Last week, on my drive back to KC from CO, I decided that I needed to mix things up. I needed an adventure. Google maps doesn’t understand “adventure route,” so I had to go old school on this one. I got out the atlas. After driving back and forth from KC to CO on I-70 for the past 3 years, I’ve got that route down pat and have settled into a pretty set routine of stops, simply because it works and I know where the Starbucks are. But this time I wanted to drive on roads I had never been on and discover towns I had never been through. It was the best decision I could have made!
Discovery #1. You can easily and more importantly, SAFELY pull over to the side of a quiet two lane highway and get out and take photos without worrying about cars zipping by you at 80 MPH, as they do on I-70. Yes, I’ve done that on I-70, but always with trepidation, and knowing full well that what I am doing is NOT a good idea. But today, on Highway 36, with such light traffic that I could literally count the cars I saw in an hour on one hand, it was easy, and safe.
The Colorado Rockies are majestic, there’s no denying that. They are bold and beautiful and literally have brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. Kansas doesn’t have mountains. Hills, yes. Mountains, no. But what Kansas does have is a much quieter beauty that shows itself in views that seem endless of prairie grass or wheat or corn or any other crop, pushed up against an endless big blue sky. It’s subtle – a whisper that taunts you to pull over and have a closer look, or better yet, a more thoughtful look. After a few weeks of hiking through mountains, the plains of Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas felt like a very welcome respite for me…. a long, deep sigh.
Discovery #2. More than once, when wandering through some of the very, very small towns on my route that day, I felt oddly conspicuous. I had a sense, even without seeing my license plate, that they knew I wasn’t from around there. Maybe it was the camera, or my quiet sense of awe, but they knew and I had to respect that. I’m sure I’d be the same way. I went into a gas station in Atwood, Kansas that had a Subway sandwich shop attached and saw a group of women, probably in their 70’s and 80’s, all in their Sunday church clothes, all sharing Subway sandwiches at a big table in the front of the restaurant. I’m sure it is a weekly meeting for them. I found myself hovering by the chip aisle just to get a better look. It was a charming scene and I couldn’t help but stare. It felt like a scene right out of the 60’s, especially given their clothing. Oh what I would have given to have gotten an invite to join them, but then again, I was hardly dressed appropriately and then there was the detail of them not knowing or caring who I was, so I just meandered near the chips and spied for several minutes instead.
Discovery #3. I realized that I really do love the process of discovery, and if there is a little bit of an adventure involved, better yet. This still kind of surprises me because I was such a scaredy cat kid. My sister, Robin and my best friend, Kim, and I, when we were in the 1st and 2nd grade, decided to start a company called the “Whirlybird Dog Catchers.” As I recall, there was a show about some sort of rescuers on TV with whirlybird in the name, hence the name of our “company.” (I”m sure we would not have had any idea what a “whirlybird” even was had it not been for the show). We had to improvise on the helicopters so would pretend to be jumping out of them once they had landed, then would run to the site where there was a stray dog. It was the jump then run part that seemed more important than the obvious, which was catching the wandering dogs, and we’d practice that element over and over again. The “catching” of the wandering dogs, not so much, because there was one problem with our little company… I was afraid of dogs, except for my own. Our “company” didn’t last long, the whole fear of dogs hampering the goal a bit, but we sure did have fun as adventure always followed a run from a helicopter, didn’t it?, whether the helicopter was a real one or a pretend one. We were terribly naive but cleverly creative and I’m so glad now, some 55 years later, that no one (i.e. no parents), told us our ideas for a company were silly. We also went into the diamond making business that involved burying a charcoal briquette, but that’s another story, and no, it didn’t work. Oddly enough, those were the memories that came to mind as I was stopping my way across eastern Colorado and western Kansas with my camera in hand, looking for the right shot and making a new discovery in the process. Maybe I was getting a nudge from that 6 year old girl who was always looking to discover… something… anything…
A few days earlier, I had seen a write up on a place somewhere in KS that a sculptor from California had gone to for the summer and had carved several limestone fence posts into beautiful works of art, mostly of faces. So, I decided to try and find the fence posts, which took me a good 2 hours off track. I did find ONE of the fence posts, parked my car and started to make my way over to it. There was a deep ditch between me and the post and as I started stepping down into the thigh high grasses, I realized that it was a very bad idea. I was in a no cell phone reception area, was wearing sandals, had no idea if that ditch was filled with water and saw more than one sign that said (in a very emphatic tone) PRIVATE PROPERTY. And so feeling like my wandering for the past 2 plus hours was for naught, I retreated to my car, checked the atlas and decided on my route home from there. I’ve got to admit, I rather loved the idea of not knowing exactly where I was headed or what I’d see, but knew I was headed in the general direction of East so I was making progress….
When it got dark, and my sunset photo ops were over, or any other photo ops for that matter, I was done, and ready to be home, but unfortunately I was still a few house from home. My normally 9 or 9 1/2 hour journey, door to door, was now inching its way towards 13 hours, which again was fine given my objective that day, which was not efficiency or speed, until I ran out of daylight,and almost out of gas, which was another problem.
Discovery #4 Gas up, whenever and wherever you can on a road trip where you’re making it up as you go along. I always gas up when my tank hits 1/2 when I’m on I-70, simply because the coffee to bathroom break ratio and timing makes it a necessity, but all of those rules seemed to fly out the window when I was traveling seat of the pants, making it up as I went along, as I inched my way across Colorado and Kansas. Everything seemed fine until it became dark out and then scary began to take over. I’ve got a reading on my car that tells me how many miles the car can go before running out of gas. Great! I had 130 miles left and home was 95 miles away. I could relax. Yet I continued to check that read out and realized that the miles remaining seemed to be ticking off at twice the rate of my odometer. Toyota, could you explain this to me??? It’s dark, I’m on a two lane highway, no cell phone coverage, and my gas gauge is hovering between 1/4 tank and you’re in trouble. I turned off the air conditioner. I turned off the radio. I coasted as much as I could, while maintaining my speed, thinking that I could improve my gas mileage, even the tiniest bit. The road signs became so infrequent that they really were nonexistent because there were no towns where I was. I re-grouped, wrapped my head around sleeping in my car on the side of the highway, and how bad could that be, right? Down to the fumes later, and I came upon the town of Burlingame and a Casey’s General Store became my oasis, my bright light, my I can relax now. Crisis averted and I was so happy I bought an armload of snacks, turned the radio and air conditioner on and cruised home a happy girl.
Discovery #5. If you’re looking for quick, efficient, straightforward, predictable journey then taking the backroads and making up a 670 mile journey as you go along, would not be a good idea. But, if you want to discover something new around every turn and delay yourself in the process from a 9 1/2 hour journey to a 16 hour journey then I’d say go for it, but only on the condition that you allow yourself to slow down and observe, discover and absorb. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to begin to discover the other part of the state that I have spent most of my life in. There’s a lot out there and discovering a tiny bit of it was a lot of fun for me. I’ve done this all over the state of Colorado, so it was especially nice to make a discovery a little closer to home.
I don’t think this will be the last time I do this, but now with some experience under my belt, I know that timing for daylight and fueling up wherever there IS gas are priorities. Oh, and not only one, but two back up batteries for my camera, and a bevy of snacks and food as my thoughts of charming roadside diners never came to fruition. Here’s to road trips… better yet, here’s to road trips in your own big back yard. I’ll do it again. In fact not even a week later I DID do it again! Only this time it was simply a wander through the Flint Hills with a drive home that same night… but that’s another story and another blog post.