An Ely Good Time

Earlier this summer, I embarked upon a road trip across the country. It was a fantastic journey, filled with sights and sounds and new experiences, and it changed my life. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to top it, let alone a mere two months later.

But I did. My trip to Ely was better.

Then again, I had somebody very special waiting for me on the other side. That makes all the difference in the world.

If I Had A Bucket List…

I’d be able to cross off no fewer than three items on this trip. But more on that later.

I already wrote about my drive down to Ely and the first night there. Did I mention the incredible sense of excitement that built up with each passing hour as the gap between us shrank? We were both giddy with anticipation. It tripled for me once I crossed the Nevada state line. There is no better feeling than knowing you are just a few hours away from seeing somebody special to you. I wish I could bottle that build-up juice and sell it on the open market. The world would be full of anticipation junkies.

So. Thursday, after lounging around Tara’s house in the morning, I drove to her office in town and met her for lunch. I got to meet her coworkers, who were friendly and welcoming, and hung out in her office while she finished up some business. She looked pretty cute sitting behind that desk being all official. When she was done, we stopped at Economy Drug in downtown Ely for lunch at an old-fashioned soda counter that looked like it was straight out of the 50s. Probably because it was straight out of the 50s. Tara and her mom had hyped up a drink called an Ironport, a soda that is similar to root beer but a little sweeter and spicier. It was pretty damn good! We then drove around Ely for awhile, Tara pointing out the various sights. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the town. Downtown is quaint and old-fashioned looking, with a little bit of neon glitz mixed in for contrast. This is Nevada, after all. The surrounding mountains provide a rugged backdrop. Tara had to go back to work for a few hours, so I took a drive a few miles east to a spot called Cave Lake, where I wandered around for a bit before returning to her house. I tried to take a power nap – I had gotten very little sleep the previous two nights – but I was too wound up with excitement. Around 3 PM Tara came home, and asked if I was ready for some four-wheeling. I’d always wanted to ride an ATV, so I eagerly climbed on board behind her and off we went, traversing a series of dirt trails in the hills around Ruth. What a rush! The wind in our hair, bumping and bouncing over rocky terrain. We switched places and I got to drive for a bit. Bucket list item # 1 – complete! We checked out the local copper mine, then sped up Garnet Hill to search for garnets and take in the breathtaking, 360-degree view. “I wish I could freeze this moment in time,” I told Tara, and what do you know…I guess I did.

We rode back home, and after a mishap involving a lost phone – Tara had dropped it somewhere on our adventure, and amazingly retraced our route and was able to find it – she cooked chimichangas and baked pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Her friend Ray joined us for dinner, and he is quite the character. Real nice guy. He left, Tara and I got cozy on the couch, and my first full day in Ely came to a close.

Ladies & Gentlemen, Our Cruising Altitude is 10,000′

Friday morning we headed east to Great Basin National Park, a little over an hour away from Ely. Our fist stop was Osceola, a ghost town and former mining camp. We walked around an impressive little cemetery on a bluff, and drove over a rocky dirt road through what was left of the town before meeting up with the highway again. After a stop for lunch at a little bar and grill in Baker, we headed into Great Basin. Unlike many of the national parks I’ve been to, there is no admission charge to get in. We stopped at the visitor’s center and then took a 90-minute guided tour of Lehman Cave, a spectacular underground cavern of stalactites and stalagmites. The cave was a cool 50 degrees, and Tara and I were the only ones without jackets, but we managed to keep each other warm during the tour. I loved holding her hand – not just there, but wherever we walked. That’s the type of simple but affectionate gesture that is missing from my life.

Following the cave tour, we drove up and up…and up…until we were suddenly at 10,000′ elevation. The view up there was remarkable! We then took a hike on the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, a 2.7-mile jaunt past rolling fields and stands of Quaking Aspen and fir trees, with majestic Wheeler Peak looming in the distance. We stopped at both Stella and Teresa Lakes, and saw a couple of deer along the way. I will admit, the first part of the hike was strenuous; it wasn’t that steep, but at 10,000 feet you have to struggle to fill your lungs with oxygen. We took frequent stops and drank plenty of water along the way. I’m used to hiking alone; having somebody to enjoy the scenery with was pretty nice.

