Before reading this blog post, I want you to go find some epic fantasy music. Go ahead, I’ll wait. What are you waiting for? Oh, you want some suggestions? Okay, here you go. What about this? Once you’ve started it, go ahead and read.
Epic fantasy generally follows a specific plot pattern called the hero’s round. In this plot, the hero (or heroine) is called to an adventure. She leaves her doorstep and takes that first step on a journey that could change her world. (Hence, Bilbo singing his famous song.) She gets to know her fellow travel companions (Bilbo and the dwarves), has harrowing experiences (any number of fantasy storylines), encounters hazardous weather (Frodo and the companions on the mountain above Moria, and the companions on the Dawn Treader), meets people of legends (Frodo meeting the elves) and sometimes old friends from long ago (Bilbo meeting Elrond again), and eventually slays the dragon or saves the world and comes home.
These last two weeks, I have been on my own journey. I left home on Friday, July 28 with a Tetris style packing job in the back of my little Toyota Yaris. My son, Robin, was my traveling companion. We headed to Portland’s NW Book Festival and had a great day meeting up with authors A. J. Bakke, and S. Smith. Then we had a three and a half hour trip to my sister-in-law’s house. Along the way, I got to know my traveling companion better while he explained the races in the world he writes about. He was also my DJ as he shared his music to help keep me awake.
When we left Hermiston, Oregon, we had discovered that a wild fire had closed I-84 just an hour east of us. So, a detour was in store. As we left the interstate, I handed the wheel over to my son who had had about three hours experience on his driver’s permit, all of that on small highways. Things went well until we came to a true mountain pass full of switchbacks, steep drop offs, and the same on the downward side. My knuckles turned white as I instructed him to slow down and be careful about which line he hugged!
That evening, we pulled into our first stop and set up camp. The peaceful surroundings of the Utah mountains were refreshing. However, a migraine headache was building. By 11:30 that night, I crawled out of the tent, stumbled to the car, and drove the half mile to the truck stop we had seen earlier. After some Advil and Sprite and losing my dinner, things began to look up.
City driving is something I abhor. I applaud all of you who face the jungle every day. For me, a traffic jam is when I wait for three or four cars before pulling out onto Highway 101. However, we hit Chicago at 4:00 in the afternoon! Despite the warning from a truck driver to stay as far away from Chicago as possible, I had the wrong interstate number and we ended up on the west side in rush hour. By the time we made it to free traffic, three hours had passed. I hear that’s normal, but it made for one long day.
On our return journey, we traveled through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Since my trip’s schedule was on a day by day basis, I didn’t even think to check campground availabilities. We arrived at the south entrance of Grand Teton National Park around 7:00 in the evening, only to find that every single campground was full! The helpful ranger suggested checking at some single sites out Flagg Ranch. About an hour and a half later, we had traveled out the gravel road and past four filled small campgrounds. The sun had faded and light was failing when we came to campground number five with one site. Even though there was only one space available and it already had a tent set up, there was plenty of space for both vehicles and dry camping. We decided to continue heading out the road toward the forest service area where we could pitch a tent. However, the drive wound up into a dead forest and into the middle of nowhere. Stories of bears in Yellowstone floated through my mind as well as the advice to have at least three members to your camping party if you head out into the woods. As the moon shone bright, we turned around and pulled back into the small campground. Choosing a grassy area, we pitched our tent and made our beds in the dark. Robin dutifully laid the flashlight and his pocketknives between our sleeping mats, and we dozed off.
The weather often plays a part in fantasy. Think of the mountain Caradhras in Lord of the Rings. On our trip, it seemed that thunderstorms were our Caradhras. We left Minneapolis in the middle of a gentle summer storm. Since thunder and lightning are rare on the Oregon Coast, we enjoyed watching the sky light up. However, as the day progressed and the rain didn’t let up, driving became a chore. By ten o’clock, rain pelted my windshield and bounced off the road in front of us. With wipers on high, I slowed to forty miles an hour on the interstate!
Our next thunderstorm drenched our campsite, but left our tent dry on the inside along with all our bedding. We enjoyed the sight as we toured Garden of the Gods. All I can say was it was an awesome display of God’s glory as we watched the lightning dance among the rocks.
