I woke up to a new day eager to set out, yet still feeling a sting of anxiety from the previous day’s mishap. As I passed through South Dakota on the third day, the snowfall took an intense turn for the worse. The winds picked up on the rolling plains and the snow started blowing sideways and quickly piling high. The temperature had dropped close to thirty degrees since I left Western Montana the previous day. It was a total whiteout driving through this unforgiving state. My entire visual field turned to white and various shades of greys. It was like being lost in a foggy dream, disorienting both to the mind and spirit. It felt like drifting between space and time, through some static purgatory of echoing remembrance. The greens and blues of nature were now but a distant memory, like the expanding universe in its great age had stretched apart the very atoms making up the bright, lush colors I once loved. I was submerged in the void and all too eager to see its end.
The interstate in some sections was not plowed on this dreary day. Only two small tire tracks were my guide to follow from the vehicles that had gone before me. It was not the kind of April drive I had had in mind. As the day progressed, I felt a mounting exhaustion from prolonged concentration and any time I exited my vehicle for gas or supplies, the thirty plus mph winds were brutal and unrelenting. The air felt like a thousand tiny daggers being plunged into every inch of exposed skin. My face and my hands felt like the ghost of their former selves, aching and numb. I’ve been up over 14,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado and hiked on Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainer in the winter, but I don’t ever remember being that cold and frigid to the bone, save when I went to Fairbanks, Alaska in the wintertime. That day was an exhausting trek that chilled me to the core, but even amidst the frigidity, the element of unease made it seem like that much more of an adventure. No adventure is comfortable anyways, and so while my body shook, my soul was all the while being filled with a warm mirth. Life wasn’t boring in that moment, and I was grateful. Surprises, even cold, inconvenient surprises are the heart of why I travel and explore when I can.
I hung my hat that night somewhere on the Iowa/Nebraska line, off of the interstate in the middle of the windy plains. The wind that night was still turbulent and stabbing. I guess this is the nature of the plains. My hotel was secluded and it felt like I was the only one there that night. It was an eerie feeling having a hotel to myself. Then again part of me wanted to dance down the halls naked since I could probably get away with it. This is where my mind goes in a pandemic I suppose. As bad and isolating as it can be, at least it can afford one the opportunity to frolic naked down the halls of some abandoned looking hotel in the middle of the Midwest plains.
I awoke early on the fourth day, ready to put miles behind me. Iowa/Nebraska quickly passed me by. Driving into and through Missouri, the concentration of trees, exits, and towns started to remind me of home, though it still lacked the mountain aesthetic of Chattanooga. I was ever the more eager to be back. By the fourth day, my patience and motivation for driving was running on empty. By the time that noon hit, I was feeling miserable. Exhausted and burnt out from driving with my back and legs constantly aching, it felt like the end of a marathon at this point. Music and podcasts had worn themselves out and nothing excited me but the prospect of making it home. I tried to reside in a meditative space, outside of thought or pain. I wanted to hollow out my mind so that I could just absent-mindedly push through at that point.
I passed through St. Louis and finally crossed the mighty Mississippi. Driving on I-64 in the southern part of Illinois made me extra cautious. I had passed through this area of the state before. It feels like a heavy police state because the interstate is littered with cops running radar. People are pulled over left and right for miles and miles. I knew I had to be extra careful, for I still didn’t know about my license status. By three o’clock I was already running on fumes and decided to call it quits in Mt Vernon, Illinois. The next day would be a short 4-5 hour drive to home. I was almost there!