By Sam Lightner Jr.
OK, you can’t take the bad out of driving Interstate 80 across Wyoming. I understand that.
It seems like nine out of 10 times we do that trek the wind is blowing like a tempest and it’s snowing horizontally. There are semi-trucks in the left lane, barely in control as they ignore the ever-present ice. And when you’re not dodging them you are punching the steering wheel in frustration at some slow semi passing another slightly slower semi, again in the left lane.
Yo! Just keep your Peterbilt out of the left lane (unless carrying my Amazon Prime order, then hurry up).
We can’t get rid of the frustrations, but we could make them more interesting. That was the inspiration for Project Boredom Buster.
Boredom Buster would be an audio book sharing Wyoming’s most interesting historic stories as you drove the interstate. Tales of the debauchery at “Hell on Wheels” towns, the Wild Bunch accidentally blowing up a rail car, then doing it again, wild parties thrown by mountain men in the form of a Rendezvous, and what inspired the name of Killpecker Sand Dunes could make that drive into an Equality State fiesta.
I contacted TravelStorysGPS in Jackson, and they had the app for it. The narratives just play from your phone when you get near a given site. I just needed to write some of the content.
So, I did. I recorded it too, with a fancy-shmancy new microphone delivered by Amazon Prime. On time.
So, I found myself back in paragraph one … I’d have to drive I-80 in January to be sure the program was working correctly.
In these COVID-times, we around the Lightner household don’t get too many outings, so a trip would have been nice, but driving from Nebraska to Utah was not the vacation I was looking for. But beggars can’t be vacationers, I guess.
I consulted Dasher, my 19 pound fuzzy son, and he was game for a big “bye-bye.” We loaded the truck, kissed the wife, and aimed the windshield toward Pine Bluffs.
One only has to get close to I-80 to have the weather set in. About 10 miles north of Rawlins the crosswinds started grabbing the truck. Dasher had to get out and mark some stuff, so we pulled over near the famed Rawlins Red Paint mines. Yep. 50-plus mph. Dasher got back in the truck, shivering in both cold and fear of the gale.
We hit the big road, formerly the Lincoln Highway, and the app kicked in. There I was, yapping about Sinclair (formerly Parco), Fort Steele (formerly Fremont’s camp site), and Walcott, which should not be confused with Wolcott. All played well.
Then of course it was Elk Mountain. We weren’t in Lander any more…. they had snow, and waves of it were matching our speed. Trucks in all four lanes, that being left, right, the left barrow pit and the right barrow pit. Par for January.
You ever notice how stuck trucks seem to never have an associated truck driver? It’s odd. Maybe there’s a sci-fi book in that.
Anyway, we passed through Laramie, and then up to Vedauwoo, my voice commenting on such things as the bronze bust of Lincoln and the Ames Brothers monument. Dasher said he need to mark again.
“Here, buddy? We’re going east at 80 mph and I have the truck in neutral!”
There was that look: when you gotta go, you gotta go.
We pulled over near the Lone Pine and I angled the truck so the door was protected, then opened it. Dasher stepped onto my lap and looked outside.
“Nope, I can hold it.”
Ninety minutes later we were doing an illegal U-turn in Nebraska. I figure I can say this here cuz everyone knows the Nebraska Highway Patrol can’t read. Dasher took advantage of a dusty corn field, and we sped back west. Talk of Fort Laramie, Frontier Days, the former town of Sherman, and Curt Gowdy flowed correctly. The truck did not. Way too much headwind kept us moving slow.
By the time we reached Elk Mountain the road had a nice shine. Not that white ice you get when its snowed a lot, but that almost clear, glazed donut-stuff that forms when old snowflakes have been tumbled across it all day. It’s a Wyoming thing… Krispy Kreme invented the Glazed Donut, WYDOT the Glazed Pavement.
Dash and I spent the night in Rawlins, elevation 6,834, population 9,260, wind chill -46. We had a great Larb Gai from Anong’s, and spent the night dreaming of Big Nose Parrott and his taxidermist-doctor.
The next morning the headwind had abated to some degree… probably no more than an 8 on the Beaufort Scale. We then followed the Cherokee Trail, saw Wamsutter turn from Washakie and the site of that silly Wild Bunch blowing up another rail car. How many times can you make that mistake?
All audio was working as we passed the site of the Chinese Race Riots and that naughty Killpecker business, then Wesley Powell’s launching point in Green River, the worlds largest trona reserves, followed by tanking up with the Little America penguin. Just Jim Bridger’s haunt, mountain man partying, and a brief bit on that little thing we call the Mormon Civil War, and we were in Utah. It had worked.
Dash saluted the Beehive State, as he likes to do, and we turned for Lander. I can say now that I am quite proud of this project. Our state has an interesting history, and a good bit of it can be learned while driving I-80, even in winter.