Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

IMG_1835They say Zen mentality gives you the ability to be at home anywhere. Over the course of three weeks and six thousand miles, home was anywhere with a truck camper and three dogs.

That was the set-up as I traveled to Maine and back, with two trips to Utah added on. Compared to trips past (in total, I’ve crossed America’s bulk at least 20 times), fewer things were broken or went missing. I felt happier and calmer. Was this the result of trying to be more “in the moment”? More “Zen”? Roadtrip maturity? I can hear my sons saying, Whatever, Mom.

Some highlights and lowlights:

Rivers crossed:

Arkansas, Rio Grande, Miami, Missouri, Mississippi, Catherine on Hudson, among others.

An overturned livestock trailer just east of Wolf Creek Pass along Highway 160. Scores of emergency vehicles. Six dead cows IMG_1966hauled out of the wreck and deposited on the shoulder. Three more standing placidly next to them with what I deduce to be life-ending injuries. The scene makes me wish more people were vegetarian.

But then, I like leather, so who am I?

In Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, I share a gas pump with an elderly man in overalls. He’s filling up an old tractor, perched on a flatbed trailer. I ask him how old it is. “Not as old as me, but older than you,” he says with a smile. 1954, he guesses. Pretty good guess.

In Genoa, Colorado, a dilapidated tower structure announces the seriously sketchy proclamation: “See Six States!” (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, and New Mexico).

A billboard near Indianapolis. “We’re into S and N” (spay and neuter).

A bigger billboard announced “Size Matters”

Ashland, Ohio – “World headquarters of nice people”

IMG_1870Dogs now sit up and whine whenever they hear the blinker or deceleration. They are similarly tipped off by the undoing of seatbelt or turning off of radio.

A tiny, old-time windmill is dwarfed by a dozen wind turbines on a stretch of Kansas plain. A lone daisy in a stand of sunflowers.

As we move away from working with land and animals, our ability to de-stress and be in the moment wanes, too. ‘Multi-tasking’ was not a word 50 years ago. Nor was ‘Internet,’ ‘cruise control,’ ‘teleconference.’ We move away from farm and the outdoors, then gravitate back as our bodies and minds suffer. It’s like the Slow Food movement, you know? There would be no Slow Food without Fast Food.

Rest stop weirdness: I stop for the night at a quiet, isolated rest stop near Lake Erie. The dogs and I watch three young guys with hoodies head into the woods. I’m thinking, ‘okay, they are going into the woods to have a drink and a toke and then they will get back on the road.’ They return 30 minutes later and we watch as they lift up a bulkhead of sorts and step down underground and disappear. At which point, I’m thinking, ‘shit, these hoodlums are going to emerge after midnight and attack me.’


Traveling companion, David Foster Wallace, on audio.

I mosey over to the bulkhead to investigate. One of them flips up the hatch. I say, ‘hey, whatcha doing?’ They are public works employees trying to figure out why the septic pump has failed. (Thank you, Lordy.)

All the road kill. I think my fellow drivers disassociate road kill from real live animals (with every day lives and families) as much as we disassociate animals from packaged meat. Jeans from a cotton plant. Paper from a tree in a forest. Did I mention leather?

Do dogs understand “road trip”? Or is it: Hang out in truck for another day. Run. Drink. Eat. Sleep. See humans we recall from ages ago. Get back in truck.

Top-rated, little-known dog-friendly pit stops (while still logging 600+ miles per day):

  • Closed weigh stations
  • Shuttered motels
  • Ranch exits
  • National forest trailheads or turn offs.

Enjoying roadside open space

Out west, it’s not unusual to have a gravel road start at the end of the exit ramp. But Interstate 70’s Exit 311 ramp in Kansas is itself gravel. The dogs and I walked for 30 minutes on the stretch of road, just off the highway here. No leashes needed. No other vehicle seen.

The problem with Mancos is that when you travel, you see how undesirable other places are and how unhappy, unfit, unhealthy other people appear. Elsewhere, people seem more hip and more cynical. In Mancos, you can be earnest and un-ironic and no one will smirk. Not so, elsewhere.

It doesn’t help that I’m listening to David Foster Wallace’s essays on the Maine Lobster Festival and on the hell of weeklong cruise.  No one disses Americans better than DFW. He calls them, “the only known species of bovine carnivore.”

In line with this star of smart snark, fellow travelers appear to me:

Pear- and apple-shaped



Too heavy for their own shoes

Drive-thru obsessives

Wolf Creek Pass

Wolf Creek Pass

Knowingly ignorant

I mean really, folks: How and why does one stop at a rest stop, get out of the car, and then sit some more?

Listening to Salman Rushdie’s interview with Christopher Hitchens. They discuss fun stuff and serious stuff, such as the ideology of doubt and the flawed logic of “It must be God because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to say it must be God.” Watch it here.

A big sign on a Colorado state highway, in front of a ranch. “Not 4 Sale”

On Wolf Creek Pass there are still snowmobilers and snow parked along the side of Highway 160. There are not one, but two runaway truck ramps. And sure enough, in mid-May, I head over the pass in wind and snow.

Interstate 70 sunrise, in Kansas

Interstate 70 sunrise, in Kansas

Posted in Meeting folks, On the Road.


  1. I’ve always enjoyed road trips, we just took a short one to visit the “kids” in Montana. I find that returning home to the Mancos Valley adds to a road trip in ways that no other home has. Other places, the markers of nearing home were other towns, certain tall buildings, increased traffic and stressful thoughts of responsibility invading my mind’s peace, so that by the time I reached home, much of the trip’s benefits were already fading. Coming home here, it is the sight of familiar landforms and places where I have friends that punctuate the return. Seeing the back side of the Ute appear, the amount of snow that accumulated on the La Platas while I was gone, the progress of an irrigation ditch being cleaned. All of this crescendoing in a welcoming song of sights, sounds, smells and memories .

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