Sometime around 1957, writer and cartoonist (“Mary Worth” comic strip) Allen Saunders (1899-1986) penned, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

I have always liked this quote. It so aptly describes those days when you end up completely on the other side of where you planned to be – sometimes literally.

My friend Lynn and I had set out from Cody on Saturday, looking forward to a day of reconnecting. COVID-19 warnings meant that we hadn’t visited face-to-face in many weeks. It was to be a great day of comparing notes on all things family and coronavirus, and the “two P’s” – protests and politics.

We drove west out of town at 10 a.m., chatting endlessly about kids and grandkids. We were on our way west to a memorial service and luncheon celebrating the life of Chris, a former colleague and dear friend. It was so good to touch base with others we’d been missing too.

Afterward, we had lunch at a guest ranch near Yellowstone where we all visited and reminisced, and then headed home. Since we’d only touched the surface of “all the latest,” Lynn and I quickly launched back into our travel chitchat – that is until we saw the flashing lights of the highway patrolman’s car east of the Wapiti Ranger Station. It was something like 2 p.m., and he’d halted traffic there, very apologetically, informing us of a wildfire fire unleashed at Lost Creek. We could either wait for the road to open, or we could switch directions and travel through Yellowstone to get home.

I never know what to do in such situations. If we wait, well, we could be waiting a long time. If we drive around through the Park, we might find out that the highway opened soon after we passed through the east gate and feeling sheepish wasn’t a good look for either of us. Since we both needed to get home, we decided to add to our adventure and take our first trip of the season through Yellowstone.

Along the way, we happily received confirmation that we’d made a good decision. As we entered the Park at 3:15, the ranger confirmed that the road was still closed. Then at Fishing Bridge, a flashing sign announced to visitors that the east gate was closed due to the wildfire with an indeterminate opening.

We zigzagged across the Park toward Mammoth where we’d “hang a right,” heading through the Lamar Valley toward the northeast gate and Cooke City. Somehow though, we overshot the intersection and found ourselves at the north gate instead. Naturally, both Lynn and I had toured the Park more times than we could count, but for whatever reason – we’re sure it was all the elk enjoying the sunshine that distracted us – we had some backtracking to do.

Long story short: We arrived in Cody about five hours later, monitoring the flaming orange sky as we drove. We felt validated, knowing that the wildfire was really serious. We learned that the highway had reopened about 6 p.m. Sure, we’d have been home sooner had we waited, but we’d also have missed Yellowstone in spring (gorgeous, by the way) and our chance to catch up.

Chris would have loved it …

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