So there was this one time where I woke up on a Friday and thought to myself,
"Hey, I've got a three days off in a row coming up! I want to do something!"
And for me, "do something" didn't mean spend the days catching up on sleep or doing laundry or taking my car in to get serviced (though to be fair, I did check that one off the list).
No, because in the brain of Lauren, "do something" often translates into something crazy like moving to Oregon with three weeks notice or spontaneously flying halfway across the world to go see Frank Turner play a show in Northern England.
Already, I digress.
But I started thinking about how badly I needed to go to Montana.
We're talking bad.
I'd been craving Montana since the day I'd last set foot there back in 2012. And even after almost three years, I'm still not okay with being so far away from Laura. There are days when I still think I can just call her up and say I'm downtown and we need to walk around and eat all of the things and go on an adventure... Those are the days I usually call her as I'm toddering through thinking to myself how perfectly wonderful it would be if she were there.
So needless to say, I'm not sure she was entirely surprised when I told her I was thinking about driving to Red Lodge.
She thought I was kidding... But she was not surprised.
So with her blessing (and Jodi granting me one extra day off because she confirmed that I was in fact crazy if I stuck to my original plan of driving out Sunday, staying Monday, and driving home Tuesday) I took the next 48 hours to stock up on road snacks, make sure my car was in working order, and - after being out until past midnight photographing the CAP Art Auction the night before - got a few hours of sleep before getting on the road at 5am Sunday morning.
I also made a giant thermos of coffee to take with me because hi, I was driving 900+ miles on 4 hours of sleep.
Also, I carried my knife during every pit stop I made. Because I fancy myself one of the Outsiders (call me Two-Bit). And because there's nothing more terrifying than a sleep-deprived knife thrower hopped up on caffeine and adrenaline.
Spoiler alert: no one messed with me.
Almost 14 hours later, after the most exhilarating and wonderful drive of my life (I was way too excited about the whole thing - even when anyone would call to make sure I hadn't fallen asleep at the wheel I was so wound up I think they began to worry about my overall mental state) I was rolling into Red Lodge, still not able to let it all sink in that I was back.
As I drove down the main drag Laura called one last time.
"Where are you?"
"About to turn onto your street."
::scattered obscenities and squealing on both ends::
I pulled up, threw the car in park, launched out of my seat just as Laura was flying off the front porch and I'm pretty sure we stood there hugging and crying for a solid 90 seconds.
Tell me there's anything better than seeing a best friend after far too long and I will have to call bullshit.
It was a genuinely perfect moment.
And then... And then we went inside and I was greeted by the puppy face of Miss Colbie, the (I'm pretty sure still-thinks-I'm-crazy) John, and my two sweetest baby boys who, much to my aching heart, aren't such babies anymore.
And then my heart thunked dead on the floor and I was a mess of love and laughing and so much happy for the next four days that I still barely know what to do with myself.
Here's how it all went down...
They are the best. The end. Oh wait, no, there's more...
This is how Tristen and I fell asleep on the couch the night I got there... Can't tell you how glad I am that Laura caught this.
Convince me there's something sweeter than a baby in a bathtub.
Can't do it.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SOMEONE GIVE ME $1700 SO I CAN BUY THIS THING.
Found me a buffalo horn.
This is what happens when two photographers get together. And there's a sleeping baby.
Caddis and Colbie... I miss them as much I as I miss John and Laura.
Big into selfies here but seriously, when you turn the camera around and ask, "Who's that baby?!" and Tristen points to himself? That'll do it.
Jack loves to read. He's a boy after my own heart.
Also, beer ranks high on the list of Best Souvenirs Ever.
It should also be mentioned that I plan to pull out these photos of Tristen and Jack with underwear on their heads should they ever decide to do something foolish.
Or if they ever become famous and TMZ calls.
Jack was already falling asleep and it's grainy as hell, but this is one of my favorite pictures of all time.
THIS is actually my current favorite picture of all time.
Every day we read no less than a dozen books. And I would read a dozen more for a few more snuggles with Jack Jack.
Oh, and because for some reason stemware and toddlers don't always mix (I know, weird), we drank $65 dollar wine out of mason jars.
And it was just the best.
And baby butt.
Next to baby cuddles, waking up and loving this little pup was the best part of the trip.
Oh! And let's not forget the whole fiasco of snow. In May.
The backstory here is two-fold:
First, let me mention that Monday we were running around in 70 degree weather and sunshine.
And I made the stupid remark that I'd love to see Red Lodge when it snowed, although I was pretty sure that if you wanted to see RL in the snow, you'd have to be there before it snowed.
Turns out, I was kinda right.
Because Tuesday evening when it started spitting rain - and three-year-old Jack had to ask what the water falling on his head was because that's just how often it rains in RL - it started spitting snow and by Wednesday morning there was over a foot of powder on the ground.
And the mountain passes looked like loads of fun.
And guess who didn't have chains?
I love throwing it in 4wd, but I didn't feel like taking on I-90 in those conditions.
So I stayed an extra day.
And no one was upset about it.
When I finally made my way out of town that Thursday it was early in the morning. Tristen was contentedly munching on his second breakfast of the day and Jack wasn't even awake yet. I snuck into the bedroom and kissed his tiny little face one more time before packing up (with my awesome copilot seen above) and slipping away into the rapidly melting landscape.
Laura and I pretended the whole thing wasn't happening. There's never enough time with family.
Somehow the long drive home didn't seem nearly as unending as it had on the way there, but it wasn't the same. I didn't want to be going in that direction.
And truthfully, if it wasn't my beloved Oregon I was driving home to, I probably would have never left.
Much like the state I now call home first cast its spell on me six years ago, Montana has done something inside me and marked my soul in a way few places ever have before. Of course I know that, barring some biblical flooding or plague or somesuch event, Montana will always be there waiting for me but for now I suppose I'll just say this:
If you're ever looking for that other piece of my heart, I left it in Red Lodge.
Stay with me here, folks... This is just the haul from my iPhone, I've got about fourteen thousand more photos from the big camera on the way...