I toss and turn with the cold, but manage to sleep a significant amount... I rise at 8 a.m., having collected enough sleep between 18.30 and 08.00 to total 8 or 9 hours. My tent is coated with a diamond glitter of frost on the outside, and slick with condensation on the inside. Emerging from it into the cold air takes a colossal amount of mental effort. But I manage. First thing is to pee, then to pack my bedding back into the truck along with the tent. Packing the icy rain fly back into its bag, bare-handed, is super painful. I can hardly feel my fingers and have to take a break periodically, wander around in the sunny parking lot and come back to it. I wonder about gloves but don't want to dig around in my cases and boxes to find some.
Got some mud on my Starfleet hoodie. This makes me sad, but then I get over it.
Breakfast is simple... an apple, some cured beef sticks, an Izze. I sit with my car running for warmth while I eat it. For lunch I will have more avocado and rice cakes. I read over and respond to a few texts from friends and family, then pull out of this lovely, lonely little campground, leaving it behind as I press ever eastward.
I find my way back through rural Kansas roads to I-70 using a combination of the sun (to know which way east is) and notes from google maps I jotted down before leaving home. I have to get gas before I hit Kansas City and Missouri just to realize later that Missouri gas prices are significantly cheaper than any gas prices I've seen so far. oh well. As is always my luck, when I finally have to pull over to fill up, the next station I pass has gas cheaper by 5 to 10 cents.
I get lost a little in pre-Kansas city city, off I-70 due to confusing signage, filling up at a 7-11 with no public restrooms. I am approached by a man in a backwards cap and oversized shoes, and he asks whether I have 75 cents for the bus. I give him a dollar in quarters. Then, he tries to give me his phone number and address. His upper teeth, all of them, are capped in some kind of gold plating, with letters on them. K... C... ? initials? I tell him I'm not from Kansas and won't be here much longer. I lie and tell him I have no phone yet as he keeps trying to give me his number. He repeats it often enough I expect he wants me to memorize it right then and there, but I push it from my mind, and bid him farewell as I finish looking at my maps and figure out how to get back onto I-70. He saunters back to sit on a bench with a friend of his on the other side of the 7-11.
I put on an audiobook that I bought specifically for this journey: Iced by Karen Moning. It's... really bad. It's narrated by an obnoxious 14-year-old, leaves huge holes in its world-building and plot... mentions past events that seem much more interesting than present ones (leading me to be like, why not write the more-interesting prequel to this instead?)* ...and the voice actress's Irish accent lapses from time to time into American South (??). I bought it because it was set in Dublin and featured a superheroine lead, but most of the book involves more powerful men fighting over the right to own her, and... ugh. It's mildly amusing to the point where I leave it running, and to where I want to know how it ends, but I have to speak aloud my critiques periodically in order to bear listening for long stretches at a time.
* actually, I researched this later and this *is* a sequel. Unfortunately, nothing on the packaging mentioned that, or I probably wouldn't have boughtten it.
I don't stop again until I reach St. Louis. I have an internet friend there I planned to meet for lunch--we have a lot of real-life friends in common, so I want to meet him in real-life too. I want to park near the famous arch but get turned around and end up in a very impoverished part of Illinois. All the buildings here are crumbling, surrounded by the rotten bones of dead industry: rusted-over machinery, graffiti-encrusted brick, weed-eaten concrete. My friend texts me... don't get out of your car on the Illinois side of the river. I lock my doors and heed his warning. It looks about as poor and run down as Steubenville, where I used to fearlessly walk alone at night, but it's best not to take chances when you're carrying all your worldly possessions in your truck with you.
Parking by the arch is $5 I don't want to spend, so I drive around in circles for a long time looking for a meter. My friend and I meet in a Hardee's, where he orders food and I whip out my avocados, rice cakes, and cured beef. We talk a lot about music, especially jazz bands and the like we were in during high school/college. It's a nice lunch and we leave before our meters run out... I would've liked to have talked longer, but I still have quite a bit of driving to do. I ask him for a picture I can use as his contact photo in my phone and he gives me this:
(picture of an arctic fox, looking to the right with snow on its nose)
A man with two little girls comes by and asks us for money. My fox friend gives him all the change in his pockets. All I have is a $10 bill so I give him that. He's so grateful he hugs me. Then he apologizes to my friend, in case I'm his girlfriend. He thinks I'm hot and he likes my Starfleet hoodie. I don't find what he's saying creepy 'cause I don't think he's trying to pick me up or hit on me... even tho' he calls me hot like 5 times, I think he's just trying to pay me a compliment in the only twisted way he knows how. I just think it's funny how a homeless guy likes my super nerdy hoodie.
My friend and I part ways and I keep on through Missouri, needing a fill up again in Illinois where the gas prices are much higher. My friend Nan calls me to make sure I'm still coming to his apartment in Bloomington, IL tonight. I definitely am. I get off I-70 and putter through small town Indiana roads on my way to his University town. I get tired of my audiobook and play music for a little while. Nan keeps texting me while I'm driving so I just call him. He tells me how to find his place, thinking I'm another 45 minutes or so away. Within 15 I'm knocking on his door.
I've missed him quite a bit since my senior year of college. It's nice to have a chance to hug him again. I give him some presents (he's easy to get presents for, so I do that a lot)... mostly religious articles I no longer need or use or desire to have. I give him an awesome purple-and-green rosary that has glow in the dark spots on the beads. That present was meant specifically for him, while the rest are just religious things I could never simply throw or give away. I know that what he keeps he will take care of, and what he gives away will go to people who really want it.
I eat a really simple supper and we set me up with a fluffy sleeping bag on his floor, along with my blankets and pillows and my stuffed giant anteater I've named Lady Annabelle. We talk and catch up. When I crash, I crash hard.
wed. Nov. 7th. Topeka, KS to Bloomington, IN.