Still dark, the early morning air is cool with the onset of September. I creak open the door and settle into the dusty seat of my Jetta, heaving my travel pack onto the passenger side within easy reach. Rubbing the weariness from heavy eyes, I wait a few seconds before cranking the tiny diesel over. The familiar chug and rattle percolates throughout the cabin and a spin of the radio dial searches for some morning jabber for background noise.

Cup holders on the dash beckon for a steaming cup of coffee, but I only take water. I picked up a fifteen pack case from the gas station for $3.99 the night before. The flimsy plastic bottles so thin they crinkle like aluminum foil, and I’m nervous they’ll explode all over the floor. Never did understand the allure of that black liquid. As a rule, coffee drinkers make terrible road trippers. Always fussing for their next fix, you inevitably have to pull over again twenty minutes later so they can relieve the borrowed fluid.

Creeping out of the parking garage, I lope onto the highway, thick yellow lines sparkling in the half moon glow of headlamps. Ribbons of blacktop and a season full of new adventure await. Into the morning black I go.

I make my way north on Highway 61 skirting the winding edge of the Mississippi River and passing through Hannibal, Missouri a couple hours later; birthplace of Mark Twain. The orange glow of sunrise streams in through the passenger window now, the roads remain silent. I turn the radio off in deference.

Eventually, the broad valleys of Missouri give way to the soft rolling hills of Southern Iowa. Great glaciers carved these valleys into the scarred plains, the hills the remnants of sediment deposits left behind as the ice retreated North. Erratic boulders the size of Volkswagens dot the edges of fields, abandoned by the glaciers to later be wrestled out of the way by early settlers.

Today, broad swaths of corn stretch across the undulating landscape as far as the eye can see. Oceans of gold tassels sway rhythmically in the wind, flamboyant seed company signs demarcating the different plots. Pioneer. Champion. The corn is high now, with harvest a few short weeks away. The blacktop walled on both sides by endless green pickets disappearing over the next rise.

A new odyssey begins…

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