Thursday, December 14, 2017

Paradise is a Tough Place to Leave

The eternal gaze of the Snowy Range, part of the larger Medicine Bow Mountains, keep a watchful eye over Saratoga, Wyoming. It's gold medal trout streams draw fly fisherman, novice and expert alike from around the globe. The year round healing waters of it's natural hot springs extend an open arms to all. Many a weary cowpoke or adventurer have found the largest of exhaling "Ahhhhhh" moments slowly lowering themselves into these soulful pools. 1690 folks who still appreciate and cling to the simple pleasures of life live here. And, for my money, this is also where you will find the finest hotel on earth. The Saratoga Hot Springs Resort.

I had been on the road for 4 days now. Or was it 5? The further west I continued on, the more intense the recurring dilemma of each morning became. There was not enough sand in my hourglass, or perhaps i just didn't like the pace at which it was passing from orb to orb. No matter. Beyond my control. The snow and ice covered roads of the Yukon Territory, and beyond that, Alaska, that lay ahead allowed no time to stop long and smell the roses or more appropriately, to dance with the tumbleweeds. The 29th of November was a hard deadline. This left me 7 days to knock down 2500 miles. Final destination, Fairbanks, Alaska.

The small wooden desk in my room at The Saratoga Inn, sat just at the bed's end. It’s front left leg just a bit shorter than the other three, created a bit of a wobble. All pieces perfectly weathered, it seemed the ideal place to sit and write...forever. The perfect cup of coffee, as is any ground and poured by one’s own hand, begged me to stay. It’s scented plume, the perfect mix of chocolate and floral notes put me under their spell. Even I, a novice author, so new to the wordsmithing trade, could pencil out something worthy of the parchment to which I was sharing my thoughts. Just outside my door, fire already ablaze in the library's massive stone fireplace, it seemed at any moment, great authors from days past or perhaps a half dozen cowboys, tired from the “drive” might saunter in.

I imagined my welcoming them and offering a bribe. Fresh coffee in exchange for me being allowed to sit in their midst. Not so long ago, years for me, a second, less than a second in the time span of the mountains looking down into this valley, I had ridden my two wheeled “horse” over Snowy Range pass from Centennial, Wyoming. A couple Moose, mamma and calf, (the first I had ever seen), slowed our progress off the back side of the mountain that day. Eventually into the valley, the view stretched endlessly in every direction. I may as well have been the first to ever lay eyes on it. Awestruck was a word properly used to describe the moment. Not easy to tears, I could feel them welling up. Such a place I had dreamt of and now it was before me. No homes, power lines, nor any other signs of man other than the stretch of road I stood, one leg down, the other still clipped into the left side pedal. It was a view that had been enjoyed, just as it was now, just as it was then. 

I can’t be sure if it was 2 or 30 miles from the base of the mountains to Saratoga, doesn’t really matter other than to give you some scope of it all. The miles passed with ease. Time was less relevant in this wild, yet untamed place.  One got the sense that it existed in a more natural space, marked by snows and thaws more-so than days and nights. 

Natural hot springs, a Main Street that still seemed more suited to hard pack dirt versus asphalt and an old west style kindness awaited us. Truth told, I was in love with the place before I ever laid eyes on her. 

Checking out of the Saratoga Inn came much too soon. Returning to the place had so quickly rekindled our love affair. It seemed a shame having to put her in the rear view mirror again so soon, our romance once again set ablaze.

Swinging the large wooden doors open, the over sized wrought iron handles a bit cold from the sharp winter winds that blew on the other side, a crisp “good morning from the “Snowies” welcomed me to the upcoming day. If so blessed, I would return again, ideally sooner than later, but most certainly, not soon enough. 

