Solitary road trips have their own magic, especially road trips off to a whole new life - well, in my case, a temporary return to a previous beloved life.
I packed the car on Monday, taking remarkably little for my five months away: a carton of books for my Rousseau class, a carton of books for my Children's Literature class, a carton of books and papers for my own scholarly and creative projects. I laid my clothes on the backseat of the car. I tucked my stuff rabbit, Ruby, into the seatbelt on the front passenger seat. My book-on-CD, the delightfully smart and funny Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, was ready to pop into the CD player. The state maps I had gotten from AAA the last time I made this same drive were handy for consultation.
Tuesday morning I slipped away at 5, in the pre-dawn darkness. I couldn't bear the thought of little dog Tank leaping up at me hoping for a walk, or my darling Kataleya holding up her arms to Mimsie for a cuddle. Better to make my getaway without the wrenching pain of a face-to-face goodbye. I scraped a little ice off my car and was on my way, listening, as I did last time, to the CD Gregory made for me years ago of all my favorite songs, everything from Natalie McMaster's fiddle music to Edith Piaf to Dolly Parton ("Here You Come Again") and Gladys Knight ("Midnight Train to Georgia"). It's wonderful to put the pedal to the medal to Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" and Jo Dee Messina's "Heads Carolina, Tails California."
After an hour it was time to turn off I-70 to my chosen alternative, Route 36, which is just two lanes all across the Eastern Plains of Colorado and the northern edge of Kansas, as well as in eastern Illinois and western Indiana. Here you see the real America. Alas, for three harrowing hours, the real America I drove through was ice-and-slush-covered, totally deserted, with no gas stations or any sign of human habitation for a hundred miles (the one town is named "Last Chance"). Although the posted speed limit (insofar as you could read the signs, covered as they were from overnight blowing snow) was 65, I was lucky to do 40, holding so tightly to the steering wheel with both hands to keep from losing control of the car that my bad left shoulder ached. But it did get light finally, and I reached Idalia, Colorado (population, per 2010 census, of 88), and there was a cafe! Where I ordered two eggs over easy, hashbrowns, and homemade cinnamon-raisin bread toast! And when I left, the roads were somehow bare and dry, as if the terrifying last three hours had never happened.
The rest of the drive was easy. I had my book to listen to, so the miles flew by. I stopped for lunch in Belleville, Kansas, at another little cafe. I had dinner with my friend Mike Cadden, a super-smart children's literature scholar, and his wonderful wife, LuAnn, a children's librarian, and sweet daughters, Rose and Lily, in their house on Lovers Lane (named after the Eugene Field poem), a house that radiates the love of this loving family. The next day I had a shorter drive, more like eight hours instead of the previous day's eleven (which should have been ten, if it hadn't been for those early a.m. road conditions). I finished Where'd You Go, Bernadette? with satisfied tears in my eyes. Then I listened to my Indiana music, a haunting CD of original piano compositions by my friend April Armstrong (she's not from Indiana, but her CD The Pink Rose was the soundtrack of my last two years here). I saved until I crossed the Indiana state line the song that of all songs is most Indiana to me, "Wish I May" by Carrie Newcomer. And as soon as I reached Indiana, there it was, a covered bridge!
So much of what I love is in Colorado: most of my family, friends of 23 years, my church, two writing groups, a thriving writing community, stunning mountains, sunshine every day.
So why do I feel that when I get to Indiana, I've reached home?