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Road Trip

Sh**ters Full

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I have a left shoe and sock soaked in human piss…and it’s not mine. Well actually one-sixth of it is mine. There’s also some poop on it, but it’s not human.

That’s just the way the weekend had to end.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent weekend (aside from the loss). A weekend so good, it can only be told in pictures (the poop story comes at the end):

It starts with the loneliest croissant. It looks so sad and lonely…and plain.

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Another perspective of the greatest tailgate photo ever taken… (oh, you don’t know about that photo?? Well, here you go!)
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The long shadows cast early in the morning late in the autumn. Officially known as Tailgate Shadow:

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The aerial footage of our tailgate as shot from that missing Aberdeen blimp:

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It’s a rooftop conference and clearly a highly engaging story:

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Truly nothing else needs to be said about this:

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We are 107,000 strong…and about to lose. At this point Lauren was just yelling “khakis!” over and over and over:

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I suppose it’s how you look at things…at least Lauren was happy with the outcome of the game:

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I took a picture from this same spot of this same tree when it was full of orange and red autumn glory…now it’s full-on winter time.

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Central PA was full of beautiful skies this weekend. If only I had something more than my iPhone:

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Had to give it a try…not too bad. I think the 409 is for the calorie count:

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This Uber had purple running lights. It was amazing. By the way, taking an Uber in State College is way different than in D.C.

Most of the time it was like getting picked up by your mom after a prom party. Seriously, I think there’s a racket of mothers who dominate the Uber driver pool in Central PA. This guy…was not a mom, he was the cool uncle jamming out to Macklemore.

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The breakfast of restoration: coffee/OJ/Bloody.

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By midday the snow squalls were blowing across Old Main lawn…that’s the kind of cold we were dealing with.

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Just in case you don’t believe me:

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Last RV standing, that’s how we roll…or not roll. Megan’s Marauders made a surprise football appearance on this very field as all the RV’s left town.

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One last shot from the top of the tailgate world…the clouds were terrific:

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And now the payoff for sticking with this photo essay, the story below the moneyshot:

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So, when you rent an RV you also have to take care of all the little things…like dumping the sewage. My friend Mike was oddly excited for this chore. He just kept saying “Hey Clark, the shitter’s full!” over and over.

It took us a bit of research before we found a dump site at a truck stop. Then we had to figure out the engineering. It’s actually pretty simple:

  1. open the flap to the poop valve.
  2. pull out a hose covered in poop.
  3. attach the poop hose to a the poop valve on the RV and then to a poop valve in the ground.
  4. open poop valves.
  5. listen to a suckling/gurgling sound as poop moves from RV to ground.
  6. wait until empty, unfasten poop hose and put back in RV.
  7. wash hands like you were just sneezed on by someone with the bird flu.

We failed in step 6. While lifting the hose to get all the “waste” out of the RV and into the ground the hose detached from the poop valve. My left foot was conveniently under the valve in the perfect place for an R. Kelly-style shower. Thankfully, there was no poop thanks to some heads up rule making at the beginning of the trip. But my shoe was thoroughly soaked in human pee, and no replacement shoes were in sight.

After step 7 we were back off and running. We had a deadline, my buddy Gabe had a flight to catch. And it came down to a matter of moments…as always. Gabe and I have been in this situation more times than I can count…and I think I’ll dedicate another blog post to some of our greatest hits.

Nonetheless, we got back to the RV yard in Gaithersburg at 7:30, his flight was leaving at 8:58 from DCA. That translates into rushing to transfer everything from RV to car. Somewhere in the process I stepped in a huge, steaming-fresh pile of dog poop.

So, there you have it. My left shoe is covered in human pee and the sole is coated with dog poop. Perfect.

FWIW, Gabe made the flight. We pulled into Terminal B at 8:23. Standard operating procedure.

