A few months ago my friend Stella agreed to come on summer vacation with me and head to a rather random destination: South Dakota. Many people asked me what was in South Dakota and when I enthusiastically replied “Mount Rushmore!” the majority of them were like, “Oh, yeah… that’s right… What else?” I initially planned to go to the Badlands National Park but Stella and I ended up eliminating it in our final planning process. On Friday, July 1st I busily packed up every last thing I could think of and drove to Stella’s so we could get an early start the following morning. The week went something like this:
Stella and I got up early so we could consolidate everything in her tightly-packed Civic and hit the road. We started off by driving to BEAR LAKE (http://www.utah.com/stateparks/bear_lake.htm) for Stella’s family gathering. It took us a couple of hours to get there but it was nice to have a break, eat some pancakes, and sit in the sun before getting in the car again.
Next up we hit MARTIN’S COVE (http://lds.org/placestovisit/eng/historical-sites/mormon-handcart-historic-site) near Alcova, WY. This was a pivotal place for several pioneer groups headed west, most notably the Martin Handcart Company. The displays in the visitor center detailed how members of the company traveled from Europe to New York City by ship and then traveled to Iowa City by train before assembling their handcarts and walking to Salt Lake City. The problem was they arrived several weeks behind schedule and as a result they became stranded in the Wyoming plains in late November. They decided to try to pass the winter in between a hill and a small mountain. That place is now called Martin’s Cove. Eventually the survivors were rescued by parties sent from Salt Lake City. When I say “rescued” I don’t mean they were carried to safety. Instead, they were given additional rations and supplies and then walked the rest of the way (200+ miles) to Salt Lake City under the watchful eye of stronger and healthier brethren.
After we toured the visitor center we rode a small jeep-like vehicle to a lookout point that was half a mile away from Martin’s Cove. The area is lovely during the summer but it would be horrible to spend a winter there with minimal food and shelter.
We left Martin’s Cove and drove to Casper, WY to spend the night at the COURTYARD CASPER (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/cprcy-courtyard-casper/). It had been a long day in the car so we immediately changed our clothes and hit the hot tub. There were a bunch of loud and crazy kids in the pool but nothing could have been better. Actually, we went to Dairy Queen after and that might have topped it. It’s really a toss-up. (I just love chocolate-dipped cones!)
On Sunday we did our best to take it easy so we caught up on sleep and went to church at 11:00. We got a little lost inside the building (embarrassing!) and had to ask the missionaries where the chapel was but we arrived on time nonetheless. The ward was extremely friendly and since it was the first Sunday of the month we knew it would be a Fast and Testimony meeting. Before the meeting even started about 10 ward members came and introduced themselves. They kept telling us we should have gone to the Singles branch which meets later (“I have a really cute son there”) but we had to hit the road if we wanted to get to South Dakota at a decent hour.
After church we set out for Custer, SD. The flat, pale green scenery of Wyoming quickly faded away once we crossed the SD border. All of a sudden there were dark green trees and rocky faces everywhere. It was really pretty. We finally arrived in Custer and checked into the CUSTER KOA (http://koa.com/campgrounds/custer/). I had never stayed at a KOA site before but I can tell you they are EVERYWHERE in Wyoming and South Dakota. We had reserved a “1 room Kabin” and we were delighted to see how cute and cozy it was. It had a double bed and two bunk beds and Stella opted for the top bunk in order to be as far away from the bugs as possible. (After all the trips we’ve taken together I was amazing to find out that she is scared of bugs!) The KOA site had a swimming pool and we were very eager to lay out a bit and get rid of our farmers’ tans. It was already pretty late in the day so the strong wasn’t very strong. Still, it was worth the effort.
