(Destination: Lake Scott State Park, Kansas)
We left the Mark Twain National Forest/Forrest Gump campsite early and drove into town to wash the dust off of everything and add another bag of ice to the cooler. We found a Panera’s and had coffee and oatmeal with a side of WiFi then hit the road.
This was our last extra-long travel day and honestly it was pretty grueling. If we planned it again, I think we’d allow two days to cover 520 miles instead of one. We didn’t make the campsite until 9pm and my body does not care for long days of sitting. These Jeep seats start to lose their comfort factor after about six hours (like all seats, everywhere).
I’ve been thinking a lot (flat, straight Kansas roads are good for that) about what this route we are taking means in an historical sense. So much of America’s westward expansion took place in roughly the same corridor that we are passing through. The Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Bozeman Trail…and those are just the big ones. Lots of people died on these trails, searching for a better life, room to breathe, adventure, infamy, big money, or religious freedom. It’s a sobering thought.
I’ve also been thinking about how little “respect” these areas of the country get: the flyover states. Just a place to skip over or pass through, but less often a destination. And I know that rankles Midwesterners, but it seems like that has always been the fate of places like Kansas—even back in the 1800s. Explore, experience, pass through, but try not to settle down.
On a related note, I’ve been struck by the sheer number of “World’s Biggest” signs we’ve seen along the side of the road. The list of Kansas’s World’s Biggest attractions includes: the world’s biggest Czech egg, the world’s biggest ball of twine, world’s biggest rocking chair, wind chimes, easel, hand-dug well, prairie dog (??), and…wait for it…the world’s biggest hairball. (I don’t think I even want to know what that looks like. Except … given that I’m now coming up on three days without a decent shower and shampoo—hey, wait! It’s me, isn’t it? I’m the world’s biggest hairball! Dang it!)
So what is this small town fascination with bigness? Is it a desire to be “on the map?” For something? Anything? And how big is BIG? Can you see it from space? As humankind expands our frontiers, will we soon see stipulations of The Universe’s Biggest Hairball? (Still me, I’m pretty sure.) Is this longing for bigness part and parcel of Trump’s broad appeal in these areas? Trump: the biggest flyover hairball of all…
On Route 83, a beautiful male ring-necked pheasant ran across the road in front of us, looking for all the world like he was being chased by Wile E. Coyote. A few miles later, a tumbleweed tumbled into us and I’m here to tell you they are not the lightweight ephemeral things you think they are. (Clunk!)
As the day wore on, major fanny fatigue set in, along with an absurdly large number of semi-hysterical cow-themed jokes. I was dying to stretch my legs so we found a large Home Depot and went inside. I longed to speed walk the aisles for exercise, but people kept asking if they could help us find anything and Len was clearly embarrassed by his hairball wife striding up and down every single aisle, so we cut it short and got back on the road.
As the sun began to drop low in the sky, so did the quality of our cow jokes. We got so punchy toward the end of the day that the following conversation ensued:
Me: “Wow! Look at those cows over there. They’re completely white.”
Len: “Huh. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a completely white cow.”
Me (singing): “Who bleached the cows out? Who? Who? Who? Who? Who?”
Len: (singing): “Moo! Moo! Moo! Moo! Moo!”
Me: [Laughing hysterically]
Len: “You leave those cows out all night, you know they get pasteurized, right?”
Me: “Please. Send. Help.”
Once we got to the long-anticipated campground, it was actually pretty unpleasant. Sites were super close and mostly filled with giant (and I mean GIANT) RV setups with generators and lights and AC and awnings and front porches and verandas and fences and dogs and…okay, maybe not verandas, but everything else. For the record, I don’t have anything against big RVs, per se, but when you are a tiny, eco-friendly, small-footprint teardrop amongst giants (one trailer was literally being pulled by a big white tractor-trailer cab—I kid you not!) it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume-whirring-blinking-blinding-hum of all that massive machinery. I feel the same way when we stop at rest areas and park among the idling 18-wheelers.
Also, despite having reserved and paid for a specific campsite online IN ADVANCE (through Reserve America), a large family was thoroughly and comfortably set up in our very spot (three vehicles, a trailer, a tent, and five kids). We would have had to be pretty big jerks to expect them to move all that, so we took a spot one site over. It appeared to be first-come-first-served regardless of reservations. As Len said, “It’s like the wild west out here!” It was beastly hot (93 was the high for the day and the wind was howling across the plains) and we still had to make dinner. We were sweaty and filthy and stiff so I quickly whipped up another salad and then we went to check out the showers, which at first were only open air, no curtain or door, and no light. After mildly panicking, we realized that was the bathhouse for the lake day-use folks. We then located the campground showers which were messy but considerably better in terms of privacy (I had a door). I was so looking forward to a cool shower to clean up and cool down, but the water was only one temperature—BLAZING hot. So I scalded my skin and scrubbed down and walked back among the humming giants, found our cozy nest and crashed.
Lessons learned from Day Three: 1) If you are the driver, put sunscreen on your left forearm, hand, and upper arm. You’ll be sorry if you don’t and it’s tricky to lather up while driving. 2) Designate a “special spot” for really important things like keys (and chapstick—yeah, yeah, I know, but trust me chapstick IS of utter importance when it’s 93 degrees and a hot wind is blowing 40 mph.) Or, better yet have three special spots like I do (pocket, dashboard, trailer shelf), so that if I have to search, it’s a relatively short search. You’d think that living in a small space would actually make it harder to misplace things, but you’d be wrong.
Len’s Notes to Self: Bring lots of quarters for the self-service car wash to remove the horse poo and dust that gets kicked up on remote trails. On a related note: If you see something brown and hard on your toolbox, don’t assume it’s mud and then proceed to scrape it off with your fingernail. Also Len: If you’re sitting in a coffee shop and you think something doesn’t smell quite right, it might be time to go ahead and move on to your next three-day outfit just a bit ahead of schedule.
Random Gearhead Stuff:
- About 520 miles traveled today. Passed the 1,000-mile point halfway through the day. The trailer is holding up GREAT. Finally starting to get over our PTSD from the first trip’s wobbling-wheel event. Every little sound is no longer something about to blow up or fall off.
- Also, a shout-out to the NFSAR folks: To date, we have NOT lost our bearings. We remain cautiously optimistic. (Ed, you’re on speed-dial, just in case.)
- For cheap gas, try central Missouri where it’s $1.93 per gallon.
- And just in time because we’re now averaging 13mpg thanks to moving through the Ozarks. (Make that 12.7 with a heavy crosswind.) (And now 12.3 in Kansas with a crazy headwind!)
- Cell phone signal booster (weboost) is helping a lot. It’s a must for Sprint customers, especially out west. Ours is a multi-user, 3G signal enhancer and it’s been great.
Looking ahead: Day Four we’re on to Colorado and our first mountain campsite outside of Colorado Springs in the Roosevelt National Forest.