Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

One more from the road.

Monday, June 28, 7 p.m.:

Around 6 p.m., I pulled into the campground for my last night on the road. Same place, in fact, where I stopped two weeks earlier for the first night of my journey. (A night when a 50% chance of thunderstorms had me sleeping in my car rather than risk having to pack up a wet tent in the morning. Of course, it didn’t rain a drop that night.)

It’s humid, but the day is cooling nicely, and the sun is already behind the trees. The insects and birds are noisier (in a good, summery way) than they were my first time through, and I am digging the cicada song from the trees. No rain in the forecast, either.

Today’s drive pushed 12 hours total, since I took a long lunch break to rest and write. The eastern part of Kansas passed quickly, marked by passage through Topeka and near Lawrence, and with the aid of a few podcasts, and then the twists and turns and traffic and cityscape of Kansas City kept things interesting – so much so that I failed to notice when I had passed into Missouri.

Once I got through the metro area, though, I realized that something was missing. I had passed large portions of this trip without radio or podcast company, finding myself kept more than alert by the changing surroundings and new roads. Here in western Missouri, though, even though it had been 10 years since I’d driven this highway and it should have felt “new,” I wasn’t drawn into the environment; wasn’t exploring it with my eyes; wasn’t soaking it all in – and I couldn’t figure out why.

Then it hit me: It was too familiar. The woods at the roadside were the same leafy, deciduous variety (at least in appearance) as those in Ohio. the hills rolled similarly, and the horizons were closer, and even the biggest corn and soybean fields felt cozy in comparison to their sprawling brothers further west.

Yes, there differences, especially in things like the massive bluffs along the eastern bank of the Missouri River, but for the most part, the scenery along the Interstate could have been any number of places I’ve driven in Ohio.

I did have one remaining “untraveled” stretch of road to enjoy, exiting at Warrenton and heading down Missouri 47 and then 100 before hooking up again with I-44, which I drove on the westbound leg. While I spent too much of this winding, two-lane drive staring at the back end of an RV towing a car, I did get to traverse the Missouri River over a long, narrow, steel-girdered bridge that I would love to have photographed were it not for the lines of steady traffic in both directions.

And there’s this fun little geographical quirk of my route today, too: I crossed the Missouri River TWICE today, from one bank to the other and then back again – so yes, here at the campground, I’m on the same side of the river as I was in Kansas City – but I WON’T be crossing it again on the way home.

I find myself thinking of other little things I hope not to forget: The sight of a little snake wriggling its way across a sizzling blacktop southwest of Timpas, Colorado; the way that it felt when I was in western Kansas and I realized the Iowa plates on my rental car didn’t seem quite as out-of-place anymore; the head-high flight of a yellow crop duster looping and diving over the fields in a buttery-sun morning.

And, of course, every single day of this trip came with just bucketloads of awesome, one after the other after the other, and now, I’m sitting here watching the setting sun bathe bluffs and trees in green and baked-bread gold, and the campground smells like wood smoke and bug spray and summer vacation, and I can hear a train rumbling past somewhere and I’m going to wrap this up and walk around and drink it in until I’m tired and it gets dark enough to crawl into my tent.

Here’s the last sunset:

Tuesday, June 29, 3:50 a.m.

This is the earliest I’ve gotten up during the entire trip, but I know I’ve got to give back one more hour today, and I went to bed well before full dark last night.

It’s been a long time since I’ve ready Travels with Charley, but I seem to remember that towards the end, Steinbeck wrote something to the effect of having a realization that though he was on the road, his journey had ended and he was now simply on his way home.

I get that feeling this morning, and while I don’t want to take this last leg for granted or find it slipping past unnoticed, I’m ready to be home again. There’s a lot in my head yet about what this trip has meant to me, but now’s not the time to write it. I’ve got a few hundred more miles to go.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | geek, Travel, Weblogs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Kansas, more geek stuff

I’m about 6 hours into what’s going to be an 11-plus-hour driving day, so I’m allowing myself a long, shady lunch here along I-70 just west of Topeka, at a rest stop with a great breeze, nice-smelling trees, and free wi-fi that reaches this very pleasant corner of the picnic area.

I also wanted to make sure I shared some things that weren’t in yesterday’s post, which I kind of rushed because it was late and I needed to get some sleep.