Next stop, Missoula, Montana

To your dreams, to ALL our dreams,

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Hope y'all our enjoying the journey. If you are enjoying the writing you can download my first book "40 DAYS" FREE. Maybe a Christmas gift for the adventurer or two in your tribe. It also puts you on the shortlist as the first to get a shot at my upcoming book "Upside Down in the Yukon River". Happy Holidays to you all.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Free Pancake and a Robe (Denver to Saratoga Wyoming)

Recently, I have rededicated to my spiritual practice. A three month adventure to Alaska seemed the perfect opportunity to, in the words of  Will Smith, "Get zenny with it." There are many I follow to get my fix  and education in this area. Sadhguru, Jim Carrey (yeah, that's right, the comedian. Dude knows things), Ram Daas, Mooji, to name a few. Recently, lending my man Sadhguru an ear, as he began to lay what I figured to be some deep "Guru" kinda stuff on me, he goes all short and sweet and throws a dart right into the middle of my third eye.

"You want to be a happier person? Would you like to make the world a happier place?" To which I responded, metaphysically of course, "Hell yeah I would", waiting for the wisdom of the ages to be dropped....."Smile more", he says. And that was it. So endeth the lessen. "Smile more?!?!?! That's it?!?!?! As I looked to the YouTube recording time along the bottom of my I phone, my question found it's answer in the 0:00. Yep, that was it.

My brain found no joy in this. In fact, it revolted. I believe my ego also found this to be a HUGE disappointment. Both wanted some snow covered peak in the distance type advice. They needed this to be a colossal undertaking, one that only the most dedicated and diligent could lay claim to have mastered. "Smile more?!?!" Setting the mind and ego aside for a moment, not an easy thing for me to do. More and more I find the two of them steering the boat as I sit unaware of our final destination. A work in progress, I am,  for sure. Anyway, the two would not sit quietly for long so I looked inward to consider if it could all be just that simple. Was this great secret so obvious that it eluded us all this time? Is it possible it is the greatest of karmic jokes? Had I been sitting cross legged, legs falling asleep, and all this time I could have just 'smiled more?" About that time ego and mind jumped back in and a deal was struck. I'd agree not to believe this simple silliness, but the two of them would have to at least agree to a trial run. Begrudgingly, they accepted. Today I'd be headed through from Denver  to Boulder and eventually to Saratoga, Wyoming as I continued my 10 day or so road trip to Alaska.

First stop after leaving great friend Bill Dabney's place in Denver would be to see another great friend Jo Ann Toman. Jo and I first met long ago during my second stint living in Colorado. She was a server at The Walnut Brewery in Boulder and she was kind enough to help learn me the ropes as I took a swing at waiting tables to support my local adventuring. Her quick snarky wit found a home in my heart real quick. We've remained pals ever since and every time I get near Boulder she is a must see. Much laughter and tomfoolery ensue. My guess is that some wold find our carrying on annoying...although I'm always to busy laughing and trying to keep pace with Jo's wit to notice. After some wonderful banter Jo sent me down the street to local legendary breakfast eatery "Snooze".
Today was day one of the "Smile more" experiment. After the morning's leg falling asleep, cross legged meditation, the day's experiment was set to begin. I was gonna put Sadhguru's ridiculously simple advice to the test. As much as able, as I was sure to drift in and out of "present-ness" throughout the day, I'd go all "whistle while you work" on the world. With smile once again firmly in place, I set off down the street to satisfy the belly.

It was immediately obvious from the first smile of the day, that some sort of chemical release thingamajig was taking place within. It reminded me of a clip from "The Book of Joy" - conversations between His Holiness The Dalai Lama and The Archbishop Desmond Tutu just a day earlier, where it was discussed that indeed, smiling produces a release of this and that in the brain that creates a happy, healthy response. "Hmmmmm, could it be that there is something to this smiling?"

Entering "Snooze", smile on hi-beam, I was immediately met by a dude that did this kick of the heels, welcome to my place, greeting. "Sorry man, I might be a bit over caffeinated." But before he could get the words out completely, as best I could I returned the move and a hi-five followed. "Dude, that was an awesome greeting! No need to apologize". I asked his name, he did the same and just like that, a new friend. Smile still intact, perhaps even a bit stronger I set off for the bar. It was, I kid you not, the only seat in the place. 20 minutes before, there had been a line of a dozen or so waiting to get in. As I arrived, there was no longer a line and after sitting down, maybe 5 minutes later, glancing over my shoulder, again, a line of many. Coincidence? Perhaps. Was there something a bit deeper, some sort of cosmic dance taking place?