 

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The Greatest Tailgate Photo Ever

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With a noon kickoff we had to get up and going pretty early. It’s a process made all the easier when you wake up at the tailgate. It was a cold night for everyone…except me.  The RV only had a quarter tank of propane for the heat, so we had to ration it out by only using the heater intermittently. I was happily cocooned in my sleeping bag (rated down to zero degrees), but the commotion of everyone stirring woke me up to the cold, cold world. And within about five minutes I went from nested isolation to tailgating with 150,000 people.

Thanks to some Fireball apple cider Jell-O shots we got to know the guys in the RV next to us. And within a few minutes we were all on the rooftops of our respective vehicles. From there it was a pretty short logical leap to playing beer pong across the ten-foot gap between the RV’s. And that’s how this picture came to be. It was taken from the Michigan side. The ball is hurtling through the chilled late-autumn air, a perfect flick of the wrist sending the sphere of white plastic on a trajectory to one of six red solo cups. Beaver Stadium looms in the background as we collectively stand on the balls of our feet ready for whatever carum the ball may take at the mercy of wind and gravity and physics.

It’s the most perfect tailgate photo ever.

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Recreational Vehicle

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Lauren and I have a vision of our future selves, traversing the countryside in a big recreational vehicle on an endless journey. Maybe one day that’ll be a reality, but this weekend we’re taking a test drive.

With some good friends we’ve rented an RV for the full game day experience of Penn State v. Michigan. It’s the annual test of our marriage, except with the upped ante of being confined within an aluminum shell not much bigger than a closet. If you don’t read another post here, at least you’ll know why.

After a crash course in how not to crash an RV we hopped on the road moving at the molasses speed of Washington traffic. Driving an RV is more like driving a boat than a car. You have to be thinking constantly about inertia. Add in some wind and Maryland drivers and it’s a harrowing experience.

But it’s an experience worth having. Especially in the college football tradition. And especially for these two teams, with proud heritages and well-traveled fan bases.

Ultimately though, this isn’t about football. It never is. It’s about friendship and fellowship and adding entries to the index of experience. It’s the creation of new stories, even as we relive and retell the old stories.

And in this case the RV a becomes the connective tissue. So that as we add seven stops and two hours to our trip in a futile search for propane, we were also adding new pages to our friendships. New tales to be told over beers at another adventure a decade down the road.

We never found that propane…so there’s a distinct possibility we may freeze to death in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.

Been nice knowing you!

  
  
  

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Move over….

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Most people think I’m crazy when I tell them I love driving long distances. Seven, eight, even nine hours at a time…that’s something I look forward to. It’s hard to explain, but that’s when my brain tends to focus, which ends up being relaxing, until it isn’t.

It was pouring as we left Asheville, and the rain didn’t let up for the entire eight-hour trip back to D.C. I don’t have much of an issue with the rain. It’s the other drivers. And they ruined my eight hours of zen. So yes, I caved to the dark side..and for eight hours I plotted my revenge.

Here’s what I propose we do:

Secret drones armed with lasers set to evaporation mode on the look out for…

Left-lane sitters: You tend to have Maryland plates and a general look of cluelessness or befuddlement. At some point somebody told you that you were special, and entitled to the left lane regardless of your speed of travel. You’re oblivious to the 50 cars trailing, waiting to pass. You’re the type of person that sends all of your retirement savings to Nigerian princes promising untold riches in return. You also tend to drive INTO restaurants and gas stations, rather than through them.

Cell phone servers: You’re the consummate business professional closing deals on the highway and swerving erratically to make sure everybody knows how important you are…even if you die. I don’t care who you are. You can’t talk on your phone while driving 80 mph in the pouring rain through winding mountain passes. And you sound like a distracted idiot to whoever’s on the other line. Good job buddy, you just lost the deal. And your dead.

Turn-signal abstainers: You zig in and out of lanes without warning, because everyone should know what you’re thinking before you even do it. You also likely have Maryland or New Jersey plates. Here’s a fun fact: the turn signal in most vehicles is located within a finger twitch of the steering wheel. There is nothing, NOTHING, that a human being can do that would require less effort.

