7:31 am – leave Minneapolis. Car mileage 48,225. Daylight just beginning. Head south on I-35, so much different than my summer road trips. This is the same way I drive to my parents house in southern Missouri, but instead of doing 650 miles and a 12 hour drive, I will veer west into Kansas City and see how far I will get. Everything is white, the freeway is clear, the plows have been out. It is good enough to set the cruise control at 68 mph (speed limit 70) and feel comfortable. I reach the Iowa border at 9:18 am. I recognize the same rest areas from my summer trips, and stop at every one to stretch my legs. (In the summer I usually go every other one or so). It seems strange to sometimes be the only one there. I say hello to fellow winter travelers, we seem to have a common bond in our venturing out for winter travel. There are, however, a surprising amount of cars on the freeway, at least near the metro areas.
Iowa can be desolate in the summer on the freeway – now it has a sense of abandonment. White everywhere – white snow, white clouds meeting the horizon (although no snow, good driving weather, no bright sun) – a sense of calmness, grayness, whiteness, quiet. Trees are beautiful blanketed in snow, small farmhouses and barns add bits of color to the landscape. The wind turbines I see by the freeway blend into the whiteness and are not moving, they are silent. Everything is clearer out here.
I listen to Christmas carols on the radio. Jazz 88 and KFAI faded around Fairbault, NPR’s classical station 99.5 faded around the Minnesota border, and I search to find whatever station NPR is on where I’m at. It fades in and out. Driving like this takes patience and hope – and I think of the evergreen trees. We bring them into our homes to symbolize hope, the pagan celebration of endurance waiting for the return of the light. This roadtrip is a gift to myself.
I slow down. I-35 in northern Iowa has some drifting snow. One lane is always open, the passing lane a bit snowy in spots. Maximum speed about 50 to 55 mph now. The snowplows are out, plowing the edges, and there must have been a major snowstorm here a day or two ago because I pass at least a dozen cars in the ditch the next few miles. Probably going too fast, or it was a white-out. In a blizzard it would be hard to see the road. The land is flat and there is nothing to stop the wind. The cars and four-wheel drives are all tagged with yellow tape, some upside down. Iowa tests my patience, and I count off the 150 miles to Des Moines. I gas up near Jewell, Iowa and it is 18 degrees. 197 miles into my trip. Once I reach the outskirts of Des Moines, it is over, the freeway is clear again and I can breathe easier. I go around Des Moines and head on the long stretch before Kansas City. Cross the Missouri state line at 48,557, 1:21 pm, 23 degrees. I call my parents from my cell with my headset.
Photo: The Missouri rest area has fake buffalo.
This is the time when I usually want to stop for lunch, but this stretch doesn’t have much. I take a chance on Cameron, off the exit at a place called Nellie’s. I think it’s going to be a nice local restaurant and it’s not a chain, but not much better. I am surprised by the ‘non-smoking’ section and remember Missouri still has smoking allowed in public places. I feel like an outcast the moment I walk through the door with my furry boots and coat (a lady likes my coat and compliments me on it) and most everyone in here is white and over age 60 with John Deere sweatshirts or fishing caps. There is one black guy, at least. The waitress is prompt and friendly and has a southern twang and loads me up on carbs and sugar. I can’t each much, but it helps curb my hunger for awhile.
Back on the road, I breeze through Kansas City. So much different than my past experiences (I usually avoid it). No road construction and no rush hour! The suspension bridge is done and beautiful. There is a “Minnesota Avenue” exit. It feels better in Kansas. A bit of city driving makes me feel at home again. It’s still over 150 miles to Wichita and it gets dark around 5:30 pm (I gain about 20 minutes of light this far south). Out of the snow zone now, just brown grass, gray trees and overcast getting dark. Still cold, about 30 degrees. I pull into Emporia, Kansas around 6:30 pm to look for a hotel. About 550 miles down so far. A good day.
Emporia seems to be a good choice, I see signs saying ‘home of William Allen White.’ White was a renowned newspaper editor, politican and author (Feb 10, 1868 – Jan 29, 1944) He was also a leader of the Progressive movement. There is also a sign saying “National Teacher Hall of Fame.” The writers and teachers are with me! It is time to check in, update the blog and veg out watching cable TV with my own snacks to rest up for another long day of driving tomorrow and see what this town looks like in daylight.