My Own Private Stanley Idaho

This is a story about a pair of roadtrips. One from a year ago, one a few decades back.

The one from last year started on a Friday.

Work calls kicked off that morning at 7am. We were getting ready for a big launch, bashing ideas around, picking up the pieces, turning them into emails. I was working in my home office, strapped into a large Ikea chair with laptop and headphones in place.

At noon things shifted gears as my daughter, a high school senior then, began hearing back from colleges. All the interviews and essays, all the tests and activities of the last couple of years—they’d been sent through the admissions machine. Right around lunchtime that day, the machine started answering back.

At 3, my son got out of school, my wife got home from her job. We took a deep breath and piled into the Honda.

I remember putting on a mix with one album from each us to start things off as we settled in for the 7 hours drive up to Eureka to see my mother-in-law, Kay.

Kay has Alzheimer’s. She still has the same awesome smile and laugh she’s always had. She doesn’t quite remember who we are in the details. (I’m not the likable guy who looks a bit like me and did Scottish dancing that one time.) But she remembers who we are emotionally, and she greets each of us as someone special in her life.

The highlight of that weekend was sitting on the couch at my sister-in-law’s, singing along to songs from Carousel, The Music Man, Camelot. The music brought back lost words. In the midst of all the hard parts, that was nothing but joy.

Sunday morning we tucked ourselves back into the car for the drive home. As 101 and the northern woods rolled past, I thought about the strange expanse of this sprawling moment.

On the one side there’s this fantastic bunch of kids. Our kids, our friends’ kids. And we’re fully plugged into the classes, social adventures, disappoints, triumphs and all that planning and prepping for the road ahead.

On the other side there’s our parents’ generation, with their own triumphs and challenges, pains and wonder, light and weight.

And of course, in the middle of it all, there’s us. Our own daily mayhem—all the everything. And there was nothing really special about any of this. So many of my friends and colleagues were and are in a very similar situation, living in these three worlds.

I thought about a roadtrip from around 30 years earlier—the one that took me from home in New Jersey to new home, California, driving through Minnesota, Wyoming, Yellowstone, past Lake Tahoe.

With all that, somehow the most beautiful spot along the way was Stanley, Idaho, population 68.

Walking around Stanley, you can see and breathe in the Sawtooth Mountains, hear the trees dancing the breeze. Spin around and the mountains are replaced with a view of the plains flying out to the edge of the distance-faded Rockies. Walk across the road and stand in the spray of the mighty Salmon River as it roars past. Stanley, Idaho: glorious.

On that years-ago roadtrip, it was one town, three worlds, and a young me, standing in the middle, vibrating.

And that’s my aim today. To feel the hum of my own private Stanley, Idaho. To appreciate the forest, the plains, the roar of the spray. And all the many things that matter.

Stanley, Idaho. Photo by Katja Shultz