Traversing the high plains: Wichita to Colorado.

It was rough night in our little motel room – another night with all four of us in one double bed is not conducive to good night’s sleep! We woke kinda grumpy and tired but looking forward to meeting up again with Ron from Lucky Devil to get out much anticipated inking. After a quick (and successful) trip to Walmart to get some fruit and vegetables for breakfast, we headed to Douglas Street, Wichita to have a permanent reminder of our US trip etched into our skin.

Did I tell the story of the tattoo places in Wichita? Basically we both wanted to get new tattoos in the US and decided on Wichita as the place to get them – if you look at a map of North America, you’ll see that Wichita is right in the middle of the country. After a super quick google search I found Lucky Devil and chose it as the place for us because it has been running for over 20 years and on the site there was some sweet work – including an elephant, which is what my husband wanted to get. Using out trusty TomTom we found the place yesterday at 5.45pm – the place shut at 7pm. Unfortunately the guys were booked up but the guy suggested a friend of his and gave us the address of the tattoo place. We discovered Matt had closed early – annoying since we really only had one night to give to Wichita as we had plans to leave early in the morning to head for Denver. I saw down the street another tattoo place and headed in to see if I could get an appointment. I can’t remember the name of the place, which is probably a good thing because it was kinda seedy and scared the hell out of me. Just a little Aussie chick in a room full of heavily tattooed and pierced men and women. The atmosphere was kinda tense – I didn’t feel welcome at all. Luckily the guys didn’t have time for us – we high-tailed out of there and headed back to Ron at Lucky Devil to try our luck. And as fate would have it, Ron was stoked to see us and kindly offered to ink us both the next morning – an hour before the shop opens!

Ron and Jared are two of the nicest guys you’ll meet. Jared is a quiet spoken artist who had the job of inking my tattoo. I was pretty damn nervous when I sat down on that vinyl black chair. To be honest I was feeling pretty sick all morning just thinking about the pain. I was scared I was going to pass out and embarrass myself and the boys. But after the initial ‘ouch’ of the needle scratching my skin, I got used to it. Jared was really sweet and got my trees done fast but made sure they were done well. When he said it was finished I was a little disappointed, I really was. I had started to enjoy the sensation of having ink needled into my skin, lol. Lee’s tattoo was mostly done, and whilst I sat admiring my fresh deep black trees on my wrist, I listened to Ron’s loving description of his home town and its very rich history. He told us about the running of the doves that has its roots in smelly prostitutes, the importance of the Hispanic peoples in growing the town, a true Western gun-fight between dueling saloon owners that took place on Douglas Street and Wyatt Earp’s law enforcement in the area. We got so much more than tattoos and we thank Ron and Jared for the time and art they gave us.


   

Sadly we had to leave Wichita and head north. The landscape certainly flattened out – much to our relief. It really is beautiful out this way. I know there’s not much to see, but we Aussies like it that way. It feels a bit like home, you know? It was nice to have a break from the signs advertising fast-food chains. One sign did catch my attention, and I’m glad it did. A nondescript sign advertising a craft brewery and diner. I told Lee and before I knew it we were heading for Hays, Kansas.

The diner is called Gella’s and if you ever do find yourself in Kansas, I recommend you track it down. To say that Lee was excited is just plain silly – he was practically jumping out of his pants he was that excited! I think after the tattoo this morning, he really thought the day’s high had been. But he was wrong. This little brewery is a winner – and so are its beers! Lee enjoyed two of the breweries award-winning beers – Liberty Stout and Downtown American Brown. We had some food as well which was so good and affordable we were shocked when we saw the bill. The boys and I shared a creme brulee which was divine – but still not as good as the one I had in Philly with the edmodo crew. Free top-ups of the brewery’s own creaming soda was just the cherry on top of a sweet-as day for us.

