Windy, Windy Ways

My arrival in Chicago, six days ago, via the convenience of I-57 meant that I’d neglected a few primal sections of Route 66, and so I decided to double back on myself and track back over these missed roadways when I left the city. 

That was the plan. I didn’t actually stick to it because the lure of getting away from the city and into the countryside meant I stuck to the interstate again. Looking back I’m glad I made this decision because the memories of driving through the older suburbs of the handful of cities I was stricter about sticking to Route 66 through weren’t salubrious experiences.

The end of the first day of driving brought me to Kansas City, and a night at Duncan and Anne’s house. Aside from experiencing the Sithsonian – Duncan’s private Star Wars collection – I was also treated to my very first genuine Kansas City-style barbecue. After two weeks of bologna, hot dogs and cheap white bread, my palate didn’t know what hit it and I spent far too much time enjoying being able to chew my dinner, instead of just biting through it.

Aside from a few pit stops for coffee and an 80-mile break in GPS and internet coverage the only event worth noting was my choice of fuel. Having spent the gas money that Plastocolor and Toynk had donated t me to get to Chicago, the return journey was all from my pocket and to save a couple of dollars I opted for the lower octane –  and slightly cheaper – unleaded fuel. What a mistake. Though I saved a few tens of dollars on the cost of a tank, my mileage per gallon plummeted. During the journey to Chicago, I’d been getting 500 miles to a tank, but the first two days of driving away from Chicago saw me getting around 350 miles per tank. At first, I thought it was the head- and cross-winds I’d been pushing through but once I started getting decent gas in the tank I got back up to 500 miles, sometimes more, per tank. And at the rate I was going through my meagre budget I needed as few fill-ups as possible.

The drive from Kansas City was punctuated by windy (with short i) bursts that cut through the undulating landscape of Kansas and gave me a white knuckle ride across the width of the state. My late departure from Duncan’s house – the extra time was given unbegrudgingly because his company and collection were of such a high calibre – meant I didn’t make it to Colorado that night.

Instead, I found a rest area, after pushing myself for eight hours on the road, some 50 miles from the state line. This was my first night of boondocking in nearly a week and I’d only had the “comfort” of a Walmart parking lot before. I don’t know if I got lucky, or if all US rest areas are so accommodating, but I had a great sleep and was able to empty both my grey water and poo tank there.

I was met by a beautiful sunrise the next morning and it spurred me on for another mega day of driving.

Much of the day was spent trundling across the Great Plains, a broad expanse of flat land covered in grasses. I’m sure there was a great deal of farming and ranching activity going on but my mind was busy imagining wagon trains and herds of buffalos, while my eyes were busy watching the traffic ahead of me to try and pre-empt any gusts of wind.

 

The plains gave way to the foothills of the Rockie Mountains and Denver, the place where Star Wars Celebration was born 20 years ago. The foothills didn’t last long and I was soon climbing upwards, on windy (with a long i this time) roads took me deep into the mountains where snow was falling freely and the cliffs were covered in frozen waterfalls.

The interstate climbed slowly towards its high point of 10640 feet near Vail, and once it began to descend I crossed into a different climate zone with startling suddenness, because as soon as I was out of the rain shadow of the Rockies the sky turned from sullen grey to bright blue, the rocks became redder and the plants took on a more desert-like appearance.

Following the Eagle River down through the west of Colorado, I experienced breath-taking gorges and soaring cliffs as the road wound down towards the desert, shadowing the raging watercourse full of white water rafters, like it was a concrete and tarmac river itself.

Coming out of the river valley and into the dry state (climate-wise, not alcohol) of Utah put me into a landscape of immense beauty. The end-of-the-day target was Moab, and if time allowed, Arches National Park.

I continued west on I-70 until I reached the junction of US191, where I pulled over for gas and a quick snack. This being junction on a major highway, with a road leading to an important tourist destination I was expecting a decent service centre with fuel options and a variety of eateries. What I got was a backwater gas station with hiked-up gas prices, horrible coffee and a staff member with an even worse attitude. Asking for assistance I caught the gas station employee muttering something about “F*cking foreigners” and so I curtailed my custom and jumped back in the RV.

Reaching the visitor’s centre to Arches National Park I realised that I didn’t have enough fuel to make the hairpin ascent into the park so I ducked down to Moab to fill up. Returning late in the afternoon meant the park was virtually empty, but it also meant that the shadows were long and getting decent photography of the towers and arches was virtually impossible.

I drove through the park, dutifully pulling over at the appropriate places but quickly found that my mind was pulling me west. The realisation hit me that I wasn’t enjoying myself and was squandering the opportunity to see one of the most amazing places on the planet. I stopped and did some soul searching and came to the conclusion that I’d had enough. The toll of spending double-digit hours in the RV, not having power or water for a week and being away from my family was too much. I made the immediate decision to cut short the return road trip and head directly for Los Angeles as quickly as possible.

Calling up Anne at Rancho Obi-Wan’s headquarters in Petaluma, I explained my dilemma and being the gracious person she is, she expressed total understanding that I wouldn’t be able to spend my last weekend in the US with her. As I headed back out of the park and into Moab to find a place to park up for the night, she sent me a series of supportive messages that confirmed I’d done the right thing.

With my mind made up I began the process of removing the trappings of Order 66 Road Trip from the RV, though the shadow of the trip would be with me for a few more days to come.

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