Afterwards we drove home, and Tara made us another fantastic dinner. Homemade beer bread, salad, ribeye steaks, and these fantastic sauteed mushrooms that I am so going to have to make myself. We ate dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed, exhausted.

Jealous, Dirty Harry?

Saturday was more of a leisurely day, but still full of fun. We drank coffee and sat on Tara’s deck, enjoying the morning sunshine and quiet, before heading into town to check out the farmer’s market and Renaissance Village. It’s nothing like the acres of tents and produce stands I’m used to at home, but the few tents and buckets of fresh fruits and vegetables just screamed small-town charm. I ended up buying a jar of pickles. We were hungry by that point, so we headed to Rack’s Bar & Grill (once owned by her dad) for burgers, and shared a basket of fried pickles that were really damn good. After lunch we went back to her house, where we took the quad out again, and that is when I crossed item # 2 off my bucket list.

I shot a gun.

Not just any gun – a Ruger 9-mm semi-automatic pistol with a twelve-gauge clip. Oh. Hell. Yeah.

I’ve never been a gun person, but had always been curious and wanted to take a shot. Literally. So Tara took us out to a spot a few miles from her house, set up a few cans to shoot at, gave me a quick lesson on how to use the gun, and then handed it over to me. I surprised myself by not only managing to hit my targets a few times, but by actually taking out three cans in a row, one after another, at one point. Sweet! It was a real adrenaline rush and I felt all sorts of studly. I see the appeal now.

When we were finished shooting we drove through town and out to a rock formation on the outskirts of Ely called The Gap. Along the way it started to rain, and I experienced what Tara had told me about countless times before: when it rains in the high desert, the sweet smell of the sagebrush perfumes the air all around you. It’s an incredible aroma. We had planned to take the Ghost Train tour – a ride aboard a steam locomotive – but the Ely Depot had just changed to a fall schedule and the train we wanted wasn’t running. Well, it was, but two hours later and $44 more, so we decided to skip that and spend a quiet evening back at Tara’s house. We lay entwined on the couch, watching a couple of movies, and the evening was romantic as hell. After leftovers and Bloody Marys it was getting late and, because I was getting up early the next morning, we went to bed. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. We both read for awhile, and then switched off the lights. I lay there in the dark a long time, my arm draped around her, not wanting to let go and fall asleep because I knew when I woke up, it would be time to leave.

But I did. And it was.

I Feel The Need. The Need For Speed. 

I did not want to leave Tara; every fiber of my being screamed at me to stay. But I couldn’t. Reality intruded and demanded I get into my car and drive away, but not before a sweetly tender embrace and a promise to see each other again soon. I pulled away from her house, waved goodbye, and made the lonely drive through downtown. It was 39 degrees, the wind was blowing, and it started to rain. I pulled over across the street from the Hotel Nevada, brightly lit against the predawn darkness, feeling the rain on my skin and wishing so badly I could turn around and go back to her.

So many emotions…

(And did this really just happen yesterday? Did I hold her in my arms and kiss her a mere 29 hours ago? Already it feels like an eternity).

I gassed up my car, pulled onto the highway, and watched Ely disappear behind me. Tried to take my mind off the sad fact that such a fantastic trip was over in the blink of an eye by listening to Built To Spill as loudly as I could. Once the sun rose, on one particularly solitary stretch of road, I pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Driving 100 mph was the third item on my bucket list. I hit 102, and have the picture to prove it.

The long ride home sucked. I knew it was going to be hard, but I truly wasn’t prepared for exactly how difficult it would be. Every passing minute took me approximately 1.25 miles farther from Tara, and when I crossed the Idaho border I felt a pang in my chest. We were no longer in the same state. God, I feel pathetic writing all this! Can’t help it, though. She’s gotten to me in a big way. I’m crazy about her.

And I get that our situation is far from ideal. She’s 840 miles away. On the plus side – she’s 840 miles away. A little more than a 12-hour drive, close enough to make the occasional visit, even on the spur of the moment. This is my glass-is-half-full side saying it could be a lot worse. She might live in Fargo. Or Birmingham. No offense to either of those places, but I like Ely a lot better. Plus, her goal is to move out here. I know that it won’t happen for awhile, maybe even a year or longer.

