Toto, are we in Kansas? Part One

A couple of months ago, I journeyed from my home in West Virginia to the off roading mecca of the wheeling world – Moab, Utah.

For you non-wheelers out there, by “off-road” I mean 4-wheel drive vehicles which range from a variety of Jeep styles to something like ours, a 1993 Toyota 4-runner. Now some vehicles, like the Jeep Rubicon, require little to no ‘extras’ and can manage most trails straight from the dealer’s showroom floor; but many of us have done extensive modifications to assist in their ability to climb rocky ledges or ford deep mud holes and shallow creeks.

Our rig was christened the ‘Honey Badger’ because she’s “…bad ass”! If you don’t know the reference, check out this YouTube clip about “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger”: http://youtu.be/4r7wHMg5Yjg

The Honey Badger
The Honey Badger

Honey Badger don’t care, she just growls up and over whatever obstacles are in her path. And mud? She doesn’t give a shit, Honey Badger glides right on through, she’s bad ass. So as you can see, the Honey Badger is a character in her own right.

But that’s another story.

Together with my husband, Doug, we coordinated with a small group of fellow enthusiasts to rendezvous in Moab and from there, proceed into Canyonlands National Park for 4 fun filled days driving on wilderness trails, spending our nights at designated ‘primitive’ campsites. And since everyone was travelling from different corners of the US under varied time constraints, we were on our own as to how (not when) we would actually get there.

So in typical “us” fashion, Doug & I ooo’d and aah’d over our vast possibilities. We reasoned, that – well, we had to drive our rig all the way out there and back anyhow, and time was not an issue. We would be crossing some of America’s most amazing landscapes – just think about all the wondrous sights waiting for us to behold! Untold adventure lay around every corner and over each hill.

Thus, we chose to schedule a whole month, give or take, for our grand adventure and plotted our way across the map. But we decided to leave our return route home ‘up to the gods’, excited at the prospect of being free like gypsies, driving whichever way the wind blew.

As a writer, I rejoiced even more at the thought of all that fodder I could glean, magical ingredients to stir into my cauldron out of which stories would leap and characters unfold. I eagerly packed various writing implements and electronics so I could record all my observations and thoughts. And I wasn’t disappointed. I have over 2,000 pictures, a bunch of video, maps, guides, a journal brimming with potential, and more importantly – personal experience.

But that’s another story.

Our itinerary took us from WV, south and west through Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona; before turning north at Flagstaff, then the Grand Canyon, and ultimately Utah where we met the rest of our gang. Our wagon train consisted of five vehicles total and together, we headed to the ‘Island in the Sky’ visitors center where we began our overland trek through desert and canyon.

Use of the Park’s backcountry trails require strict adherence to a ‘what you carry in, you carry out’ policy and has literally, no facilities other than a “vault toilet” (no water) in each designated camping area. Almost no cell services either – or 4G – or any other electronic connection to the outer world.

Here’s a picture of our first campsite. The Colorado River flows between the greenery, a stone’s throw from our tent. My brilliant husband installed a power inverter in our truck which provided us with electricity to blow up our air mattress. Ok, I AM a princess you know.

Hard Scrabble Camp
Hard Scrabble Camp

The whole place is like a desolate, American “outback”. Picture any Wild West movie, like the ones John Wayne and Clint Eastwood star in; it looks just like that – only no people, no towns, and 10x bigger canyons with dirt trails carved into the red rock walls and across the sunbaked desert floor in 111 degree heat. Sound terrible? You would be mistaken, it was awesome.

Island in the Sky District
Island in the Sky District

But that’s another story.

What I really want to talk about is something that I saw on the journey home; which kind of puzzles me, too – because out of all the wondrous, immense, and beautiful sights I had witnessed, I just can’t get Kansas out of mind.

After spending several days in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, we headed toward Kansas with the idea of taking Route 50 home. The Honey Badger was acting very unhappy; she couldn’t get above 30mph when climbing steep mountain roads, even with her pedal to the metal. And after descending to the flat, high desert of eastern Colorado, she strained to reach even a mild 50mph. There was no way she could compete with the crazy traffic of a major Interstate like I-70. Folks were already passing us, shaking an angry fist that we were driving too slow even for the slow lane, so we figured a picturesque drive on Rt. 50 would be more amenable to our limited speed.

At this point I should mention that we doctored Honey Badger every which way we could, even had her in a mechanic’s shop in Moab seeking a proper diagnosis, all to no avail. She had power, steadily plodded along, but choked on any attempt for highway speed.

This is how we ended up, smack dab, in the middle of Kansas.

To be continued…

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