First, for my fellow Star Wars fans, feast your eyes on this:

My Kansas host and friend Jonathan Liu did this from an illustration in The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook while we sat at his kitchen table talking. It took him all of about 15 minutes. 20, tops. I’ve seen Jonathan’s work on GeekDad and elsewhere, of course, but to see him in action, this thing coming to life on the screen while we sat there and chatted, was just mind-blowing.

So, yeah, WAY COOL.

I also owe Jonathan for two recommendations of “This American Life” episodes. The first, “House on Loon Lake,” came up when we were talking about abandoned cars and empty towns along the highways. I had actually passed a place where an old house had lost a wall, and the interior cabinets and appliances and some furniture were all visible from the road. In Arizona, I’d see clusters of three or four cars, usually from the 40s or 50s by their look, just sitting out in the desert, with no buildings or paths or anything else nearby.

Given my fascination with the bits and pieces of the past that survive and what they mean to people and the stories they carry, I LOVED this episode, which begins with a couple kids exploring a dilapidated house and wondering about who had left it behind.

I was reminded about some of the long-shuttered attractions on the Old Route 66, which runs right alongside long stretches of I-40 – a crumbled stone building with “MOUNTAIN LIONS” painted on a wall comes to mind.

Jonathan had recommended the other episode, “Road Trip,” on my day of departure two weeks ago, but I didn’t listen to it until this morning.

Both kept me company for the long stretch of I-70 across Kansas, which wasn’t nearly as grueling as I remember it from the trip Jenn & Kelsey & I took to Colorado. It’s actually been a really nice drive.

Time to have a sandwich and get back on the highway. See you south of St. Louis.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | geek, science fiction, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two-lanes and far horizons and small towns

I’ll admit I had some reservations about the Raton KOA campground when I arrived in town yesterday(Saturday the 26th) around 5:30 p.m. While I did check reviews and look at satellite and street view locations of all three KOA sites I’ve visited on this trip, you still really never know what to make of a place until  you’re there, you know? So I knew coming in that this one was a little different in that it’s in Raton itself, tucked into a pocket of the town close to hotels and stores and restaurants and parks and neighborhoods. Maybe it’s because there were people in town for the two-day rodeo which ended last night, but there’s definitely more of an air of the “on-the-road-stopover” to this campground as opposed to a “we’re going camping” feel.

Still, they did have an ice cream social – which, sadly, I missed – and I did get to finish the day with this sunset:

It was still warm when I fell asleep on top of my sleeping bag around 10 p.m., but I woke up about 45 minutes later to some gusty weather shaking the tent. It kept me up for a little while, but it also cooled things down nicely so I was able to comfortably settle into my sleeping bag, and I woke up this morning just before six feeling really refreshed.

I also want to note that I’ve been very pleased with the choice to bring my brothers’ old sleeping mat from their Boy Scout days: It’s only about a  half-inch thick, but it’s a nice, dense foam and has provided a surprisingly nice cushion for its weight and flexibility.

After an all-you-can-eat-pancakes-for-three-bucks breakfast, I headed north on I-25 around 9 a.m. It didn’t take long to climb into the neighboring hills, and even less time to realize that I’d soon be putting the hills of the West behind me. I stopped in Trinidad, Colorado for this shot –

– and then started a few hours of mostly two-lane driving through southeastern Colorado on Route 350.

I was unprepared for the beauty and emptiness of the region. I passed even fewer cars here than I had in the Arizona deserts, and several times, I stopped to take pictures without even worrying about traffic, because mine was the only car on the road for miles. Consider this cow I encountered in the Comanche Grasslands:

Yes, you’re seeing correctly: The adult is on the OUTSIDE of the fence.

I passed through several towns which, though marked with signs, were little more than remnants, and hints of long-gone farms.

It really is beautiful country, though.

A railroad runs alongside Colorado 350 for a ways, with a variety of small trestles and culverts and concrete pipes running beneath it. At one point, one of these was a small but fairly elaborate yellow brick construct, with a neatly-mortared archway, and I wish I’d stopped to take a picture because it stood out from the rest.

I spent the afternoon and evening in western Kansas in the company of awesomely creative GeekDad writer, gamer and Etch-A-Sketch artist extraordinaire Jonathan Liu and his family, wrapping up the night with Carcassonne and The Isle of Dr. Necreaux.

June 27, 2010 Posted by | Games, geek, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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