What follows is a lightly edited and mostly stream-of-consciousness travel log of my journey from Florida to California and back again.
20160519 – Thursday
The next morning, my partner and I woke up to birds chirping, woodpeckers tapping, and crows cawing. We had picked a spot away from others but quite near the water front— the Kentucky Lake was just a few yards from our zipper door.
During the drive up north, the temperature has dropped about twenty degrees from the mid-nineties in Tampa to the high-fifties in KY. It’s a great change, and one that I know my body has been missing for quite some time. The cooler weather suits me on a deeply personal level— I tolerate the heat, but revel in the cold.
So, when I woke up in the morning and my partner began the morning coffee, I threw on a pair of shorts and headed for the waterfront. I waded carefully into the water, up to about hip height, mindfully placing my feet in the loamy and silty lakebed. The lake, steaming in the morning sun, was warmer than you’d expect, given the chilly air.
I gave myself a good scrub down while enjoying the mountain scenery. The cold came when I left the water and remembered that I had not brought a towel to the water’s edge. So I focused on a steady breath cadence while I air-dryed and enjoyed a cup of my partner’s coffee.
Then, I edited Doug M’s podcast episode for posting later in the day, while my partner completed a similar routine— she got into lake after a bit of coaxing.
Once refreshed and ready for the day, we turned northwest without a real destination or campsite in mind. I had to stop for a quick suckle of the wifi teat, to post the podcast and complete the necessary uploads. Cafe au Latte tolerated us well, despite our rough road nature.
Back on the small highways, we crossed the Mississippi River, where it merges with the Ohio— technically we crossed that one first. Was a fun moment, to step over that threshold marking “The West”. Wished the Mississippi River was a bit more bustling, rather than brown and slow and tamed for commerce and shipping.
Further along, we peeled off our westward gaze to inspect the Wickliffe Mounds, something I have never heard of but my partner desired to visit. These are the final remains of a lost culture of Native Americans, the original Mississippians. As we approached, we realized the encroachment of modern society on the sacred and religious site of previous significance.
It reminds me of visiting Egypt, during my sophomore year of college. I backpacked up and down the Nile, seeing the sights and sites. I remember deflating when I visited the Sphinx, just outside of Cairo. The ancient sites of Giza, including the Great Pyramids, are the southern edge of civilization— beyond these massive stone structures lies only desert. This means that civilization is a tide that breaks itself against the sacred structures: literally across the street from the lounging Sphinx is a KFC restaurant.
And that is the same vibe we experienced on the final approach to the Wickliffe Mounds: strip malls, fast food, normal suburbia. We drove into the parking lot, at the top of a relatively steep hill. Looking at the signs and each other, we decided to skip this side adventure.
Later in the day, after the noon sun and before the sun began to hide and seek behind the western mountains, we explored the Big Spring National Park. Here, an underground current propels itself out of the rock and a foot or two into the air. The eponymous large spring feeds a large and fairly lazy river, while we played at the mouth.
A small cave and a few jars of fresh spring water later, we hit the road for Roaring River State Park, a few hours away.
The drive and the cross-country nature of our trip started to rear its head as something to be respected. I got quite tired and could barely stay awake as my partner drove through the light rain and darkness. Road fatigue affects me primarily at night, so I try to do my share of driving during the day— the lights and the reflective paint hypnotizes me and lulls me into a semi-slumber when I’m not vigilant.
Luckily, I had my partner there to handle the final bit of road between us and our campsite for the evening: Roaring River. In the modest but numerous hills of Missouri, we wound our way through back roads to this state park. We arrived around 11p in a drizzling rain.
My partner headed for the bathroom. I began setting up camp. We’ve settled into a lovely rhythm, with an understanding that the work necessary to setup and breakdown camp will get done, and we pick skills and tasks that suit us. Tonight, I dealt with grabbing the tent and finding the spot for its placement in the pitch dark.
Once we threw our padding down, we promptly passed out.
20160520 – Friday
Last night, before diving into the campsite, my partner snuck into a sporting goods store to grab some extra layers of sleeping snuggliness.
We underestimated the climate shift as we left tropical Florida and arrived in the high plains. The nights are cold and the ground is colder. I wanted to avoid big bulky sleeping pads because it would’ve been a big separation from the earth and a big bit of packing. The compromise— many blankets piled up to make a cozy impromptu mattress. The problem with this compromise is if you use all your blankets as padding for your bed, then you don’t have many blankets to use as blankets. Not a big deal in Florida or down south, when the nights are warm and humid and the days more so. A bigger deal as we approach Colorado and the Rockies.
So we pulled into a bit of suburbia, a collection of the same half dozen outlet stores you’d find everywhere else across the country, and I dropped my partner off at the front door of a sporting goods store at 9:01p, when the hours were listed online as 7a-9p. My partner seemed to sneak by the employees, as when I tried to enter and accompany her, I found the doors locked. She came out a few minutes later with a big goofy smile and an extra sleeping bag to utilize as a comforter/cozy blanket.
So, I woke up on Friday with a smile on my face because I slept through the night fairly warm despite the constant shower of rain through the night.
Packed up the tent, making sure to wipe down the damp and droplet-covered surfaces before stowing it in the appropriate soft bag. Made our way out of the campgrounds and further west, to Kansas.
Now’s a good time to go over some interesting and memorable experiences with individuals in the south. I have, on the whole, found folks to be friendly, polite, and helpful. I’ve also found that race plays a weird factor in my interactions because I am never really sure if it is a factor, or if I’m being paranoid.
