Driving away from Kansas City, I am always surprised by how quickly it changes from populated to barren. It seems that in the span of only thirty minutes one can go from being tailgated all the way to one's destination, surrounded by lights and buildings, to seeing only the occasional car speed past, farmland and semis.
I didn't take toll roads to Dallas. After my experience driving through the northeast, it wasn't something I had to think over for very long. Once I got off the toll roads on my trip across the northeast, I experienced some of the most beautiful landscape I'd ever seen. If you're ever in Vermont, don't miss the overwhelming sight of the Green Mountains cresting over a hill because you rushed through the area going 70 MPH. Driving across the country on toll roads is like going to a city, visiting a tree in a park and thinking you got an idea of what all the forests in the state are like.
Driving through small towns in Kansas and Oklahoma isn't fun exactly, but looking at eccentric little diners, antique shops and calves trotting alongside their mothers along the highway sure beats the monotonous, gray cord of four lane interstate of the toll roads. Especially when you're going to be driving for a solid eight hours.
After the extended meditation session that is driving through Kansas, Oklahoma welcomed me the only way it knew how, with half a sign amidst road work that read "...come...homa," the 'Wel' in welcome missing and the 'Okla' in Oklahoma missing. It was still a welcome sight, a sign that I was approaching my destination. A new state.
Driving through Kansas and Oklahoma was unexpectedly beautiful. Wide blue skies stretched in front of me; puffy storm clouds layered above me for miles. There is a sense that if you walked off into the crunchy, golden fields and sparsely forested areas beyond, you could go many miles and come across only farmland and the occasional town of 150 people.
Last night I slept in the back of my car on my hiking pad. Although I slept covered in several sleeping bags rated for winter weather, I was still thankful for my dog snuggled beside me. Sharing her body heat has kept me comfortable on long, cold nights on more than one occasion.
5 A.M. greeted me with the low roar of the cars around me and darkness and more stars than is visible in the city, 50 miles away. I don't want to romanticize staying the night in a car, but I think people who never do it miss out on some interesting, beautiful, primal experiences. There are no outlets to plug in the laptop and watch your favorite animated show until you fall asleep and no music; no easy distractions from your thoughts. No climate controlled environment; no running water. It isn't a lean-to made of sticks in the woods, but it certainly isn't a house either. It is uncomfortable, but learning to be okay in uncomfortable situations is one of the most important things I've ever learned to do.
I was again reminded that we congregate in cities this morning, when I was suddenly thrust into Dallas' morning rush hour traffic. Dallas is a much cooler city than I imagined it was, planning this trip in Kansas City. It seems a very accessible city, with railway cars and buses going across town. Much like in Kansas City, It wasn't too difficult to find a hip coffee shop, declarations of organic eggs on stickers in the window beside the front door.
Someone once told me regarding travel, that everywhere is the same. I disagreed then, but the more I see of the United States, the more I understand what they meant.
Now I sit in the coffee shop in Dallas, regrouping before the three-hour drive to Austin. I'm watching humans type on their laptops, brought together here by a need to feel the presence of others in the same room, and yet seeking a certain distance from the strangers around them. It's funny to me that we humans are social even in our self-imposed isolation.
I need to leave this place behind. Goodbye, Dallas. I leave you with a quote from a poem written by the late Larry Levis:
"It is so American, fire. So like us.
Its desolation. And its eventual, brief triumph."