The Great American Road Adventure: Kansas

The drive from Denver to Topeka, Kansas was supposed to take us 7-8 hours on the I-70 East. Still suffering from the dreadful after-effects of the edibles in Denver, the 5 hour nap refreshed me completely. After I woke up, it was about 2pm, and Michael and I decided that we’d stop somewhere for lunch in the next hour. After looking up some places on Yelp, we decided to stop for a late lunch at a place called Al’s Chickenette, in Hays, Kansas.

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We didn’t have much choice in stopping for lunch at Al’s. It was the best reviewed place on Yelp within 50 miles, that was on the way to Topeka. It took us one hour to get there, and we arrived around 3:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Much of the ride had been spent gazing out of the window to stare at cornfields.

We parked in the small car-park outside the restaurant, and proceeded in. Due to the unusual hour for lunch, we were the only customers in the restaurant when we came in. The servers in the restaurant all looked to be about high school or college aged, and were milling about chatting to one another when we came in.

Michael and I were served by a couple of the young servers, neither of whom were from Kansas, but told us they had moved there for college.

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We continued driving to Topeka after our meal, arriving around 7-8pm.

Topeka continued to be stiflingly hot even in the evening, and we were sweating as soon as we set foot outside the car. For dinner, we had Indian, while making small talk with the restaurant owners who’d sat next to us by chance. Michael was fascinated by the seeming randomness of international immigrants who’d come to America 20 years ago, and settled in a place like Topeka.

The people of Kansas spoke with accents that were almost Southern, with a bit of something else thrown in. During dinner, we listened bemusedly to the conversation of diners next to us, who were discussing something at the intersection of religion and extramarital affairs.

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After dinner, we checked in to the Ramada Inn, part of a motel chain. The motel was one of the more unusual and lackluster that we’d stayed in on the trip. At the time of the road trip, I was making efforts to train for my first marathon, and having a gym at the hotel was crucial in making selections for where we’d stay. Though it is the capital of Kansas, Topeka had a surprising lack of hotels with gyms, which is how we ended up at the Ramada.

Some parts of the interior looked like they hadn’t been updated since the 70s, and also could have formed the backdrop for the hotel in The Shining.

The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. This comprised of a heavy assortment that you would expect to find in a place like Kansas: hotcakes, bacon, biscuits and gravy, sausages, and eggs. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, and drove to a nearby attraction known as ‘Truckhenge’.

I discovered Truckhenge on the website Roadside America, which lists bizarre national attractions optimal for travelers making their way by road. Truckhenge, rated as ‘Major Fun’ on the website, can be described as an unusual art installation created solely by one man, Ron Lessman. The website advised calling the phone number listed to see if the farm would be open to visitors on days people intended to visit.

After Michael called, we drove there with some trepidation, noting that our surrounds looked like a place ideal to commit homicide.

Within 10 minutes’ drive, we’d reached our destination. The gate was closed to us though, and we wondered if it was open. We got out of the car after stopping on a grass mound across from the farm, and walked into the front yard, where we saw a man with grizzled hair doing something in the yard. After getting closer to him, we excused ourselves, and asked if we might be permitted to take a look around.

On turning around, he looked startled, but not hostile, and asked if we were the ones who’d called that morning. We identified the man as Ron Lessman, the resident, owner and creator of Truckhenge. Mr Lessman had a thick sort of accent that wasn’t quite a Southern accent, and nor did it seem like it was a typical Kansas accent. While enthusiastic to speak with us, we had some difficulty in understanding him.

Mr Lessman told us it would be $8 to see his property. Michael handed over $20, but noted later that he never received any change. Mr Lessman seemed to welcome the idea of visitors that day, and asked us if we’d like a tour. Though we said no, he proceeded to walk and talk with us about his creations, telling us anecdotes about some of the creations along the way.

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In front of the Lessman farm

He had a section of the farm that was dedicated to stumps of trees that had faces etched into them using a saw.

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Mr Lessman seemed especially pleased with these, and proceeded to tell us stories about each tree carving. He was also fond of making gestures, which Michael and I mostly didn’t understand.

Around where the trucks were, Mr Lessman left us to our devices. We leisurely strolled about his farm, admiring his creations.

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What we understood of the story behind Truckhenge, was that the local council had advised Mr Lessman to get rid of his trucks- the phrase they’d used, according to Mr Lessman, was “pick up the trucks”, which resulted in him “picking them up” according to his words, and a gesture with his arm. The art that came after, like the tree stumps, were a result of the initial trucks.

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The trucks were the last creations on the farm, before we were about to turn around and head back to the house. Then, we heard a humming, vibrational sound, and turned the corner around a bush, to see Mr Lessman doing something on a tractor. When he saw us, he hopped off the tractor, and started talking and walking with us back in the direction of the house.

Michael mostly asked Mr Lessman questions about his pieces, while Mr Lessman told us about how some high school kids would come there to take photos before going to the prom. As we neared the house, Mr Lessman suddenly turned to us expectantly and asked us if we’d like to see the inside of his house.

Micheal, ever cautious, said we had to get going shortly, but thanked Mr Lessman. A blank look came over Mr Lessman’s face, perhaps surprised at the unexpected denial. He then asked us, “Do you want a peacock feather?”

We’d seen peacocks strutting around his farm as we walked, and excitedly, I said yes, not knowing what the offer entailed. We walked back and reached the house, and horrifically, I realized that Mr Lessman meant for us to go inside the house with him to get the peacock feather.

