The Road To The West, Part Five
Back To The East
I struggled to figure out how to open this last installment. The fact is, the trip home sucks. Not one bit of it is good, except that last 300 feet when you pull into your driveway, and you know you don't have to drive anymore. There isn't much to say about the I90 corridor, eastbound. Devoid of the excitement we have at the beginning of our journey, this stretch of road coming back just grows increasingly ugly and riddled with inefficient roadworks. It's like putting a black olive on a hot fudge sundae. No matter how incredible our trip was, the slog home sours the face. But of course, we had to do it.
We packed up and darted out of the Pray cabin bright and early. The dogs had a healthy romp near the river before getting shuffled into the Jeep, and we were off. Just like we escaped New York, I started the trip at the wheel. We decided to push through Montana and then southbound to I80, mostly to avoid being reminded of the trip out. After getting to Omaha sometime that evening, Monik took over and pushed us into Iowa, where we rested for a few hours. I then woke up with a lead foot, and started up early.
Somewhere in eastern Iowa, we hit a very slow moving bunch, doing about 30mph on I80. After a few miles of weaving my way up the long line of cars, it became clear that there were two drivers in cahoots, keeping traffic at 30mph in both lanes, and not letting anyone pass. One guy was in a big red Dodge Ram truck, and the other was in an early 90's Mercury. As I got closer, I cold see that they were talking to each other on a CB, and both of them looked like they hadn't gotten laid in a decade, if ever, and somehow they decided that this would be a fun game. I could see cars ahead trying to pass them on the shoulder, but the truck and the Cougar would swerve to block them and then look at each other and laugh. Well this sort of nonsense didn't sit well with me, so I told Monik to hang on, and I snuck onto the right shoulder a few cars back, and gunned it past the red pickup.
This move pissed him off I guess, because as I passed him, he too gunned it and took off after me, as did the Cougar. Fortunately for the massive line of cars behind us, they were now free to drive normally, but my pursuing pair of sexless incels were hot on my tail, trying to drive me off the road. I told my wife to call the Iowa state police and promtly pressed the throttle straight down to the carpet. The dogs were entirely freaked out, and admittedly, my adrenaline started to pump as I pushed the Jeep past 100mph. The red truck was no match, but the Mercury was cookin. He must've had a real engine in that thing, because he passed me and tried cutting me off in my lane, but I slammed my brakes and swerved behind him and around the other side, and then gunned up past 120mph. There was no way these two backwoods assholes were putting my family in danger. After about 5 miles of this, I took a neck snapping turn onto an exit ramp, and the Mercury sped past, but the red truck behind us followed me down. As we hit the bottom of the ramp, I pulled off the road and got out of the car, looking like a maniac and ready to pummel the greasy haired scumbag who just got his kicks out of playing with people's lives. He clearly couldn't handle the confrontation and promptly sped off up the road, but Monik still managed to get both plate numbers to the state police, though it was doubtless to be any of any consequence.
After that fiasco, I collected myself, and my racing heartbeat and eventually hurled past Chicago and into eastern Ohio, where Monik took over again, and amazingly drove through the night and took us straight to the finish line, early the next morning. It was probably the quickest we had ever made that trip, and I was thankful to not only be safe, but to be home.
The Good, Bad, and Ugly
As soon as we're back in NY and off the highway, the glow of the West comes back to us, always. We are both inspired and restored. We discuss our future plans, more trips out west, plans for the house over the winter. It's like doing an oil change and a tune up. We feel that to a degree after any trip, but going out there, it's altogether different. Perhaps because we have legitimate plans to retire out west, or maybe just because it's a place we hold in our hearts together, equally. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but the intangible is the beauty.
that smile is the reason I love this trip so much.
One thing was clear : the Jeep Grand Cherokee was a sturdy and reliable performer. The pronghorn accident was proof that it was built far better than you'd expect, and even though the rear tires wore out faster than I anticipated, its ability to get us into the backcountry was remarkable. Sadly though, the Jeep always gets put aside when we get home. With winter just weeks away in upstate NY, the priority goes to the classics in our garage, and we drive them as much as possible before snowfall and salty roads. This year of course, the Jeep underwent surgery and got made whole again by our crafty and stingy insurance friends.
The other helpful development was the addition of a roof cargo box. The Jeep just doesn't have a ton of cargo space, an irritation since day one. Even though they're not terribly attractive (though this one isn't bad), and they cause extra drag and tall weight on your car, if you plan on taking long trips with your SUV, it may just come in handy. I wish we had done it sooner.
The worst part of the trip (aside from having to come back) was the reminder that I can't always drive like a maniac out there. I love driving fast, and Wyoming is one perfect place for such a penchant. But like anywhere else, and even more so perhaps, you can quickly be reminded that nature owns this place, and it will get its revenge if necessary. After years of cavalier speeding through Wyoming's vast open network of roads and paths, I was finally reminded, albeit quite gently, that we are merely visitors, and if we treat this home with disrespect, we will pay the price for it.
If you've ever considered visiting Yellowstone, just do it. Don't even think twice about it. One doesn't need to wake before dawn to enjoy it. Many of the park's most beautiful features are no more than a short hike from a parking area, and no matter where you are, you're bound to encounter wildlife of the size and sort that you rarely see elsewhere. The pure expanse of the place is a wonder, and its wild, untamed brutality is always at your fingertips.
Elk at dusk (Monik Geisel)
The deep American west is still a place where the iPads and gadgets can stay in their cases. Even outside Yellowstone and the Tetons, your entertainment is your surroundings, and you'd truly have to be dead not to appreciate what's right before your eyes. But it's not an easy place. The weather shifts as unpredictably as a Ford-O-Matic transmission, and without any remorse. The animals can eat you, and you can't always just pick up your cell phone and call someone for help, or visit YouTube for tips on how to make a fire. But the reward is beyond priceless.
Much of the west is still wild, indeed. And we are glad to be its stewards. Thanks as always, for reading. Onward and upward, travelers.