The drive through Kansas is infamously boring. While well aware of its reputation and prepared for endless hours of driving through monotonous landscapes, I was secretly hopeful for this part of the trip. I thought perhaps I would find a sort of unexpected beauty in the plains. But like most expectations in travel, things were hardly as I thought they would be. There are probably some very beautiful parts of Kansas, I just didn’t find them on highway 70.
Twelve hours is a lot of time to fill up while being strapped to a seat. We listened to music, played music, talked, ate food, slept. We contemplated going to see the largest ball of twine in the world, apparently a huge tourist attraction for the state, but being 5 hours out of the way vetoed that detour. In fact the only sightseeing we did do in Kansas came from an impromptu turn off the the highway in a hasty search for gas. Exits were few and far between at this point and with the gas getting dangerously low, Anna chanced the next exit we saw. There were no “gas ahead” signs but we figured it was our best bet, so we continued on with our fingers crossed. The exit turned out to be just another, slightly smaller, highway and continued on with no sign of a gas station, or any man made building for that matter, in the near future. I began to get nervous. Running out of gas wouldn’t the worst thing in the world and it certainly wasn’t first time we’d come close to running out, or the last, but it’s an inconvenience I have no desire in experiencing. We discussed turning back and getting on the main highway but at that point we didn’t think we’d make it even there. We did what I tend to do in most situations in travel (actually just in life in general); continue on and hope for the best. Luckily about 10 minutes later we came upon a tiny town with, thankfully, a gas station. We filled up on petrol and jerky and crossed the street to a promising looking antique shop.
One of my least favorite parts about a road trip is you never have enough time in a place to settle in and fully explore, you always have to leave too soon and it leaves a bitter unsatisfied feeling in me. One of my favorite parts about road trips, and I’m not even joking, are antique shops. Antique Shops are perfect, you go in check it out, see everything and leave. They’re like thrift stores x100. Bigger, bolder, more dramatic and usually an adventure within themselves. Next time you see one of the huge billboards advertising some antique shop with some ridiculous name in a 1000 feet, take a few minutes and go in, you might be surprised.
On our way back to the highway we saw an upcoming lookout sign and, figuring this was our only chance for a little sightseeing in Kansas, pulled into the little parking lot overlooking the Konza Prairie. I’m sure in spring, summer, or fall the prairie can be an impressive tallgrass preserve. In the wintertime however, we were overlooking a barren colorless field. It took a few minutes to even realize what we were supposed to be looking at. It didn’t seem possible that this bleak hopeless view was worthy of a highway exit sign. It was unfulfilling but not upsetting. Instead we shrugged it off, got back the car and continued on. We joke about writing a yelp review saying we’d driven all the way here just to see the Konza Prairie and what a let down it had been. Another little piece of advice, travel with people who make you laugh, you’ll find humor is a great resource.
Without the stress of searching for gas it was a pleasant little drive back the interstate. The small winding roads through the countryside were a welcomed change of scenery. Dave, being Dave, took this opportunity to try to attempt to convince us that we should only take back roads for the rest of the trip. Anna and I being ourselves, dismissed the idea immediately because, while yes it would definitely be a cooler experience, we had a plane to catch in 6 days so that made the idea literally impossible, plus the thought of all the extra hours in the car where extremely unappealing. I was ready to get to Denver. So our not so little Jeep Cherokee got back on Highway 70 west, Dave at the wheel, Anna in the passenger side and myself, nestled in the back. Not 10 minutes later I felt a jolt, a series of fast bumps only to look up and see us sliding of the highway. Anna swears she saw her life flash before her eyes. I remember mostly just trying to hold on to the side of the car and thinking a series of expletives. It could’ve only been a few seconds but it felt endless. I felt the car slipping forward against brakes Dave was slamming down on. I felt the wheels on our left side lift and I held my breath hoping the car wouldn’t flip. I felt the left side crash down again and finally the car stopped sliding and we came to a stop. If you’re wondering what happened, so were we. Dumbfounded, we all sat in silence for a minute until Anna said the only appropriate reaction for the moment. “What the fuck?” As it turns out Dave suffers from highway hypnosis, which is, I learned, a real thing and is exactly what it sounds like. On straight highways he gets hypnotized and that, apparently, is how we ended up driving off the side of the road into the divot separating the opposite traffic lanes. We checked the car, which seemed to be miraculously okay for the most part and we continued on with me driving this time. At least we couldn’t say the was no excitement in Kansas. Did I mention I was ready to get to Denver?
Two days of pure highway, from St Louis to Denver, had made us all cramped, bored and grumpy. Finally being in Denver was like a dream. A very cold but beautiful dream. We arrived late at night to Anna’s cousin’s house. On the outskirts of Denver it was a beautiful home overlooking the mountains. Perfectly clean, perfectly decorated and upon I arriving I felt like I needed at least 15 showers to be remotely clean enough to be inside. Anna’s cousins were exactly the type of people who would own such a home. Both in the their upper 30’s with successful careers, no children and well traveled. Basically a couple that really has they’re sh*t together. They welcomed us to Denver and to their house with wine and fresh pizza. We chatted briefly but it wasn’t long before we headed to our rooms and crashed into a deep slumber. Traveling is full exciting big adventures, but it’s important to keep in mind the little things. In this instance it should be noted that the bed I slept on at Anna’s cousin’s house was the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on in my entire life.
So after a night of the best sleep ever we awoke refreshed and happy to be in Colorado. Everything about Denver was cool. It was beautiful for one, the people extremely friendly, and the air was cold, fresh, and crisp. After breakfast Anna’s cousin took us on a little hike around Red Rocks Park. We walked along the trail through gorgeous red crusted rock formations, an overwhelming sight against the snowy patches on the ground. This was also my first experience using crampons. I’m not much of a winter hiker (big surprise) but crampons were something I actually got excited about. Just strap them onto your boot and ta-da you’re slip free. For anyone as uncoordinated/ prone to falling as I am, I highly recommend them.
Our first day in Denver was also New Year’s Eve and Mike an old friend of Anna’s was in Denver to ring in 2016. This was my first time meeting Mike but from the stories I’d heard promised a good night. We were meeting Mike at his friends in downtown Denver and then going to an Umphrey’s Mcgee concert later that night. Mike was a huge Umphrey’s Mcgee fan and persuaded us to come along. I’d never heard of the band and to be honest not really into jam music anyway but I desperately needed a fun night out. The whole road trip Dave had been indecisively torn between going to Umphrey’s and another band that was in the city for the night and on the drive to Mike friend’s house found Dave without out a ticket for either. Upon entering downtown Dave went with the other and left to go scavenge for a ticket, while Anna and I went to meet up with Mike. Sometimes you just gotta decide to let go and have fun. I danced all night long. I danced in the flashes of all the concert lights. I danced in the bathroom over the grimmy sink. I danced in the street in -11 degree weather on the walk home. It was a good night. A night where I thought, here I am, 2016, in a city I’ve never been with new friends, and old friends, in the midst of a great adventure that could take me anywhere. To love your life is such a sweet feeling.