Originally published April 3, 2021
When I started writing these dispatches, I envisioned them as something of an occasional travelogue, seeing as how I’m an occasional traveler and how those occasional travels generally take me to places with not much resemblance to most conventional definitions of “exotic.”
But my creative kryptonite—or maybe it’s my superpower—is that what I envision and what I end up doing are often wildly different things. These little notes that I’ve faithfully flung into the email in-boxes of whoever has asked for them have ranged wildly. Travel has been an incidental topic, in part because travel has been an incidental thing during the pandemic.
So here’s the thing: I’m vaccinated now. My parents are vaccinated now. And because it’s been nearly two years since I’ve seen them, it’s time to mend that long rupture. I’ve written this before, and with nearly 800 miles standing between me and my folks tomorrow, I believe it even more fervently now: If you’ve been fortunate enough to survive this pandemic, if you have a roof over your head and food on the table, you’ve still been robbed of something: You’ve lost time.
In the long bend of their lives, my parents have much less of it in front of them than they do behind. In the bend of my life, a generation shorter, the same is true.
As Davy Crockett said, you all may go to hell; I’m going to Texas. My pup is coming with me. My wife, soon to stanch the bleeding of time with her own mother in New York, is keeping the light lit at home for my return.
Per Mapquest, it’s 539 miles from my driveway in Billings, Montana, to my aunt and uncle’s driveway in Erie, Colorado. If you include, conservatively, two miles for meanders in Sheridan, Wyoming, and Douglas, Wyoming, as I sought out meals, it comes to 541.
I started driving at 7:34 a.m. (Four minutes earlier, and I’d have been in perfect alignment with the first song already playing in my iTunes queue. The second song, randomly generated, suggested this could all take a while.) I pulled up to the house in Erie at 4:12 p.m. That’s eight hours and 38 minutes of travel time. That’s 62.664 miles per hour, on average.
No wonder it felt like Wyoming would never end.
I like to kid Wyoming, but that’s only because it was my first home and because it so perfectly fits a line that I pilfered from someone else.
The great Peyton Pinkerton, guitarist for the Pernice Brothers, called Connecticut “the state in my way.” Anyone who’s traveled between New York and Massachusetts gets it.
That’s how I feel about Wyoming. If you’re traveling north to south, it starts out promisingly enough, with the Bighorn Mountains and Sheridan—a beautiful, fun town by any measure—but the thrill is largely gone by the time you get to Buffalo and interstates 90 and 25 (you’ll be taking the latter) split.
The thing is, the whole route is seeded with memory for me: my first home was in Mills, a bedroom community of Casper, and I have sepia-toned recollections in all of those towns, little snippets that I’ve tucked away that don’t always connect with larger memories. Buffalo heads on hotel lobby walls. Motels where I’d live with my dad when he was working. One of my early multistate solo driving trips as a 19-year-old. “Western identity” is the kind of thing you could fill volumes trying to pin down—and many have—but in large part, to whatever degree I have one, it’s rooted in that ribbon of highway that connects my first home with my chosen home. Snow fences, junkyards, tumbledown rest stops, gas stations where I’ve filled up dozens of times, fields where my father worked, fields where I’ve worked.
It’s a part of me. I’m a part of it. But, yes, good lord, when your horizons lie beyond Wyoming, you start to wonder if you’re ever going to punch through to the other side.
And then you do.
Fretless is a good traveler in that he’s quiet and not restless. But he’s also obstinate. He wouldn’t drink for me, not a drop, but finally, in Cheyenne, I caught him taking a sip from his bowl in the cab while I was gassing up.
As long as it’s his idea and not mine …
Also in Cheyenne, while I was walking him, an unleashed, much bigger dog tore out after him. I had time just to get him into my arms and begin to wonder what I’d do if the unleashed dog turned out to be vicious.
He wasn’t. The owner was apologetic. Which counts for something, but not a lot.
It’s been a tough day for my intrepid pup. He watched me pack out most of his belongings and didn’t know what to make of that. He didn’t sleep a wink on the drive, which is unusual. I think he still suspects I’ll leave him. Ain’t gonna happen, bubba.
We’re in a strange house (to him) with strange people (to him). Long day tomorrow, and I can fill him in about how Aunt Linda and Uncle John are part of this whole story, part of this whole identity. They were the ones who lived in Montana for a long, long time, and my falling in love with it was born of our many trips to see them when I was a kid. They raised four kids there, built a life there, and have been gone from it for nearly 30 years. Hard to believe. The family flag that’s still in the Montana soil was put there by me, the kid who came to it by way of Texas and then Alaska and then Arkansas and then Kentucky and then Ohio and then Alaska again and then California and then Texas and then Washington and then California again and then Montana and then Maine and then Montana again.
Time, speed, distance, baby. We’re all getting there. Or somewhere.
Craig Lancaster is an author, an editor, a publication designer, a layabout, a largely frustrated Dallas Mavericks fan, an eater of breakfast, a dreamer of dreams, a husband, a brother, a son, an uncle. And most of all, a man who values a T-shirt.
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