I left Vegas at 7am, iced coffee in hand. As I drove out, I noticed that the trip odometer was at exactly 5000 miles. It was in the 80s and the change was a huge relief. By the time I reached Mesquite, I had to pee. I drove by a billboard with the magic symbol on it: Starbucks. So, yes, I stopped at the Casablanca Casino to use the bathroom and get coffee. You do what you have to do.
The landscape the whole way was incredible. It was all desert scrub and mountains with red and white rock, studies in plate tectonics (see, I learned something in school). The Virgin River Gorge was beautiful, so I didn’t even mind more steep, winding grade and the 55mph speed limit. I crossed into Arizona and cursed losing an hour. I hit I-70 and was excited by the sign reading ‘Richfield’; I wanted that to mean Richfield, Minnesota, where I live. I stopped a few times to go to the bathroom. Then I stopped in Richfield to try and find coffee, but couldn’t. I was zoning out again, eating sunflower seeds to stay awake, and taking off my sunglasses so the glare would keep me alert. When I saw a sign telling me there was going to be a big stretch of nothing for 110 miles, I took that as my cue to stop.
The town I pulled off at had a couple trucker bars and a Denny’s. Beyond caring, I chose Denny’s. I got out of the car, shaking, with the cold sweats. I staggered in, got a table, and almost cried with relief when I saw that they had a gardenburger. I ordered coffee and sat and wrote. I sat there for a long time after I finished eating, too, because I was afraid I’d stand up again and realize that I was still in bad shape, and wouldn’t be able to drive. But, no, when I got up, I was fine, and I had confirmed that my problem was definitely low blood sugar. I vowed to be more careful about that in the future.
I got back on the road and make the 110-mile drive through the middle of nowhere easily. Utah is beautiful, and the landscape is really diverse. Anywhere else, it would all be national park, but there’s just so much of it, they probably couldn’t do that to the entire state. Although maybe the Mormons could get in on some of that action and convert all the visitors. It’s a win-win, really.
I crossed the Colorado border and the scenery continued. It was somewhere close to a million degrees outside, and I was dying. My pants were soaking wet again, so I devised a method in which to dry them: I cranked up the air and aimed all the blowers down towards my seat. I braced my knees against the dashboard and pushed back against the seat, to lift my ass up and allow for air circulation underneath it. Thanks to my thighs of steel, I could hold that position for miles, and it worked.
I stopped in Grand Junction to get coffee. Heather told me that both Safeway and Albertson’s had Starbucks, so I was on the lookout. I got gas, and asked the woman at the next pump where I could find one of those stores. She was really nice, gave me directions, and said her mom was born in Minnesota. I found Albertson’s, walked in, and asked the odd-looking bagboy where the restrooms were. I bought pop and fruit. At the checkout, the bagboy (who was one of a matched set, prompting the mental debate: twins or clones? Clones.) asked if I had found the bathroom OK. Ha! I went over to the Starbucks counter, and the kid there was super-nice, too, if painfully dumb. It took him three minutes to enter my order in the computer, and he kept apologizing over and over. I asked him if he knew how to get back to I-70 from there. He said no, he had just moved there recently, and he honestly didn’t even know what I-70 was. I laughed and said, “It’s the huge highway that goes to Denver!” Another guy showed up, and I asked him. He gave me really elaborate, detailed directions, even though the answer was essentially, “Drive down this road and you’ll run into it.” I was a little weirded out when I realized that everyone I had encountered in that town was really, really nice. I had to get out quick.
Before reaching the Rockies, I crossed the Colorado River. There’s this area where the interstate runs through a gigantic gorge alongside the river, and I was almost positive it was running uphill most of the way. Anyway, this section of road is a marvel of modern engineering, and I’m not even joking about that. It actually looks like it belongs there, rather than having been carved out with a lot of destruction. There are two lanes going either direction, and they’re often at different levels, one above the other. There are perfect, smooth curves, so you can set the cruise and go. There are walking and bike paths down along the river. There are cool tunnels. And the scenery is great. Also, these were the very important things I thought about while driving insane distances alone.
I saw Vail and all those big ski areas I’m sure someone cares about. I was surprised to see hardly any snow in the Rockies, considering there were elevations over 10,000 feet, whereas I had hiked in snow in Glacier at only 7000 feet. As I got into the mountains, it started raining a little, and the temperature dropped from 105 to 60. I finally got to turn off the air conditioning. I went through the Eisenhower Tunnel, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Going down the east side of the Rockies, there are a million signs for truckers, warning them about the grade, and they get funnier as you go: “Truckers, don’t be fooled! Steep downward grades ahead! Check brakes!” and “Truckers, you’re not down yet! Are your brakes cool?”
I got into Denver around 8:30. 5,700 miles. I wanted to stop for dinner, but the switch to I-76 skirted town, which was actually kind of nice. I decided to keep going to whatever exit had something promising. That ended up being around 9pm, when I saw a sign that listed a few chain restaurants and Starbucks. I pulled into Starbucks, afraid it would be closed after dinner. I went to the bathroom, and as I went up to the counter, the guy had the cash drawers out, and the woman was washing dishes. I asked him, “Are you closed?” He looked at me like I was stupid, said, “We close at 10,” and walked away. I stood there, stunned. Was it 10pm? Was I in mountain or central time? I had no idea. I asked the woman, “Are you closed? I don’t even know what time zone this is.” I must have seemed really flustered, because she looked concerned. She said no, they were open. I told her what the guy had said. I was exhausted and confused, and she probably thought I was really pissed. She very slowly and deliberately made me coffee, then put it on the counter next to my Starbucks card. I slid the card towards her, and she just looked at me and said, “Have a good night.” I told her she was very nice, and thanked her for the coffee.
