Day Three (Friday)
In order to snowmobile into the park, you must be a part of a tour group, which means that our little expedition is starting at an hour I usually don’t like to see on vacations. After an early breakfast, Matt and I encase ourselves in layer upon layer of sweaters and pants until we resemble lumpy human sausages because the tour guide had explained the night before that renting clothing cost $15/person, and we are looking to save money wherever possible..
However, as we pull into the snowmobile tours site, we quickly realize we are the only ones NOT wearing the special rent-able clothing, and we start to feel a little uneasy (ah, the power of peer pressure!). After a few moments of quiet debate with each other, Matt asks the woman working as a clothing assistant if we’ll be okay in just jeans and several layers underneath, and she looks shocked–
“No way–jeans are no good. You’ll get wet and be freezing and miserable.”
So Matt and I look at each other, shrug, then ask to rent the clothing.
Even though it kills part of my soul to fork over the money, I DO have to admit that Matt looks pretty sexy in his snowmobile suit. He, in turn, starts making fun of my saggy bum (since the person handing me the suit seemed to have been all out of the suit that was more my size and length).
We waddle our way out to the parking lot where the snowmobiles are waiting, and I can see Matt eyeing one that’s as close to the back of the pack as possible (so as to make it easier to “fall behind” and necessitate “speeding up”). We get a quick tutorial on how to run the machines (which kind of just succeeds in making me nervous about the whole thing, which I hadn’t been before), and then we hop on.
I have no idea what to expect–the closest thing I can compare it to size-wise is a jet ski, but as we start along the road, I can unequivocally state that snowmobiles and jet skis are most certainly NOT alike in how they feel.
For anyone who hasn’t been snowmobiling before, the runners on the bottom tend to slide into the path of least resistance (aka, whatever tracks that people before you have made), which means that the snowmobile can often take on a mind of its own, especially as the snow starts melting and getting patchy.
I really hadn’t been scared at all about the idea of snowmobiling into the park, but as we start to clip along at ever-faster speeds (me holding onto the handlebars on the sides for dear life while Matt is driving), I keep having thoughts like, “We could die doing this. I could get thrown off at any moment. Ohmyheck! We almost tipped!”
As these thoughts tumble over themselves in my harried mind, I can just FEEL the vibes of excitement coming off of Matt—he is clearly having the time of his life pushing the speed limits while I am on the back planning my funeral.
Fortunately, as we get into deeper snow and I get used to the uneven gait of the snowmobile, I am able to relax (slightly) and start enjoying the view. As the day wears on, I even get comfortable enough to take out my camera and snap some pictures from the back as we are cruising along.
All around us, the park spreads itself in silent majesty, and we start noticing wildlife almost wherever we turn–herds of bison sharing our road, elk standing around in the river, far-off coyotes tearing apart their prey…
The more I look around, the more I think that THIS is surely the only way to see Yellowstone—not a lot of people around, bright blue skies and refreshing cold, drifts of snow muffling any sounds…
It is breathtaking.
Our tour guide breaks up our day into segments of driving and walking around, so we are never on our feet or on the snowmobiles for too long. Luckily for us, our guide is pretty knowledgeable and our fellow tour members friendly, so we all have a healthy sense of camaraderie as we admire the gushing geysers and point out wildlife.
Matt and the man in the snowmobile behind us (since we weren’t successful in getting the last machine in line) even get into a little friendly man-competition about who was able to speed up the fastest on the last driving stretch. As they laugh about the exorbitant speeds they have managed to hit, I want to cover my ears so I won’t have to do the automatic calculations as to how far over the speed limit they are going (and so the funeral preparations don’t start up in my head again…)
As the afternoon starts to come to a close and as I realize we are heading back to the park entrance, I feel an urgent division in my mind–
Should I try driving the snowmobile or should I just let Matt drive the rest of the way?
The two parts of my apparently split personality start to compete with each other:
“It’s just easier if I let Matt drive. That way I can keep looking around and taking pictures.”
“What if I’ll regret not trying it out while I have the chance? One of the worst things to feel is regret.”
“But everyone else already knows how to drive—Matt would have to show me, and what if I hold everyone up?”
“I hate being a wimp all the time. What happened to my sense of adventure?”
Eventually, I almost convince myself to just keep on riding on the back and be content with it, although deep down, I know I’ll probably regret it. But then I see that the woman in front of me asks her husband for a chance to drive, which gives me the courage I need to take the wheel.
My hands are awkward starting out, as they are wrapped up in thick gloves and my thumb unused to pushing forward to throttle (rather than pulling back with my fingers). My arms keep going numb from being held up in such an awkward position, and there are a few terrifying moments when the snowmobile, asserting its independence, seems to be about to spin off into the trees as it insists on following its own path.
But after about ten minutes, I am able to relax enough to try speeding up daringly (taking after Matt’s lead earlier in the day) and even standing up for a few seconds to get some blood into my arms.
Even though I end up switching to the back again the next time we stop, I am so glad I have taken the opportunity to be brave—
Sometimes it seems that the older I get, the fewer opportunities I have (or at least take) to go outside of my comfort zone, but every time I do have a chance and seize it, I find that the experience inevitably enlarges me and my own sense of self.
So in addition to (re)-learning the importance of trying new things out with my husband, I also (re)-learned how important it is to try out new things for myself.
Until next time, Yellowstone!