Being from the coast, we are not accustomed to heat. The hottest summer day reaches into the low 70’s but also has a strong north wind blowing that cools us off. Our trip sent us through the hotter part of the country with humidity! As soon as we reached Cheyene, we could feel the change in the air. We battled the humidity the whole way until we reached Pike’s Peak. The only relief to the humidity was thunderstorms.
Just as the hero experiences wonderful things, we too were blessed.Tweet
Not only did we get to explore Garden of the Gods and meet some great people along the way, I had the privilege of playing the part of Gandalf and introduced the land to my son. Robin had only been out of Oregon to see the Redwoods of California and to fly to Washington, DC. Crossing from Oregon into Southern Idaho, was an education. The land is desolate after Boise. Flat expanses stretch as far as the eye can see. Not a cloud dotted the sky. To this day, Robin doesn’t believe Idaho has clouds. So, if you want to post a picture on my Facebook post showing clouds in Idaho, I’d love to prove him wrong. We traversed through Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Montana, and Washington before coming back home. Each state had its own wonders and landscape distinct from what we know. Wisconsin and Missouri were the closest to the coast we are familiar with.
In Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks we heard and saw amazing creatures. As we tore down camp, we listened to a wolf howl in the distance. I commented that it was a comforting sound with three other campers around and the sun shining. If we would have heard it the night before out in the middle of nowhere, I would have been frightened. Later that day, we slowed down as either a red fox or a coyote (neither of us are sure which) trotted along and in the road. On our way out of the parks, we paused and took a picture of a bison relaxing in the grass. On the southern tip of Yellowstone, we saw an elk cow and glimpsed a bit of her baby.
Meeting People of Legends:
The main purpose of my trip was to meet up with family and people I’ve met online over the course of this year as an author. It was a joy to spend time with author Jenna Zark. She gave us a tour of the Mississippi in St. Paul and then sat and shared some of her genius with writing plays. Sitting and listening to two of the songs for her play brought tears to my eyes as I felt the emotions her characters experienced as they struggled during the recession.
Another stop in Springfield, Missouri, enabled us to get to know Heather Huffman and her lovely family. Her husband, Adam Bodendieck, has been the one producing the magic behind the formatting of my books. I was blessed to be able to personally say thanks. Heather and I have had a long-distance friendship for the past year now. Getting to meet her where she lives was wonderful. Seeing her home area made her book, Tumbleweed, come to life. Watching as her boys entertained us was even more fun. I felt right at home. As an added bonus, Robin and Heather and Adam’s oldest son, Dillan, hit it off. They talked forging—as in a fire and metal and creating knives and swords.
When I was first born, my parents had many foster children. One of those was, Lee. I remember the tales of Lee and my brother, Jeff. My parents tried to adopt Lee, but that fell through. So, they adopted Jeff. About ten years ago, my parents received a phone call wondering if they were the same Marty and Lola who had foster kids back in the ‘70’s in Iowa. It was Lee saying he had always thought of them as Mom and Dad! It was a joy to watch as my parents reconnected with him. As I was getting ready to leave on my journey, I contacted Lee to find out where he lived in Missouri. To my amazement, he was only forty-five minutes outside of Springfield! Meeting up with him was like Frodo meeting Gandalf. We sat and chatted and just relished being together after so many years.
Saving the World:
I doubt I saved the world on this trip, but we did widen our appreciation for the world and cultures around us.
Most people think you have to travel to a different country to experience culture shock. I say that’s not true.Tweet
Sometimes even in the same State or Province you can encounter different cultures than your own. We had fun experiencing the southern drawl of the people of Missouri. I was reacquainted with the church culture of the Mid-West as I chatted with a youth pastor’s wife in Iowa. Country music followed us in Wyoming and Missouri. Each stop brought us into a new or different culture.
As the novel wraps up, the hero returns home to find himself changed. His home isn’t quite the same anymore because his worldview isn’t the same as when he left. During the trip, I missed my family the most. I left my husband and three children to experience this great trip. I missed them. Talking via Facebook messenger, cell phone, and texting just isn’t the same as being face to face in the same room. The other longing was for my own room—not just my own bed. The comfort of a morning and evening routine revolve around my room. These are the things that I will relish for the next several weeks as the memory of the trip begins to fade.
Fantasy and reality met for me on this trip. Who knows where you will find fantasy and reality meeting for you. Let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Oh, don’t forget to turn off your epic journey music. Or, if you like, keep it on for the rest of the day. It just may help you to find fantasy in the midst of your reality.