We didn’t intend for this to be our last night on the road. The plan was to break the Kansas drive into two days; to arrive in Kansas City on Monday. Then Friday started with a stupid, foolish fight about…cleaning the windshield. Fight summary: we were both doing it all wrong. But the rest of Friday was good, then Saturday was so good…we knew we shouldn’t push our luck. We called Paul’s sister and asked if we could arrive a day early. We wanted to end on a high note.
Saturday we awoke on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. After a stop at the library in Boulder, then lunch at the original Chipotle in Denver, we turned our backs on the mountains and began moving east. It’s a wonderful thing to drive west across the country — to see the Rocky Mountains rising out of the plains ahead of you. It’s a sad thing to drive east — watching as the mountains recede in your rearview mirror. Thanks to the forest fire haze, the Rockies faded from sight even more quickly than usual. Too soon, I couldn’t see them at all. Too soon, we were surrounded by flat fields full of drought-stunted corn, dry wheat, soybeans, alfalfa. It reminded me of leaving Chicago way back in October — watching the buildings recede in the rearview mirror as we drove north on 90/94 until we rounded a corner and they were gone.
So on we rolled across eastern Colorado until we arrived at the border of Kansas and the town of St. Francis (motto: As Good As It Gets). We had shunned I-70 in favor of driving across Kansas via the “scenic route” and St. Francis is the first Kansas town on Route 36. St. Francis is also home to a free city campground with free showers — which we hoped still existed.
After a few loops around the town of St. Francis, we found the free campground. It was pretty sweet, the kind of place we thought we’d find more often. But our remaining supply of food was not encouraging: we had shrimp-flavored ramen, chicken-flavored ramen, one can of sardines, one can of vienna sausages, dry lentils, and rice. Next mission for St. Francis: dinner. A few more loops around town confirmed our rising fear that the only place to buy cooked food was the pizza counter at the Sinclair gas station. We accepted our fate and watched as the cashier grabbed a frozen pizza from the store’s cooler and slapped it on the pizza-warming belt. “Be about fifteen minutes,” she said.
Twenty minutes, one greasy pizza box, one greasy pizza, one can of Coors beer, and two failed attempts to purchase lottery tickets later, we were back in the campground eating…acceptable…gas station pizza, drinking the last of our boxed wine (a tasty Zin from the Big House Wine Co.), and watching the sun set.
We reminisced about the past ten and a half months…where we’ve been, what we’ve seen. We talked about the homey things we miss and the things we’re excited about doing next. We also thought about all the things that didn’t happen…we didn’t get sick of each other. We weren’t eaten by a mountain lion or a grizzly bear — we didn’t even see a mountain lion or a grizzly bear. We weren’t bitten by a rattlesnake. We didn’t see any scorpions, much less get stung. We didn’t get robbed or murdered. We didn’t have any major accidents or flat tires. We didn’t fall into any canyons. We didn’t even get sick. We started to feel a little reckless…a little invincible. Good thing all canyons were well to the west of us that night.
True, this wasn’t the end of the trip — we still had six weeks until we planned to “settle down.” But this was the end of the van-based-exploration portion of the trip. The next few weeks would be spent with family and friends in the midwest, then we’d be off (and trying not to spend too much money) in London. This was the last night we’d sleep in the van. It was the last night we’d have to fend for ourselves, out in the wild. And the stars were amazing.