Monday, May 17, 2010

Colorado Springs through Wyoming to South Dakota

Let me just start off by saying that I love camping. I love camping but I sure do love hotels. When you are alone in your car for hours, have seen more deer, antelope, and cows than people and trees, the fog of the Black Hills roll in, dusk is upon you and you begin to hallucinate deer running in front of you, you pray that your destination is near. By the time you arrive at your hotel your road eyes are swollen and swirling, you have not spoken to anyone in hours due to a lack of phone service, but you can count on that nice person behind the desk at your hotel to smile at you no matter how crazy and disheveled you look. Thank you Marriott for being there for me, after eight years of service spent, it is nice to know that I can still count on you. I will tell you what, if I ever questioned my ability to spend a week in the Adirondacks by myself, after trekking across the country and finding myself in the literal middle of nowhere, I am pretty confident I can do more than that. With that I will end my post for the evening. I am weary and there is a lot to tell about the past week.

Monday, May 10, 2010

St. Louis to Colorado Springs

Day 2: May 9 Depart: 9:00 am Arrive: 9:30 pm I wolfed down my yogurt and cereal and took off toward the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I never imagined it to be so big. I guess I always expected it to be just large enough to span a small highway. I was wrong. It is not white either. It is silver metal. Beyond the East Coast, this is just the beginning of what I have always expected the rest of America to look like. I am sure to be proved wrong many times over. St. Louis was clean, and the old industrial parts of town seemed minor to the amount of blight visible in Buffalo. Maybe it was the intensity of the sun, but everything seemed new, brighter and fresh. When I see this, it is hard for me to grasp a sense of the history of this town. Not like in New York where our history is obviously present wherever you look, with the grime and decay as the evidence. Beyond St. Louis, I must admit that Missouri was nice with lush greenery and hills. As I crossed into Kansas, I thought, hey! this isn't so flat after all!...but I kept going...and it certainly became very flat indeed. First there were clusters of trees atop low rolling hills along with the ever present herd of cattle at the top. Then, there was just cattle with I would say, one tree per square mile. I began to see a group of wind turbines in the distance and realized that there were about a hundred of them total. Having a thing for wind turbines, I decided to stop for gas at the stop that would put me in amongst them, hoping to get a closer view. There was a dirt road and a single gas station. The the man at the counter was the sort that I had expected to run into, but was much friendlier. He was used to travelers coming and going. After wishing me a "Happy Mother's Day if that sort of thing is appropriate" he gloomily added that nobody ever wished him a Happy Mother's Day, I told him he must not be that bad of a person if nobody has ever said that to him. He understood my bad joke, and went on to exchange some more bad puns and jokes while warning me that the people in Kansas don't have much of a sense of humor, not like they do up north where he is from. "Ah, you are from New York, so you know what I mean." As if you naturally have a sense of humor if you are from New York... Well, I guess he was right in more ways than one. Before the wind turbines, I saw a sign for the Oz Museum that my Dad excitedly told me about when I mentioned that I would be going through Kansas. Damn, I knew I had to stop just for my Dad, so I got off the highway and made my way 9 miles into the town of Wamego, Kansas. It was a short strip of dusty storefronts on the cusp of becoming an official western ghost town. That damn museum along with the Oz Winery must be the only thing getting people to come here. That was obvious. I did not indulge in the "exhibit" at a $7 admission rate and judging from the space and the postcards I picked up, they forgot to add the word "wax" or "memorabilia" before the word "museum." The people running the joint were very kind, but I assumed that they weren't a 501(c)(3) type of institution. Surprisingly they are. I guess I allowed my museum snobbery to get the best of me. Beyond the wind turbines I wanted nothing more than to get the hell outta Kansas. There had not been a Starbucks since Kansas City and I was jonesin. Up until this point I had been running on anticipation adrenaline that was pushing me closer and closer to Colorado. Thats when I thought I was seeing a mirage. Instead of the typical "Jesus is Real", "Abortion Stops a Heart from Beating," and "World's Largest Prairie Dog, next 2 exits " there it was... a Starbucks billboard. Knowing that there was one in 79 more miles I was encouraged to keep pushing ahead. My comic relief came when the tumbleweed came a tumblin across the road. One even blew up and over my car. Despite all of the aforementioned scenery, I knew that had officially arrived in the Mid West. After that one final stop in Kansas, I finally crossed over into Colorado. Again, I had expected my approach to Colorado from the Kansas prairie would feature just a wall of huge mountains. I was wrong again. The prairie continued until I started to see random pine trees and I knew I had to be getting closer to those mountains I expected to just appear at the Colorado border. Barren hills turned into hills with clusters of trees, then small patches of wooded areas. It was getting dark and I kept mistaking the silhouettes of farm silos for big cities, and clouds for those huge mountains. By the time I got into Colorado Springs at 9:30pm it was dark and I never got to see if there really were mountains out there, but I could certainly feel their presence looming over the city. In the morning I would be ready for an eyeful.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cambria to Collinsville, Illinois (St. Louis)

Day 1: May 8, 2010 Depart: 8:15 am Arrive: 8:00 pm Cambrian high winds catapulted the CR-V into action this morning but suffered from road trip apprehension as it hit Ohio. Stronger winds sucked the gas tank dry several times and ignited carpel tunnel syndrome in my right wrist from a near 8 hour white knuckle drive. In my attempt to visit every Starbucks this side of the Mississippi, I found myself at a mall in Indiana. Big mistake. My driving eyes could not adjust to the food court carousel light and worst of all, there was no Starbucks. Instead there were redneck high schoolers squealing, t from the suffocation of their remaining baby fat bursting from their skinny jeans, but with real middle American teenager delight. Bunch of yahoos. Indiana did not have a "Welcome to Indiana" sign, or a "Come Back Soon" sign. Instead I was greeted continually with over 200 enormous jugundous crosses. Even more than West Virginia boasts for sure. With that in mind, I hope I won't have to visit Indiana again.
My "cross" country experience culminated with the "World's Largest Cross" located in Effingham, Illinois. Monumental absurdities. Is this not what the Midwest is supposed to be all about? I have to say that overall I found southern Illinois to be nice, lush. At least above the ground. I could smell the soil in the farm fields from the highway. A tractor plowing to the right kicked up a dirt shit storm that blew across the road like the Dust Bowl. That dirt, it was a foul smell, like a Styrofoam cooler full of night crawlers in the hot sun. But then I finally made it to my cozy Marriott.
After I dropped my junk off in the hotel room, it was time for something to eat. Instead I found myself driving to the Cahokia Mounds. I had learned about these in an archaeology class I took, and a friend had recommended that I check them out. The site is only 3 miles away from my hotel, so why not? As I drove in, there was a small marsh on the left side with a few egrets and herons. To the back of the parking lot was a field with 17 deer feasting, along with a few more egrets. I walked around to the mounds and even crawled up the steep side of one of them. It was amazing, the view was beautiful and it did not take a lot to realize that this place was very special. Certainly not just a bunch of grassy hills. As I wandered, a calm washed over me and I realized that in all of my road delirium, coming here was exactly what I needed to complete my days ramble.
View of Monk's Mound at Cahokia Mounds

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On the Road

Upon graduation from 85 years of college, I have decided to reward myself with a solo road trip to places I have never been before. Utilizing the situation I have found myself in, free from dependents, a mortgage, jury duty, and the civil service exams yet to come, there is no better time for me to "shove off" for a while. In four days I will be embarking on a two week road trip out to the Midwest with the intent of seeing some mountains, kitsch, grizzlies, and maybe a ternader... View Larger Map