The gal behind the bar, probably as she always does, greeted me with a smile to which I was already armed with a return smile. Our conversation was playful and we chatted for what seemed like more than what should have been any one customer's allotted time, but hey we were having fun. once I had ordered, glancing to my left, I noticed a food masterpiece. Inquiring of the fella next to me "What the hell is that you are eating?" To which he smilingly, (I'm sure because of what he was eating and not due to my smiling), responded, "The pancake of the day" - A Pineapple Upside Down Pancake
Buttermilk pancakes with caramelized pineapple chunks, housemade vanilla crème anglaise and cinnamon butter. It appeared to me something straight out of Willy Wonka. Pure breakfast genius.
I chose The Snooze Breakfast Burrito - A Burrito Filled with scrambled eggs, hash browns, house black beans, cheddar & jack cheese, topped with pico de gallo and choice of green chili or ranchero.
Nearly finished, and smiling ear to ear, not out of duty but from a place of belly bliss, my thoughts were interrupted as "The Pancake of the Day" was slid in front of me. Before I was able to inquire, "How, Why?", I was told the happy go lucky dude that had greeted me at the door had sent it my way with a message of "thanks for being fun". I looked around to give a hands up as a sign of gratitude but apparently his shift had ended and he was nowhere to be found.
The drive to Saratoga, a place I had bike toured to and through a few times a decade ago provided plenty of time for continued smiling and reflection on the events of the morning. There was no denying, walking around with a smile had spawned many return smiles....a favorite saying came to mind..."wherever two smiles meet, God is awoken."  The whole free pancake thing was, pun intended, icing on the cake.

Saratoga,Wyoming is home to The Saratoga Inn and tee-pee covered natural hot springs out back. For the first time of the trip I stepped out of the truck and onto snow, which I loved. A recent storm had dropped several inches, some of which had melted, but still the landscape was magnificent covered all in white. As I swung open the old western, heavy oak design door to the place, I made sure I was properly armed, smile locked and loaded. Again, perhaps as was her habit, I was greeted with what seemed a most genuine smile and after asking the ladies name and inquiring a bit about her story and how she ended up in this amazing place, maybe 10 minutes or so passed and jokingly she said "Well, I guess we better get you your keys before we just chat the night away." to which we both laughed. "Would you like a couple home made chocolate chip cookies I brought in to work today to take to the room?" My nice radar fully tuned in I wondered "I wonder if every guest today has gotten such generosity? Probably." "As I prepared to head for my room, still warm cookies in hand she chimed in again..."Wait, we normally charge for these but if your gonna head for the hot springs out back, these big fluffy robes are the best. Here, take one. Shhhhh, our secret."

"WHAT THE WHAT?!?!" Belly laughing on the inside, walking back to what I knew would be an amazing old west comfort of a room, warm chocolate chip cookies and robe in hand, I couldn't dismiss the events of the day and laugh along with the powers at work behind this thing we call life.
After a good long soak in the naturally occurring, stone encased, teepee covered 102 degree waters of Saratoga, I threw my giant puffy robe on and walked across the courtyard, stars above and near freezing, cool crisp night time air filling my lungs.

Relaxing into the heavy wood beam framed bed, portraits of buffalo hunts and cattle drives decorating the walls, I began to reflect on the day. The crackling of the fire, in the library room just outside the door was a sweet lullaby. The trophy Mule Deer, Elk and Moose that hung from the walls, keeping watch over all who passed by made one feel as if they were truly at home in this small Wyoming town.

There could be no denying the wonderfulness of the day. The mind and Ego would have me believe it all just coincidence. I however, choose to consider the fact that perhaps it really is just that easy. Smiling, I drifted away. Tomorrow I'd head for Montana, Big Sky Country.

To all your dreams,