Passholes: You’re the left-lane sitter that suddenly becomes self-aware as someone attempts to pass in the right lane. You go from driving slower than your grandmother to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in five seconds flat. None shall pass. And you revert to their left-lane sitting ways until the next passing opportunity arrives, all the meanwhile reliving the glory years of your gym-class-hero moments.

No headlights…no problem: Here’s another fun fact…you’re legally supposed to have your headlights on when it’s raining in most states. And even if that’s not the law (Arizona, for obvious reasons) consider it a common courtesy. Now, I understand that you’re not one to let the government tread on you with this egregious overreach. But consider this, nobody can see you…nobody. Including that massive tanker truck full of gasoline coming downhill alongside that other semi with a trailer full of bottle rockets. At least you’ll go out patriotically.

Truck drivers who think they drive Zipcars: I’m driving along, leaving a safe distance between the car in front of me, finally zooming along at an appropriate speed and harnessing my chi. Then suddenly and without warning a tractor-trailer veers into my lane forcing me to slam on the brakes or get pushed off the road Dukes of Hazzard-style. I get that you’re in a race to get to the next Flying J for an IV of Mello Yellow and maybe a trick in the shower…but seriously?!? Good thing you have those “How’s my driving” bumper stickers. And now I have plenty of time to call as your truck lumbers uphill 20 miles below the speed limit.

 

…Better yet, no drones. Well, still drones…just without lasers. Instead, the drones will identify the offending drivers and send out a jamming signal to reroute their GPS. These drivers will instead be directed to a desolate desert post-apocalyptic landscape (of course they won’t notice along the way). Once there they’ll be forced into brutal road gangs marauding the landscape looking for oil or water…that is until the Road Warrior gets them.

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Justice.

Or at the very least…just move over.

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Cribs: Vanderbilt edition

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It’s an estate the size of a small European nation. The Biltmore counts in its original footprint some of the tallest mountains on the East Coast. And that’s where we’d spend most of the day.

But, we started in downtown Asheville at a restaurant called the Early Girl. As we waited an hour for a table I was sure we’d stumbled into the Portlandia Brunch Special.

Asheville has that same sorta vibe as places like Burlington or Portland. It’s a hipsterism that can seem simultaneously authentic and contrived. Whatever it is, it’s entertaining. The people watching is fabulous. The 90’s are clearly alive in Asheville.

After brunch and a stop in a pretty sweet bookstore, we were on our way out towards Biltmore by way of one last brewery.

Highland Brewery is one of the original craft brews in Asheville. They’re a bit out of town, but their space is worthy of the trip. We had a round of beers, listened to some reggae and left for the biggest house in America.

There was a bit of Google maps confusion on the way there. Just searching for “Biltmore” sends you to a different place than “Biltmore House”. It turns out they’re both right. “Biltmore” is the entry gate…and then you have another 15-minute drive through the estate before getting to the house.

Palatial is a descriptor that gets tossed around pretty loosely. But, in this case it is the absolute perfect word. More than 250 rooms, including a library that probably makes even Library of Congress librarians swoon. The ceiling in the main dining room is seven stories high. The fireplaces are bigger than our apartment.

You get the point.

We toured during the day, then went for a wine tasting before touring in the evening. A little bonus, the ticket to the grounds comes with the wine tasting.

When we came back for the evening tour everything was decked out in Christmas lights. The songs of carolers echoed from the stone hallways. This place is already in full holiday mode. And instead of resisting, I decided to just swim with the current.

We did the audio tour, it takes about two and a half hours. That shows just how big this place is. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. The Biltmore is a landmark to an age when phenomenal wealth was gained by the few on the backs of the many. Don’t expect an honest discussion about the Gilded Age here. It’s a beautiful estate, but its cost isn’t something that can be measured in dollars.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

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Winter Road Trip Ch. 5: Pancakes and Nashville

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The first blast of what was destined to be a cold, cold winter blew into Oklahoma City as we slept.