He opened the door, and we both stepped through. Michael kept one foot nearly in the door, while I stood nearby. We watched as Mr Lessman stepped off to the side and retrieved a sole peacock feather from a nearby desk. The interior of the house had dark gray walls with high ceilings, and giant pieces of furniture or other objects that loomed over us and cast long shadows.

He handed me the peacock feather, and then said he could show us around the house. I thanked him, and Michael said we had to get going. It looked like disappointment crossed Mr Lessman’s face for a second, but he walked us out, and we thanked him for the tour and the feather. He shook our hands in goodbye, and we got in the car quickly, and began the drive to Kansas City.

It took us about an houralso to drive to Kansas City from Topeka. The temperature in Kansas City again, wasn’t much kinder to us, and we were dripping with sweat as soon as stepped out of the car.

We entered the restaurant I had chosen, Hayward’s Pit BBQ, to have eyes fall on us, and mouths hang agape. The restaurant had the largest and whitest customers I’d ever seen in one place at a time, and was also heavily male. We had plates of very heavy meat set before us, while Michael chatted to the male server about our road travels.

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I noticed that the waitresses here, even despite being middle aged and above, wore full faces of makeup, looking like the picture of traditional femininity. Michael remarked later that people in more conservative communities tended to conform to traditional gender roles compared to people in more liberal places. He also noted later that Kansas is a red state, and I thought that there must have been at least several people in the restaurant that day, that voted for Trump.

We finished our meal, paid the bill and left to drive north, to Minneapolis.

 

The Great American Road Adventure: Colorado

After about 5 hours on the road, we reached Denver around 6 or 7pm on a Monday evening. As we didn’t have a clear plan laid out, we’d been using the app HotelTonight for bookings, and used this for the entirety of the trip. We checked into Courtyard by Marriott upon arriving in Denver, which was at that point, the most comfortable stay of the trip.

The hotel was located right in the heart of the city, so we had no issues with finding restaurants to eat at, or things to do. As we checked into the hotel that evening, the receptionist recommended certain areas to dine in, and alluded to Denver’s ‘recreational activities’, advising us to partake if we pleased.

At this time, I wasn’t aware that marijuana is legal in Colorado. After learning this, I suggested to Michael that we should get some edibles the following night. After checking in to the hotel, we dropped off our things and freshened up, then walked to a nearby restaurant, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, for dinner.

We were seated immediately at the restaurant. Ophelia’s had a modern, trendy ambience, and was located across two floors, with a giant projector screen on the upper level. The seats faced the screen, which was playing something in black and white, made to look like it was from the 40s or 50s. We each had burgers there, which were superb, before heading out to stroll the city center.

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It was the first time in a couple of days that we’d been in a large city. We both felt comfortable and at ease in Denver at once, and decided that this would be the place to spend two nights. The streets of Denver were clean and beautiful, and the belief that the air was fresh also pervaded due to the knowledge that we were surrounded by mountains on all sides.

That night, we decided to go to a cinema nearby to see ‘It’, until late that night.

The next morning, we got up and walked to a nearby cafe, The Pig and Sprout, for brunch.

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Dip sandwich at The Pig and Sprout

After finishing brunch, we went for a stroll in the heat, before getting an iced tea, and an Uber to the Molly Brown House Museum. The Molly Brown House Museum is a real house that Titanic survivor Margaret Brown lived in at one point in time. The museum entrance fees cost $15 or less per person, and entrance fee includes a mandatory tour. The house museum was more interesting to me as a place preserving its Victorian heritage and furniture, and less so because of who Margaret Brown was.

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Interior of the living room

As we moved through the house museum, the tour guide gave us insights about upper class Victorian living customs, and about Margaret Brown and her family. It took us around 30 minutes to get through the entire house. After the tour, we walked to a nearby cafe for coffee, and then went to the hotel to rest before dinner.

That night, we’d decided to partake in Denver’s recreational delights, so I spent the afternoon looking up places nearby to get edibles. Michael and I left the hotel early in the evening that night, and went to a place called ‘Sweet Leaf’ in a different neighborhood of Denver.

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Unfortunately, I had brought only a copy of my Australian drivers licence, which the staff told me wasn’t sufficient as a form of ID for entry. They said I could enter with my passport (which I hadn’t brought), so only Michael was permitted to enter, and purchased a few items.

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List of edibles for purchase at Sweet Leaf

He told me that the staff inside had informed him that he wasn’t “allowed to buy anything to supply to me”, which I thought was unusual, considering that I had a valid license stating that I was well over the age of 21. We got an Uber to a restaurant in another neighborhood of Denver, featuring Asian and Cajun fusion cusine.

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Purchase from Sweet Leaf
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Deep fried alligator

After having dinner, we went back to the hotel and I had half of one of the truffle brownies that Michael purchased from Sweet Leaf. The container consisted of three brownie bites, which were small mouthfuls, enough for 2 bites. Each brownie bite had 10 milligrams of THC. However, after an hour, I failed to feel anything, so I finished the brownie.

I felt exceedingly tired soon after this, and retired to bed. The night that passed was not a pleasant one. I woke up every 2 hour, with a constant need to drink water. My mouth felt parched, and my head heavy.

In the morning, my alarm went off at 8am to wake me up for a Pilates class nearby. I got out of bed groggily, and stumbled into the bathroom. My pupils were dilated, and I felt like my vision was blurred. My head felt so heavy, I went back to bed for 2 hours, and skipped Pilates.

At 11am, it was checkout time, and despite the extra 2 hours of sleep, I still felt dreadful. This would be my first and last experience with edibles. We departed for Kansas with my head a mess.