Last autumn my husband and I drove cross-country from Washington to Tennessee. I had envisioned the trip as part vacation and part necessity. Most of our possessions had been packed off to Tennessee or given away. What remained when I turned in the keys to my apartment was loaded in my car and, since we generally enjoy a road trip, we were driving it to Tennessee ourselves.
Planning the trip, I pictured a scenic drive under blue skies. I even remember it starting that way, though now, as I look back through my photos, I can see that the warning signs were all there. Even as we turned the bend at Cape Horn, not fifteen miles down the road, my snapshots show that beautifully familiar view of the Columbia River Gorge already veiled in a low haze. By the time we left Oregon the smoke had begun to weigh on our enthusiasm.
By the time we hit Salt Lake City we wondered what we had been thinking. For two days and over a thousand miles we drove on through a shimmering cloud of smoke. While we had hoped to be awed by the scenery, by some grounded views from the shore of the Great Salt Lake we’d been flying over all summer, and by the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains as we crossed the Continental Divide, those vistas remained elusive.
Instead the smoke persisted, obscuring the horizon in a translucent haze. Just as we thought we might be leaving it behind us it would gather again, even to the point of creating a mirage effect on the highway. Driving was a job and staying focused was a challenge. Our eyes hurt and disappointment began to nip at our heels. There was little to do about it except to keep driving.
In the early afternoon of our third day’s travel, almost at the halfway point of our journey, we pulled into Laramie, WY, ready to take a break. We were tired and hungry and bored. When we found Coal Creek Coffee Company in Laramie’s historic downtown it felt like an oasis.
We ordered lattes and a bowl of soup before taking a seat at one of their unique tables. Most of the tables seemed to have writing on them but ours was nearly covered in hand written quotations on the subject of coffee. While we waited we shared thoughts from a variety of sources ranging from Napoleon Bonaparte to Good Housekeeping on the art and virtues of one of our favorite drinks. I loved the way the words were entwined, weaving the quotations into a pattern to decorate the table.
It wasn’t long before our order was ready. The coffee was wonderful and the Tortilla Soup turned out to be unexpectedly hearty and delicious. It was well spiced, brimming with a variety of wholesome ingredients and garnished with shards of blue corn tortilla chips. It came with a side of Focaccia Bread that was also extraordinary and well appreciated. After buying some cookies for the road we got back in the car satisfied that we had made a worthy stop in Wyoming and were well provisioned for the rest of the day’s drive.
Though the smoke persisted into day four and Kansas, Laramie was a turning point. The trip was not what either of us had expected but then a journey is hardly worth taking if there are no surprises. While we could not see much of the anticipated scenery the air quality did make for some stunning sunrises and sunsets. We were surprised to see people stopping in the middle of crosswalks in Salt Lake City to take photos of a huge orange sun lowering on the horizon like a Japanese flag behind the traffic lights. It also encouraged us to take a few up close and personal side-trips we may have otherwise skipped, like the one near the Perrine Bridge crossing the Snake River and on to Shoshone Falls, ID.
It ended up being a good trip, maybe even the right trip at the right time. I like to connect one place in my life to another via ground travel. I like to see and experience what lies between. It seems there is always something noteworthy, even when it isn’t quite what you expect.