google maps has this great way of giving you the time to your destination based on distance and speed limits. and clear driving conditions. not rest stops. not early morning coffee runs. not inches of ice on the hilly montana freeway.
the first leg of our journey east was a bright and early start of 5.22 am on the road, getting gas, and letting i-5’s rushing flow take us south. i shouldn’t call it bright, as it was just after five in the morning two weeks away from the shortest day of the year, and the sleep was still heavy in our eyes. but there’s nothing like the sharp kick of winter cold to snap you out of it. we climbed through the cascades while the sun climbed from his slumbers to the mountains ahead and leaped from their peaks into his accustomed route. few things quite reach the level of awesome that is seeing the orange and purple arms of the sunrise set the rocky peaks alight. a shatteringly wonderful morning.
i-90 took us down to flatter, drier lands. we stopped for a bathroom break in a barnes and noble outside of spokane. the rockies soon welcomed us.
while reading aloud the fellowship of the ring we noticed gladly how our journey mirrored theirs. we were reading about the fellowship’s mountain adventures while winding our way through mountains ourselves. we neared the mines of moria with the coming of night.
i took this drive with my father almost three years ago while moving out to illinois for the first time, fresh from college, strangely in love, living on graduation gifts and kindness, off to work for a non-profit i barely knew about. the roads were oddly clear for the middle of january. i was told, though, that the week before we passed through north dakota the freeway was closed, there was so much snow.
this time we were prepared for the occasional flurry. but weather reports were good. our first day of driving was cloudy, but with clear roads. the possible ‘wintery mix’ in the cascades never fell; the snow threatening through idaho and western montana stayed in the grey above as if afraid to grace the earth that day. we passed chain-up areas with no need to pull off. our friend the sun was seen often through a shifting cloud migration, our constant companion. the glorious sunrise was matched by the equally impressive sunset near butte. but as the sun said goodnight that late afternoon, the darkening light mixed with a ‘wintery’ spray from any vehicle we followed showed us just how bad our wipers really were. passing bozeman, hoping for a quick run to billings, we encountered our first sign of ice on the road. and after trundling our way awkwardly up the next icy big hill, we turned around, our focus shot, and trundled awkwardly in tire ruts made in the ice back to bozeman where we slept. there is a newspaper there called the bozone.
roads were clearer outside of town the next morning. we stopped for coffee in billings and a last mountain range to the south waved goodbye as we left the arms of the rockies. steph napped while i navigated some more icy roads around miles city, following cautiously in the wake of larger trucks.
i always love passing through this part of the country. the history nerd in me is awed passing signs for important place names in the grim story of western expansion and the indian wars. little big horn, the powder river, plenty of things named after custer (though why, i still don’t know, that infamous jerk). i smile and cry. the land is so empty of human habitation in eastern montana it is wonderfully easy to imagine the types of people and animals wandering the hilly grasslands 150 years ago. the first drive out this way i was in the middle of reading bury my heart at wounded knee. boy did my head explode.
at some point steph posed for a picture in front of a t-rex busting out of a dinosaur museum. we perused the minimal radio stations in central north dakota, feeling the negative temperatures creep in and battle the heater’s warmth. we heard a lot of fun things, but the best was an add for a jewelry store going out of business; their big sale deal was that if you bought something in the time of their sale, and it snowed three inches or more before noon on Christmas day, you’d get your money back. who knows how successful that one was. but of course the forecast for bismarck on Christmas calls for some sun and little to no precipitation.
checking forecasts before our departure, we were looking at 10-20% chances of some snow through parts of north dakota. that forecast in the pacific northwest means there won’t be any snow. after bismarck it snowed nonstop. our wipers did their valiant best and we traded off driving duties, headed into the night. planning to stop in fargo, we both felt good and decided to keep at it. nearing the end of the fellowship we rolled into a hotel in albertville, minnesota after about fifteen hours of driving. we bought a quick supper at a grocery store and collapsed into bed. i slept well for the first night in a few nights.
having just several hours to st. charles on the last day of the drive, we took time in the morning to eat a hearty continental breakfast. it had snowed about an inch that night and flakes were still fluttering down. i made some joke about the sky’s bad dandruff which didn’t go over well. understandably so. we set out wondering what would greet us on the road. around minneapolis we followed behind a snowplow convoy and once into wisconsin the snow petered out into near non-existence. the storm that was supposed to dump six inches upon the chicagoland area never dumped. so the snow we didn’t expect in north dakota was constant and the inches expected from the ‘winter storm’ in illinois was a dusting. so there’s that for weather forecast accuracy. but we made it safe to the swick home nonetheless. our Father has been incredibly faithful in providing vehicles that traverse mountains and snow well.
and here we feel we have stepped into a dream. we left st. charles this last april with a lingering winter’s snow still in clumps upon the ground. our months then were punctuated weekly by a new layer of snow. and now we come back to snow. did the place ever change? did the last several months of washington actually happen? the summer and fall already feel like a blur; to leave one place and come back to it eight months later and have it looking the same is weird beyond words. seriously, what just happened?
maybe you’ve seen it, but we sent out an email update this last week, announcing to those who are supporting us that we are just weeks away from departure. talk about surreal. gathering emails for the mailing list, i scrolled through the list of supporters. in another column i see the amounts they give and i am blown away, moved to tears. it’s absurd. these wonderful people all believe in us and the work God is doing in rwanda enough to give so that we can eat and serve and survive on the other side of the world. of all the ridiculous blessings i’ve received in my life… you all do realize we’ll never actually be able to adequately thank you?
and so, yes, in just a few short weeks we go, we board a plane, we leave the country. and as we are waiting to depart i think often about our waiting in this time of advent. i’m trying to make these waitings line up and make sense together. can our waiting to journey to rwanda now help me understand something of the holy anticipation of advent? can i gather strength and peace and hope in the expected coming of Christ as we slowly run to His calling for us?
in all the madness of packing and driving and planning i feel as if i have let this beautiful season, one of my favorites of the year, slip by without my notice. more than excitement about Christmas movies and decorations, above the joy of finding that perfect (but somehow always quirky) tree to fancy-up, or presents both given and received, i long for the union i feel with other believers over the fact that He has come and is coming again.
there is plenty to do these days to finish up our current life in the states. and we wait anxiously for a few key occurrences.
here’s the music that is carrying me through these achingly beautiful days. http://www.noisetrade.com/theohhellos/the-oh-hellos-family-christmas