Saturday, August 03, 2013

From Colorado to South Carolina and Back, Part 3

MapQuest got it right. It’s 24 hours and then some to drive from Colorado Springs to Marietta, SC. Naturally, “then some” depends upon how many breaks you take along the way, and for how long. As a veteran of several cross-country military PCS drives, the optimum is stopping every 90 minutes for 15 minutes— no later than two hours, though no limit on the break itself. I try not to take too long, though. Like everyone else I want this trip over with. 

If you drive just a little over the maximum speed limit, no stops whatsoever, though, it’s 24 hours and a few minutes. Twenty-four hours is long, but it’s a number you can break down into three eight-hour days, or two 12-hour days.

You’ll find these “Historical Kansas” signs at rest areas all along
I-70. I figured since I wrote a book called BLEEDING KANSAS
I ought to pose with one. The state has a spectacularly violent history
and I regret not being able to properly exploit that in my book.
On the way to Marietta, this breaks down into two hours to get out of Colorado. After that, it’s eight hours to get across Kansas. It’s two and one-half hours more to Columbia, Missouri, which serves as the more-or-less midpoint. If you’re following the arithmetic, that’s 12.5 hours. Factor in that you’re losing an hour crossing from Mountain into Central Time Zone, and that’s 13.5 hours. You don’t feel that lost hour right away—that’s not until you have to wake up the next morning. The imaginary becomes quite real, then.

The mistake I made that first day was leaving at 9:30 a.m. MDT instead of 7:00, or even 6:00. Even an eight-hour day drive should start as early as possible, so one can get settled in as early as possible. I learned this lesson the hard way when we got to our midway point, Columbia, Missouri, at 10:30 p.m.

Western Kansas, or as I like to think of it, the Western Wastes.
This is pretty much what it looks like until just before you reach
Salina in the middle of the state. If the “Jesus Is Real” sign has
you freaked out, you should have seen Ghost Jesus—large,
sun-faded plyboard cutouts of Jesus with a spectral glow
about him. You’ll find him standing in a drainage ditch or along
a field of something actually growing. We’d see these things,
laugh, and whiz right by at 75-80 mph. Maybe next time.
If you’re following the arithmetic, that’s 13 hours, or 12 hours in real time for us weary travelers. This means I only stopped when I had to and found not one but two convoys of fast-moving vehicles while crossing Kansas. We shaved off a lot of time, but it was still 10:30 when we got to Columbia, Missouri. We hadn’t stopped to eat, and by 10:30 on a Monday every semi-decent restaurant was (surprise) closed. Dinner was fast food through the drive-thru eaten in the van. As we’re not used to eating drive-thru, this made for three upset stomachs at the cost of a decent sit-down dinner at Cracker Barrel.

That’s not even the worst of it. The worst was lying in bed, my legs buzzing, buzzing, buzzing... and I can’t get to sleep. Too wound up. Too tense. One a.m. becomes 2 a.m. becomes 3 a.m. Even my teenage children, who did no driving this leg of the trip, were affected. We took showers to relax, we took Benadryl. After a while my son and daughter fell asleep. I started the same breathing exercise over and over again, trying to match my breathing to theirs. 

Like the windmills of my mind.
I lay in bed, nervous sweat sheeting down my flesh, thinking, “Why did I do this? Why didn’t I just stay home? I’m 750 miles from help east or west. All of this is going on the credit card. We can’t afford this. I’m paying for all of this with projected sales that might not happen. All this wear and tear I’m putting on the’s already old, with a busted engine mount, and it needs new tires, and I’m driving all the way to South Carolina.” Etc. and so on. Between the full-blown anxiety attack boiling on one side of my head and the Rational Adult talking it down on the other, it was exhausting in and of itself. As the light came into the sky, I finally fell asleep. I got maybe one good 90 minute cycle in before my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m.

I asked the children if they minded sleeping in an extra hour and a half. They didn’t. I reset the alarm and got another cycle in. I awoke, marveling once more at how the mind and body will work against one another, tearing themselves down when all alertness and strength is needed for the day ahead. We creakily, crankily got ourselves together, availed ourselves of the generous breakfast below in the lobby, and left at around 8:30. 

So many’d think these things could
light up all of Kansas. I wonder where the generated power
actually goes. 

Which was, again, much too late. I kept telling myself there was no way I’d make the next day’s 12-hour drive without that little bit of sleep. And I was right. But we were also pushing for another late night, and our host in South Carolina, who had to work the next day, was going to be sorely inconvenienced.

Moral of story, lessons learned: get all of your rest and goofing off in the day before you leave. No running around. Everything should be half-packed and five minutes away from being tossed into the van. Wake early, leave early. TAKE THOSE BREAKS. Whatever time you think you’re saving plowing on for another half-hour to an hour will be frittered away in recovery and then some when you’re trying to sleep.

The next time I do this, it’s because we’re moving. I’ve clearly aged out of these cross-country epics.
I forget where this rest area is. I include this photo to show that, once you get past Salina and the Smoky Hills region, the Flint Hills to the east are actually rather pretty.

Oak Grove, Missouri, from the gas station where we were filling up. I figured we only had an hour more to drive to Columbia, so why not push on? If I’d been thinking I would have IMMEDIATELY found a hotel and settled in for the evening. I could have gotten up early and easily made up for that hour. As it turned out, it was a stressful hour and one-half until Columbia, and we lost several hours for my stubbornness.

When the sun starts going down—not already setting, as here—start looking for a place to make camp.
This photo was taken on July 1, which means it was already 9 p.m.