But you know what I think? Finding a real connection with somebody is difficult. Tara and I click in a way that feels incredible. We have a long past and a ready-made foundation from which we could build upon. A mutual respect and admiration for one another. And a hell of a lot in common, including a few things that surprised me. I think the sky’s the limit, and anything is possible should we choose to take that step.

I, for one, am no longer afraid.

And in 37 days, she is flying up here for another visit. We’ll be staying with her mom (hi, Tracy!) in Seattle for a few days and attending a three-day music festival. We’ve already purchased our wrist bands and have our calendars penciled in. I’m excited as hell to see her again.

Nevada landscape in the evening sun. I was maybe 50 miles from Ely here.
At long last! And yes, I now know what a Bristlecone Pine looks like.
Downtown Ely is pretty charming!
"The loneliest road in America" passes through Ely. I can believe it!
The Ruth Pit copper mine in the hills above Tara's house.
Tara and I, aboard her four-wheeler atop Garnet Hill.
Cemetery in the ghost town of Osceola.
Osceola ghost town.
Lehman Cave, Great Basin National Park.
Loved the shield formations in Lehman Cave.
Stella Lake, Wheeler Peak in background - Great Basin N.P.
Tara's ATV. So much fun!
Hell. Yeah. Major testosterone moment in my life.
The Gap, outside Ely. No, it's not a clothing store.
Rain on the Nevada plain brings out the sweet smell of sagebrush.
This wasn't me. I only hit 102. Such an amateur, huh?
East Ely Railroad Depot.
Historic Hotel Nevada in downtown Ely. A side of glitz with old-fashioned charm.

Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

34 thoughts on “An Ely Good Time

  1. All I can say is “Awww…I remember these days.” I still partake in them, which is the beauty of marrying the one you love.

    You ARE a romantic, Mark.

    I will say – that trip home is the hardest – I recall shedding many a’ tear.


    1. That drive home was brutal…such the opposite of the trip out there. But I figure it was so hard because our time together was so good. In that sense, the pain was worthwhile.

      See? More glass-is-half-full philosophizing!


  2. Your post made me all teary-eyed, as I know exactly how you feel–no longer afraid! I am so incredibly happy for you! You have found your “Rachel,” my friend! Tara’s a lucky woman–or should I say blessed?


  3. Hi Mark!!! Welcome home. I absolutely loved this post and have been waiting oh so patiently for it…it was worth the wait, my friend!

    I’m happy that you had such a wonderful time. Ely is quite the little town and oh, how I wish you could have seen it in the 70’s!! Some of the best times for me…ever!!

    Looking forward to meeting you in person in just 37 days….!!


    1. As surreal as seeing Ely was, meeting you in person is going to be even stranger! Not because you’re strange, of course, but…you know. We go back pretty far! And you’ve always been super nice to me (except when you kicked my ass at Family Feud). Thanks in advance for your hospitality!


  4. Mark, I’ve been waiting to hear how the trip went. I’m so excited for you, I don’t know what to comment on first, so here’s my rambling list. LOVE the photo of you and Tara, too cute! I’m excited about everything you did, caves, cooking, and movie marathons with bloodies! Did you teach Tara my canteen full of wine trick? Nice pic of the gun shooting, you kind of made me want to add that to my bucket list, but at my domineering 5’2″ height, I picture myself like a cartoon flying backwards after the shot and smashing into a cactus or something. I did use to like archery in school. *shrug* As a Life List founder, I’m thrilled you got through some of your bucket list items; this really has been such a growth year for you. And lastly, I know exactly how it felt to leave Tara and be sadder with each mile apart. For a year in college I actually dated a guy who lived in Miami, Florida, so we only saw each other every couple of months for a week at most. It’s hard, I remember tears when it was time to go, but we also made the most of our time together. It’s that anticipation thing. It forces the relationship to dwell on the time you have together and not dawdle on things that aren’t important. In that aspect, you really do form a close relationship with that person.

    I’m so happy for you! Hope the month flies by so you’ll be in Seattle before you know it! Go eat some seafood for me!


    1. If ever there was a person (other than me) who might appreciate your wine-in-the-canteen trick, it would be Tara! I say that lovingly, of course. She’d probably fill hers with Bloody Marys, but I’d be down with that.