Lauren had never been to this capital city, so we wanted to spend a little  time in the morning checking out the town. Our first stop was the Oklahoma City National Memorial. We had the place virtually to ourselves as a brutally cold wind swept across the city.

The memorial is a dramatic place with two black monoliths setting the boundary of what was once a federal building. As with all memorials there is both an overt and latent message. A freezing and lonely park ranger was more than happy to break down the meaning of every parcel, and we were more than happy to listen.

Monuments and memorials are agents of interpretation, and it takes a certain expertise to unlock the message of these structures. It’s information that can easily enough be unlocked via wikipedia, but it takes that human interaction to really bring forth and elevate the meaning. This particular memorial underscored that belief for me. I had been here a few years ago…but listening to the ranger interpretation made the second time far more meaningful, even if it was freezing.

We spent some time walking around and taking pictures after finishing with the ranger. Before leaving the city we stopped by Bricktown, the gentrified entertainment district in the city. OKC isn’t anywhere near the top of my list of cities to visit, but if you should find yourself in the middle of Oklahoma this is the place you’ll want to spend time. And it’s home to one of my favorite bands: the Flaming Lips.

We grabbed some coffee and snapped some photos and got back onto the interstate. We had a lot of distance and not a lot of time. The endpoint for the day was Nashville, with a dinner stopover in Memphis.

The morning drive through Oklahoma was difficult. It’s pretty monotonous, especially in the winter. And after four consecutive days of driving 12 plus hours I was getting a little fatigued. The lack of attraction distractions meant we were just pushing it down the road.

Arkansas is a weird place. I’ve always been a bit spooked by the Natural State. It definitely has its redeeming qualities, but you’re not gonna find them on the side of the interstate. Stopping for fuel and food were expeditions into a quagmire of traffic and confusion. We skipped by Little Rock, opting for more time in Memphis.

The sun was setting behind the Mississippi as we crossed the de Soto bridge into Tennessee.

There were no directions needed, I knew exactly where we were going…ribs. After parking we walked down a dank alley, my saliva running deep. But there was something wrong. This alley should be bathed in the smell of bbq, smoke billowing like a four-alarm fire. And there should be a line of people waiting for a table.

Pinned on the front door of Rendezvous Ribs was the saddest note of the young year. Rendezvous would be closed the first two weeks of the new year for renovation. I wanted to drop to my knees and scream to the heavens. Since deciding on the southern route back I had been yearning for a rack or six of dry-rub ribs with spicy bbq sauce. And now after days of driving I would be denied.

After recovering from the emotional trauma we took a walk down to Beale Street to revisit some old haunts. And then we headed down to get some Gus’s Fried Chicken. Gus’s was going to happen regardless of whether Rendezvous was open or not, it was simply going to be fried chicken for desert after ribs…but now the chicken was the main course, and that meant I could enjoy a whole lot more.

I don’t know what they do at Gus’s (nobody does…it’s a secret) but the fried chicken at this place is always juicy and crunchy and tasty and spicy. And I could eat the beans and slaw by the tub.

With no time to digest it was eastbound again. The Tennessee State Police were out in force along I-40, which pushed our arrival in Nashville back a bit. We had already booked a hotel in West End, but Lauren had never been to the Music City. So I drove her around a bit before we checked in. I lived in Nashville for a few years, and it had been a while since I’d gone back. Nevertheless, a week of driving had taken its toll. As much as both of us wanted to man-up and take in the Nashville nightlife scene, we just couldn’t muster the energy.

We woke up with a plan in place: breakfast at the Pancake Pantry. The cold-front we had encountered in Oklahoma caught up, bringing frigid temps and strong winds. In this moment I was happy to suffer, because the Pancake Pantry typically has a line wrapped halfway around the block. But for us, it was a quick wait and then PANCAKES, PANCAKES, PANCAKES!!!

