One of the best things about the open road is the mind-clearing that comes from it. At least for me.

On my journey, there are many indicators that I’m getting farther away from my norm. Signs that say aircraft overhead are on patrol. Increased speed limits. Passing lanes. Lanes dedicated to truckers. A myriad of out of state license plates. Wide open spaces. Short, barbed wire fences intended only to keep cattle inside a set area. Static on the radio. An AM station whose only content is an electronic female voice reciting traffic issues, closures and the like. I love it. And tonight, although I was just a few hours from home, I was reminded how different the nightlife is.

It was dusk, and I thought I kept seeing a flash off in the distance out my driver’s side window. I could never get a good look at it, but I figured it was someone setting off a rogue firework, bottle rocket or maybe it was even just a reflection that was playing tricks on my eyes. Even better: turns out it was a giant thunderhead over mountains about 15 miles away, and the thing lit up repeatedly. It was massive. The lightning inside it showcased its size; it was beautiful. I didn’t remember any clouds in the sky all day long, but suddenly I heard tiny raindrops on my windshield. The last time I’d driven the same route, I experienced a massive storm with rain so strong, cars weren’t going faster than 10 mph for a good 5 miles. Gorgeous, but made for a more tense drive than I’d have liked.

Tonight’s sprinkles reminded me of that. They were delicate, but plentiful. Some were bigger than others, but more were small, rhythmic and steady. The only difference is that I was cruising along and I didn’t notice any wetness on the ground. And then I realized what I was hearing: thousands of insects that had come out to play for the evening were getting schooled by my windshield.

About 20 miles earlier when I was prepping to begin the long haul down I-5 from the 46, I’d stopped for gas and cleaned this morning’s bugs off, marveling afterward at the fine condition of the gas station’s squeegee. I’d never seen one do a better job at getting rid of insect carcasses and giving me back a clear, unobstructed view for the rest of my drive. Well, once dusk hit, that cleanliness was all over. So were thousands of bug-ish lives.

Insects aside, they’re yet another sign of my distance from the norm — my norm — and they entirely redefined “nightlife,” if only for one evening. And I can’t wait to see what other future trips turn other words inside-out and let them take on new meaning.

Tonight I am thankful for the open road, for being able to clear my head, for a safe trip up, a great day reconnecting with an old friend and a safe trip back.

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