From the chaos of New York City to the tranquility of Montana and back to the chaos, in one weeklong cross-country road trip.
|East Rosebud Lake of Montana|
Back on April 6th, 2012, I set out with some of my family and friends to drive from New York to Montana. The purpose of the trip was to retrieve my mother, who has been visiting from Nepal. She had flown in March with my eldest daughter, Sunita, to visit the huge ranch where Sunita and her husband, Gyurme Sherpa, are caretakers. The ranch is called 'Switchback', and their job is to take care of it and its substantial greenhouse, where they raise organic vegetables. They have a nice house of their own, provided by their employer, where they live with their two children who are becoming real wild western cowboy kids. My mother spent a month there in Montana with them, and she had a wonderful time. I decided it might be fun to drive there rather than go and fetch her by airplane.
There were four of us starting out on the drive from New York; myself, my youngest daughter Zina, my wife’s uncle Keshar Rumba, and my cousin Shanta Babu Thokar. We left at night and drove to Maryland, where we slept at the house of Bishnu Lama, who is a cousin of my first wife who passed away in 1986. The following morning we got back on the road with Bishnu and her father, Sanu Kancha Lama and her mother, along with us. Sanu Kancha is somebody I have known forever. He was a very well respected elder in the village where I grew up. He was everything to everybody who lived there, and he was a great help to me long ago in 1973 or ’74, helping me get my documents in order for making my first trip to the United States with Charles Henri Ford. He’s someone who knows every politician from every corner of Nepal. He received a medal for social work from the late King Birendra. At the time of this trip to Montana, Sanu Kancha was in Maryland with his wife to visit their daughter and her family, and I invited them to come along with us. I was happy when he agreed. We were seven in all heading west from Maryland in my Honda Pilot.
|Sanu Kancha Lama|
We took the Northern route, through Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, on to North Dakota along the seemingly endless road to Montana. We saw countless abandoned houses along the way; we passed through little towns that were completely abandoned and others that looked to have been destroyed by tornadoes, although I can’t be sure that is actually what happened. Minnesota was full of lakes.
The first night we spent was in Illinois in "Motel 6". They kept the light on for us, just like the ad promises. The next day we drove almost 1500 miles thinking we’d make our destination by about midnight. We were already in Montana but still a ways from the ranch when I saw that we were almost on empty. I found a gas station but it was only open for self-service, with no open restrooms. While those of us who needed to answer the call of nature took refuge in the bushes and behind various trees, my cousin and I filled up the gas tank, using my credit card. Everyone got back into the Honda, we were all tired but feeling good thinking about the destination, which would be coming in just two short hours. About half a block from the service station, the Honda suddenly died. We were in the middle of nowhere in Montana, with nothing but the sound of crickets all around. The new car was dead. I had no choice to call for a tow truck in Billings, 45 minutes away. Once our car was safe in a garage parking lot, my son-in-law, Gyurme, drove the two hours from the Switchback Ranch to fetch us. We finally arrived at 4 AM, and we had what was meant to be dinner. We ate and slept and then morning came.
|Family Picture with mountain views of Montana|
My daughter and son-in-law took us sightseeing, and it was beautiful. We looked at beautiful mountains, rivers and snow. There were many deers of different kinds. My son-in-law told me that some deers are not hunted because their meat isn’t considered tasty enough, which is lucky for them. We took a lot of photographs and my mother wanted to be in every picture. She seemed to enjoy everything she did and saw, and at her age, which is 80, she is enamored of all new gadgets; the digital camera, the cell phone and the TV. She liked Montana. Considering what my mother’s young life was like in the village in Nepal, all of these things—traveling in airplanes, mobile telephones, GPS in the car—are nothing short of miraculous.
This was Sanu Kancha’s first trip outside Nepal, and he and his wife experienced just how huge this country is on our trip. Driving makes possible what flying hides: the true experience of distance. Everywhere we looked there seemed to be endless land stretching to infinity, and we all enjoyed it completely.
We had arrived at Switchback Ranch in the middle of the night on Sunday, or very early Monday morning. On Tuesday, my daughter Zina, my son-in-law and I drove back to Billings to retrieve my repaired car. I drove it back to the ranch and the next day, Wednesday April 11th, we all said goodbye to my daughter Sunita’s family. With eight people now in my car, including my mother, we set off on the long drive back to New York after two whirlwind days in Big Sky Country.
|Family Picture with Mount Rushmore on background|
We drove through Wyoming and South Dakota, making a point of visiting Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. Rushmore looked smaller than it does in pictures. Zina read all the plaques, about the man who created it, and how it took something like 14 years for him to finish the four faces, and then he died. We all liked it. I thought about how whether it was intended or not, because of that one man’s inspiration to create those presidential faces in the rock of the mountain, the state of South Dakota has a lucrative tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere, forever. People make pilgrimages there, and a lot of money is made on that tourism. We had a whole house to stay in that night, called "Lincoln", which was part of a hotel. We had a beautiful view of Mount Rushmore from that house.
|Mount Rushmore on South Dakota|
Thursday, we made it all the way to Illinois or Minnesota. I played Tamang music the whole way, and we all like it, so that was our soundtrack. We stopped to eat at gas stations and truck stops for sandwiches and whatever we could grab. We stayed in a motel that night. By Friday night we were back in Maryland at my friend Sumitra’s house for dinner and then her birthday cake. Her husband, Keshab, served us drinks and we were all exhausted.
The next day, after spending the night, Sumitra’s mother, Patali maya, Zina and Pancha maya my wife Radhika’s Mitini, or best friend, drove with my cousin Shanta and me back to the chaos of New York City and home.
|Our chariot, Honda Pilot, which made our trip possible|
The best thing about our trip was the weather. It was perfect. It cooperated completely, except for the wind in Northern Minnesota, where you have to keep both hands on the steering wheel or you’ll blow right off the road. My cousin and I each got one speeding ticket. He got one while making the trip and I got one while returning. Mine was written out by a sheriff in a Stetson hat. I told everyone in the back to be quiet as he came up alongside the window. It was out west somewhere, and he added a little bit of a Clint Eastwood moment to our trip. I liked the trip, but I was glad to be home.
June 11, 2012