At Long Last, WaKeeney!

WaKeeney KOAWe started our trip 45 minutes late. Perhaps because we didn’t have any sense of urgency. After all, we were simply traveling due north to Oklahoma City, then on to Wichita, and, from there, points west, including Salina and Hays, before spending the night at our destination. A day of driving and an evening relaxing with wine and steak, music and laughter.

We had the music and laughter. And at the end of the day, we had our wine. But no steak, and more driving than we could have imagined.

Day 1 of our Yellowstone Adventure found us leisurly making our way to hitch up, 45 minutes behind schedule, but still tracking to arrive at our destination, the WaKeeney KOA, sometime around 6 p.m.

The first 50 miles were harrowing. Interstate 35 between Dallas and Denton is an absolute nightmare: a mess of construction and shifting lanes and potholes and crazy drivers weaving in and out for no reason whatsoever other than to gain an advantage of a few seconds, at best. Although we drove through rain showers from Denton into Oklahoma, we had no idea what awaited us.

Just outside of Norman, traffic on the interstate highway slowed to a complete stop. Blame it on a semi-truck that crashed into a barrier and had to be cleared off the roadway. The accident occurred in the morning, and we had received an alert about the mess, but we arrived at the traffic tie-up at 1:45 in the afternoon…surely any mess would be cleaned up by then, right? Wrong. We sat in traffic, slowly inching our way along, for two hours and forty minutes.

You can listen to a lot of music and share a lot of laughs in two hours and 40 minutes. You can also run low on fuel. And you can have your planned picnic lunch in the cab of the truck. And you can curse the Internet for not providing crucial, real-time information. And you can learn a lot about a little Kansas town named WaKeeney.

As destinations go, WaKeeney isn’t too impressive. The town was named for its founders, Albert Warren and James Keeney, in 1879. The name is a portmanteau, or a blending of two names. The term is French, and is used to refer to luggage that had two compartments. But it had particular meaning for us, considering our own last name is a portmanteau. Soon after we were married in 2004, we legally changed our last name to Garinn, using the GAR of Cliff’s original last name, Garner, and the INN from Jon’s original last name, O’Guinn. The resulting portmanteau is unique. To our knowledge, no other person has our last name. And, like a portmanteau, we’re a package deal. Two compartments of the same suitcase.

But before we get sappy, let’s return to Day 1 of our Yellowstone Adventure. We learned a few lessons from today’s traffic jam.

First, if you drive a fancy Lexus or some other such high-end model, don’t even think about claimning the shoulder of the interstate as your own personal driving lane to get around traffic. Truck drivers won’t allow it. They’ll block your path and hem you in and you’ll have nowhere to go but the flooded ditch. Not a good idea.

Second, regardless of what type of vehicle you drive, it does no good to maneuver from one lane to another when the traffic jam is miles long. No one has an advantage. It is, rather, a shared misery.

Third, don’t lose perspective. It was raining. Traffic was at a standstill. But all around us we saw signs of damage from recent tornadoes. Our ordeal could have been worse. But, all things considered, it was just an inconvenience. Nothing more.

Which brings us back to WaKeeney. At long last, six hours late, we arrived at our destination. And for some reason, in the dark, misty night, and after a very long day, this little Kansas town with a portmanteau name, became for us weary travelers, an oasis. We were so grateful to be there.

And so we ended the day with wine and music and laughter. Still no steak, but we’re planning on having that tomorrow, somewhere near Mount Rushmore.

As long as we don’t get caught up in another traffic nightmare.