On the road, from CO to MO (or summer travels: Part Nine)

What follows is a lightly edited and mostly stream-of-consciousness travel log of my journey from Florida to California and back again.

20160615 – Wednesday

I woke up around 7a. The toilet worked well and without incident, thankfully, and I edited together my podcast with Par S for On Death while preparing coffee upstairs. Again, no one on the land except myself and the animals. Every time I went up, I triggered the Overly Alert Dog Alarm system and at least two pups would run up to me, crushing the silence.

After packing the Toyota and grabbing a shirt from the trunk, Wendy pulled up the windy driveway. I waved and said hello when she hopped out of her blue Ford Escape. Reiterating my pleasant stay in her home and my thanks, she offered her backyard for future camping if I’m ever back in town. I departed and she went inside.

Back on the road, I moved south before continuing the great journey east. At this point, it’s more or less all downhill through Kansas and into Missouri, with the Rockies behind me. The landscape changed as I drove past Fairplay and into Manitou, further and further away from the peaks of Leadville.

Manitou is an adorably tiny town wedged into a deep red valley, large boulders on the cliffs showing the geological history of the land in all its glory. Stopping here because of the numerous springs located throughout the town, I noticed some native cliff dwellings presented in a roadside museum format. On my way to the spring, I got a bit turned around, found a group of young people playing the didgeridoo, and ended up asking an older fellow on the edge of the park for directions to the nearest spring.

Armed with glass containers of various sizes and makes, I must have looked odd, but he was setting up a table with tarot cards so he was probably used to odd. He gave me slightly helpful directions and before I left, I asked if he had any bottles to fill because I’d gladly do so on his behalf. He passed me a plastic bottle that used to hold some iced tea, and I ventured off.

After scaling a small hill, walking back down the other side, I crossed paths with a group of middle-aged women huffing and puffing as they were climbing. I asked them for supplementary directions and one of them said there was one right down the road, in front of a restaurant. The spring was indeed there, and the carbonated water that bubbled and gurgled forth was tangy and delicious. Filling up my containers, and the tarot reader’s, I walked away from the lovely little fountain in front of a restaurant that spewed soda water from deep in the earth.

I gave the older fellow his bottle back and told him I found a spring but probably not the one he originally suggested. He sniffed the bottle a bit suspiciously and thanked me earnestly. In retrospect, it would’ve been a great chance to get my first tarot reading, but I felt like I should get a move on and out of Colorado.

My goal for the day was to camp somewhere in Kansas, just looking to make good headway into the plains. First, I stopped in Colorado Springs, the last big town before hitting the sprawling agricultural plains. I grabbed a burrito at Chipotle, it seemed fitting as I would be leaving the state where the restaurant chain was born.

While ordering the meal to-go, planned road food for the evening, I noticed the twenty-something fellow rolling my burrito had a forearm tattoo. It ran from his elbow to the top of his right hand— an unmistakable reference to Avatar: the Last Airbender, specifically the movie tattoos on the titular Aang. I had considered getting these very symbols and markings as a whole body tattoo for myself, but instead opted for a novel sacred geometry approach to the concept. I struck up a conversation with him about the designs, asking him where he obtained images of the obscure body art. He seemed delighted to talk about the work and even asked to see my spinal tattoo.

He passed off the burrito to his fellow co-worker at the cash register, and told her to make mine on the house. “Because he’s awesome,” he said while pointing to me. I offered my thanks and gratitude for my free meal, purchased with a small conversation.

I continued past Colorado Springs, leaving CO entirely and entering the flat Kansas plains in the late afternoon. The transition was more abrupt than I had expected: the Rockies quickly giving way to rolling, undulating hill which gradually smoothed out to a flat horizon. Once the plains started, they seemed to go on forever. Every twenty miles or so, there’d be a granary that served as a town center nestled close to the highway.

