I was awakened with jarring jolts to the left and right. Doug was following a detour that was taking him through neighborhoods with potholes and roads under construction. Plus the sun was starting to creep its way over the horizon waking the dawn. Plus my stomach was starting the growl with hunger. Plus I had to pee like a racehorse. All these factors make staying asleep impossible, or at least unhealthy.
I told Doug that I needed a rest stop something fierce, so he pulled into a gas station. We grabbed some breakfast, which consisted of apple fritters and gas station egg-n-cheese muffins and beef jerky. It was horrible, but you’ll eat anything when you’re starving. I wolfed it down and took over at the wheel. I was amazed how awake I felt after just three hours of marginal sleep. But it didn’t very much squinting as I stared into the eastern sun for my eyes to feel heavy and irritated. The next two hours were probably the worst two hours of travel I had on this trip. I fought my instincts with everything that was in me--slapping myself, pinching my armpits, rubbing my eyes, sticking my head out the window, listening to talk radio, eating whatever I could get my hands on—it was grueling and I was groveling by the end of my tour of duty.
Doug took over and I slept once more, grabbing an afternoon siesta catnap. This nap proved to energize me for the remaining 14 hours we were on the road. We drove through some beautiful farm country. There were also a couple Indian reservations stocked with American bald eagles all over the place. Two flew across the road in front of me at an altitude of about 20 feet. It was jaw-dropping-awesome.
Another fascinating stretch of land was home to one of the biggest paper making factories in the world. Piles of logs cut into 8 ft. chunks were piled about 60 ft. and would go on for miles. It was impressive. I always wondered were all our paper came from and why recycling is such a big deal. Now I know. It takes a lot of timber to make those clean, white sheets of paper we flippantly enjoy and mindlessly waste. I don’t know, I just really enjoy seeing new things and participating in new life experiences. Even if it’s just a northern paper corporation.
We made our way across Wisconsin and crossed into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I thought to myself, “Yes! We’re finally in Michigan. It won’t be long now! I can’t almost taste my wife’s kiss!” For any who isn’t aware, that’s roughly still about 10-12 hours from Lowell, MI. I felt my heart surging with excitement because it was the middle of the afternoon on Friday and I was picturing being home by the late evening. Was I ever in for a surprise.
It took us almost 7-8 hours to cross through the U.P. to the famous Mackinaw Bridge. It was no longer than any other 8-hour stretch; it just felt like forever because my mind was telling me we were almost there about every 5 minutes. Everything feels longer when you’re counting the nanoseconds.
At about 10:30pm, we crossed the Mackinaw Bridge, which was incredible even though it was blacker than the aces of spades outside. The lights on the bridge and the reflection off the water were gorgeous. It seemed like we were on the bridge for close to 10 minutes—it just went on and on.
Before long, Doug pulled off an exit and I took over. He was fading fast and needed some backup. I was so tired I was becoming delirious, but I covered it so that Doug wouldn’t be alarmed. If I wondered if I was seeing things back in the North Dakota, I hadn’t a doubt now. Everything from dinosaurs to doughnuts were passing in front and running along side of me as I came down the last 3-hour home stretch toward Lowell. Not even my excitement to be home was keeping the threadbare fabric of my body/soul/spirit awake. I was hanging by a strand.
But then I saw it, the first sign indicating how many more miles it was to Lowell. “Lowell - 32 miles” I felt a rush of blood to my head and through my body, giving me the adrenaline I needed to make the final push. With every turn I recognized more of the landscape. The familiarity that was killing me only 5 days before was filling me now. It’s funny how familiarity can either breed “contemption” or “redemption” depending on your soul’s need. Redemption poured over me like rain over the arid Amazon cleansing and nourishing my drowsy spirit. There is just something Edenic about coming home.
As I made the final turn onto Parnell Avenue and then turned left into my gravel driveway, my heart seized with nervousness as I anticipated seeing my wife for the first time in 5 days. It’s amazing that after 12 years, she still takes my breath away. I grabbed my belongings, gave Doug a quick hug, and headed toward my front porch. By now my heart was pounding, pulsating into my temples. I couldn't wait to see my wife and my three little girls.