People generally don’t seek out the opportunity to take a road trip across the state of Kansas. It is certainly not on the list of scenic drives in the United Sates, and will never compare to the majesty of places like the Pacific Coast Highway, Yellowstone, the Adirondacks, or the Grand Canyon. Getting across Kansas on Interstate 70 takes, at a minimum, five and a half hours, with each mile often looking quite similar to the mile before it.
However, this is still a heavily traveled road. In fact, each year more people end up passing through Kansas along this route than end up visiting some more scenically spectacular, but far more remote, places like Crater Lake or Big Bend.
Each year, millions of Americans end up traveling across Kansas on I-70, or along similar routes across the Great Plains, mostly passing through on the way to some other destination. After all, Kansas is the site of the mid-point of the continental United States. It is naturally going to be on the way to and from a lot of places. Any cross-country road trip does require trekking across the Great Plains.
Frequently in life, people will look at what is directly in front of them, whether it be their homes, their jobs, a social situation, or even a specific event, see it as less than ideal, and insist on remaining focused on what makes the situation, well, less than ideal. This is the easy way of handling such situations. It is a trap I often find myself falling into. However, while it is comforting to endlessly lament a circumstance, it is not productive. It does nothing to improve the situation at hand.
Kansas itself, in a way, knows what it is. It is not the peaks and valleys of Rocky Mountain National Park, the majestic maple trees of New Hampshire in autumn, or the amusement parks of Florida. Most people here are driving through, and most of the accommodations along the interstate are clearly geared at travelers.
And, occasionally to people who need to get out of the car and explore some things along the way.
Kansas also seems to be a place that embraces what it is.
As well as what it once was.
Even if in many cases its significance then is no different than its significance now; a place people generally pass through on the way to somewhere else.
In my own experience, what typically happens on drives like this is strikingly similar to what occurs in the process of meditation. As is the case when I attempt to rid myself of unnecessary distractions, turn off all forms of entertainment, and reconnect with my own mind <link to disconnect to connect blog>, I get anxious at first. I long for something, anything to emerge to entertain me. I need to adjust. To let go. And after that process, I get to a place where I can finally see the beauty of the surroundings. After driving across this landscape for a couple of hours, I saw this place for what it truly is, actually quite beautiful. As was the case on previous trips, I spent some time just soaking it in.
I am reminded that, when we embrace our situations for what they are, even if they are not what we had hoped for, we can often still find some beauty in it.
It may not be what we had hoped for, but, as long as we continue to move, our destination will eventually be reached.
And, sometimes even the journey to the destination gets a bit more interesting.
One thing many do not realize is that the section of Kansas that follows the Kansas River, from Manhattan, through Topeka and Lawrence, and into Kansas City is far more lush and hilly than other parts of the Great Plains. The area ends up feeling way more like the Midwest.