Location: Chicago, IL
States Visited: Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois
After some much deserved friendtime and funtime in the wonderful city of San Francisco, it was time to make the long trip home. My last trip. This season has been the craziest on record, and I’ve managed to catch my fair share of nailbiters, upsets, and blowouts. When I started this project, I envisioned many of the moments. Aside from Michigan being held without a touchdown in my personal homecoming game, there’s not one thing I can complain about. So many fans have said to me, “Man, I wish I had your job.” I have not taken this experience for granted. But I was ready to be done. This trip has been simultaneously the most fulfilling and most exhausting experience I’ve ever had.
The timing of my west coast departure was dictated solely by the weather forecast. I had no interest in driving a Corolla over the Rockies in the middle of a blizzard. There appeared to be a clean window between snowstorms with a Wednesday morning departure. I beat most of the bay area traffic climbed over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and began my cruise through Nevada. After powering through some fatigue early in the day, I found myself feeling strong and cruising at a comfortable 88 mph. I said to myself, “Man if there’s a cop here, I’m definitely going to get a ticket at this pace.” Five miles later, Smokey stopped me in order to deliver said ticket. In my haste to beat the weather, I had gotten greedy and foolishly tempted fate. Ah, well, “Cost of doing business,” I decided.
A Gulf-Western company?
The sun began to set as I traversed the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. They are yet another stunning American scene to behold. In every direction, the land is impossibly flat for miles, but then surrounded by mountains. I desperately wanted to get out of the car and take in the view, but concerns over impending storms remained front of mind. By the time I arrived at the Great Salt Lake, night had fallen. Before I knew it, I was out of Utah, still feeling wide awake without any help from caffeine.
Driving along the southern Wyoming border, recurring billboards for a “family hotel” called Little America reminded me that this was the same road my brother and I took en route from Seattle to Dallas. That drive was six games into the season, but now feels like it happened two years ago. I can only imagine that I’m quite the changed man since then. Perhaps more gregarious and bold, but certainly more well traveled and appreciative of my own experiences. Somewhere between Salt Lake City and Cheyenne, I began reflecting on various moments from the trip; all the friends I’d seen, the new friends I’d made, the beautiful places I’d been. I began to get a little giddy, even giggling to myself just a bit. The trip was finally ending and it had been more worthwhile than I could possibly have imagined. Perhaps those thoughts gave me extra fuel because I powered well beyond my original goal for the day, not pulling over until a rest stop near Cozad, Nebraska. Having not slept in my car anywhere along the way, and given the fact that it was roughly 5:00 AM, central time, I figured it was high time. This probably would have been a lot more fun in the early part of the season when the temperature wasn’t hovering around 20 degrees. After two hours of bundled up sleep, I awoke to find blocks of ice where my feet should be. The fact that I was wearing shorts (more comfortable for driving) and rather thin socks (hadn’t given that one much thought) were likely to blame. I turned on my car and let it idle with the heat running, wasted gas be damned. At 8:30, I felt refreshed enough and pointed the Corolla eastward. Grandma claimed that I should be home in my apartment by 3:00, the thought of which being all I needed to push me the last 700 miles.
As I stared my last day, the roads appeared clear and relatively empty. Flashing signs warned of winter weather, but I figured that they were always in use during the winter months. I was wrong. Within 20 minutes, I caught up to an unexpected snowstorm that had made its way from Canada when the jetstream plunged southward. What followed was an absolute mess. Far from a blizzard, the weather channel would probably have declared the conditions “wintry mix.” The preponderance of ice could not be assuaged by the sand dispersed by Nebraska Public Works. Tires failed to grip, and cars spun out all across the heartland. I was genuinely terrified of losing control and winding up off the road or worse. Tractor trailers had no such concerns, cruising past me and other nervous autos at 65 mph. It was their turn to be the speed demons. The hope for improved weather on the other side of the Missouri river and the implementation of salt in Iowa kept me going. While the salt helped, the snow worsened and I immediately decided that I would stop at the first hotel I saw. 70 miles, three instances of losing contact with the road, and two and a half hours later, a Motel 6 appeared in West Des Moines. Exhausted and thankful for safe passage, I gladly paid for a room and ordered a pizza. It was 3:00 pm – the exact time I was supposed to have arrived home. In all, I probably saw 120 cars either wrecked or resting in ditches at odd angles, persuasive reminders that I had made the right choice. My only conclusion is that God wanted me to extend this road trip by one last day. I’m not complaining. I didn’t have to urgently be home for anything. Had I been a younger man, I may have been foolish enough to soldier on, hoping to make it back to my bed. My final leg passed uneventfully on Friday. I was still ahead of the storm that initially caused concern, and the unexpected one had already passed.
I kissed the ground when I arrived because that’s what you do when you’ve been gone for a long time and finally get to your home. After such a trek, I can only appreciate my home that much more. Not just my home in Chicago, but my home in America. I’m sure I’ll have some more profound things to say in the coming weeks, and will certainly share them here. For now, I’ll end this posting with a quote from the John Wayne western Red River: “There’s three times in a man’s life when he has a right to yell at the moon. When he marries, when his children come, and when he finishes a job he had to be crazy to start.” If that’s the case, then listen for me howling my head off tonight.