyed. I managed to make it to the campground in time to do some afternoon hiking in the area so I packed my gear and hit the trail.
Absolutely stunning scenery. Wildflowers everywhere, bodies of water reflecting the stormy sky, petrified wood fossilized in the rocks, towering granite cliffs and boulders, it was everything you could ask for in a hike. I hiked about seven miles over a pass and into a valley before turning around due to weather. On the way back, the sky dumped rain. Just a downpour. And when I got back to the campground, an older man came up to me and asked it I had seen a women in her 60s on the trail. I told him I had not and asked what was up. He had said that the lady staying at one of the campsites had told him she was going on a hike and hadn't returned and he was worried about her with the bad weather rolling in. She ended up showing up shortly thereafter, and I could tell he was very relieved. One of my favorite things about the outdoor community is the way we look after one another in the wilderness. I have had several experiences on the trail that required help from strangers. I've given water purification tablets to long distance hikers who had lost their purification abilities and been without water for 24 hours, I've assisted in a search and rescue in a slot canyon in Utah where the hiker had to be airlifted out, I've been search and rescued myself in North Carolina on a backpacking trip after injuring both ankles on the Art Loab Trail. The wilderness community looks after one another because you know that it could happen to you. Being prepared, being aware, and having training in wilderness first aid is critical if you plan on spending extended amounts of time in the outdoors. Be safe! People get injured and die everyday in wilderness settings.
When I got back to the campground, it was really pouring so I crawled into the back of my truck and made ramen, got out of my wet clothes, and went to sleep.
The next morning I decided to explore another set of trails close the campground that passed by a large lake at the base of the Snowy Range. Damn! I was overwhelmed with beauty and it was very hard to pull myself away from the views to start driving again. I'm a big fan of minimalist, modern architecture like concrete structures with large windows and almost bare decor and zero clutter. Spaces like that help calm my mind and make it easier to focus. It streamlines my vibrations. The Snowy Range was nature's equivalent of that for me. It was simple in its beauty; just these huge towering white walls of granite that plunged into crystal clear waters reflecting blue sky. There was a beautiful order to it and lack of chaos. Even the boulder field I crossed through seemed manicured and not chaotic even though the very definition of a boulder field would be chaos through erosion. It was silent except for the wind blowing across the water. And I love silence. Noise is the equivalent of clutter to me and it complicates my mind and thoughts. I sat on the lake shore that morning and just took it all in. I didn't want to leave and that spot amplified the fact that I knew I was leaving the beloved western United States landscape that fills my heart with so much joy. I was choosing to move across the country for a person I loved that didn't have the ability to join me in the places I long to be. It was a beautiful and bittersweet moment that filled me with dread but also gratitude because I was reminded of all the beautiful experiences I've had over the last ten years that most people only ever experience through photos or social media posts.
Eventually, I had to hit the road again. That day I crossed into Nebraska. They were stark contrasts in experience. The Snowy Range in Medicine Bow National Forest was the one moment of peace and rest I had on the long drive across the United States and it will always hold a special place in my nomad heart. I've painted four paintings so far from just the 12 hours I spend in that location and I think it's my way of transporting myself back to that place and experience.