In "Priorities"I told you about the problems we had with our van as we passed Amarillo. I thought the adventure would be over before it really began. We sputtered to a gas station with the engine misfiring and the strong smell of exhaust mixed with gasoline in the air. We checked everything but couldn't find any problems. The van had a quarter tank of gas so we filled up assuming the gauge was wrong. It started right up and proceeded down the road without any problems. It was also my turn to drive.
I took the wheel just north of Amarillo and drove through the Oklahoma panhandle, into Colorado, all the way to Casper, Wyoming. That's was about 11 hours, 700 miles and 4 states. It sounds like a long distance, and I guess it probably is, but to put in in perspective, from Houston to El Paso is 12 hours, 750 miles and you never even leave Texas.
On this trip we have 2 staff and 4 volunteers from the cat sanctuary. We are riding in a green 1996 Dodge conversion van (yes, the age of the van is relevant) and a 15 ft sprinter van with 2 empty big cat roll cages. We're taking turns driving as others get caught up on sleep.
The amazing thing about my drive is the vastness and sheer beauty of the wide open terrain as you go northward. It was simply breathtaking. Going through the Texas panhandle and into Oklahoma the land was flat and dry with golden grassy fields as far as the eye could see. Among the natural beauty was the occasional "nodding donkey" oil pump jack and those enormous wind turbine farms that seem to be popping up everywhere. You can also enjoy the small town humor in names like the It'll Do Motel or the Just Right Cafe. You also get a sense of the country-type of first world problems.
I was buying some snacks in a convenience store and the jaded cashier was ringing me up while talking to someone on the phone. "No ma'am!" He said "This is not Patsy's Salon! This is a gas station. The phone number changed TWO years ago." You could tell this happens often. He took my card and swiped it. As I typed my pin he continued with the caller. "No ma'am, she doesn't cut hair anymore. She works at the Sheriffs office now." He bagged my snacks, covered the mouthpiece of the phone and whispered "Thank you sir, you have a nice day" as he flashed me a smile. I gave him a thumbs up and as I turned to walk out I could hear him continue with the caller. "I can give you her phone number if you want but, no, this is not a salon...it's a gas station now...for two years".
Southern Colorado is filled with grassy undulating hills. Off in the far distance you can see ranch houses, grain silos and the occasional windmill. Oh, and you can smell dairy farms even if you can't see them. As we got closer to Denver I began to see the majestic snow capped Rocky Mountains off in the distance. Here is where the country lifestyle crashes suddenly with a modern metropolis. Our north west route suddenly veered north and we began to run parallel with the Rockies for a good while.
By this time it was golden hour. Golden hour is actually the last 30 minutes of sunlight where the true beauty of nature is revealed. The contrast between light and dark is more pronounced. Warm colors become richer. The sky becomes bluer and the clouds begin to take shape as they dance across the sky. I thought that this trip couldn't be any more incredible. I was wrong.
You know, I couldn't help but think that when I began this trip the foremost thing in my mind was about trying to figure out how I was going to make a living. As I was riding in the old rattling van with 3 sleeping friends, I was alone with my thoughts. This vast beauty was laid out before me to enjoy. The next few days were uncertain as we were only halfway to northern Montana to rescue the big cats. Rain and snow were in the forecast and we were on a drop dead timeline to get the tigers to Mississippi by Friday afternoon. I realized, at that moment, I was actually living.