Road trips are one of my favorite forms of travel. Driving, however, is not one of my favorite forms of transport. This may seem contradictory, so I’ll try to explain.
Road trips are freedom, open-ended stops, and wonder. With rough destinations in mind, you can take your time coming and going, adding to the agenda at will and ending up wherever you meant, whenever you get there. You make specific playlists for a road trip and get pumped for the days/weeks leading up. It’s wonderful.
Driving is stress, discomfort, and white-knuckling. It’s a means of getting from one place to another, goal-oriented without a lot of room for error. From the time you get in the car, you immediately start the clock and wonder if you can beat it, kind of like the cut-screen shots in 24, except without the cool music. It is (often) awful.
To get from our home in Colorado to our home-home (or parents) in Ohio, with a dog and months worth of things — clothes, my 15 pairs of shoes, Christmas presents, and a specially packed doggie bag of food and toys and Christmas sweaters — going by car just makes the most sense. I try to get into road trip mentality for this, but it inevitably ends up just being the longest drive ever.
On Friday, we loaded up and deemed our adventure home “started” around noon MST. I drove first, stopped at Cane’s for people-fuel for the journey, and tucked Obie into the 1.5 back seats that were available for his use.
With next to zero visibility, thanks to the boatload o’crap in the back, the drive through Denver was hairy, both because of the traffic and because Obie sheds like a madman and often tries to weasel into the front seats. (That’s his super plush dog bed you see behind my head. It may or may not have rained fur down on me each time I tapped the breaks.) We made good time and had our usual northern Colorado radio stations in range to jam to Christmas music. This was convenient, because that range almost exactly matched Will’s tolerance for the stuff, at which point we whipped out my handy dandy CD case from the mid-2000s. The music has not really been updated since then, so these hours of the drive were largely Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco dominated. This is the music of a long drive, and not one of a finely curated road trip. They’re gems for sure, and we jammed our pre-pubescent hearts out, and we did listen to at least some of every FOB album, but this barrage of angst is not consistently the first-choice stuff of road trips.
Around this time, we said goodbye to the mountains, and I vowed to wash my side mirrors after getting a look at the photos. To this day, I’m pretty sure my dad’s greatest shame in me is the upkeep of my car, so Dad, please don’t look right. Last year, as we drove through a literal blizzard, we were forced to clean the windshield every time we stopped, which was also more frequently due to said blizzard. Compared to that drive, the blue skies and dry roads made this first day a piece of cake.
Despite how dreadfully flat, uniformly colored, and sparse cities and even houses are through eastern Colorado and Kansas, there were a surprising amount of beautiful views as we carried on east. We watched the sunset behind us, which was all the more appreciated because we weren’t staring directly into the sun as we’ve become accustomed to on such drives. In the running tally of the “which state is the most painful to drive through?” battle, Kansas worked it’s way out of the top spot on this drive. From our experience, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas are the top three contenders, from having done the CO-OH drive far too many times.
Once the sun went down though, damn. One may say “the night is dark and full of terrors” — there are not many street lamps, exits for gas, or other cars, so the thought of breaking down or having some psycho go all The Strangers on you becomes more and more real the longer you go. If your boyfriend is a budding conspiracy theorist, you pass time by contemplating if the flashing red lights ahead are really UFOs and, if so, what that interaction would be like. You then become disappointed, hours later, when you realize that this is just yet another field of windmills.
The sun was down and it was pitch black out by around 5:00 MST, not long after we got into Kansas. Missouri, our agreed upon goal for the night, felt a long way from there. Our friends at the Wandering Warriors were a few hours ahead of us, so we planned to catch them, giving us a rough goal to make it to 11:00pm, leaving plenty of time for a good night’s sleep. Joke was on us, unfortunately, since Google Maps doesn’t (obviously, at least) show you which time zone it’s talking about…
We carried on, chit-chatting and making plans for our break at home and for the impending Semester at Sea, listening our way through adolescence and after a good long stint, Will switched into the driver’s seat. For about 40 minutes. Will’s been under the weather lately, and his poor body doesn’t take too well to cold meds. These jitters and loopiness were the reason for my original long stint, but I needed to stretch my legs, and Will said he was good to go. Shortly after getting back on the highway, however, a conversation something like this ensued:
W: “Do those lights look funny to you?”
K: “…no? What do you mean ‘funny’?”
W: “Like, huge? Like they have halos?”
K: “I mean my night vision’s not great, but–”
W: “And like they’re moving or dancing and bouncing?”
K: “Okay, I think it’s my turn to drive again.”
No sooner did I take back over, we were on the highway and Will started reading the signs out loud, beginning with “Zoo and Rain Forecast.” I did a double-take at the sign, and kindly asked Will what that would mean. The weather report so you know what it’d be like at the zoo? Negative.
The sign actually said “Rain Forest.”
Shortly after, we came upon “Conversation Areas” which I got Will to repeat, more than once, which he thought was nice for lonely travelers. Except the sign really said “Conservation Areas.”
I then regretted letting Will drive any of the first 11-12 hours that day. But all’s well that ends well.
Several uneventful hours later, we finally rocked up to Columbia, Missouri at 1:00am CST, knowing we’d be up and back at it early the next morning. We crashed pretty immediately.
Luckily, our friends got a hotel with breakfast and after a quick bite, we loaded back up for the last, much shorter stretch home through the tail end of Missouri, all of Illinois, and all of Indiana. It’s not that there are exciting things throughout these states, that keep them off our list of painful drives, but there are a lot more towns and cities, plus several quaint and kitschy “World’s Largest…” type of attractions. We were a little worse for the wear on Day 2, but happy enough to be closer to home, even knowing there were no fun pit stops this time around.
Some day, when we make a real road trip of this drive, rather than racing home as fast as possible, we’ll stop and marvel at these obscurities. Maybe we’ll AirBnB it and not Google the closest hotels ahead a few minutes in advance of the exit. We’ll make fun plans, highlighting the atlas as we go. We’ll pull over on the side of the road when the sunset is just the right blend of pink and purple and orange and take proper photos, ones without the dirty mirror and hood of the car.
Until then, we’ll content ourselves with watching Obie sleep through everything in the back — he really does travel like a champ.
For now, we’re happy to be home-home, surrounded by our parents and siblings. We have our favorite local craft beers, friends to visit, home-cooking to enjoy, and so much more that only home can offer.
Here’s to NOT driving hours and hours for a long time, and to making it safely home! See you soon, Ohioan friends!