Road Trip: On a mission to West Bend, Iowa

Aunt Irene, 92, and the cousins at reunion.

It’s roughly 850 miles from where I live now, just south of Dallas, to where I grew up, in West Bend, IA, and where I was heading on my road trip to a family reunion.

My trip is the same every time, and this one started out no differently – make extra coffee because even Starbucks isn’t open yet, find the cat and have the traditional pet carrier battle of wills, load her and the dog up in the car (luckily I loaded everything else the night before), and hit the road.

Usually, as we make our way northward up U.S. Highway 69, through western Oklahoma, the sun is just beginning to burn off the morning haze over Lake Eufaula, but thanks to Sasha’s (the cat) morning escapades, we’re about 30 minutes behind our normal schedule. It’s still breathtakingly beautiful. Someday I’m going to stop, dig out my camera and make an attempt at capturing a piece of the serenity that exists here, but today I was on a mission.

As I passed over the state line from Oklahoma to Missouri on I-44, I couldn’t wait for my favorite part of the entire trip – exit 8A. I had carefully planned to ensure both my gas tank and stomach were on “E” at exit 8A.

But wait! It wasn’t there! The HORROR!

Much to my relief, the old, dual 8A/8B exit was replaced by a more efficient exit 8. Just south of this intersection is Casey’s General Store, the Midwest’s answer to 7-Eleven. There isn’t anything special about this particular Casey’s, except that it’s the closest one to my home in Texas, and I simply must have Casey’s pizza. It’s the ooey-gooey, cheesy goodness I grew up on, and here, at the midpoint between my present and my past, it’s a slice of home and the perfect road trip food.

After filling the tank, buying a slice and letting Jack (the dog) stretch his legs, we were back on the road.

Zipping northward on I-49 through Missouri and then I-35 past Des Moines, I couldn’t help but think about my family reunion the next day. I hadn’t seen some of my cousins since we were kids, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, others have morphed from little kids to grown-ups with families of their own seemingly overnight. Crazy. (Once we all got together, though, we were kids again, especially when the water guns came out, and the sneaky, torturous planning began.)

The back half of the northward road trip seemed to go much faster, and in no time at all we were on the outskirts of my hometown, West Bend. I called Mom to let her know we’d be there in just a couple minutes. On the other end of the line, I heard her say, “We ordered Casey’s pizza for supper.”

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