Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore (though Nebraska pretty much looks the same)

Kansas City, MO -> North Platte, NE

If you’ve ever wondered what Kansas looks like, go find a wheat field and stand in it and that’s pretty much it.

This is one of the largest wheat producing places on the planet. Pretty incredible when you think of it, but also pretty boring to drive through. Signs along the highway reminded us that 1 Kansas farmer “feeds 128 people PLUS YOU!” – which I think means there’s a 1:129 ratio of one poor person who has to live in the middle of nowhere to a bunch of real people that get to eat conveniently and live in civilization. Seriously folks, hug a farmer. That is hard, unforgiving work on top of living in some pretty desolate areas.

I keep thinking I need to re-read Laura Ingells Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series while we’re out here.

There’s not much to see in Kansas, granted we didn’t make it to the metropolises of Topeka or Wichita (um, is it sad I had to check the google map of the state to see where the big dots were to use as examples? that is just how little I think of Kansas..). We did however make it to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City:

When we got out of the car there was only one other family there taking some pictures. It was cold (in the 50s – c’mon Kansas, it’s June!) and clearly their kids were not impressed by this sisal monstrosity, so we asked them to take our picture before they hurried out of there. The wife seemed as excited as the kids were and insisted that they were only here because “my husband was just soooo excited about this and wanted to see it soooo badly”. Mine too! It was pretty cool – I wasn’t expecting it to be outside, but if you’re ever in north central Kansas you should stop by. You can even go to the gift shop across the street and purchase twine to add to the ball (answer: no we didn’t. it was cold and we had some driving to do).

If you’re curious about the rest of Cawker City, Kansas, this is what it looks like:

“City” may be a misnomer..

From there we continued on to Nebraska via back country roads and many, many wheat fields. Jeff and I mostly bide the time in the car by listening to This American Life and Radiolab podcasts. They come out with a new one every week or so and we’ve been saving them up for a few months to listen to on the road (otherwise I listen to them a lot while running and Jeff listens to them while, well, not running). Unfortunately I think we’re running low now on our supply of new ones to get through so if anyone has any suggestions of some good audio books or new podcasts to listen to please let us know!

Our detour to see a lot of string took us off the main interstate and to get back to I-80 in Nebraska we zoomed through the countryside. When we come to a state line crossing usually there is a frantic swoosh to the right hand lane and an attempt to slow down, but still not get rear ended in interstate traffic, all while juggling the iPhone camera app and yelling at it to hurry up and load and oh-my-god-we’re-going-to-miss-it-take-the-picture!!! Well, in the backroads of Kansas we were even able to pull off the road to take the picture. Yay for the middle of nowhere!

Jeff capturing the moment

Our best, least blurry sign yet!

We’ve decided to call it quits in North Platte, NE for the night (home of the world’s largest rail yard – get excited for those pictures tomorrow!). We could’ve made it further tonight, but we were afraid of finding ourselves in the middle of a wheat field when we wanted to stop, miles from anywhere. And we’re not trying to break out the tent until we reach Yellowstone.

I’d never heard of North Platte before I started planning this trip. I found out by walking by this 20th Century Veterans’ Memorial outside our hotel tonight that this is a really great place. During WWII when thousands of soldiers were moving between the coasts the residents of North Platte and the surrounding areas met them with coffee, sandwiches and other bits of hospitality during their 10-15 minute stopovers. Mostly staffed by women, these kind people helped distribute mail, relay messages back home and provided playing cards and reading material to the soldiers. If someone was too weak or busy to get off the train they were met by girls walking the cars handing out cigarettes and candy bars. By the end of the war they had served over 6 million service men and women.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from staring out the window while covering miles of America’s heartland it is that every place has a history. We passed by today alone: parts of the Oregon  and Mormon Trails, the place where the golden spike joined the first transcontinental railroad, an original outpost of the Pony Express, and the Brown v. Board of Education monument. There are many others that we zoomed past or I’ve forgotten already. I keep thinking with each new sign what an incredibly large country with such a pioneering history we have. All of these places speak to the ambitious and gumptious spirit of my country. I pray that we continue moving forward like our past pioneers and striving to make  things just a little more comfortable for our fellow man like the kind people of North Platte.

Also, I’m so thankful we had the time to take this trip.

I leave you with:

Moonrise over North Platte, NE

This is the furthest West we’ve ever driven

Since we’ve last had access to the interwebs, we’ve come a long way!

After a great time in Knoxville we headed to Nashville.

We were so fortunate to see so much family at dinner at Aunt Teresa and Uncle Larry’s! Thanks so much to Jon and Donna, Kristen M., Meghan and Neil, Kristen F., Steph and Jon and Allie and Sam, Matt and Corinne and Olivia and Ava for all coming out! It was so great to visit with you all!

Loving on Sam and Allie 😀

Thank you so much Teresa and Larry for hosting us and the crazy crew!

From there we headed to Memphis to see my grandparents.

They’ve lived in this great retirement community since last December and are doing very well there. The place has everything you’d ever need: a library, little shop, exercise facilities, physical therapy, on site physicians, plenty of card playing rooms, a great dining hall and place to get your hair done. Granddad even has a spot to garden in out back and you can tell his tomato plants from everyone else’s (hint, they’re HUGE and of more than the run of the mill varieties).

Granddad showing off his plants

Tomato from the garden

Grandmom showed us all her scrapbooks from out west – I come by my propensity to doing it honestly! She even has pictures of all the state signs as they crossed over the borders, so I’m looking forward to comparing how they’ve changed over the last 20 years.

We got in a brief visit with my cousin Katie, her sweet baby Sutton and Aunt Kathy before starting the card playing. In our family anytime you get together you can bet on several tables of hand-and-foot being played. Its a shorter version of Canasta, with more decks and Jeff has become quite the expert in it.

In the morning she made Jeff and I delicious biscuits and gravy to help send us on our way:

In the morning it was time to say goodbye

I just wish that Memphis and Seattle were a tad closer. So ended the “farewell tour” and Jeff and I are now really on our way out west. Our first stop was Kansas City, MO via St. Louis to see the arch.

It looks like you’d save time by going straight from Memphis to Kansas City, but you only cut off 30 minutes and it was nice to see the Gateway to the West

The arch was cool – not worth a special trip out to see it, but definitely if you’re in the area I would recommend checking it out. Unbeknownst to us – grandmother said you could go up in it! Tickets to the top cost $5 a piece in 1992 and cost $10 now twenty years later.

Outside the arch

Up inside the top of the arch

We’ve collected three new states along the way. I completely missed the sign for Arkansas early in our trip and Jeff was sweet enough to turn around so we can try once more for it. Off through most of Kansas and Nebraska today!