Next up we drove to CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL (http://www.crazyhorsememorial.org/). This was something I’d never heard of until I started doing research for the trip. The Native Americans wanted a memorial for one of their heroes, similar to Mount Rushmore. Korczak Ziolkowski was commissioned to begin the work in 1948 and the site has never accepted federal funding at the behest of local tribe leaders. Korczak died in 1982 but his wife and the majority of his children have dedicated their lives to finishing what he started. The project is ongoing and at this point Crazy Horse’s face is completed. The face is much larger than the faces on Mount Rushmore but there is still much to be done. Whether or not they’ll be able to fund the rest of the work based on admission fees ($10/adult) and private donations is yet to be seen.
What could be more patriotic than going to Mount Rushmore on the 4th of July? (I mean, besides going to Washington, D.C.) That’s why we went to MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL (http://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm)! Before heading to the memorial we checked out of the Custer KOA and bid adieu to cute little Custer, SD. We had to drive about 45 minutes to get to KEYSTONE, SD. On the way we cut through CUSTER STATE PARK (http://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/default.aspx) via Route 16A. We dodged the $13 park admission fee by promising the ranger we wouldn’t stop and park our car anywhere. The drive was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I remember one straightaway in particular when I looked to my right and saw four tiny faces on a mountain that was several miles away. I was really excited and Stella turned around so we could take pictures of our first glimpse of the memorial.
As we got closer to Mount Rushmore we had to pass through a series of small tunnels and the last two tunnels we went through afforded a cool view of Mt. Rushmore in the distance. When we arrived we just had to pay for an $11 parking permit which is valid until the end of the year. Not a bad deal! Mt. Rushmore was not the rural, dustbowl environment I had imagined. Instead, the mountain stands tall above a beautiful green forest. There was plenty of shade which was a relief because it was pretty humid when we arrived. We decided to walk the Presidential Loop and it was neat to feel like I was right under the presidents’ noses. At the end of the loop there is a visitor center with a model of what Mt. Rushmore was intended to look like upon completion. I heard other visitors explaining to each other that the sculptors feared they would end up destroying the mountain if they continued to blast. Gutzon Borglum’s vision was truly grand and although the memorial was not completed to his specifications I am really glad that all of his work didn’t end up in a pile of rubble.
After we saw Mount Rushmore we had lunch at TEDDY’S DELI. We also bought fantastically terrible hats at a souvenir discount store. During this fun tour of the town of Keystone it began to rain but luckily the rain was brief. Since it wasn’t warm enough to swim we decided to venture to RAPID CITY to see fireworks at Memorial Park. (Turns out Memorial Park doesn’t really exist according to Google Maps – it’s just a nickname for the field by the Civic Center.) We needed to kill some daylight hours so we caught a matinee of CARS 2. The movie was pretty darn funny. When it was over we wandered through the assortment of food trucks at Memorial Park and claimed a spot of lawn on the waterfront. There was still a lot of time to burn but there was some choice people-watching to be had. To say the least, we stayed entertained. The only problem was the wretched cover band that was playing. By the time the fireworks began (at 10 pm!) the people behind us were basically calling for the lead singer to be beheaded. I’m happy to say there was no violence and after the fireworks we were able to drive home without incident.
We were excited to drive to DEADWOOD, SD (http://www.deadwood.com/splash.cfm) on Tuesday morning and check out the old stomping grounds of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Our first stop was at the information center for a quick orientation and a visit from Calamity Jane herself. (Actually it was a teenaged actress that reminded me of one of my old roommates but I digress.) Next we went to the ADAMS MUSEUM and saw some cool artifacts from the Old West era. We got lunch at the MINER’S DEN STEAKHOUSE and caught a little rain as we strolled along Main Street. I kept an eye on my watch so we could catch the reenactment of Wild Bill Hickok’s murder at SALOON NO. 10 (http://www.saloon10.com/DiscoverSaloon10.aspx) – “a bar and a museum” according to its website. It was pretty hard to see what was going on but the guy who played Bill Hickok did a good job. I decided to never live in a town dependent on tourists, gamblers and drinkers for income. Sorry Vegas, you’ll have to live without me!
