Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Durham to Denver to Durham: ALL THE DRIVING

Let's cover all of the driving we did on this Colorado trip in one shot, shall we? This is a pretty long post, but I just felt like getting this stuff out of the way. (And this makes for a good excuse for me to not post anything tomorrow.)

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Day 1: Durham (G) to Memphis (B)

Nothing terribly exciting here. This was the first time I had ever driven I-40 between Knoxville and Memphis before, though, so we got to drive across the Cumberland Plateau, which was nice.

The Nashville-Memphis stretch progressively got flatter and more and more Central North Carolina-like, except with fewer pine trees and more other types of trees. A subtle difference. This is why I think north-south drives are more interesting than east-west drives: usually, you get more striking changes in scenery, terrain, and vegetation going north-south than you do east-west. ... Unless you go way out west, which we happen be doing on this trip. Yes!

Day 3: Memphis (B) to Wichita (C)

My first visit to Arkansas in 20 years! It didn't last particuarly long, but we did find this nice picnic area near the Arkansas/Missouri border.

Woohoo, the views are opening up a bit! I've been waiting for this.

So, on my trip itinerary, I wrote "Leave by 6 AM". But the night before, I said, "I don't think we really need to leave by 6." Yeah, we needed to leave by 6. Especially since I insisted we take the route through southern Missouri and Kansas instead of Oklahoma. By the time we got to Southeast Kansas, we were ready to call it quits, perhaps, but we still had three hours to go. So, we let Marla run around a Cherokee, KS high school baseball field for a bit. (I think school was actually in session at the time. Hope they didn't mind!)

Also delaying us: I insisted on taking several detours to county lines so I could color them in on my map. I call these brief excursions (usually five minutes or less) "county side trips": drive a mile or two off our route, cross the county line, turn around. The county side trips aren't shown on the map, but I did 16 of them during the course of the trip, most of those coming on the return trip when it was just me in the car. Given how infrequently we make it across the Mississippi, I think it was time well spent, even if it started getting tedious around the 11th or 12th one. Given that even getting one new county amounts to a five-hour round trip from home, when I can get a new county in less than five minutes, then hey, why not?

While in Wichita, I walked to the local Walmart (across the street from our hotel) and added a Wichita State hat to my college hat collection. On the return trip, I got a Northern Iowa hat, too. Missouri Valley Conference represent!

Day 4: Wichita (C) to Denver (D)

First stop: Greensburg, KS, destroyed by a tornado a few years ago, but mostly rebuilt since. A lot of the buildings are brand new, such as the grocery store, and the hospital (which looks really nice, at least from the outside), but there were still plenty of empty lots, too, where you could tell something used to be. We just stopped here to give Marla a little playground time, because we weren't sure how easy it would be to find another playground the rest of the way. (Finding local parks and playgrounds is a lot easier when you're actually driving through towns, and aren't just taking the interstate.) Interestingly, unlike most of the rest of Greensburg, the playground (visible in the back of the above picture) wasn't new; maybe it survived the tornado?

After Greensburg, it was lots of flat or rolling, wide open spaces, all the way to Denver. Oh yeah. We love this stuff, because it's different from what we normally see. Also, being weather weenies, it gives us some great views of clouds.

At some point in western Kansas, the "check engine" light came on. (The Honda manual calls it the "malfunction indicator" light, but whatever - it's the "check engine" light.) So once we got to Denver, I took it to a local shop, and they concluded it was either bad fuel (no need to fix anything), or dirty fuel injectors (for which they recommended a fancy fuel system cleaner, the type you just add to the fuel tank, which I bought). And, that was that - the light hasn't come back on since. The bigger car issue from the trip was the crack that developed in my windshield in Colorado at some point, but I didn't get that fixed until we got back home.

Speaking of states like Nebraska and Iowa, gas stations offer Octane 87 with no ethanol (E0), and Octane 89 with 10% Ethanol (E10), with the E10 sold at a 20-30¢ per gallon discount. E10 gives about the same fuel efficiency as E0, so given this choice, why does anybody buy E0? Do they just not know any better?

Day 8: Denver (D) to Mount Pleasant, IA (E)

I'm skipping over the drives we took locally in the Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder, but let the record show that during the course of this trip, I did drive the entirety of I-76, including the western most sections west of downtown Denver. That took some effort, since the Denver Airport is east of town, so I would have really gone out of my way to get the whole thing on the morning we left. Instead, I only had to go a little out of my way.

