“You drive twenty-six hours? Are you crazy?”
This is the universal reaction of people who hear that I spend the winter in Phoenix, the rest of the year in Illinois, and drive instead of fly. I generally rent furnished houses in Phoenix, and I drive so I can load up my car with my three-month necessities (especially books) and have that car to drive while I’m out there. The bottom line is really this: an unremarkable trip back and forth is important. Rarely has that happened, especially when you can’t trust Mother Nature.
The first year, two friends and I drove through a massive dust storm between Tucson and Phoenix that resulted in a 28-car pileup just ahead of us with multiple injuries and several deaths. The decision to stop for lunch caused us to avoid that horrible accident. Those friends, strangely, have not volunteered to drive with me again. I’ve also driven in the mountains in sleet storms and across Kansas in wind, rain, hail, and snow (I am trying to avoid Kansas in the future. Sorry, any Kansas residents, including my friends Dave, Sue, and former resident, Ruth.) Usually I drive with a friend or with one of my adult children. Frankly, having a friend to talk with and help drive (or an adult child that you don’t get to see very much because he has children responsibilities) is wonderful.
This year one of my friends–Eileen–agreed to the ultimate sacrifice: she flew into Mesa, got off the plane, into my car, and we left–just two senior citizens with twenty-six hours of road time.
I used to drive through Flagstaff to get out of Arizona but it’s iffy in the spring for snow. I’ve also driven to Tucson and across Texas because of bad weather to the north. This year the weather was encouraging. That rarely happens.
Leaving the Mesa Airport, we bypassed Flagstaff and went north through the picturesque towns of Show Low and Snowflake. The mountain roads are twisty and the scenery is gorgeous–sheer cliffs, rivers down below, majestic rock formations, and blue skies. We stopped in Show Low for dinner and got out of the mountains before it became dark.
Leaving Arizona, we waved at the sign and headed into New Mexico. Now the majesty ends and the winds begin. I have never driven across this state without wind squalls blowing across me or in my wake. Gallup is just across the western border of New Mexico and we stayed there for the night.
The following day was the killer on time: four-lane clear across New Mexico, the panhandle of Texas, and the western half of Oklahoma. (I am so glad I am not doing this on two-lane route 66.) Not much in the way of towns in those areas except Albuquerque and
Amarillo. Texas is the tumbleweed capitol of the world and we only crossed the panhandle. Believe me, I’ve driven north and south in Texas and I’ve seen the western half, which appears to consist of trailer parks, dust, salvaging operations, and, oh yes, high school football fields. My atlas has so many Texas routes marked in various directions that it’s a mass of colored marker. Last year, my younger son and I stopped in north Texas because of tornadoes in Oklahoma. But this year all was calm and we pushed on into green, green, Oklahoma, heading for Oklahoma City for the night.
We decided to take the route I had taken driving out to Phoenix, an itinerary chosen by my older son, remembering his geometry. Avoiding Kansas, we headed out from Oklahoma City the last day and turned north through Tulsa and into Missouri. That decision might seem strange, but we had good roads driving out to Phoenix.
The interstate took us through Springfield and then we drove north to Lebanon, Missouri, where we abandoned the four-lane and turned onto route 54. That route has lots of passing lanes and it took us through Jefferson City until we picked up route 19 to Hannibal.
Now we were in territory Eileen knew like the back of her hand: she grew up in Quincy, just a hop, skip, and jump from Mark Twain territory. We were on the home stretch.
The green grass of the Midwest was a sharp contrast to the dusty desert of Arizona, but it was a green I recognized. And–bonus–it would take a few days for the humidity to catch up with my arthritis. We were back in tiny Monmouth by that evening: two and a half days and 1500+ miles on the road.