It was bound to happen at some point during my road trip. The only surprise is that it took as long as it did. I’m talking about my road trip meltdown. It was the kind of meltdown where I questioned my own sanity for deciding to take on a trip of this magnitude by myself. The kind where I wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head in order to avoid having to face the universal truths that inevitably would present themselves as my thoughts went into overdrive during long lonely stretches of driving. It started the morning I left Salt Lake City and was faced with the challenge of driving over the mountain pass in the snow. By the time I finally cleared the pass and entered Wyoming my hands were shaking, there was a muscle spasm in my neck, and my bloodshot eyes were pinprick dry from not blinking for fear of looking away from the road for even a brief second.
I tried to comfort myself by admiring the rock formations along the river that I encountered when driving through Green River, Wyoming. My day probably would have turned out better had I taken the time to stop and explore what looked like a fabulous outdoor recreational area. However I still had over 7 hours of driving left ahead of me, and it was raining. Hard. So I drove. And drove. And drove. Eventually the rain turned to wicked wind. At times I felt like Princess would be picked up and flung through the air. When I crossed the Continental Divide I was hit with a sharp stab of loneliness that cut so deep I swear it drew blood, because at this point I had been driving for almost an hour without seeing even one other car. Although Wyoming is the 10th largest State by area, it is the smallest by population. In 2009 the U.S. Census Bureau reported a State population of only 544,270 people. It’s no wonder I had the road to myself.
About two hours from my overnight stop of Cheyenne, I pulled into a rest stop to walk Yoda. The only other vehicle in the stop was a guy from Santa Cruz, California. I don’t recall his name, but I recall his story because it is nearly identical to mine. He lost his job, was confused and scared, so he loaded up his truck and is taking a road trip. Instead of a dog, his travel-mate was his pet bearded dragon who was lounging contentedly in the sun on the dashboard. Although he doesn’t plan on spending 3 months on the road, he was heading to the Midwest to visit his family. He had also just driven through that “treacherous” mountain pass filled with light snowflakes, and he clearly was as grateful as me to see another human being. If we hadn’t been smack dab in the middle of nowhere, I probably would have invited him to share a meal for the simple fact that misery loves company. Instead, I drove to my hotel in Cheyenne and, for the first time on my road trip, broke out my prized bottle of Don Julio 1942. I intended to spend the evening in a lover’s embrace with heartthrob Don…until I received a call from my friend Chuck (the one who gave me this expensive, buttery, exquisite bottle of tequila). Chuck reminded me that I’m really not alone on this journey and that many of my friends and family are truly there with me every step of the way. After talking with Chuck, I felt so dang good that I didn’t even finish my plastic glass of tequila.
After spending the night in Cheyenne, I drove to North Platte, Nebraska. Nebraska is flat as far as flat can see. When my dad and I drove through Nebraska in 1996, our tolerance for the bland landscape was rewarded with one of the most jaw dropping experiences of my life: tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes migrating north for the summer along the North Platte River in Nebraska. Given November is the month Sandhill Cranes usually make an overnight stop in North Platte on their way south for the winter, I decided I could turn this dark, lonely stretch of my road trip around by getting another hit of these magnificent birds. Sadly, I learned once again that sticking too intensely to one’s road trip plans can only lead to disappointment. Not a single Sandhill Crane could be found. Yet instead of breaking out reliable Don for the second night in a row, I remembered my comforting conversation with Chuck. Inspired, I opted to make microwave popcorn and called it a night.
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