We ate to the point of gluttony and then spent a bit of time walking around the neighborhood burning all those calories. I really do miss Nashville, it was a fun place to live. And it’s a place we’ll have to get back to more often. Leaving Nashville the race was on to get home.

I-40 to Knoxville to I-81 into Virginia is a classic route for me. When my parents lived in Nashville that’s how I traveled back and forth between college. It’s a road that brings back tons of great memories, and it was fun to share the experience with Lauren. I’d have loved to have spent time in Knoxville, but after 6 days of nonstop driving I think we were both ready to get home. And six hours later that’s exactly where we were.

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Winter Roadtrip Ch 4: Pikes Peak

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Looking out the window made me happy.

There were mountains…lots of them, big and snow-capped and beautiful under an endless blue sky.  And that blue sky was key, because weather this time of year is notoriously finicky. It would have sucked to drive across two-thirds the country with the sole (albeit spontaneous) mission of ascending Pikes Peak, only to be turned back by the weather. But perfect blue skies could only mean good things for a drive up a 14er.

It was a cold, but the cold doesn’t hurt as much in the mountains. Our game plan was to spend the first half of the day climbing the mountain and then turn around and make it to Oklahoma or Arkansas…no big deal. After fueling up on gas and coffee we started the drive toward the Pikes Peak Highway.

US-24 weaves through red rocks and spacious houses tucked into foothills. Elevation gained may as well have been a metric for my building excitement.  Mountains make me supremely happy, there’s no other way to put it.

We pulled up to pay at the toll road to the top of America.

“Just so you know, right now they’re only letting cars up to mile marker 12. We had a big snow a couple days ago and the winds have been too high for the plows,” said the incredibly nice bearer of bad news.

“So we won’t make it to the top at all today?”

“Well if you come back around 11 there may be a chance that we can open things up a little higher. The winds are forecasted to die down, but there’s really no garauntee,” the woman handed us some brochures and told us we could pull through the gate to think about it.

I was devastated. I think I would’ve taken the news easier had the weather clearly been an issue…but I could see the summit. It was just 19 miles up the road in front of me and I had just driven 1500 miles to get there.

“I’m sorry,” Lauren said…she knew how much I wanted to get up there. “What do you want to do?”

I got out of the car and pulled out my trusty atlas. I spent a few minutes doing some calculations.

“If we get up there around 11 I think we’ll have enough time to make it back down the mountain and drive straight through to Oklahoma City. I think it would be silly of us to just give up now.”

“Let’s get breakfast and think about it,” Lauren said.

We passed by a place called The Dive on our way up to the gate…with a name like “The Dive” it had to be fantastic.  The place didn’t disappoint. It’s set up like a small diner/bar…and they specialize in chilis. The garrulous waitress started us off with a sampling of three chilis, each living up to billing. I went with the pueblo green chili omelet…if you go, get that. It was spicy and filling and delicious.

Our table was right up against a window looking out at Pikes Peak, I couldn’t help but stare at the mountain while eating. Our waitress was telling us about how she moved out from somewhere in the midwest…and a guy at the bar chimed it that he had just moved from somewhere else back East. Every time I’m in Colorado there’s this little voice gnawing at the back of my brain exhorting me to make the Rockies my permanent backyard.

“We just tried to get to the top, but they told us it was too windy,” Lauren told the waitress while I stared out the window at the mountain.

“Yeah, I just tried to get up there the other day and they had it shut down at mile marker 15, or something like that…too much snow,” the guy at the bar chipped in. “The weather’s pretty nice today, but they probably won’t let you all the way up.”

“How’s the view from where you got to?” Lauren asked the guy.

“It’s still amazing, you can see pretty much forever,” the guy looked through the window as though he was taking in that view again.

“Well we’re gonna give it a try….we’ve gotta couple hours to kill in the meantime,” I said.

“You should definitely go to Garden of the Gods, you could spend all day there,” the guy said…it was met by a vigorous nod from our waitress.