We learned that even though Bill Hickok was killed in the middle of the day in a busy saloon in plain sight of several witnesses, his murderer was acquitted. The timing of our trip to Deadwood eerily coincided with Casey Anthony’s acquittal. The good news for Cody is that his murderer’s trial was deemed illegal by the US Marshals (since Deadwood was Native American territory) and he was re-tried in Cheyenne, convicted, and hung. We’ll just have to see what happens with Miss Anthony (or is her name Mrs. Simpson?).
After visiting MOUNT MORIAH CEMETERY, the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and hundreds of other Deadwood residents, we drove to STURGIS, SD (http://www.sturgis-sd.gov/). Sturgis is famous for a huge annual motorcycle rally every August but despite our best efforts we only spotted a group of motorcycles in front of the Harley Davidson store. That town was D-E-A-D. Maybe the towns of Deadwood and Sturgis should switch names.
Wednesday was a big driving day. We calculated it would take about eight and a half hours to get to Yellowstone. I was sad to leave cute little Keystone. We said goodbye to South Dakota and before we knew it we were following signs to DEVIL’S TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT (http://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm). It was a quick, fun stop and we continued on to Cody. When we finally made it to the Wal-Mart in Cody to buy last minute camping supplies I had just about lost my marbles. (It was a long drive.) If you’re trying to imagine what I’m like after being in the driver’s seat for several hours just think “David after Dentist,” 0:54 to be exact. Luckily we remembered to get everything on our list and Stella drove the next leg – straight into Yellowstone!
I had been to YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm) when I was really young but this time I entered the park on the east side. The drive through SHOSHONE NATIONAL FOREST was incredible! I really loved it. When we finally reached the east entrance of Yellowstone we still had several miles to go before we arrived in West Thumb and checked into our campsite in Grant Village. We knew that Wednesday would be a taxing day and the final test would be whether or not we had the wherewithal to set up our tent and make some food. We managed to pull it off and we even had time to enjoy an evening campfire program by one of the rangers.
On Thursday we took our best shot at seeing “everything” in Yellowstone. Our first stop was OLD FAITHFUL. We waited for about 40 minutes before it went off. Unfortunately we didn’t put on sunscreen and to this day we are cursed with permanent farmers’ tans. Everything else that day went off without a hitch. Every parking lot we pulled into was packed but we managed to find a spot every time. We stopped at MIDWAY GEYSER BASIN and absolutely loved the GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING. Over the next several hours we hit FOUNTAIN PAINT POT, GIBBON FALLS, MONUMENT GEYSER BASIN, ARTISTS PAINT POTS, STEAMBOAT GEYSER, UPPER/LOWER FALLS, SULPHUR CAULDRON, and MUD VOLCANO, to name a few. If you’ve never been to Yellowstone I highly recommend it. There will be times when you’ll feel like you’re standing on the surface of another planet, or maybe catching a glimpse of what Earth looked like when Dinosaurs roamed. There is something other-worldly about seeing bizarre geysers and paint pots mixed in with classically beautiful waterfalls, lakes and mountains. And let’s not forget the animals!
The first time I was in Yellowstone my family and I saw a huge herd of buffalo. This time Stella and I were driving along the road and spotted a few here and there. I was busy hoping for a big herd when we got a big surprise – we looked ahead and saw a huge buffalo walking on the side of the road! I got some crazy up-close pictures of him (or her). It was so cool. We also saw a silver fox and a few random elk. Yellowstone is alive and thriving!
When we got back to camp one of our neighbors came over and informed us that a hiker had been killed by a bear the previous day. I felt like finding the nearest ranger and shouting, “That information really would have been useful yesterday!” a la Wedding Singer. We were glad we had already planned to check out on Friday instead of Saturday.
