As you all know by now I am a proud Kansan even though I haven’t lived in the land of oz since I graduated from the University of Kansas and left with RM for California in the winter of 1984. We have deep roots in the heartland. RM and I have driven the over 1,000 miles from Fort Worth to Topeka and back again at least three times each year over a twenty-five year period since relocating to Texas in 1988. Some years we booked even more miles especially when caring for my ailing parents. We must have made this trip at least 100 times. You know a lot about a road when you travel it this regularly. On Friday, we did the gauntlet again to fetch C3 back to Texas for the summer break from the University of Kansas where she is attending college. While in the Topeka area, we were able to have dinner with a dear high school friend and her husband, attend a college graduation luncheon in honor of C2’s boyfriend, meet his wonderful extended family and sneak in a good visit with RM’s parents. We also touched base with our two nephews and gave C2 a very quick (too quick) hug as she remains in Kansas working and taking summer classes on the University of Kansas campus. All in a day and a half! These activities were all bookended by an eight hour, mind and butt-numbing car drive up I-35 on Friday and an eight hour return trip on Sunday through stormy weather.
This 500+ mile drive up to Topeka is basically a straight shot up through northern Texas, directly through the middle of Oklahoma and then an angle out of Wichita across The Flint Hills of Kansas to the northeastern section of the state. It is nearly all farmland and cattle country the entire length of the trip interrupted only twice by the small cities of OKC and Wichita. It is about 60 miles to the Texas – Oklahoma line from Fort Worth which is a highly congested stretch and often takes more than an hour to cross on a bad day – especially NASCAR week-end at Texas Motor Speedways. We have several diversionary routes we audible to in cases of extreme backups. At the Red River, the interstate traffic thins out quite a bit (mostly semitrailers carrying product up and back to Mexico) and we can cruise along at a pretty steady clip and make up time lost from the first part of the trip. Sometimes this leg of the trip is delayed as well by ongoing, multiple-year road construction projects (we’ve watched several from start to finish over the years) or the ever expanding casino business popping up overnight along the access roads on this stretch of interstate. We pass Ardmore, Paul’s Valley, Norman and Moore before reaching Oklahoma City about three and half hours into the journey (if we are lucky). I pack the travelers a picnic lunch and we almost always stop at our favorite rest stop near Edmond, Oklahoma, just on the northern side of Oklahoma City. We prefer this official OK tourism stop because of the super clean restrooms featuring a gigantic mirrored wall etched with the self-affirming line, “looking good in Oklahoma” that greets us as we dash in for a much needed break (note to self…take small sips), free, hot coffee to start the process all over again, as well as a nice picnic table located on a small grassy area (not quite a knoll) under a bit of shade where we can enjoy our sack lunch and watch other weary travelers as the enter and exit the visitor’s center. Unfortunately many times as we stop at this favored resting spot we experience a curse of biblical proportions. One year C3’s eyes swelled shut (probably the curse of the hay fever). Several trips in a row, the infamous Midwestern wind was blowing so hard that we had to stand with our backs to the mighty gale so we could finish nibbling our sandwich (otherwise the ham and cheese would be ripped from our hands and tossed into the adjacent Love’s Travel Stop). Forget about the potato chips on those days. Many times the deafening noise from the nearby interstate is a cacophony of horns beeping, air breaks squawking and emergency vehicle’s sirens blaring that we are forced to mime gestures to communicate our basic needs to one another. And this year… multiple tornadoes swept through this exact area just a few minutes after we hightailed to safety into southern Oklahoma. Those emergency weather notices on cell phones are life savers. If you haven’t already signed up for alerts, you can go to nixle.com to find out about the service. Our hearts go out to the community of Moore after this week’s devastating F-5 tornado. We have watched this community from the driver’s seat rebuild their community twice —they will do it again but with a heavy heart. I made a donation to disaster relief with the Red Cross today but it didn’t seem to be enough.
NSF storm chasers preparing to enter Oklahoma on Sunday around noon.
My duty on the drive through northern Oklahoma, where the terrain really flattens out and the interstate is a straight line of never-ending asphalt, is to poke RM every mile or so to keep him awake while driving. It is so tempting to nod off and I often do leaving my life in RM’s hands. We cross the Kansas line and pay the $9 toll fee to drive on the Kansas Turnpike and we begin to falsely believe that there isn’t much distance to go. We are always wrong…it tricks our brain each and every time. There is still three hours left to our final destination. We make a quick pit stop at the Belle Plain service center (outstanding gift shop located inside – tons of Dorothy and Wizard of Oz memorabilia) in southern Kansas and plow on. We skate around the outskirts of Wichita on the turnpike and head toward Topeka and the final leg of the trip. The toll way is nearly empty at this point and the views are far and wide with just a few heads of cattle dotting the grassland. Sometimes you can get a good whiff of manure and know you are in cattle country. The Flint Hills of Kansas is excellent grazing land for cattle but life for ranchers must be isolating and lonely. The Flint Hills is an area of east-central Kansas with a unique character. It is a high, wide, gently rolling landscape blanketed with the largest continuous area of tallgrass prairie left in the world. http://www.travelks.com/flint-hills/
When we pass through the tiny berg of Emporia – home to one of the best teaching colleges in the USA (per billboard) — we know we are an hour from completing the journey. Everyone in the car cleans up their personal space, checks their appearance in the rearview mirror, and leans forward a bit in their seat in anticipation of finally getting out of the car after a very long road trip. Keeping in mind we get to do it all again very soon but in reverse.