We finished up and got directions to the Garden of the Gods. The signage is pretty good, and if that doesn’t work just head for the red rocks sticking up from the ground like half-buried broken plates. There’s a band of rocks like this along the entire front range of the Rockies, exposed in the violent uplift that accompanies mountain ranges. This formation created by the remnants of an ancient sea.Pikes Peak_1

The rocks jut dramatically from the surface, massive red stalagmites reaching for the stars.  The rich red color of the rocks strikes a dramatic contrast to the surrounding landscape, and the bold, blue sky. And in the right spot, the rocks perfectly frame the snowy summit of Pike’s Peak.

We drove through the park, stopping to climb around on the rocks and get some pics. I would’ve been happy staying here all day if there wasn’t a much bigger beast to slay. Standing atop one of these red rock formations I looked into the distance at the summit of Pikes Peak a sent positive vibes. American Indians believed that spots like these amplified the human connection to the earth…I may as well test out that theory.

It was time, so we headed back to the gates of Pikes Peak Highway. It was the same woman as before.

“Well it’s open up to 15 now…so at least you’ll get a good view. And there’s a chance it could be open further up as you drive, if you want to take the chance,” she said.

There was no question. I paid her and she gave us some warnings: crack the windows for the change in air pressure and to keep from being blown off the side of the road, take your time, have at least a half tank of gas, use the lower gears for steeper ascents, and don’t ride your breaks on the way down unless you want to go flying off the side of the mountain.

I could easily write about every mile of the trip up the mountain…but it’s already been done, and in more detail than I could offer. The short of it is the drive is simply beautiful. There are times when you feel as though you’re driving straight into heaven. We took our time going up, soaking in the views and minding the curves. Subconsciously, I’m sure I was keeping it slow with the hope that more of the road would be open. Each mile marker brought a sense of  “we’re still going!” That feeling only grew as we got into the high teen mile markers…and then the forest gave way to alpine desert. The views grew more sweeping, the curves more precarious and the dropoffs more bottomless. And nobody was stopping us…17…18…19…Summit.

 

We were literally breathless: that’s what happens at 14,000 feet. The wind whipped incessantly, rocking the car even as it was parked. We gathered up the camera gear and started out to explore the summit. There’s a nice monument surrounded by lookouts that offer up views measured by the hundreds of miles. A crystal clear sky meant I could look down on the lonely road I had just driven along the endless flat plains below. Turning 180 degrees the view was astonishingly different, a tumultuous sea of mountains with no visible ending. The snowcapped peaks looked both forbidding and inviting.

Seeing as we were ill-equipped for cold weather standing outside for too long wasn’t much of an option. Walking from the lookout plaza to the visitor center was hard work. I found myself fighting the wind for every step while sucking air for want of oxygen. Walking into the visitor center I was a little lightheaded…I’ve been at this altitude before, and much higher, but whenever you go up quickly you’re body is going to act out. Lauren was feeling it a bit more, she opted to sit at one of the tables while I shopped for some trinkets.Pikes Peak_6

After posing for a few more photos we started the descent. Lauren and I swapped seats so I could take in the view on the way down. Keeping the car in low gear we took it slow, brakes heat up in a hurry on pitches like this…and heating up is a short step from failure or fire. I’m amazed at the engineering that went into building a road like this. Above the tree line it seemed as if our car was just inches from plunging a few thousand feet.

We even managed to run into some big horn sheep…I mean that’s why we come up here…nature…GOULET!Pikes Peak_8

By the time we made it back to the gates we were already approaching mid-afternoon. We were aiming for Oklahoma City before calling it a day. This meant we had an abundance of territory to cover. We cruised south on I-25 with the front range of the Rocky Mountains to our right and the broad, flat Great Plains to our left. This contrast in landscape stayed with us until we split off to the east on US 64 in New Mexico weaving through a graveyard of extinct volcanoes. Cinder cones punctuated the horizon as the sun disappeared. With yellows and oranges becoming purple and blue a crescent moon married to Venus held the sky.

