Editor’s note: The following is the second in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the Feb. 10-16, 2010, issue.
By Jonathan Hicks
On our first night, we would make it as far as Kansas City. Certainly, it was not the vast wilderness we had dreamed of, but still adorned with literally miles of holiday lights, there was a certain calm that came as we enjoyed our downtown dinner.
Our time in the city would be short. Though we still did not know exactly which places we needed to reach, we knew this was not one of them. We woke early and continued. Our road map had already begun to lose its creases…something about that realization seemed perfect. If maps still have perfect fold lines, perhaps we aren’t doing everything we can with life.
After breakfast with friends in Lawrence, we spent the next day driving the width of Kansas. The Flint Hills were frozen solid. They don’t outwardly compete with mountains or canyons, and they are certainly less likely to be the subjects of postcards or calendars. Still, they have a subtle yet undeniable beauty that I found endearing. If mountains are bold, then the Flint Hills were confident. Land of the bison, they are not showy. They are what they are, with nothing to prove. People could learn a lot from these hills.
With no set agenda, we had time to visit as many random roadside attractions as we desired. This would slow our progress toward Colorado, but when the only commitments you have to keep are with yourself, there is no need to offer apology.
Hoping to avoid inclement weather, we would zig-zag a bit, having lunch in Denver just a few hours prior to dinner in Laramie, Wyo. We visited national wildlife refuges and visited with infrequently-seen relatives. There are few better ways to spend your day than connecting with wildlife and family.
Of course, there are inherent challenges to a trip such as this. First, there is the potentially troublesome winter weather. There is often a need to alter your timing and/or destination. This alone is enough reason to abandon any efforts to plan. Second, when traveling in tandem with your significant other and spending long stretches in a car, effective communication skills become critically important. Stiff from uncomfortable seats or pining for a restroom, both parties can be tired or frustrated at any given moment. If you cannot speak politely and discuss opposing viewpoints respectfully, you would be better off traveling solo, because you won’t survive long with your mate. There are no greater assets than patience and consideration. I’d sooner leave behind my backpack or first aid kit than show up for a trip like this with an arrogant or sarcastic attitude.
So we stopped in college towns, drank incredible local beer, laughed at ridiculous jokes, and marveled at the scenery. We took part—and succeeded!—in a day-long search to find wild moose in north-central Colorado and spent New Year’s Eve in a bustling ski town.
Yet, from the day we departed, our one certainty was that the crux of the trip would be Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. We crossed over the state border the morning of New Year’s Day; it was an event that I met with surprising trepidation. For years, I had dreamed of visiting Abbey’s country. Could it live up to my expectations? Was the wilderness I had heard so much about still intact? As signs for Moab insisted we were drawing ever closer, I wondered if I could handle such disappointment. Abbey believed this place belonged to him. He called it his heaven, and it made him believe in higher powers. At Arches, he was home, safe in a cloak of adventure, passion and life. If Arches belonged to Abbey, could it be mine as well?
Suddenly and with little warning, I saw a simple, understated sign; the entrance to the park. Prepared or not, the moment of truth had arrived.
From the Feb. 17-23, 2010 issue