My difficulty is in finding the words. Not because the trip was so incredible that words fail me, but because I have such mixed feelings that I don't know what to say.
We traveled by car to Colorado and back, a journey of 4261 miles per our odometer. Part of the time we stayed in a condo in the heart of the Rockies, the rest of the time we were either camping or staying in motels or with friends, but always at a different location each night.
The camping, despite that I have not camped since I was in my 20s and Warren does not like camping, was easier and more enjoyable than either of us expected. We camped five of six planned nights, once at 9000 feet, and would have camped the sixth night but for the the torrential rains the night before that left the tent, our air mattress, and everything else, including shoes, wet and muddy.
|At 9000 feet|
As I noted previously, we took a minimalist approach to packing. We could have packed even lighter, in retrospect. To do minimalist packing for a long trip (anything over a long weekend, as far as I am concerned), you need (a) access to laundry of some sort and (b) a tolerance for wearing the same clothes over and over. Fortunately, we had both.
What can I say about Colorado? We were in the Rockies for over a week and traversed Colorado from north out of Wyoming to south into New Mexico. The Rockies, even in August when the snowpack is light, are everything you would expect: majestic, awe-inspiring, stunning.
Give me Nebraska.
This was Warren's vacation, revisiting places he had last seen when he was 15. We saw a lot of trains (Warren) and a lot of statehouses (both of us). I was gratified to find in the Nebraska statehouse's Hall of Fame both Red Cloud and Bess Streeter Aldrich. And our guide in the Kansas statehouse was stunned that I knew who William Allen White was. "Are you a librarian? A journalist?" No, just a nerd who discovered White when I was still in junior high.
|Lots of trains|
I'm very glad we took the trip, because it is now clear to me that the likelihood of our taking such a lengthy and wearing car trip again is slim. The trip was very hard on me physically and caused havoc with my body's reactions to the new medications I am on. But we made it through with no medical emergencies, not even a stop at an urgent care facility, and that was a victory.
It was a thrifty trip in many ways, with the one special event, a lengthy steam engine ride along, up, and over steep mountains, including a mountain pass at 10,000+ feet, being the big splurge. We spent more on eating out, even at the condo, ($291, with another $110 on groceries) and less on gas ($309) than we had expected. Without the train ride, we'd have done the trip for $1150, only 15% more than we'd hoped for. Even with the train ride ($200), we still came in under our maximum allowance of $1500, and the balance went back in our travel account the Monday we got back.
As much as possible, we traveled not by interstate but by US routes or state highways, so we saw a lot of the country up close. As is often the case when we travel, I was both uplifted and disheartened. Disheartened by how much poverty—tenacious and deep—this nation continues to hold. Uplifted because, in spite of the struggles, there were bright spots everywhere: thriving small businesses in small towns and cities, local-sourced restaurants in the middle of nowhere that the locals were supporting, civic/community developments (parks, concerts, farmers markets, downtown projects) in many communities. It is seeing those little spots that leave with me a sense of hope.
In the Chaim Potok novel In the Beginning, Rav Sharfman tells rabbinical student David that he will ordain him with the ordination that Sharfman's grandfather gave to him. But David must not be neglectful of that honor, as he would be liable to earlier generations. "You will have to go to the graves of those against whom you transgress and ask them to forgive you. But remember, you may be unable to do that. You may not know where the dead are buried."
Potok's words followed me the whole day, past the Sand Creek turnoff and through Amache. Then we came into Kansas, and the horizon opened up.