Freight trains rumbled alongside the highway as we crossed into the panhandle of Texas. The road designation changed, but the direction didn’t: Southeast with dead aim for Amarillo.

“I forgot that all of Texas smells like a farm,” Lauren said as we breezed through the tiny towns seemingly built around multi-story grain elevators. Even in the winter the dirty gym sock smell of fertilizer hung in the air.

In between the small towns pulsating red lights suspended a few hundred feet above the surface marked a different sort of farm. The blinking lights yearned for synchronicity, never quite reaching that satisfaction of perfection. The windmills operated as a colony of organisms acting almost in unison, with the exception of a handful opting for individuality over the hive.

The highway fed us to downtown Amarillo before meeting up with I-40. It was time for a late dinner, and we knew exactly where we were going to stop: the Big Texan. The place where our relationship started more than four years before.

The kitschy Route 66 attraction is a regular stop on the Contiki circuit. It’s a place I’ve been to dozens of times, but this was my first time through in a couple of years. My life had moved on, and yet here was a relic on the side of the highway that I was intimately familiar with. The place had changed, they built a beer garden and expanded the seating. But it was also still the same.

Walking inside brought a flood of memories from the countless tours I led across this great country. We sat down and ordered our steaks and spent the dinner talking down memory lane. For us, this was an important place, and we took time enjoying the atmosphere soaking in the kitsch.

Full on steak, we headed east towards Oklahoma City. I spent most of the drive splashing cold water on my face while listening to conspiratorial talk radio. Finally reaching the outskirts of the city we found a hotel and said farewell to another day lived to the maximum.

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Winter Roadtrip Ch 3: Route 50 Kansas

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Something remarkable about the day before: we didn’t see any cops. I had been flagrantly violating the speed limits since we left DC, but I really picked the pace up from Louisville to Columbia.
My theory is that the cops were set to work overtime on New Year’s Eve. So, they were probably getting their rest before the DUI bonanza that is the first three hours of any given new year.
This hypothesis was reinforced by electronic signs extolling the dangers of driving drunk every other mile. Even in this early morning, the signs flashed warnings “Drive sober or get pulled over”.
The best thing about a road trip on New Year’s Day is the total lack of human life. Approaching 9am we had complete ownership of I-70. We got to KC just in time for an early BBQ lunch. Burnt tips were the specialty…that and cheesy corn.

Cheesy corn and burnt tips...I could do worse
Cheesy corn and burnt tips…I could do worse
Closed!
Closed!

Originally, we had wanted to go to the more classic Kansas City BBQ joint Arthur Bryant’s, but it was closed for the holiday. We ended up at Jack Stack built into an old freight house adjacent to union station. It was delicious, if not a bit incongruous with the fine dishes and white tablecloths.  The city is gentrified in an odd patchwork, it would have been interesting to scout…but there was little time. I can say that it’s a different city than it was when I lived in Missouri.

Leaving the city, one truism of the Show-Me State was reaffirmed…the traffic lights are the longest. I watched a baby age into a grown man as we waited for a green light in downtown KC.
It didn’t help that we were driving around in circles, the signage was suspect at best. And then it happened: magically and mysteriously we found ourselves in front of a University of Kansas medical center. This is strange, I thought to myself, a university of Kansas facility in Missouri…oh…wait this IS Kansas.

I looked at Google maps on my phone and sure enough we were all of three hundred yards deep into Kansas.
“What?! Where was the sign? I didn’t see the sign!?!” Lauren said in a panic. The sign was of particular importance to her, because this was her first time in the state. It had also been her first time in Missouri. And no signs!
We doubled back to State Line Road…no sign. For three blocks we faced the existential crisis of location. Sunflowers or Show-Me’s. Jayhawks or Carpetbaggers. We just didn’t know.

Everything is true about Kansas. It’s flat. It’s long. It’s flat.

