Tag Archives: Interstate 80

On The Road #27 – The West !

After a night sleeping in the shotgun seat of a rumbling long-haul truck parked in the fumes of an Iowa truck stop I found myself on the road early in the morning. Thankful to still be riding with the driver who picked me up outside of Chicago I watched November’s fallow soy fields stretch into equally vast fields stubbled with stalks of the summer’s corn. Between Interstate 80 and the horizon the land was not flat, as I had been lead to believe, and not hilly either. More of an undulation into the distance. The great grassy prairie lands turned to square fields.

A speck in the distance grew to be a sign. Then a large billboard —

”How arrogant is that??!!!” I screamed in my head. “Where the West begins, indeed.” Everyone knows the West begins west of the Rocky Mountains, I harrumphed. I might have even said so to the truck driver.

A hundred miles west of the city of Lincoln the freeway followed the Platte River, echoing the route of the Oregon Trail. A continuous, gentle climb free from any radical landmarks, the valley provided reliable water and forage for wagons headed into the unknown. I thought the trees and shrubs along the river to our right would stretch to Wyoming. Actually they do but, unknown to me, west of North Platte the river heads north while I-80 heads straight toward Cheyenne, Wyoming. I didn’t notice the brush along the river was no longer in sight. 

I also missed how the cultivated prairie land slowly, imperceptibly gave way. Farms grew farther and farther apart. Some half way through Nebraska I realized the land featured stacks of bailed hay and open rangeland and feedlots full of cattle. And then not even that, but scrublands with a few grazing cattle.

Perhaps eighty percent of the way thought Nebraska the truck was pulling harder. Not struggling up a steep mountain grade, but I-80 was rising on a sweeping curve into a gentle pass. 

The engine’s guttural pull eased into a purr as we passed over the rounded summit. We looked out over a vast, open, sandy valley sweeping into the far distance between high bare hills. Other than the road there was not a bit of civilization in sight. 

I found myself breathless. 

Oh my god —

It was THE WEST ! ! !

During my two years living in the lush forests and fields east of the rocky mountains I had forgotten about the deserts. The deserts I had been raised exploring. Deserts that run from south of Boise through Nevada and Arizona and into Mexico. 

For the first time I realized the American West is not defined by the towering rocky peaks of Idaho’s mountains, but by the vast room of the Great Basin.

After two years I was suddenly dropped into home.

And, of all things, it was in NEBRASKA !

On The Road #25 – Freeway Ramp

It was getting late in the afternoon when I walked away from the amorous plant salesman at a roadside tavern somewhere in the Illinois countryside. By the time I got rides back to Interstate 80 it was getting dark.

Always aware of flying under the radar, I knew to keep my thumb on the ramp of a freeway rather than hitchhike on the highway itself. But alas, just as I approached an entrance to I-80 a brown car had a blue flashing light put on its dashboard. Although the police were not in uniform there were the uniform questions: what was I doing? where was I going? have any ID? I had a sense these Chicago-suburb police were looking for something to fill up a quota. Perhaps drugs? No problem there. If I made a point of only hitchhiking on the ramp of a freeway can you image me being stupid or ballsy enough to be carrying any sort of drug? Ha! That’s a good one! 

Still, it was getting dark and having police rummaging through my pack and perhaps taking me in for a more personal search would leave me abandoned on a suburban street in the dead of a cold November night. 

Just as I was overthinking these things there was a crackling from their police radio. It sounded like static to me but they seemed to understand the language, handed me back my driver’s license, and left without a word.

That was not the only time I have been rescued from an awkward situation by the Gods of Good Timing – and I thank them profusely.

As soon as that brown unmarked car had driven off I walked a few yards down the onramp to Interstate 80 heading west. My intention was to get a third of the way down the ramp so folks would have a chance to check me out and pull over before the freeway. I didn’t make it. Instead, a long semi truck pulled in front of me. I scurried to the cab, climbed up to the handle, opened the door, and was invited in. 

I got out in Utah.