Thursday, February 18, 2010

Getting ready for back again, but making the most of being here now

Andrew and I are moving back to the US this summer (we don't know where, just yet), so I figured I ought to try to catch up on some of the highlights of our time here so I'll have a complete record by the time we leave. The last time I posted, other than a special Amsterdam edition last year, was the fall of 2008. So here, as promised then, is the first installment of our summer 2008 family vacation. It was legendary, as you'll soon see.

The Ricke family has a tradition of wholesome, adventurous, outdoorsy sorts of vacations. We have been to dozens of state and national parks, done the whole camping and canoeing thing, and experienced, many times over, the glories of the cross-country road trip. But it wasn't until this year that we finally made it to the grandaddy of all the national parks, Yellowstone. This was also the first time we all travelled together as a much bigger family, with an extra husband, a fiancee, and a girlfriend (soon to be a fiancee, although we didn't know at the time!) in tow. The only missing family members were of the four-legged variety.

Andrew and I flew over a couple days early and just had time to hang out with Zack into the wee hours of our first night back on American soil. The next day we saw Matt Cooper, Zach and Mary Frances, Owen, and the brand-new Elliott, who was nice enough to let me hold him until my arms ached. We had a riproaring time at dinner and at Black Dog, where we took over the back porch until they kicked us out. We had some high-quality time with the Marders, too, including a very nice brunch, and we crashed Diane Eaton's going-away-to-grad-school party with Matt, but then it was time for the vacation within the larger vacation.

Let me just say, first of all, that I was very impressed by the logistical efficiency of the whole trip. Getting eight people with all their luggage to the right places at the right times is difficult, but we managed it. The first leg of the trip was a short flight from Tallahassee to Atlanta, where we picked up Bryan and Christina and spent the night in a hotel near the airport that featured a pretty decent Mexican restaurant. The next morning (I guess 4:30 is morning and not night) we got up and, I don't want to say forced, perhaps facilitated, our way onto a crowded shuttle bus headed for the airport. We got to the plane with no mishaps and had two long but easy flights, first to Salt Lake City, then to Cody. Andrew and I explained to everyone the elaborate buddy system we had developed in Europe, which meant that each person had a buddy (their significant other) and each set of buddies had another set to look out for, in age order. Mommy and Daddy looked out for Andrew and me, who looked out for Bryan and Christina, who looked out for Nicholas and Katie, who looked out for Mommy and Daddy. Beautiful. And it worked; we came back with all eight people!

The flights were notable to me for two reasons: one, Katie and I discovered we brought the same silly but enjoyable vampire book to read. That Katie is a quick reader; as fast as I am. Two, the flight to Cody was on a plane about as big as the table I'm sitting at. It was a fairly smooth ride, but we were all pretty happy to get off the plane. Happy, and hungry. First we had to pick up the car, which involved estimating how much room we and our luggage would need, to determine if we needed the huge van or the ginormous van. We went with the huge van, based partly on Katie's confident guess that we would all fit. She was right, with mere inches to spare. So we piled in and drove into "town." More on Cody at the end of the trip, but at that point we needed food. We decided to try the Silver Dollar Cafe, which promised the best burgers in the West. They were not the best burgers in the West, as it turns out, but they were decent, and we all ate as if we had never eaten before. Well, maybe that was just me.

After lunch, we made for the open road and drove, and drove, and drove. One by one, we drifted off in the back seats, and I remember waking up to find that we had finally reached the eastern edge of Yellowstone, about three hours after leaving Cody. We stopped at a gift shop in one of the little villagey clusters of facilities scattered through the park, then we got back in the car to keep driving. But at that point, it was no longer a chore; it was an attraction. As we neared the very heart of the park, we started to see animals. First, a buffalo on the side of the road, then ten buffaloes, then, all of a sudden, hundreds and thousands of buffaloes, spread across a great plain. We stopped at some mud pools, and there was a buffalo there, too, not ten feet away from where we stood, not so securely, on the slightly raised boardwalk.

The mud pools were unlike anything I had ever seen. Or smelled. They were sulfurous, which doesn't really sound all that bad, but imagine a swimming pool full of sulfurous fluids, and you start to get an idea of the odor. With the breeze blowing the fumes in our faces, we felt like visitors to an egg factory gone horribly, horribly wrong. They were fascinating to look at, though. The pools had muddy water in them, and the gases rising up through the hot water made it bubble violently as if it were boiling. There were tiny cones of earth, too, sending wisps of steam up into the dry air. The landscape looked as though it should be very hot, but it was mild because of the altitude. It was dry, though. There is not enough lip balm in the world to keep me comfortable in that kind of climate.

After the mud pools, we drove through a traffic jam of cars and buffaloes. Sometimes the cars were simply stopping to let vacationers hang out the windows and take pictures of the buffaloes, but often the animals walked right onto the road between the cars, forcing them to stop. We took about a thousand pictures of the buffaloes. We saw them standing, eating, nursing, rolling, tumbling, even running. They were the perfect embodiment of nature: grand and majestic, but at the same time, completely silly and unpredictable. I would not go so far as to call them elegant creatures.

As we drove west, through the park, we saw more mud pools, more buffaloes, then rivers and waterfalls and many mountains. We stopped for a few photo opportunities, but tried to push on so we could get to the grocery store in West Yellowstone and from there, on to the cabin in Idaho. That's right, this is all still on the first day. We found the grocery store and, along with it, a quandary. We had planned to buy all of our groceries at once so we wouldn't have to go back to the store, but with all of us and all of our luggage, there was no room for food. And in our group, no room for food is a serious problem.

More soon.

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