What else did we do? Oh – we headed to a very, very little town called Oakley to plant a couple of travel bugs in a cache. If you don’t know what geo-caching is then this paragraph will mean nothing to you – unless you head to your little google tab up top and type it in, that is. The boys have been keen to plant a couple of travel bugs somewhere in the US and see which of the two gets back home to Australia first, so in the intense Kansas heat we found ourselves at the Travel Bug Hotel in Oakley. Without a GPS (oops – I forgot to pack it!) we had to navigate via TomTom. Luckily the home for the bugs is at a hotel run by the cacher who created the cache. He was a very, very friendly German who playfully made us unlock the cache ourselves to make it more authentic. I was surprised that he would select this tiny mid-American town as a place for his new home, but he assured me the area (Kansas, I’m assuming?) is rich with German heritage, right back to the 1800s! He brought his teenage kids to this tiny town which surprised me even more when I looked directly across the street at the high school that resembled (not surprisingly) a detention centre or prison. Anyway … I admired his adventurous spirit – moving from a busy German city to the quiet and seclusion of Oakley, Kansas!

So you’re probably thinking the day ends after this event, right? But surely you know me/us better than that! No – whilst there is sun in the sky there is adventure to be had. The drive West to Denver proved long, flat and surprisingly stormy. The stamina of my driver was beginning to weaken and the lightning was freaking me out (I mean, damn – this is Kansas right … they have tornadoes and stuff!) so we opted for a lodging exit and an early night. I thought another cheap motel would offset the bills we forked out for the tattoos – bad move. The place we checked in to was 60 bucks including wifi. Not bad. The area was kinda teeming with what we Aussies call 4WD utes and what are known here lovingly as ‘trucks’ … each with a matching baseball hat wearing tough-looking cowboy kinda guy. OK, if they didn’t have a truck they had a motorbike – a big one – and no helmet. This is not the gentlest place in town.

The lady behind the counter of the motel was super sweet and it was genuinely funny to see her young son unable to tell me anything about Australia – he asked me what continent it was on! At this point it was cold and raining, so I grabbed the keys and the boys and I followed her directions to the room. Way out back, through a door, up some stairs and even further to the back. Well, it certainly was way back. This motel made the last two look luxurious. The walls of the corridor were decorated in almost paint – you know, like someone started to paint them but gave up. The carpet was literally worn through (even pulled up in the corners) and there was rubbish strewn around. I think I must have been breathing, but I felt like I was holding my breath. We stumbled in half-light (they sure were saving on electricity!) down the corridor, around another corner and counted the room numbers until we found ‘ours’. The windows of the room faced out into the corridor and the whole thing reeked of ‘get me the hell out of here’. I looked at Lee and the boys and put the key in the lock. And guess what? It wouldn’t open. I struggled for a bit and then allowed myself a sigh of relief. The key didn’t fit and we had an excuse to get out of there.We walked so fast out of that corridor, down those stairs and climbed back into the car I can’t even remember it really. Oh, I do remember looking down into the huge hall with the sign ‘recreation room’ only to see it piled high with broken lounges, tables, chairs, old mouldy-looking rolls of carpet and blinds … nice. As we drove back to the motel office I heard men shouting heatedly to each other across the car park. Exit – stage right.

I felt bad going back to the woman and telling her the place just wasn’t right for me and my boys. But I was scared. I kinda told her that. I felt even worse. But I’m telling you, this motel was like something out of a movie. Not ‘The Shinging’ but more like ‘No Country for Old Men’. Middle America scary. I wouldn’t stay somewhere like that in Australia, I certainly wouldn’t do it in America.

So where am I now? Well we drove down the road a few miles and realised that the lodging exit we’d taken was the tiny ‘pre-exit’ … there were far more places to stay at the real exit. And that’s where we are now. A Super 8 like in St Louis, it’s clean, comfortable, got free wifi/breakfast and it’s safe – three different types of locks on the door!

Gotta love this road trip. Seriously.

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