So, as well as Marla behaved in the car, keeping a toddler entertained in the car for that long is a lot of work, so we were all kind of glad that Amber and Marla were flying home instead. So, I dropped them off at the Denver airport Sunday morning, and they flew home by way of Dallas, arriving home between 3 and 4 PM. I think I was still between Lincoln and Omaha at that point. Flying saves you a little bit of time if you're going 600 miles, but if you're going 2,000 miles, it saves you a lot of time. Flying is way less fun, though.

(A very dark Interstate 76 in Colorado.)

Now, about this return route I took: I considered a lot of route possibilities, including a route that took me through Texas. I concluded that statistically speaking, the route mapped above would get me the most new counties in the least amount of time, and also give me two completed interstates while I was at it (I-76 in Colorado, and I-72 in Illinois). Taking the direct route - I-70 and I-64 to Charleston, WV - would have only given me 15 new counties; this one gave me 70-something. So, there you go. Now you know why I decided to zigzag my way across Illinois.

(Note: I-72 officially ends one mile east of I-57 in the middle of Champaign, not right at I-57, so that took a little extra effort, too. Statistically-motivated driving isn't easy!)

But before I could get anywhere near Champaign, I had to drive the length of Nebraska and Iowa. They say Nebraska is boring, and they're right, if you only see I-80. I-80 follows the Platte River valley, which except for perhaps the far eastern areas, is by far the flattest and least interesting part of the state. Whoops. The weekend we spent in Nebraska in 2008 proved that there are definitely scenic parts of the state; they're just not along I-80. Iowa was actually more hilly and more forested than I thought it would be, though, which was kind of disappointing in a way.

(I think this picture was taken in Nebraska, but who knows? ... Actually, I can't lie. I know it's Nebraska. But only because of the timestamp.)

So...let's talk weather. There have been a lot of deadly tornadoes over the last few weeks, so it's easy to forget which tornado struck on which day and such. Anyway, today (May 19) was the Shawnee, OK tornado that crossed I-40 and overturned a few trucks and such. If I had chosen a route that took me south to I-40 by way of Oklahoma City, then I would have driven by Shawnee...about when that tornado hit, give or take.

The Moore, OK EF5 tornado was the following day (May 20). But even though I was far from Oklahoma, I had a little bit of excitement of my own; Des Moines was given a tornado warning about an hour after I passed through (although I don't think an actual tornado was reported), and a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued for the storm pictured below near Mount Pleasant, IA, which gave me a good excuse to stop for the night.

If I wanted to attempt to make the drive in two days instead of three, though, I likely needed to keep going for another two hours. I was never going to make it all the way home from here. Amber and I have driven all the way home from Wisconsin (15 hours) and Texas (20 hours) before, but when it's just me driving, I need to take longer breaks. About 12 hours of actual driving in one day appears to be my limit.

Day 9: Mount Pleasant, IA (E) to Pikeville, KY (F)

Hey, look! It's I-72. Woo.

Interstate 72 starts in Hannibal, Missouri, noteworthy for being the home of Mark Twain. As a result, pretty much everything in town is named after him, including the local discount motel. (Rated 8/8, and by that I mean that out of 8 reviews, all 8 say "terrible"! Maybe it's good that I stayed in Mount Pleasant instead of Hannibal, because I might have tried my luck with the Mark Twain Motor Inn.)

I didn't take many pictures of Illinois or Indiana, because, well, meh. (Actually, I shouldn't say that; southern Indiana is pretty scenic. There's also the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, which we're taking Marla to as soon as she starts doubting his existence. If Santa Claus wasn't real, why would they have named a town after him?)

But hey, here's downtown Louisville, surprisingly free of traffic given that this was at 4:30 PM on a Monday:

I got to the Eastern Kentucky town of Pikeville around 9 PM, with five to six hours to go. I briefly considered "energy drinking it" and trying to go the rest of the way, but, nah. As for Pikeville, it's exactly what you would expect an old coal mining town in the middle of Appalachia to be. The drives in Eastern Kentucky are really pretty, though, which is something we'll have to keep in mind.

Day 10: Pikeville, KY (F) to Durham, NC (G)

I only had five or six hours to go, but I figured, I have the whole day, so why not take a detour through two counties in Southwest Virginia (Giles, VA and Radford, VA) that have long eluded me? Done!

And, that's it. Home! Until the next one.

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