I had dinner at Applebee’s, the only sit-down place in town. The food sucked, but it was food. The server sat at my table for a long time and talked about being vegetarian. She was great. In fact, everyone in Colorado was really friendly. I couldn’t figure out whether that should scare me or not.
I got back on the road, hoping to get a couple more hours of driving in. The farther I could make it, the fewer miles I’d have to drive to reach home the next day. Since I was once again in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal, I stopped at a gas station to call Heather on the payphone. While I was standing there talking, bugs were swarming around me. I had to keep stamping my feet to knock off the beetles that were climbing on my shoes.
By 11:30, I couldn’t drive anymore. About 20 minutes outside of Sterling, I saw a mouse run across the highway, and had a bizarre flashback: the last time we were driving through that area about 3 in the morning, while I was dozing in the passenger seat, Heather told me she was seeing mice running across the highway. Then she saw mice flying across the highway. Then we blew a tire. I decided to stop. So I exited and pulled into the first motel I saw, which happened to be the Travelodge. I parked in front of my room, went in, and did the first thing I usually do, strip the bed. I flipped over the pillow, and there was a big black beetle sitting happily underneath. I froze. Now, I have bug paranoia, so that wasn’t great. Our first apartment had roaches, and I will never, ever get over the emotional scars. I was pretty sure this wasn’t a roach, but my head wanted me to believe it was. It was probably one of the million beetle-y bugs from outside. Still, it was big, and it was just sitting there looking at me. I got some kleenex and tried to kill it, but it ran away. I chased it, yelling, “No no no no no!” It disappeared under the bed.
I unmade the other bed and checked all over for bugs. Then I went to get ready for a shower. While I was undressing, another smaller bug ran across the floor. I smashed it with my shoe. In the bathroom, I discovered another black beetle writhing around on its back behind the door. Sufficiently grossed out, I took a shower but didn’t wash my hair – I didn’t want to stick around long enough in the morning to redo it.
I brushed my teeth and re-checked the second bed. I left the bathroom light on because I was freaked, and wanted to be able to see the bugs before they got to me. I laid there for about 20 minutes, having visions of beetles crawling in my bed, in my shoes, into my bag. Also, I still wasn’t convinced they weren’t roaches. I thought about going out to sleep in my car, but then was pissed that I would have to pay for the room. So I got dressed, grabbed my stuff, threw my sleeping bag, pillow, and blankets in the back seat of the car, and went back to the office.
There was another woman at the front desk, checking in. I said, “I can’t stay here, there are bugs all over my room.” The woman signing in stopped writing and stared for a minute, thought about it, and went back to writing. The front desk woman said, “Do you want to try a room upstairs?” I said no, I was just going to go. She printed up my refund and handed it to me without a word.
I thought about trying a different motel, but my other option was the Super 8, and I didn’t hold out much hope for that, either. I already had the creeps. Plus it was 1am and I had showered and brushed my teeth, so why pay $50 for a bed? I decided to drive on to the rest area, which I knew was within 50 miles.
I got back on the interstate, set the cruise at 80, and blasted music. I passed a town every 10 miles. It was pitch black, and reminded me of driving late at night in Montana. I kept the brights on even with oncoming traffic, because I was scared of hitting something. But I did anyway – one of those huge strips of semi tire laying on its side in the middle of the road. I didn’t even see it. It slammed loudly against the bottom of my car, and I thought I was going to be sick. I was sure I would at least have a flat tire. I shut off the stereo and listened, and everything seemed fine. No bumping, no weird noises, no alarms. After ten minutes, I reassured myself that the car was OK.
20 miles later, I found the rest area, right on the Colorado-Nebraska border. There were about ten cars and campers already parked there. I settled in and was comfortable, starting to doze off right away. I closed the screen on the sunroof to block the light and the sound of the rain that was just starting. I woke up a little later, cramped and drenched in sweat. I spent the next few hours flopping around, having delirious dreams. I was in California. I was in Las Vegas. I was sleeping in the desert. I’d wake up confused, remind myself where I was, and go back to the dreams again. At 5am, I had had enough; I probably got an hour of sleep. It was getting light, and the wind was blowing really, really hard. I sat up and saw tons of lightning to the southwest, heading my direction. That decided it; I was getting out of there. I ran to the bathroom, fixed my hair, and got back on the road.
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random notes from my travel journal:
it’s 500 miles to denver, through mountains and nothing. i want to cry.
you know you’re tired when you’re thinking picking up a hitchhiker might be a good idea, so you can share driving.
why do all old ladies have the same hairstyle?
i just heard ‘never surrender’ by corey hart. wow.
i so want to be a trucker. i really, really want to make use of the runaway truck ramp, too.
‘no name, colorado.’ joke towns. ha.
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