Saturday, August 02, 2014

The answer to the big vacation FAQ

People keep asking me what was the best part of our vacation. At first glance, it should be an easy question to answer. We saw four national parks, a few monuments, gorgeous scenery, historic places. We rode a narrow gauge train pulled by an actual steam engine, for Pete's sake. We saw a miraculous staircase. I mean, I guess I'd have to choose among all these fantastic places and that might make it more difficult. We had a good time with some wonderful people, with lots of laughter, and ate a boatload of really great food.

But really, there's one night that stands out. And not necessarily because of what we saw or what we did, but because of what we shared.

We were driving, just the two of us, from Loveland to Grand Junction. We had gotten off late after a leisurely morning with the couple with whom we had stayed. M had detailed the car and talked shop with Rick, while I caught up with Chris as we cleaned up breakfast. We took off with nothing but a few scenic byways and Grand Junction in our sights. We navigated with an actual map, instead of using the car's navigation system, and we didn't get lost, which is amazing in and of itself given that I was the main person reading the map. It was a gorgeous day, so we had the lid off. We kind of wandered our way towards our evening's stay, which was really just a waypoint until we got to the good stuff the next day: Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

After all our scenic driving and a stop for dinner, we were on a fairly busy highway in the dark, cruising toward Grand Junction. The lid was back on, and we were talking. Just the kind of relaxed, laid back conversation that so rarely happens when a couple is married, working full time, and raising a child. Most of our conversations these days revolve around sports practice schedules and game times, meeting obligations, what needs to get done around the house and what we feel like making for dinner.

But that night, we didn't have to talk about any of that. We could talk about whatever we wanted. And what we talked about was M's time in the oil fields. I learned so many things I never knew, not even after almost 17 years of marriage. Little details I hadn't ever thought to ask before, like how he got out in the field each day and what he ate once he was there (company truck or hitching a ride with a colleague, meal trucks or nearby diners). I learned that he slept in a lot of trucks. I learned about the different parts of a rig, and some of what goes into drilling (there is a lot). I learned just how dangerous that job is.

Our ghostly highway rig.
We came upon a rig near the highway, ablaze with lights, and pulled over. It's rare to find one so near a highway like that. M pointed out the pipe, the doghouse, the barbecue basket. He explained the roles of the different people who work on and around each rig. I watched him while he watched the rig, and realized that this was a whole segment of his life that the people closest to him will never completely understand, will never share with him. It lends an air of mystery to a man I see every day and sleep with every night.

After we continued on, we drove in silence for awhile. Every once in awhile I'd think of a new oil field question to ask and he'd answer it. The whole thing is intriguing to me, maybe because it is so foreign. Eventually, I saw ahead some lights that I thought were cars on a different section of the highway. Then I realized that all the lights were traveling at exactly the same speed. "Train!" I said to M. And then we both saw it at the same time.
It's incredibly hard to capture
a moving train at night. Obviously.

It was the California Zephyr, an Amtrak passenger train that M and I were on a few years ago when we did our big spring break trip. Before we knew it, we were running in parallel with the train. M slowed down to pace it. We spotted the dining car, the sleeper cars, the domed observation car. It took us right back to that wonderful trip we shared, all those phenomenal memories. We drove that way for a few miles, just watching the train and remembering our own trip, before M had to speed up to avoid someone possibly running over us in the dark.

In that one single evening, I learned new things about my husband and shared an experience that evoked an incredible time we had together. I didn't get beautiful photos and it's not something I can tell people to go do. (Although I do highly recommend purchasing a car with only two seats and using it regularly to make sure that you remember how to be a couple.) It's just something that happened.

That was my favorite part of the whole trip.


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