Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Journey

People like to tell their friends and family about the trips they take. Usually these tales are at least a little interesting, depending on the destination and the method of travel. The most common complaint of car travellers is "it took two whole hours to get there!!" I scoff at such paltry distances. To me, a two hour car ride is a Sunday drive.

And it was, my first year of college. The job I had offered tuition reimbursement if I worked a certain number of hours per week, but the store in the town where I went to school didn’t have enough hours for me. So every Friday after class I would jump in my little green Chevy Tracker and speed down the back roads home to Lincoln, where I would work all weekend, barely sleeping, and then zoom back to school Sunday afternoon to finish whatever homework I had neglected. To me, a two hour drive feels like twenty minutes.

I met my husband at school my first year of college, but he wasn’t a local. His parents lived in Colorado. His drive was considerably longer than mine, but it wasn’t like he went home to work every weekend. When we got engaged, we were both going to school back in our hometowns. A drive from Aurora, Colorado to Lincoln, Nebraska takes eight hours, depending on how often the driver chooses to disregard the posted speed limit.

The route takes you out of the Denver metro area on Colorado highway 76. The first major town along the way is Fort Morgan, which has a Taco John’s, for anyone with a need to eat crappy Tex Mex (and I am one of those people). The drive becomes very pretty around Sterling, when you start getting into ranching country, the beginning of the Sandhills. (Just be sure not to pick up any hitchhikers from the correctional facility in the area. Don’t worry, if you forget, there are at least three huge orange signs to remind you.) On the other side of the state line, highway 76 merges into Interstate 80.

People can say what they want about Nebraska: that it’s full of corn, smells like cows, or is flat and boring, but that usually just proves they’ve never been there, because the drive across Nebraska on Interstate 80 is gorgeous. Sure, there are fields, but along the fields there are little ponds and pools, glittering in the sun. Sure, there are cows, but there are also many other kinds of wildlife: on one trip with my brother and sister-in-law, we couldn’t go twenty miles without one of us yelling, “TURKEYS!” when we spotted a roving band of the birds. On another trip, almost every field and definitely every pond was stuffed with sandhill cranes. And Nebraska, home of Arbor Day, is not as treeless as many people believe.

Though it’s a long drive, there’s nothing boring about it. I enjoy glancing at every vehicle that goes by, checking the license plate to see how many states I can “collect” before the drive is over. My record is somewhere around 35, in addition to four Canadian provinces and a couple of Mexican states. And it is always entertaining to see how the locals try to entice tourists into stopping to spend their time and money (much different in Colorado, where at least two exits boast “NO SERVICES”). Nebraska has everything from various automobile museums near Lexington to a Petrified Wood Gallery (the height of excitement!) in Ogallala. And then there’s the Bridge to Nowhere in Kearney...

Whenever I tell people about trips like these, usually I get a bewildered look and the question, “Why don’t you just fly?” which is adorable and often means that person hasn’t been on an airplane since the 1990s. Flying is a huge pain. You have to get to the airport several hours early (and getting to Denver International Airport from my in-laws’ house takes at least an hour), find a place to park, lug your stuff inside, stand in line to get checked in, go through security (fyi, the security line on the south end usually has a shorter line), take the train to your terminal, wander around to find your gate, and then find something to do until you board.

Sure, the flight itself might be an hour and a half long, but by the time you go through the whole airport rigamarole, you’ve only saved a couple of hours. The hassle negates the saved time; it is twenty times harder to travel with a small child by air than without, not to mention the glares you get from fellow passengers, wo are thinking, “Great, a baby on the plane. Why didn’t they just drive?"

So when it’s just across the state, we drive, and like it more than any other mode of transportation, plane, bus or train. In our own car, we don’t have to pay $25 per bag, we don’t have to sit next to anyone with offensive body odor or listen to any loud conversations that we’d rather not witness.

And every part of the drive is a reminder about coming home: the shape of the hills, the curving of the road, and the water towers and grain elevators standing silently in the distance. As much as I love the destination, I do enjoy how I get there quite a bit.

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