Westward Ho!

Once upon a time, three middle-aged women—for the purposes of this story we’ll call them Paula, Susan, and Jennie—set out on a long, long car trip from middle Tennessee to a far distant land.


Paula went for adventure—to ride her bicycle over teeth-jarring terrain and climb mountains tall enough to make her head spin.  Susan went to visit her grandson.  Jennie went because daughter Meg was soon to be married.

The three friends took lots of stuff—enough to fill the cargo area, a car-top carrier, and half the back seat of a Honda CRV—with them.  But the most important things they carried (besides snacks, of course) were tools to help them make their way to Denver.  Jennie clutched an old-school but up-to-date Rand-McNally road atlas.  Susan took an iPad with a navigation app.  Paula had a GPS, programmed and affectionately nicknamed “Gi-Gi” by husband Keith, suction-cupped to the front windshield.

Just beyond the Nashville airport, Gi-Gi began to give bad advice.  She soon had the women travelling willy-nilly around Opryland, an area they thought they knew like the backs of their hands.  “Don’t trust her!” Jennie warned.  “Lewis and Clark made it all the way to the Pacific Ocean without a GPS.  Surely to goodness we’ve got enough wits about us to get to Denver.”

Eventually they found their way onto Interstate-24, headed for Kentucky.  The last place that would look or sound like home for a very long time.

On the first day of the journey, the travelers crossed five major rivers—the Cumberland, Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri.  They marveled at the endless cornfields of southern Illinois and held their collective breaths as Paula maneuvered through St. Louis on a freeway maze so fraught with peril that it was hard to pay attention to the lovely Gateway Arch.

They passed one Major League Baseball stadium as they entered Missouri and another as they left.  And then they were in Kansas.

Where there really are amber waves of grain.  Tall silos.  Enormous granaries.  Utility lines stretching as far as the eye can see.  A railroad track that runs parallel to Interstate-70 for the entire breadth of the state.  Billboards picturing Jesus standing in a wheat field.  Hundreds upon hundreds of gigantic white windmills whipping in the breeze.  Acres and acres of sunflowers fields so breathtaking that the travelers parked their car on the shoulder of the highway to get out and take pictures.

Which is not as daring as it sounds.  Flat, straight, and relatively devoid of traffic, I-70 in rural Kansas bears about as much resemblance to Tennessee’s I-40 as a blind house cat does to a mountain lion.

The travelers stopped in Topeka at dusk to admire the state capitol building, its copper dome adorned by a 22-foot-tall statue of a Kansa warrior.  They slowed to look at the many helicopters visible from the highway at Fort Riley.  And when the summer sun finally dipped below the endless horizon, which took longer than any of them ever thought possible, they found overnight lodging in the famed cow town of Abilene.

Next day, the push for Denver was on.  Though one of the travelers begged to stop in Oakley, Kansas to see the World’s Largest Prairie Dog, she was outvoted.  And is still not over it.  But they did stop in Burlington, Colorado where they paid a quarter apiece to ride the beautifully restored Kit Carson County Carousel, carved in 1905.  Paula’s mount was a camel.  Susan and Jennie rode giraffes.

Gi-Gi, bless her poor little confused heart, had to wait in the car.

(August 12, 2012)

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