The Corn Crib restaurant/gas station in Shelby, Iowa is in the rear view mirror and we’re facing north now, heading toward Eagle Butte, South Dakota. The new year is almost upon us (seasonally, that is), and we’ll soon trade flushing toilets for hand-dug latrines where I’ve been told the rattlesnakes curl up at night. The beam of a good flashlight is worth its weight in the D batteries that power it up.
From the tip of our front porch to the grassy patch on Sundance grounds where we park the truck that will be “home” to us for seven days, we travel 1300 miles and Patrick does most of the driving. I’m in the privileged shotgun seat with the following duties: looking about at the flat fields that become gradually more hilly and rolling as we enter Illinois, passing the driver a peeled banana and taking the lid off of his gas station coffee so it can cool off a bit, tossing out clever comments when I see any of those road trip oddities (heading for Corn Palace territory as we glide into Mitchell, SD), and reaching over uncountable times to rub his shoulders and scratch the part of his back I can reach without disturbing his steering control. The silence that passes easily between us is graced with many “I love you”s and warm hand squeezes. We’re quite the pair of compatible road trip buddies.
As a self-described fidgeter, I’m grateful for all the responsibilities that go with my passenger role. And it starts when we’re packing the night before. What supplies and provisions need to be within arm’s reach once we’ve hit 70mph? Do we have enough water and are we saving one cup holder for the inevitable latte purchase that makes the trip feel that much more special? Where did we put the __________? (it could be anything on this trip, truly, with latrines in our immediate future). I also swap our phones on the charger when one of us is low on juice. Being in the right front seat isn’t license to fall asleep, I can assure you. I welcome the chance to be useful, as I know the stress of driving well enough. That Patrick can so masterfully shoulder this task for us, and for the lion’s share of those 1300 miles is the most gracious of selfless acts. I’m happy to switch places with him for those 100+ miles that stretch out in front of us in rhythmic droning tire tones and shave off a couple three hours for him. But he’s the mostly captain of this four-wheeled ship, and when it looks like he’s getting bored, I remember where I put the bag of white cheddar popcorn.
We stopped last night to lay down our bones in Adair, Iowa, our best estimate at the halfway point in our journey. It didn’t matter that the water in our humble motel room came out slightly brownish at first, instead of clear. I let it run a bit longer, filled my cup, closed my eyes and swigged down my last pill of the day. I was too tired to imagine what the bacteria in my gut had to contend with from those couple of tablespoons of Adair’s finest. A delicious sleep awaited me, and the prospect of being gloriously horizontal and not moving filled each and every one of my senses. I would not leave those pillows waiting a moment longer—a good passenger is well-rested for the next day’s to-do-while-sitting list.
So this morning, full of the Crib’s “Wrangler” breakfast special (two eggs over easy, marble rye toast, hash browns, and three bacon strips) and a creamy cup of decaf, we’re each in our respective traveling seats, doing our jobs the best way we know how. We’ll land at our friend’s place in Dupree around 10:30 tonight. For the next nine hours, I know where the bananas are, how much cash we have, and where our next latte is coming from.