The real reason is that my boots were restless.
The ostensible reason that Biff and I chucked a couple of bags into the Silver Snail, gassed her up, and rolled all the windows down because the AC doesn't work is that Asymmetrical Press's Wordtasting Tour was coming as far east as Denver, and I was pretty jazzed at the idea of meeting some of the authors Asym assigned me to edit, as we'd only communicated via email til that point. Babysis and her fiancée had also just moved to Loveland, not even an hour from Littlesis and her husband in Denver, and an old friend had just settled in Boulder, which was also the scene of Biff's big draw: one of the best parkour gyms in the world. So really there was a whole slew of reasons to go to Denver.
But my boots, you see - they missed the road. They're peeling and frayed and still tinged with volcanic ash and barely recovered from the constant dampness of the river and the jungle, and they miss it all. And even though it's summer now and a little too warm for leather boots most of the time, they've been talking to my sneakers and giving them ideas.
So Denver it was.
We planned a good week to meander over, driving mostly in the morning and evening to avoid the heat. No prearranged reservations - we tossed the tent in the trunk and, with a quick glimpse at the offerings from Airbnb, that we could safely wing it. With The Flopster safely deposited at my parents' house and already making friends with her two cats, we set off.
And then suddenly it was morning and we were nearing Memphis.
We stopped for breakfast, wifi, and a quick traveller's toilette in a little cafe - it's amazing how much more awake you feel when you know you look a little brighter-eyed and a little less bushy-headed. There was a likely room for the night in Jacksonville, a few hours away, and we decided we'd mosey there and find a good spot to bum around until it was available at five. On the way we glimpsed a tiny sign for the Louisiana Purchase State Park and swung in for a quick stretch.
It ended up feeling like a much longer wait than it was - neither of us had snatched more than a couple of hours of sleep in the car and every park we tried, no matter how deliciously shady and pleasant it looked from a distance, was inevitably swarming with tiny flies.
We didn't even wait until five - at quarter-til, we were knocking on our host's door - well, Biff was knocking; I was pouting and melting in the car - and thanking all the gods when he was home and halfway ready for our arrival. What a lucky choice - he turned out to be a stupendous musician and avid traveller who spent not nearly long enough in Antigua, and the three of us had a long-lingering chat sitting on the floor of his living room - we were on the verge of leaving for dinner and he needed to practice before getting to sleep for an early morning, but none of us wanted to break the connection.
The next morning started before the sun, but even so we missed saying goodbye to our host, who was already up and gone. It was a cool, clear day, and after a few hours of driving the back roads with the windows down, we stopped and lingered long over breakfast at June's Cafe - 75-cent coffee, eggs any style at 70 cents apiece, and the local breakfast club in full swing, with the wall behind their table covered in photographs of the same characters chatting and laughing over coffee and biscuits through the years.
The better part of that day was blissful - windows down, music up and pouring over us like the cool breeze rippling the rolling fields of wildflowers surrounding us. )
And then we got to Kansas.
I was oathbound to an errand there or I would have just kept driving another full night and day to get it over with as quickly as possible, but I'd promised my mother I'd stop in and see the family. And I kept my promise.
To be fair, the countryside surrounding the Ipsens' old stomping grounds (or, given that they were of reserved Nordic stock, more like demure, measured pacing grounds) was just about the loveliest I've seen on any drive through Kansas, mostly because there were actually noticeable changes in elevation and trees and other features that are distinctly absent from the land on either side of I-40. That drive up to the wilder loveliness of the backwoods (backfields?) part of the state, bookended by two visits to one of the best cafes I've ever visited (Arrow Coffee Co. in Manhattan) because we loved it that much the first time, was just about perfect. My memory of the rest of Kansas is an oppressively hot blur of flatness - other than the mornings. The mornings are stunning. Once the clock turns nine or so, though, not so much.
We'd hoped to make it all the way to Colorado that day, but by dinnertime Biff was heroically but barely holding it together while I lay limp in the passenger seat, sweating about as much as I was weeping, helplessly furious at the heat and utterly sapped. That's the moment that convined me my next road trip will NOT be in a car with no AC. Or at least not in the summer. And definitely not through Kansas. A little nondescript motel was blessedly close, and we collapsed there as soon as we walked in the door.
The next day, we made no more detours - it was Denver or bust, starting with the sun and mainlining coffee for as long as it took. It was a little cooler than the previous day, with a few showers and the constant threat of more rain in the air. Just as we began to get within sight of Denver, we saw the beast: a massive storm pouring buckets down onto the hapless commuters, the very definition of "lowering" as we drove into its mouth, white-knuckled, hazard lights blaring.
But as always happens, the storm ends and the sun returns.