Last night was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride compared to the plain vanilla day of travel though the heartland.
Not long after crossing the Missouri River into Iowa, I see a “Camping” sign. I exit from I-80 and drive around a hilly, curvy road to the prettiest little county park. It looks like a city park, but is located out in the countryside, near corn fields and in a shady glen. The park has a small lake with campsites spread around the lake and on the hill sides. I stop at the entrance station and discover it is only $10/night to stay at this little Garden of Eden.
Tango and I jump out once I find the perfect spot. I feed him and we walk around a bit. I settle into my chair to write One Sleep, about the previous 24 hours. Soon after, we hear a loud and unsettling BOOM.
For Two Sleep, I am in the middle of that long blue line of serve weather
That darn storm catches up to us, and within minutes we are in the middle of loud thunder and lightening, followed by torrential rains. It rains, rains, rains, rains. The rain is so hard that it sounds like hail on the metal roof of the van. Normally I love rain. However, the situation begins to feel like the time I was in a flash flood at a state park, in WY.
Like tonight, the thunder came up quickly, followed by similar rains. That night, from inside the van, I saw the water start to pool up around the tires. Then I saw the water start to flow underneath. Then the flowing water got deeper. Finally I dove into the driver’s seat and drove up the steep road and out of the gully (odd they put a campsite there). I waited uphill until the rains and flash flood stopped. It was dark so I took a flashlight and walked back into the gully (a couple had also evacuated and walked back down with me). Where the water had gone through, I found my camp stove, table, and other gear. The couple lost a generator and other stuff. We were all okay.
So, tonight I watch puddles form under the tires. I flash back. The rain comes down even harder. I try to tell myself, “you are not in Wyoming anymore”. I think about the dark, rich, humus-laden Iowa soil, which should just sponge up this rain.
The puddles under the tires are 2” deep when I decide to vacate. I don’t see any flowing water, but the flashback is getting the best of me. It is nearly dark now, but I find I-80. Too bad, because as soon as I crawl on, the rain intensifies. The highest speed on my windshield wipers does not completely clear the windows. Semi trucks steam by at full speed, spraying the windows so I cannot see at all for a few seconds. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I grip the steering wheel and go slowly.
About 10 miles and 10 years later, I see a sign for a Flying J Truck Stop. Another Flying J, at I-80 and I-25 in Cheyenne, is my favorite stop when going to and from Colorado so I feel comforted by this development. I exit and am relieved that I have to go uphill, out of the river valley to reach the Flying J. I pull up and sit still for a while. The rain slows down a bit. Since I haven’t eaten dinner yet I go inside. All I find is a Taco Johns. I study the menu and decide on a chicken taco, about the only semi-healthy thing I can find.
Back in the van I sit, eat, pray, think . What next? The rain continues, slowing and intensifying on and off for a long time. There is nothing else around other than a convenience store and some industrial warehouse buildings. What is a gal to do? Back on the Interstate? No! Camp? Not likely since I don’t see any campgrounds. Motel? None.
I look around. At the far end of the parking lot I see a nice Jayco travel trailer. While I am sitting there watching, a newer Mini Winnie, Class C, pulls up near the Jayco. No one gets out of either RV, meaning that is where they are staying the night. This is called boondocking or dry camping. And, where 2 or more are gathered, it is going to be safe. RVers are always instant family should they meet. I circle around the lot and situate the van in between Jayco and Winnie. I move to the back of the van and snuggle in with Tango.
Rain rain, rain. I am tired of the sound, so I pull out my Kindle and headphones. I turn on my Audible book, Here, There, and Everywhere by William Heat Least-Moon. The next thing I know, it is 5 AM. We sleep like little babies even though Tango somehow nudges me during the night so that I am half off the mattress by the time I awaken. He is cozy and comfy right in the middle of the bed.
I gas up, get coffee, and hit the road by 5:30 AM. What a pleasant, early start. We are out of Achilles Heel. As I drive and observe, it occurs to me that the people of Iowa are quite nice. The vending machines at a rest stop are a fundraiser for the blind. I buy three waters. They have free maps on display, and a nifty little information area that educates me about “Misunderstood Backyard Birds.”
Back on I-80 after that stop I start a little game: I try to come up with humorous, rhyming names for things I do and see along the way. My favorites are:
- Pee and Flee for “rest stop”
- Huff and Puff, for the process of walking Tango after he has been cooped up in the van
- McRat and Fat, for fast food restaurants
- Stare and Scare for the way the Highway Troopers look at ya.
- Stay and Play for the gentlemen’s clubs
I also find amusement in the names of the smaller rivers in Iowa. First I cross Raccoon River, then the Skunk River. I wonder who was in charge of naming rivers in Iowa? I am guessing they came up to a river and saw a raccoon, so it became Raccoon River. Ditto at Skunk River. Not too imaginative.
Map Showing Raccoon and Skunk Rivers
Then, I cross the relatively puny Guernsey Deep River. Now, I can get with this name. Obviously, a Guernsey got into this river and the river-naming people who were lurking nearby observed that it is about as deep as a Guernsey’s hiney, hence, Guernsey Deep River. As a modern-day Annie Oakley, I have come to rely on these practical units of measurement. A few weeks ago we had snow as deep as a dog’s hiney in Wyoming. Such measurements are surprisingly accurate. In fact, I would bet my bottom dollar that Guernsey Deep River is as deep as a Guernsey’s hiney.
Later I Google “Guernsey cow” and learn they are nice looking as far as cows go, but not nearly as cute as our Black Angus prime steers in WY. What do you think? Do you prefer the reddish Guernsey Girl or a Black Angus steer that is polite enough to come pre-marked?
Anyway, I get through all of Iowa in this happy mood, cross the Mississippi into Illinois, and rack up 350 miles before noon. The total now exceeds 1000 miles. If I wanted, I could be in Chicago for a late lunch with my brother or at mom’s for a late dinner (about 350 miles to go). However, since I will camp for the next three nights on Lake Erie, I decide that 3 Sleep will include a hotel stop, a nice long shower, and a glass of wine.
What the heck….Winter Storm Achilles on May 1???