For instance, at a coffee shop in KY, a lovely woman in her mid to late sixties came up to my partner and I to strike up a conversation. She told us that she was endlessly curious about us, wanted to know where we were from and where we were going. I imagine the town is small enough that she recognizes regulars, and I stand out like a sore thumb with my Korean background and long hair pulled back into a pony tail. And I’m with a pretty white girl.
We tell her that we go to school in FL and are heading out west to CA for a music festival. She’s honestly interested and engaged, but has to leave as she’s on her way out. Before she goes, though, she makes a point of telling us that we are beautiful, gorgeous couple.
Her comment was flattering, of course, as we are a damn good-looking couple and it’s always nice to hear the truth. I wonder how much of it came from the fact that we are a mixed-race couple in a relatively conservative part of the country. I wonder if she was just being nice to a young couple obviously in love.
Another interaction, with Leroy at the gas station: got a free coffee for a one-minute conversation. This morning, after leaving Roaring River, we shot west to leave Missouri to enter Kansas. Before getting properly on the way, we stopped at a gas station for bathrooms and water.
The gas station seemed to cater to truckers in particular— the shower sign next to the bathroom, plus the rows of trailers behind the shop made this pretty clear. But the glassy-eyed man waiting in line with a lit, but sleepy, cigarette truly sealed it in that these are trucker folk.
While my partner used the restroom, I looked for a water option on the water fountain, to fill up an odd assortment of water bottles and jugs. Finding no success, I approached a nice fellow in his early fifties, deeply tanned and muscled in a way that speaks of old-fashioned work. Thinking back now, I can’t recall what he wore, but I imagine a checkered button-up shirt without sleeves, and a pair of stained khaki work pants over heavy boots. He had long hair, probably pulled back into a loose pony, or perhaps flowing out of his baseball cap.
So, I approached this fellow with the imaginary checkered shirt and asked him where I could get some water. He leads me through a door and around the corner, to a storage room, with a dirty sink and a vigorous faucet. Says it’s the only working pipe in the place.
While I’m filling up, I ask him his name, to which he replies with Leroy. He’s jovial and engaged, so I tell him about our road trip west, and he seems intrigued, if not a bit confused. Once my bottles are full, I tell him that my partner is currently in the bathroom and she will be filling up as well.
I’m perusing the store when my partner exits the bathroom and looks for the water. Leroy is on his cell phone, so I lead her to the back room for the utility sink. While she’s filling, I peek back into the store and give Leroy a thumbs up, which he returns.
My partner grabs some coffee from the back while I purchase some heavy-duty duct tape and cord— these things always find a good use on the road and in camp. As she walks up to the counter, once I’m finished with my transaction, Leroy tells her that she’s covered, and not to worry about it.
Initially, she’s a bit confused, but then realizes he is gifting her the beverage. We exchange thank yous and well wishes and smiles. A simple, silly little interaction, that could’ve been skipped if I didn’t bother to strike up a bit of conversation with the dude that showed me where to find the water.
I wrote a majority of the past five hundred words in a small cafe called Mead’s Corner, just outside of Wichita, Kansas. The sun is starting to set: I’m writing while my partner catches up on some research tasks. I’m also loading up on caffeine, as we are trying to dash across this wide and flat state to make Colorado by tomorrow.
Denver will mark the more-than-halfway mark to the west coast, and we are hoping to spend a few days in CO exploring the mountains and enjoying the warm trappings of civilization. From there, we have about 16hrs of driving, probably two days, to the music festival in Bradley, CA.
So, we’ll dash tonight. I have a great deal of coffee coursing through my veins, via vietnamese espresso, craft nitro cold brew on tap, and iced coffee. Right now, it’s 10p and we have the GPS set for Denver: 400mi from our current location. If we maintain 65mph, we’ll arrive at the base of the Rocky Mountains around 3a.
From there, we’ll likely crash and sleep most of the morning, then we’ll explore some. There is even discussion of spending a day in the city while pants, at restaurants, in a date-like manner!
For now, it’s just podcasts, coffee, and long straight roads through faintly lit landscapes. There are blinking red lights, set at variable heights in the fields flanking the highways. I’m not quite sure what they are, my partner thinks they are wind turbines and I’m inclined to agree with her.
The lights blink steadily, long on and long off. They are semi-coordinated, the whole field turning on and off their crimson bulbs at roughly the same time. The rhythm of some lights are slower, or faster, than the herd, but it’s very soothing to see this kind of steady rate expressed. Almost like a flock of lightning bugs, synced up and putting on a show for anyone watching.
I have a rough rule: no coffee after 2p. This allows the caffeine to run through a half-life or two, to allow me to sleep that night. Tonight, I decided to break some rules, and I’m all jacked up on the bean juice. I haven’t felt like this since undergrad! I have a lot of energy so I’m just running my fingers over the keyboard rather than bouncing off the walls of this small Toyota Camry.
I’m gonna put my Freewrite away, this entry is about 2k words at this point, gonna be a looong post 🙂 I’ll enjoy the evening drive with my partner, maybe I’ll have more to say before midnight. If not, have a good night.
Long Form Sundays
- On the road, from FL to KY (or summer travels: Part One)
- On quiet endings (or First Year: a post-mortem)
- On the transition from spring to summer (or Course Four: a post-mortem)