Micki, Rachael, Jeanne, and Melissa: Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Pretzel Tour Three

In the summer of 2009, Jeanne Beilke phoned me from a road trip she was on with Christopher Cave and Jon Jambor. All of us had gone to Dodge City Senior High together and graduated in 1973. Jeanne, Chris, and Jon had been touring the roads of Kansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma on their motorcycles. After hearing how much fun they were having, I wondered if Jeanne would agree to hit the road with me the following year. Since Jeanne and I had not seen each other since we had graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure if she would want to spend time on the road with me. When my mother died in 2008, I found myself wanting to see Dodge City, a place I had not been to since my parents moved to Michigan in 1992.  Were Dorothy’s words true? Is there “no place like home”?

I contacted Jeanne, and she agreed to travel with me. To visit friends and family in various locales, we planned to fly into Denver, Colorado, head south to Route 66, head east to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and finally wind our way north and west to Dodge City, Kansas. After viewing the strange route we had planned, Jeanne came up with the name of our adventure: “The Pretzel Tour.”

We posted our ideas on Facebook, and our simple plans grew exponentially. Micki Holladay and Rachael Livingston joined the tour. Destinations and parties were planned. I had not seen Micki or Rachael since the mid-seventies before I moved to California. Friends constantly asked me if we would all be able to get along. I had no idea.

Jeanne flew into Detroit from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and I saw her for the first time in thirty-seven years. After we were together for about ten seconds, it seemed quite apparent that we were going to have a very good time on our trip. We flew out of Detroit and into Denver. We rented a car, and tried to find our way to Aurora, Colorado, to meet up with a high school friend, Richard Osborn. I managed to get us lost, pointed out the “swirly things” in the distance (tornadoes), and we eventually met up with Richard. Jeanne told me I had been out of Kansas too long if I referred to tornadoes as swirly things.

Jeanne and I headed to Denver. She drove us to her sister’s house, and my cousin Julie Bowline picked me up. The next day we met up with a group of high school friends who lived near Denver: Susan Maynard Wolfe, Marty Goff Hahn, Robin Troyer Friesen, Mickey Webster Winfrey, and the other half of the Pretzel Tour gang, Micki Holladay and Rachael Livingston. Some of us had thirty-seven years of catching up to do. We laughed so hard my stomach hurt. I am surprised the Wynkoop Brewing Company did not kick us out.

Two days later, Jeanne, Micki, Rachael, and I headed to Boulder, Colorado, in Micki’s car to meet up with Ted Larson, yet another person originally from Dodge City. Part of our Pretzel Tour plan was to head south to Route 66, and Ted suggested we take the back roads. We hit CO 286 and the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway. Every time we saw a spot that looked interesting, we stopped. We were in no hurry. As Micki drove, we settled into a routine of telling stories and listening to music. When Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” came on, we talked about how much we loved this song when we were in high school. Rachael and I declared it as our “favorite-favorite.” All of us sang along softly, each of us lost in some memory we decided not to share as Robert Plant’s voice seemed to take us back in time.

We worked our way to Alamosa for the night, and hit the road the next day. During the days ahead, with Micki always behind the wheel, Rachael riding shotgun, and Jeanne and me in the backseat, we eventually worked our way towards New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Rachael and I drove out to the house I had grown up in, and I felt strange as I stood in the driveway. I had been thinking about Miranda Lambert’s song, The House That Built Me, and realized the significance of wanting to go home again. There are a million stories to tell, but I will save those for another day or in a book.

At one point along the way, an old friend asked us who was in charge. We all started laughing. Was one of us supposed to be in charge? Unless you count my penchant for bossiness, we all got along splendidly, and Jeanne, Micki, and Rachael put up with me.

We discussed the possibility of Pretzel Tour 2 the following summer. A friend of mine from California, Denise Manson Torres, joined us. Because of our various schedules, it seemed as if Michigan would be the logical place  to tour. We hit Northern Michigan with a vengeance. During the trip, I started missing turns when I was driving. Places I had been many times before seemed confusing to me. Micki, Jeanne, and Rachael gave me the ribbing I deserved, and they found a beer koozie for me with this saying: “I’m not in charge. I just know what you should be doing.” Not only was I missing turns, I was becoming bossier by the minute.

As we parted in early August, we discussed our plans for Pretzel Tour 3, but we did not decide on when or where. Three months later, I found out I had a brain tumor. I figured that would be the end of just about everything in life I loved, including my trips with this fabulous group of women.

Pretzel Tour 3 begins August 1st.  Jeanne, Micki, and I will meet up in Chicago and begin the trek on Route 66 as we head towards our destination at the Lake of the Ozarks. Rachael will join us as we spend our days at Gretchen Leonard Steffen’s house. We will tell stories, drink beer, and enjoy each other’s company. All of us have been through many challenges in life, and somehow we have managed to work our way through the losses and disappointments to become the women of substance we were destined to be. We are all damn funny, and we like to tell stories. My friends are willing to put up with me as I make this journey, knowing I will mess up my words when I talk, and my memories will be suspect at times.

Ladies, I am ready for the adventure to begin, and I am still working on getting rid of my bossiness, but I will bring my beer koozie just in case.