When I had passed through KS on the westbound journey, it had been driven mostly by my partner and in the dark of night. Now, with daylight waning as I headed to a state park to camp for the evening, I could see the endless expanse here. It’s really something to behold, especially when you see the clouds in the distance, like a beach that marks the end of this grass sea.

I pulled into Cedar Bluff State Park around 9p, as the sun pulled itself below the horizon and after I bumped the Toyota clock an hour ahead. Found myself a quiet corner, away from the group of teenagers eating a boisterous dinner under a shelter with rows of picnic tables. From a conversation with a young fellow moving gear around, they were touring the country from campground to campground, via bus.

The wind is strong and without end, a constant driving and blowing at the tent, bringing the nearby trees alive with rustles. I will write for a while, it’s gorgeous and perfect background noise. The moon is almost full and paints a lovely picture on the top of my tent, as she pokes through the trees to flicker here and there on the ghostly surface.

This is a very lovely place, different than I am used to, but nonetheless lovely.

20160616 – Thursday

By the time I awoke around 8a, the teenage group was gone and I had the whole covered gazebo to myself to brew my morning coffee, after packing up camp. My goal for the day: Big Spring on the eastern side of Missouri. It would involve crossing most of Kansas (a deceptively wide state that takes a few hours longer than you’d expect to traverse), and half of Missouri. Ambitious, but at the very least I’d make solid headway.

Before leaving Cedar Bluff, I had to grab a jump-start from a friendly stranger, since my car battery mysteriously died despite starting an hour prior.

I wandered into their camp, which was lazily guarded by two friendly golden retrievers. Seated next to their handsome RV, Jim and his wife were sitting and enjoying their lack of things to do. I asked if I could they could help me out, my car needing some juice and all. They agreed, and I jumped into Jim’s truck and he quickly got me back up and running.

Once on the road, I aimed southwest for Crystal Spring, a few hours away and a small oasis. It is hidden by your run of the mill Kansas farmland: tall trees shroud the forty foot cliff face, at the base of which sits an empty spring house. The spring bubbles from a crack between the cliff face and the bedrock, feeding a healthy stream. Across from the spring house is a little clearing with handsome trees and lush grass. I set up here for about an hour, catching up on writing these travel logs for a bit, rinsing off in the fresh spring water, cleaning the slacklines off for the first time, and simply relaxing and lounging in the sun.

From there, I grabbed a burrito from a neighboring town and continued east— hitting Big Spring would involve about six more hours of driving, landing around midnight.

One thing that’s I’ve learned to appreciate is the rising moon, especially when eastbound. The moon is just about full, probably hitting her peak at the end of this weekend, so she is rising opposite the setting sun. As I head east, I have the crimson sunset in my rear view mirror and a translucent beauty showing the way.

I’d like to be in Jacksonville on Saturday. I think this will work out if I can stay in Big Spring tonight, then cruise down to Atlanta for Jeju and some jjimjilbang action on Friday, then finish off my roadtrip in the same place it started: in Jacksonville, Florida with my parents. My brother will be coming down to surprise my father for father’s day (he’s expecting me, but not my brother). It should be a fun weekend filled with delicious home-cooked food, and I think it will be a great symmetry to end this weeks long ramble on the road.

That’s enough writing for now, time to continue forging east.

Didn’t end up hitting Big Spring, I camped out on some public land about three hours away. Arriving around midnight, I setup the tent under the cloudy moonlight and the occasional flash of lightning. As I arrived in the Missouri area, I received a slightly distressing emergency text announcing the dangers of flashfloods until 5a. Luckily, no such warnings were realized, as the storm turned out to be mostly high-altitude thundery bluster and while my camp came with a gorgeous lake-view, I was about twenty feet about the water line… just in case.

Sleep came easily. I woke up in the middle of the night to make water and as I streamed on a downhill tree, facing the westward lake, I noticed the moon near the horizon, deep red and about to set. This meant dawn was incoming, and I knew I should grab some last grains of sleep before the forge to Atlanta tomorrow.

Long Form Sundays

On Death Podcast

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