I spent the majority of the day having flashbacks to driving across the state back in 2010. It’s remarkable how even something done but once can become familiar.

As we climbed the slow, imperceptible gradient of the Great Plains the temperature dropped. With a few wistful flakes the snow started. Bit by bit the clip of the snowfall picked up. The landscape faded to white to the soundtrack of college football. It was New Years Day after all.

Our midday objective was midway Kansas…the purported halfway point between New York and San Francisco (I say purported because US 50 starts in Ocean City, Maryland…not New York City). By the time we got there the temperature had dropped like a rock. We nearly froze to death just trying to take a quick selfie.

It's so warm and not at all windy
It’s so warm and not at all windy

The wind was howling and at times the snow whipped up to near white-out proportions. Fields of windmills emerged through breaks in the snow, their massive arms cutting through the atmosphere powering a house for another hour with every swoop.

Fade to gray
Fade to gray

We kept cruising along a snowy US 50, our ownership share of the road only growing with every mile in the direction of Colorado. We took a quick stop to check out some preserved remnants of the Santa Fe Trail. Ideally, the roadside vista offered glimpses of wagon train ruts. They were there…but I didn’t exactly get a good look as my eyelids froze to my eyes (that’s not comfortable).

winter road trip_23

With the sun setting, getting to the state line became more of a priority. Kansas is a timesuck. Looking at a map it always seems easier to manage than it truly is…especially when opting out of the interstate highway system. We were behind the pace to make it to Colorado Springs for the night…so I sped things up.

The figure 8 sunset
The figure 8 sunset

Especially in the western part of the state 50 is a flat ribbon only interrupted by a stray town. The sun had pierced through the snow just before sunset and I felt comfortable speeding things up a bit. The thing with speed is that you get used to it pretty quickly, and before you know it you’re going 90 like it’s nothing. And that’s about the time you can cue the flashing lights….

I was easing up every time I saw oncoming traffic…just in case. And that was probably my only saving grace. The Kansas State Trooper was driving east when he pulled a u-turn and started tailing me. After a couple miles of driving he turned on his lights and pulled me over.

I have no idea what he was waiting for, I figured he had me.

“I’m pulling you over because you were speeding…I read you at 76 miles an hour and this road’s speed limit is 65. Where are you coming from and where are you heading?”

A piece of me jumped for joy. I was sure he had me above 80. I was already calculating the jump in my insurance premiums in my head.

“We are heading towards Pikes Peak from Washington, DC.,” I said, handing him my license. He looked moderately confused.

“I’ll be back.”

We sat there for a few minutes trying to reconstruct the events leading to the imminent ticket. In front of us was a mile marker…we were about a dozen miles from the Colorado border. So close. The officer walked back.

“This is a warning, do me a favor and slow down.” I seriously considered leaping out of the car and making out with this cop. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. He let us go and I minded every traffic law on the books before crossing into the Centennial State.

Wind is invisibly omnipresent in this part of the world. It’s force only seen with the attempts to capture it’s power. The tiny town of Lamar, Colorado is a monument to the wind. A massive windmill blade lays on its side in front of the train depot on Main street as an exhibit occupying a half-block of space. Holiday lights in front of the town hall depict various types of windmills. It’s clear where this town draws its livelihood. Also, we got to know this town better than we probably should have as we drove around 18 or 40 times looking for a place to eat.

The thing about mountains is that when you can’t see them…you imagine them. Driving the last leg from Lamar to Colorado Springs I imagined driving into a wall of granite. Each time a star disappeared I attributed it to an obstructive mountain peak, never mind the fact that that would make the offending peak somewhere between 40 and 80,000 feet tall. I was not anchored in reality. I was too excited to see the Rockies again after a two year hiatus.

These visions continued all the way to Colorado Springs…we turned back to our trusty app Hotels Tonight and scored a cheap and nice room. And by midnight we were passed out and my waking visions of mountaintops became dreams.

 

 

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