Friday was our final driving test. Luckily we both had a kind of “second wind” and the miles flew by. We wove in and out of Idaho a few times and finally saw the “Welcome to Utah” sign. We arrived at Stella’s place about six and a half hours after we left our campsite in Yellowstone. I just had to drive 37 more miles to P-town. By the time I got home I had already agreed to go on a trip to Disneyland with my mom, dad an oldest sister. I guess my travel wheel will just keep on turnin’. While I look forward to traveling to Disneyland by plane, I can never deny the awesomeness of going on a summer road trip with a great friend. Thanks for everything, Stella!
A week and a half ago my ward volleyball team had its first match. I was nervous stepping onto the sand volleyball court because the other team had seven players and we only had four. We won our first match and changed sides to play the second. I tend to talk a lot when I’m playing sports and for some reason I blurted out the words, “Solidarity, people. Solidarity.” We went on to win the set but something kept bugging me. I didn’t know exactly what the word solidarity meant. I know I use words incorrectly quite often so I looked up the definition of solidarity the next day. Dictionary.com’s definition reads, “Union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests...” I was relieved to find I had used the word correctly even if it was just an accident. The words “Summer of Solidarity” had already been echoing in my head and I was dying to open a new Word document and start writing this blog but the week was quickly swept away in a social tidal wave. I have since gone on vacation, gotten some perspective, reunited with my friends, and caught up on the latest Facebook action. I am hereby ready to blog to my heart’s content.
366 days ago I created this blog. I began a tradition of creating themes for each season by accident. I was feeling pretty cynical last summer so I deemed it “The Summer of No Expectations.” I was reaching for a carefree attitude in which I would simply socialize and have fun without expecting anything tangible to come out of it (like a relationship). While I gave it my best effort there was still something lacking. I pretended not to care about my lack of a significant other but it was all a façade. I spent a lot of time fooling myself and skipping along the surface of relationships without allowing myself to plummet to dark, unknown depths. In short, I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. It is hard for me to maintain friendships on a surface level and I only do so in the most fleeting of circumstances. Otherwise I feel like I’m missing out on getting to know someone great.
This rule holds true for every general area of my life except for the workplace. I always feel like I have to filter how much personal information I exchange at work. I find myself thinking, “Is this appropriate to share?” I think it’s part of being a young professional and finding my footing in an always-changing landscape. When Adobe announced its intention to acquire Omniture in September 2009 I was scared out of my mind. I thought for sure I was going to lose my job. I wasn’t doing anything wrong but I was convinced I wouldn’t be found suitable for employment at Adobe. Everyone at Omniture had to hold tight for six weeks for the deal to go through before we found out if we were keeping our jobs. We were told 9-10% of our company would be laid off. Basically my chances were great but I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until October 26th. My boss informed me I’d be staying on with the company and I was very excited. I helped the events team set up a big informative meeting a few days later. My coworker Brent, who was in charge of the events team, asked me to help him form an iTunes playlist for the meeting. We scanned his music and he spotted “Come Together” by The Beatles and he couldn’t help but add it to the list. As it boomed in the empty auditorium and hundreds of employees came flooding in for the meeting one of our colleagues came in with a cheeky grin on his face. He acknowledged the music playing and said, “Really, Brent? Really?” It was a funny moment.
I was able to work with Brent on projects here and there. I noticed he was gone a lot and early the next year I saw that he was growing a beard. Out of nowhere my boss told me that Brent was growing a beard to hide the marks he was getting from chemotherapy. When she saw the look of shock on my face she caught me up on the story. Brent had some sharp pain a few weeks before and went to the hospital to be checked out. The doctors found a mass on his kidney and he went in for emergency surgery to have the entire organ removed. He began an aggressive chemotherapy treatment plan and all this happened while he was planning our biggest company event of the year – Summit 2010. He was in the office as much as possible and cheerful as ever. I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until one day I went into my boss’s office and she was very quiet. With tears in her eyes she said, “Brent’s not doing well.” He was in the ICU fighting for his life. Two weeks later he was gone. Walter Brent Pribil, a loving husband and amazing father of three was suddenly gone. I had met his wife, I had spoken Portuguese with her, I had laughed with her and in a moment I knew she would be forever changed by this loss.