      And seriously…thank you. I’ve never had an official Bucket List written down, but those are three things that I’ve always known in my head would make the cut. I guess I should come up with a Life List so I can hang out with you and the other cool kids!


      1. Well, all I’m saying is there might be canteens of wine at the next LLC post, because it’s our milestone party and that’s how I celebrate. I’m thinking of asking Margaret to bring bologna for me. Do you think she will? You can bring SPAM. LOL


  5. Oooooo…..I’ve been soooooooo waiting for this post, Mark!!!!

    I could actually feel your excitement, joy, happiness, and exhilaration in your words!

    First, right off the bat, I have to say that these photos are freakin’ awesome, man! I don’t know what kind of camera you use, but you have an excellent eye! Ely looks like an adorable little town. And I especially enjoyed the photo of the ghostown and the caves – WOW! And the shot of the rain on the Nevada plain ROCKS! I too, many years ago, tried shooting a gun. And as apprehensive as I was about doing it, I ended up loving sensation!

    And what an AWESOME photo of you and lovely Tara! You look so good together!

    I can’t tell you how happy I am for you. I’m so glad you made this trip and followed your heart and went for it!

    And like you said…. “the sky’s the limit, and anything is possible should we choose to take that step.”

    You GO, boy!

    And GO, Tara!

    Thanks for sharing, Mark. Really enjoyed it!


    1. Thanks, Ron! I use a Panasonic Lumix DSLR…nothing too fancy, but I’ve been taking pictures since I was 11 years old and using one of those old rectangular cameras with 110 film. I guess over the years you can’t help but develop an eye for a decent photograph.

      And now I want to buy both a gun and a 4-wheeler. Ely has gone to my head!!


    1. Well, aren’t you a positive ray of sunshine, Heidi! Lol…trust me, I know all about LDRs. I also believe in following your heart and taking chances, so – you know – hopefully it all works out in the end!

      Thanks for your well wishes, and all you’ve done for me, too.


  6. Been away for 3 weeks. Caught up on my favourite blogs today. Enjoyed your blogs Mark. You are an inspiration to all of us. Also I have ordered your book and can hardly wait to read it. Congratulations again on your book publishing


  7. Wow, that sounds like an amazing time. I like the perspective that you have about this – it could be worse. Imagine if you were on opposite coasts? That would be awful for the relationship. Just enjoy every second you have with her, if it’s meant to be, it’ll be… right? 🙂
    So happy to hear you are enjoying this side of your life!


  8. What an amazing experience. Long-distance relationships can be tough, but they can also be the opportunity to insert a lot of romance into a courtship. My wife and I had a long-distance relationship our first year and I definitely appreciate how it made us miss each other and obsessively look forward to our next visits. I don’t think we would have gotten married if we had lived close together.


    1. In some strange way, I can see the appeal in starting out this way. The romantic in me would agree with what you’ve said about appreciating our time together and looking forward obsessively to meeting up again. Also, it’s a lot harder to grow tired of the other person when you’re too busy cherishing your shared moments. Thanks for your insight.


  9. Was it really this time last week that you were on your way here?? Wow…what an incredible time. I loved showing off my little piece of paradise and I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it so much. There’s still lots and lots to do and see around here!

    Love that you came down. Love that we had an amazing time together. Love the pictures and this post. Love that we’re making plans for our next visit. 35 more days!!


    1. That’s the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning. I realized that I was already on the road, closing the gap between us with every passing moment. Hard to believe a week has gone by already! But that’s a good thing, too – it just means the next five weeks will hopefully fly by just as quickly.

      Thank you for everything. You spoiled me…this trip really did change my life! 🙂


      1. I have a feeling its going to fly by…I’m sure hoping so! And you’re very welcome. You’re very easy to spoil! Plus, it’ll be my turn when I come up. 😉

        BTW, I meant to ask what things we had in common that surprised you.


      2. It’s silly, but I noticed a lot of little things…like our mutual dislike of sweet pickles, for instance. And your key rack by the front door. Our love for mushrooms, and the way we both insisted Hidden Valley Ranch in a bottle is far inferior to the stuff you make with a packet. The way we both like to read in bed before going to sleep. There were a bunch of other things I can’t recall at the moment, but they struck me at the time. I know none of these are big by themselves, but I was just pleasantly amused and surprised every time something like that came up.


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