A few years ago, my friend Diane began referring to the interminable drive from Texas to Montana as “the Kessel run.” The Kessel run is an obscure bit of Star Wars trivia, referring to the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo’s ability to run a long, dangerous smugglers’ route. While the drive from here to there and back again isn’t necessarily dangerous, it is a long way, 1470-odd miles, to be exact. Not that I’ve counted.
I’ve done the drive from Texas to Montana a few times. I used to hold firm on never again, but even I don’t believe myself any longer. Eleanor and Beatrice, or every dog that we have ever had, loves going too much for me to leave them at home and adventure without them. So while flying would be easier, I drive simply so the dogs can come along.
The first time I made the trip was in 2007. Joel and I were in the early stages of moving from Chicago to Austin. I was already down in Austin while Joel remained in Illinois, selling the house and closing down our life up there. He was driving from there to my parents’ house in Montana while I flew from Austin up to Billings. That year, however, a huge snowstorm blew through Denver, knocking out the airport and holiday travel for half the country, me included. I so wanted to see Joel and my family and the dogs that I left work, chucked a bag in Crusty, and began to drive. My mum called, rerouting me through Colorado Springs to pick up my cousin Emily, and we both made it home for Christmas. The real fun of that trip didn’t happen until I tried to return south. Just before the new year, winter blasted Colorado again. Mum sent me through Nebraska, trying to go around the weather, but she inadvertently sent me into an ice storm the likes of which I have never seen. I spent New Year’s Eve in a Red Cross disaster site, an elementary school gym, because every hotel in town was full. When I called home to tell them what had happened, they didn’t even bother to get off the phone before they began laughing at me.
The next time I braved the roads was in 2015. It was late May, I had just finished chemotherapy, and I wanted some time up north to do some hiking before my first surgery. Joel was traveling for work, so I put our house in order after a long spring of unwanted remodeling and hit the road. I stopped for an evening with my cousins in Louisville, Colorado–yay for a great dog park there, replete with swimming. Dad surprised me there to help me drive the last piece up to Montana. We read up on things like the Sand Creek Massacre to make that stretch from Casper to Hell’s Half-Acre more bearable.
I drove again in October of 2015, this time with a trailer hitch on Crusty. I had some chairs from a cousin that had summered in my parents’ garage that I wanted to bring back down to Austin. This trip featured stops in Louisville, where my cousin knew to just let me sleep on the sofa bed and leave at the crack of dawn. This was a slower drive, due to the weight of a pulling a small U-Haul trailer behind me. “She’ll stop somewhere, won’t she?” my dad asked. My mother knew better. She had driven too far with me across the country with horses when I was a teenager. She knew that once I hit Oklahoma, I scented home and that I would likely push on through. She was right. Joel waited up for me and the dogs, and we pulled in around midnight.
This is not a drive I make lightly, but it is one that I do for our dogs, Eleanor and Beatrice. Joel wants to get Eleanor a t-shirt emblazoned with Fat Camp 2017: Portly but Proud to commemorate this trip. She’s a lab, I keep saying–they’re always chubby. But I also do it for myself. I like the solitude, the time to think, the sense of solitary adventure. I leave again next week, and already the dogs sense that something is coming.
Considering a long drive? Then might I suggest these helpful treats and necessities to make long stretches of prairie bearable:
- Hot Tamales–Hot Tamales are the world’s most perfect candy. They don’t melt, they wake you up, and they kill any road mouth you might have. They’re also good on long hikes or protest marches.
- Audio books–A few years ago, I listened to The Martian, and it was the perfect book for a long drive. It was suspenseful without being scary, well-written but not so perfect that I didn’t get lost in the story. I don’t know what I’ll be listening to this summer, so suggestions are welcome.
- Yeti coolers–Yes, I’ll be bringing back huckleberries, so a good cooler is mandatory.
- Hydroflask–The trick to staying awake is having to go to the bathroom. There is a fine balance: you want to be slightly uncomfortable but not miserable. Drinking cold water is key, and that means a hydroflask.
- Wind River Canyon–Whenever I drive through Wyoming, I opt to go through the Wind River Canyon, which is just south of Thermopolis. It’s a beautiful stretch or road, replete with tunnels along the Wind River. I’ve been known to stop and let the dogs swim, just to keep them happy.