Monday, September 12, 2005

Part VIII: Parting And The Hazardous Road

So it was, 200 years ago: as with any great "journey of discovery", there is a beginning, a mid-point, and an end. For Lewis & Floorwax, I'm digressing, since they're a current-day radio duo, wreaking havoc on a local radio station in the mornings in Denver.

For the real Lewis & Clark, the return for them -- from coastal Oregon and the Columbia River -- was anything but known: a portion of their return route would be by a differing course than they had used coming west. Vast tracts of wilderness, deep mountain snows, and no Fast Wong's Buffaro Wings & Chinese Take-Outs awaited them on the long road back. They had much yet to see, and deprivation to experience in the process, so that a fair deal of the return was as much a journey of discovery for them as the outbound segments had been.

Whatever else it was, at least they didn't have to drive across Kansas.

200 years later, it was nothing like that for me: by late Thursday night, September 8, I had accomplished pretty much what I had set out to accomplish (see Parts I-VII) on my own personal journey of discovery. All that was left was the return journey. One I knew well, having driven it before.

Originally, it was my plan to depart in the mid-morning of Friday, September 9. But at 2:30am that morning, my whim decided to kick in under the guise of a mild bout of insomnia. Thus it was that I commenced the return trip in the early and very dark hours of Friday.

Fittingly, as I pointed my auto westward on US 20, the Classics Four song Traces came on; one last touch of nostalgia, as I pulled away from the place that had been home to me, so many years before. For a brief moment, I again recalled little Melody, and I was almost as misty as the moisture-laden night air.

That lasted until the song ended, and I was plunged into another moonless night, with an overabundance of ground fog to obliterate visibility ahead. I remember muttering something about the procreative similarities of humidity and fog, but won't delve into the concise terminology I employed.

Night time is the right time for a lot of enjoyable things, to be sure; but driving cross country through fog, where wildlife and/or wandering livestock consider the road a place to meander and stand about, and not grasp the significance of approaching headlights, isn't one of them. At first opportunity, I let an 18 wheeler pass me up, and then latched onto his slipstream: not only as a visual guide, but under the selfish notion that if anything decided to play in the road, he'd find it first.

But this segment of the road was uneventful; so was the southbound pivot onto I-35 toward the eventual link-up with I-80 westbound, and the great Nebraska reckoning. With a speed limit there of 70 mph, the fog diminishing, and the sparse traffic at highway speed, I continued my tagalong, though more relaxed with the improved conditions.

Until just north of Story City, that is.

With an 18 wheeler ahead, and another barrelling down from behind, just in the wake of the leading tractor I coulda sworn I saw something ahead, off the side of the road.

A pair of eyes.

Then in the reflection of my own headlights, I saw them again. And once more, in the reflection of the 18 wheeler that was just now starting to overtake me on the left.

And then again, as whatever it was broke into the highway. Right in front of me.

I had another of those epithet moments. At 70 mph, with traffic on my left, my options were simple: (a) hit it or (b) evade, and prepare for the consequences under the existing conditions.

Speed and a split-second made the decision for me: whumpft! as my left front tire terminated contact.

*note to person who's now a pet short in Story City: next time, keep your cat indoors, m'kay?*

The rest of the I-35 segment was uneventful, as was the link up with I-80 westbound. But as I would note in a little over two hours, it wasn't only a wayward cat that was possessed of poor timing.

I hit Omaha's interstate system at morning rush hour. And it quickly conjured up one other nostalgic moment, though more recent: the place I had just visited, considered a traffic jam five cars backed up behind a tractor towing a haywagon. Sorta.

That wasn't the case here: like in Denver, I found myself wondering why so many cities like to turn perfectly good interstate highways into no-motion parking lots. On the other hand, at this speed, I could avoid throw-rugging any wayward cats that ran in front of me.

Finally I cleared the Greater Omaha Metro Parking Authority, and began to ponder some of the scenic options that Nebraska had to offer, and that I had first noticed on the drive east. I had promised a coworker that I'd stop at the archway museum near Kearney, Nebraska, and let her know what it was all about. As I exited in Kearney, I found that the archway museum had competition: the University of Nebraska had an art museum, also in Kearney.

What to do, what to do: the choice of an archway museum that displayed the history and artifacts of pioneer and cross-country travel? Or, viewing a collection of college artwork, like a bust display of a tall, lean, beautiful Nebraska cheerleader, placidly grazing on astroturf*?

The promise won out; and 40 minutes later, as I hit the road westward again, I wondered if the grazing cheerleader wouldn't have been the better option. At least I could have put the rumor of astroturf to rest or not.

The rest of the drive was relatively trouble-free, since I'd learned that when stopping at road side rest stops, I put my car keys in my pocket, first. Weather-wise, it was hot, dry, and the winds were blowing across the interstate at gusts up to 35 mph; I plowed along, bucking the winds, 'enjoying' again the intense, attention-getting miasma of the stockyards close to the I-76 junction near the Colorado border, and wincing at the occasional bug that gradually and collectively obliterated my field of forward vision. This vision problem I relieved at Julesburg, Colorado. At least until five miles SW of Julesburg, that is.

That's where I plowed head-on into Mothra.

Right smack in front of me, at nearly 80 mph: an almost Hostess Pie-sized ooze exploded all over the windshield, and the (what seemed like) six-foot spanning wings of the grotesquely-departed, flapping atop my car like a pair of parade pennants, threatening to allow me a Wright Brothers' moment at Kitty Hawk.

Yes, I'm sure it was Mothra; if not, it was the biggest hummingbird the world will never (again) see.

That required an unscheduled stop. One that I blame for the grand finale, the end of the journey: arrival in Denver. At rush hour.

I coulda killed Mothra, but realized it was a silly notion: I already had.

And in the midst of rush hour, a gust front came blowing off the foothills, bringing with it high winds, rain showers...and snarled traffic.

My journey of discovery, the return to the land of my past, was over. I had covered a lot of miles; and more importantly, a lot of years. The revisitation of memories was good. Seeing and reconnecting with old friends was enjoyable. The remembrances...special. And I got the the souven"ear": Seymour would be pleased.

But it was over. I was home. Well, at least near there, mired in traffic.

Lewis & Clark, shut up.

* at least according to the University of Colorado football team...


Blogger FTS said...

" least they didn't have to drive across Kansas"

No truer words were ever spoken.

As one who has always flown to my destinations, I have now taken three round trips in the last year that were each in excess of 1,400 miles. I have seen parts of the good ol' USofA up close and personal that henceforth were blips through the window of a 737.

I think I'm beginning to see the merits of John Madden's refusal to fly, albeit for different reasons. There is nothing like spending hours in a car, surrounded by solitude and peace, on nobody's schedule but my own.

13 September, 2005 11:27  
Blogger Monica said...

good post. Of course mentioning Lewis and Clark is no never is with you :)

I'm still in major awe of that last post.

14 September, 2005 08:34  

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