Seven days later, on February 23, 2010, I attended Brent’s funeral service. I rode with some coworkers and remember laughing one minute and crying the next. The pre-funeral tension was welling up inside me. It had been a while since I’d been to a funeral and dread threatened to overwhelm me. However, the second I stepped inside the building and saw the beautiful life story display in the foyer I felt a smile light up inside of me. Brent was so special – his interests were all over the map. The chapel was full and there were chairs lined up in an overflow that covered the entire gymnasium. Brent was so loved and that feeling emanated the entire room. I found a seat at the back of the gym and noticed I was surrounded by my coworkers. I looked at all of the familiar faces and never thought I’d see all of us under once church roof at the same time. Though we came from many different backgrounds and still hold many different religious views we had all come together for Brent and his family. I kept the tears at bay during the prelude until Brent’s casket was wheeled in and I glimpsed his family following behind. The kids were so young and his dear wife was in deep grief. I had never lost either of my parents or my spouse and I wondered how a family could ever pick itself back up after something like this. Little did I know I would soon find out.
As the funeral service progressed I found out truly wonderful things about Brent. Here I had assumed he was a nice, average, middle-aged guy who had married a gorgeous Brazilian woman and probably had some nice, average kids. There is nothing average about the Pribil family. “Nice” couldn’t possibly describe the charitable nature and constant thirst for knowledge that compelled Brent to be the best person he could possibly be. He wasn’t afraid of asking the hard questions and he was always refining his wealth of knowledge. He studied the scriptures more than anyone I personally know. He was simply destined for greatness and as his son gave an extraordinary talk I knew he and Beth had firmly planted their family on the path to eternal happiness. Not a day would go by when Brent wouldn’t be missed. Not a day would go by that this family wouldn’t be truly blessed.
As I left the funeral and blindly searched for my carpool group through tear-blurred eyes I couldn’t help but shake my head and wonder how I had let myself miss out on getting to know such a great person. I resolved to be better but I admit my desire for self-improvement constantly fluctuates. Many times I’m alright with standing in stagnant waters instead of swimming upstream or braving crushing waterfalls. There are times, like in February 2010, when my path is not chosen for me. The events that unfold flood my world and force me to break through my carefully placed ceiling meant to shield me from the flowing waters above. I would not dread the journey so much if the rivers weren’t salty with tears. In the darkest times I am convinced that nothing matters besides my own comfort and the taste of my own tears. When I see others suffer and am forced to stand under the storm of others’ tears I realize there is no healing except with love and service, compassion and unity.
Brent’s brief battle with cancer was the beginning of a series of events that rapidly unfolded in the first half of 2010. It opened my heart and allowed me to be vulnerable and empathetic for the other losses that would soon follow. Brent changed my heart even though we were separated by mortality. As the next few months unraveled in a whirlpool of bottomless grief I was comforted knowing that families are forever. The shining example of the Pribil family was my light at the end of the tunnel. They would survive, and therefore so could I.
Looking back on what I’ve written tonight I seem to have taken a drastic turn from a light-hearted volleyball match to the throes of mortality cut short. While these two things can’t seem more different I must say that anyone who has lived even a little probably knows that is how life is: a roller coaster. Or, to go along with the water metaphor, perhaps it is more appropriate to say that life is a white water rapid rafting trip. One second you’re elated and the next you’re underwater, fighting to find the surface. I’ve never been white water rafting but I can only assume there is one essential key to survival: teamwork and trust borne of unity. This summer I don’t want to just get by. I don’t want to coast. I don’t want to skip along. This summer I’m going deep. I’ll break the surface and build bonds that last. I will help people come together for that is what gives me joy. I won’t do this to say, “Hey look at me, I have so many friends,” or, “Hey look at me, I’m so darn social.” Instead I’ll say, “Hey looky here, I know some amazing people. Let me tell you all about them.”