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Driving across America's fly-over country

You want to talk about stupid? At this very moment I’m sitting in bed at a friend’s house in Columbia, Mo., less than halfway through a 2,000-mile drive that will eventually take me from Basalt to Washington, D.C., to New Jersey and finally Connecticut.

Am I saying it’s stupid to drive across the country? Well, yes, but that’s not what’s making my particular trek so imbecilic. I’ve driven cross-country many times by myself, and it’s not that big a deal. This time, however, I’m making the journey with my wife, my 2-year-old son and our two large dogs, all of us crammed into a Mazda Miata.

(OK, I lied about that last part. We’re actually in a Toyota Highlander, but when you factor in all our stuff, we could be in a school bus and we’d still have practically no room to move.)

We’d be fine, I think, if we lived in and were crossing a slightly smaller country, like Liechtenstein or Vatican City, but no, we have to live in the good old U.S. of A., which, because of some jackass and his vision of Manifest Destiny, goes on forever. And since the entire midsection of the country is one big wheat and corn field that needs to be fertilized, great swaths of this fair land smell like decomposing cow manure, adding olfactory unpleasantness to an already onerous endeavor.

The first day of our trip took us over 12,095-foot-high Independence Pass outside of Aspen and along the uppermost reaches of the Arkansas River as it flows past the mighty Sawatch Mountains, the highest range in the lower 48. (Yes, Californians, I know Mount Whitney is taller, but the Sawatch has more peaks over 14,000 feet than your entire state, so bite me.)

We rolled down out of the scenic mountains to the city of Pueblo and a nice dog park therein, for which my reward was five pieces of dark meat at Popeye’s Fried Chicken, and that was pretty much the end of the scenery. Put it this way: Purple mountains’ majesty is a treat for the eyes. Amber waves of grain not so much.

We drove across most of eastern Colorado in the dark and spent the night in La Junta, a city that seems permanently frozen in the 1950s and hasn’t seen a new coat of paint since at least that time. But when we got up in the morning we not only had to deal with the rest of eastern Colorado, which may as well be called western Kansas, we had to contend with Kansas itself.

I have no Internet access right now, so I can’t look up the actual dimensions of Kansas, but I’m pretty sure it’s about 5,000 miles wide. In any event, it took us almost an entire day to get across it.

I suppose things could have been worse had my son not been such a good sport. He had a brief meltdown near the city of Hutchinson, but eventually Kansas’ mind-numbingly dull topography sent him into a drooling stupor, and he stayed silent for the rest of the day’s drive.

I want to stress that I’m very thankful for Kansas. I like wheat and corn, and I understand that they have to be grown somewhere. I’m just saying it’s not the most attractive state. And you know it’s not the most attractive state when you reach Missouri, which is only slightly better, and you’re like, “Wow! This place has trees!”

So what’s next for my family and me as we continue our ill-advised sojourn? Well, we get the pleasure of driving across the rest of Missouri, with its lovely trees and anti-abortion billboards, and then we’ll cross the Mississippi River to reach southern Illinois, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to Kansas but has the advantage of being one-50th as wide.

After Illinois we’ll tackle Indiana, which is every bit as exciting as you might imagine, and some time the next day we’ll arrive at my brother-in-law’s house in Maryland to begin two weeks or so of much-needed rest and relaxation, or what would be R & R if not for my brother’s wedding on Aug. 1 in Connecticut, which will require me to don a tuxedo in 100-degree weather and stifling humidity.

So I bet you’re thinking this whole adventure doesn’t sound all that stupid, aren’t you? Fair enough. But you’re forgetting one very important factor: When our two weeks of R & R are through, we get to drive all the way back.

About The Author

Todd Hartley

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