Epic Road Trip, Part I: Huskerland and the People’s Republic

Yellowstone Lake, located (appropriately enough) in Yellowstone National Park.
A hint of what’s to come later in this blog series: Yellowstone Lake, located (appropriately enough) in Yellowstone National Park.

Like many of you, I love a good road trip. In the past decade, I’ve taken four memorable road trips around this unbelievable country of ours. This July, I added a fifth epic trip when my wife and I ventured out west to Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. Our mission was to hit three national parks and spend some time with my sister-in-law and her husband in Boulder. This blog marks the first in a series of posts about our adventures. Come along with me as we encounter a supervolcano, lightning strikes, and of course, bison.

(As always with my blogs, names have been omitted to protect the innocent and guilty alike. For the sake of smoother reading, my wife’s sister and her husband will herein be referred to as “Mr. and Mrs. Boulder.” My wife will be referred to as, well, “my wife”).

Day 1
Starting Point: Eastern Iowa
Destination: Boulder, Colorado
Distance: 800+ miles

What better day to start a road trip than the Fourth of July? Road trips are as American as apple pie and dishonest politicians. After listening to the neighbor kids splash and scream in their pool all night, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 3:00 am. Do you know who’s up at 3:00 am? Truckers and meth heads. That’s it. No one else. After hitting the snooze button at least twice, I dragged myself out of bed, showered to wake up, and then stumbled into the kitchen. When you’re about to embark on a long drive somewhere, you want to make sure you’re operating at a peak performance level. So I ate a breakfast of champions: a leftover burger and fries from McDonald’s.

We loaded the car and took off sometime around 4:00 am. I don’t remember the exact time because A) it was too early to be precise with numbers, and B) it felt like it took an eternity to load all of my wife’s stuff. For comparison’s sake, here’s what each of us brought on the trip:

Me: one medium-size piece of luggage and my laptop bag.

My wife: one large piece of luggage, plus two or three good-sized bags stuffed with stuff, plus a bag full of shoes, plus a makeup bag, plus a blanket, plus four pillows of various shapes and sizes.

Remember the Bible story where God told Noah to bring two of every thing? Well, some women interpret that story literally when they pack.

After doing a quick run-through to see if we forgot anything, we said goodbye to our cat Bear and took off. Since my wife was still half-zonked, I took the first leg of the journey, which involved driving across our home state of Iowa. I don’t care what anyone says about Interstate 80 being a boring drive through Iowa; I love it. You might see only rows and rows of corn and soybeans. But I see fields of lush, green, thriving crops that feed the world. Once you’ve witnessed dead areas of land where nothing can grow, you appreciate those “boring” corn fields a little more.

We made a driver switch at Omaha. I napped all the way to Kearney, except for a brief moment when I glanced at the atlas and realized that Nebraska has two abutting counties named Cherry and Hooker. Coincidence? I think not.

We stopped at the Great Platte River Road Archway in Kearney to stretch our legs. The Archway spans 300 feet wide over I-80 and weighs 1,500 tons. It’s a sight to see, but there was no way we were gonna fork over $12 apiece to take the self-guided audio tour. We spent somewhere in the neighborhood of five bucks on a shot glass and that was it.

Just like the arch in St. Louis... except it's in Nebraska... and closer to the ground... and it costs $2 more.
Just like the arch in St. Louis… except it’s in Nebraska… and closer to the ground… and it costs $2 more.

Before we go any further on the journey, I need to explain something about my wife. She collects shot glasses. Lots of shot glasses. Like 300 of them (pre-trip total). It’s a fascinating collection that encompasses a majority of the states and 11 foreign countries. She has only two rules for adding a shot glass to her collection: it must come from the location named on the shot glass and it must be obtained either by herself or by someone she knows. So for example, an Oregon shot glass counts if it was purchased in Oregon by someone she knows, but not if it was purchased for 88 cents at a Goodwill in Des Moines. This trip, like our previous ones, would become a shot glass bonanza.

I also need to mention that a crazy event was taking place at the Archway: a superhero 5K dash, which ended shortly before we arrived. You don’t know the meaning of “surreal” until you walk through a crowd of Supermans, Green Lanterns, and Flashes. I didn’t realize that the state of Nebraska possessed this much spandex. The whole spectacle was pretty funny, but I wish that some of these masked avengers would have had the superpower of picking out appropriate-sized clothing. I noticed a caped crusader waiting in line for ice cream, and let’s just say I saw way too much bat crack.

Aside from watching a drunk guy get thrown into a squad car at an Ogallala gas station, Nebraska was uneventful. This was my maiden voyage inside the Cornhusker State, even though I had previously stepped in all the bordering states on previous trips. Everyone warned me beforehand that Nebraska was ultra-flat and uber-dull. However, just like Iowa, I honestly had no beef with Nebraska’s landscape. Sure, I slept through the first 175 miles of Huskerland. But I still enjoyed Nebraska and its calm horizons. After hitting the Colorado border, I took over driving responsibilities again. My wife had conquered the entire Nebraska leg of the trip, which marked the first time she had ever driven the whole way across a state.

We pulled into the People’s Republic of Boulder by early evening. It was a great feeling to see Mr. & Mrs. Boulder, and a great relief to know we had finished our 12+ hours on the road. After bringing in my one bag and my wife’s numerous bags, we caught our breath, caught up with Mr. and Mrs. Boulder, then headed out to Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder for some nightlife.

I cast an eternal curse on your wretched soul..... ooooooh is that a fiver?
“I cast an eternal curse on your wretched soul….. ooooooh is that a fiver?”

There’s something you need to understand about Boulder. It’s jokingly referred to as the “People’s Republic of Boulder” because it’s, well, different. Writer Florence Williams describes the town as “rigorously conformist in its alternative way” (translation: if you want to fit in, you better eat organic, ride a bike, and sip lattes from a biodegradable cup).

Pearl Street Mall has its share of your garden variety ped mall hippies, plus numerous street performers whose primary goal in life is to appear on “America’s Got Talent.” Strolling around Pearl Street Mall feels like walking into an open-air Abercrombie & Fitch with a whiff of weed smoke in some areas.

This man can squeeze himself into a box, and he said he hopes to appear on "America's Got Talent." I don't know how one goes about discovering that they can stuff themselves into a box, but hey, he does it well.
This man can squeeze himself into a box… Howie Mandel, get your buzzer ready.

The highlight of the night was a fantastic meal at a busy Mediterranean place (Half-price appetizers? Count me in!) I did my part to combat vegetarianism by downing some mighty fine chicken wings and lamb kebabs. The evening ended with quality entertainment: a tripped-out guy being arrested by three of Boulder’s finest. I found myself mentally comparing their restraint techniques to those of their brethren in Ogallala.

Thus ended the first day of our epic road trip. Stay tuned for Part II in my series, which will include stories of a far-out dude named Earthy Man and our trek north to a little cabin in the Potato State.


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