I know it may sound weird, but I have been waiting most of my life to visit the mid-mid-west. None of this Indiana stuff, I’m talking tumbleweeds and tornadoes. I grew up wanting to be a storm chaser (who didn’t?) and was always entranced by images of sublime, if not terrifying, storm clouds and lightning blasting through the sky. Being the New Yorker I am, I’ve never been surrounded by anything but rolling hills and mountains. I wanted to see another side of Earth; Iowa and Nebraska did not disappoint.
Waking up in the same Motel 6 I was complaining about last time was a bit of a relief, it meant we could leave it. After shaking the dirt, mites and god knows what else out of the bags, we were more than ready to hit the road. A few miles later we hit two major milestones in our traveling adventures: the first state neither of us has been too, Iowa, and our first view of the legendary Mississippi River. It’s moments like these that make me want to slap the folks who question why we chose to drive.
A spot of coffee from a hippie hole in the wall was just what we needed. Named Redbarn, I think my college dorm was bigger than this place, but it was the most happening spot in Davenport at such an early hour, and damn were those chorizo burritos on point.
Iowa is not exactly what you think. Is it flat? Sure, but not as flat as you would guess. It felt like every square inch was farmland, but it had miniature rolling hills that went on for miles and miles. My only regret was that we didn’t stop at the world’s largest truck stop, complete with barber shop and tax prep services…..next time.
After blasting by the cornfields and immaturely giggling at the “Kum and Go” gas stations, it was time for our first and last major stop of the day, Omaha.
Omaha is almost at the dead center of the nation and has always been a major trading and transit hub for the country. It’s a clean and bright city, not to mention the tallest thing the eye can see for miles and miles. After walking through the sparkling streets on a brilliantly sunny day, we found a tap house that served local brews. It was my quest to have a beer made in every state we visited. Eva got a Bloody Mary with, fittingly, a black angus cheeseburger on top.
Omaha, if not famous for anything else, is the name that quarterback Peyton Manning chose to yell in order to throw off rival teams. We couldn’t help screaming it ourselves as we wandered through the town. It’s a quiet and pleasant town, and in a lot of ways, looking back, felt like the gateway to the West. After Omaha the land turned desolate and amazingly flat. I couldn’t get over how much sky I could see relative to the horizon.
Nebraska is a loooooong state. Trains here are so long you can’t make out where they begin or end. The sad shadow of factory farming can be seen (and smelled) from the interstate, but the speed limit is so high (a thrilling 75 MPH) everything is a bit of a blur. The seemingly unending agricultural land gives way to the foothills of the west in all of their haunting and lifeless glory. The foothills are a welcome sight. They’re an indication we’re creeping up on Colorful Colorado.
When we finally saw the CO welcome sign a sense of elation came over both of us. We clapped and cheered and yelled when we hit the border. It felt like we were home. Eva couldn’t have been more excited as we trekked our way up the winding road to Estes Park where our friends live. If only she knew about the ring at the bottom of my hiking pack.