I started obsessing about the barbecue a good three weeks before I made the trip out to Kansas.
I don't think I'm alone in missing the little things when I think about home. Home, for me, is Kansas. It's where I grew up. It's where I went to school. It's where I worked my first job. It's where I said I would always stay, until I left.
I always come home for a week every year. My excuse is so my parents can see the grandkids. That is true. But the real reason is much simpler. I need my fix.
That means barbecue, Tippin's French Silk pie, running on a trail through the woods, catching lightning bugs and even sort of liking the strange stuff, like that film of humidity that stays on your skin at the end of the day.
Part of that comes from the fact that my parents are divorced. It is what it is. It was better for the both of them. I love seeing them, and they are great to my kids. That still leaves me visiting semi-strange neighborhoods rather than the one I lived in as a kid. I rarely get to see it anymore. I didn't this year.
I got lost, for instance, on one of my runs at Dad's. I took a wrong turn, and that turn forced me to run eight miles a day after a PR in a 10K.
(Quick brag: That 10K was a PR by two minutes. Sea level is really nice, but I think the stifling humidity cuts that advantage in half by the end of the race. The base training I've enjoying from the marathon just keeps paying off).
So, with my childhood home gone — something that isn't uncommon among us almost-40-year-olds — I have to hang onto the little things.
That means flying insects that flash like traffic lights when it gets dark.
Lightning bugs are fascinating to me, even if, really, all they are doing is saying LOOK AT MY BUTT! NO LOOK AT MY BUTT! I'LL DOUBLE BLINK YOUR BUTT TO THE GROUND! The kids had a ball snatching them up and putting them in a jar.
I watched them for hours in Kansas, but we don't have them in Colorado, at least not in Greeley. I miss the calls of the cicadas, but I miss the lightning bugs a lot more. I let them go once the kids went to bed. I can't keep beauty like that locked up.
I went to Kansas determined not to overeat. One thing that struck me on this trip was how easy it is to eat too much every day. I'm hardly overweight, and I'm not on a diet. But I have to watch what I eat every day, just like all of you.
It was a constant battle. And part of that reason is the French Silk.
When you order French Silk anywhere else, you get a mushy, pudding pie, which is sort of like comparing Schlitz to a Fat Tire. Tippin's French Silk is a buttery, milk chocolate masterpiece. There's nothing else like it. I don't really even like pie all that much.
Tippins was a restaurant with several locations, but it eventually went out of business, as the market for fancier versions of truck-stop food wasn't strong, and the pies were't enough to keep it going. Now Tippins sells pies out of a grocery store chain (or the chain bought it, I'm not really sure) for $12 a pop.
I had a piece of French Silk every night after dinner, and obviously, if I did that every night, I'd probably be at least ten pounds past my racing weight. I'd have a ponch, even with all the miles I run. And then I'd probably want a snack every night, like I had at my parents, and I'd eat more candied walnuts and much extra-large lunches and....
And I found myself having to really balance all that out with breakfasts of grapefruit and little else and other lunches of salads and fruits. It's SO easy to go overboard. I can see why this country is so fat. Calories are accessible, and most people don't run them off.
I don't think I overate on this trip, but I did gain a couple pounds, and I ran 30 miles that week in a sauna. So easy.
But then again, I may have gained all that weight Friday. Friday was Gates day. In my completely professional and totally unbiased opinion, Kansas City and the surrounding area serves the best barbecue in the world.
You have to pick your alliances early on. There are four or five major brands here. I used to be a KC Masterpiece guy, but in the last few years, I've turned to Gates. It's spicier than I want, but the meat is So Fucking Good. Smokey good. Imagine tender, smoked meat drenched in sugar, spice and molasses. You get the idea.
I ran 12 that day through that trail through the trees, and I ate a small bran muffin for breakfast and three servings of fruit for lunch, and then we went to a big pool all day. My body was ready for calories.
I ate most of a short end of ribs, probably 20oz of beans, most of an order of burnt ends, a serving of sausage, a few fries and probably something else. It's by far the most food I've eaten since, well, probably since the last time I had Gates, a year ago. If I could have injected it into my veins, I would have.
Alas, eventually, the meal has to end.
My body, or the stomach, anyway, seemed to realize how special this was, as I got away with this bender. No issues (I do not need to elaborate, I'm pretty sure) and just some mild heartburn that I extinguished with some Tums. Perhaps the humidity helped me sweat it through my pores.
Ah, the humidity. I said I may have missed it. I did miss it for a few minutes. Then my next thought was, "OMGOMGOMG HOW DO YOU STAND IT?" I felt like a hot dog dunked in water and then thrown into the Joey Chestnut furnace. At my race I dumped two cups of water over my head and ran through a sprinkler. On my "lost" run my shirt was soaked through. After I ran 12 through the trees I believe I lost five pounds in water weight. And every time it started before 7 a.m. Brutal.
On our last day, when we stayed at a cheap hotel in Goodland, KS, dark clouds loomed in the distance, and a kid at the hotel's pool from Minnesota kept staring at them in worry. They're nothing, I told him. Don't worry.
A couple hours later, a thick mass of green-tinted, pissed-off vapor gathered over our hotel roof and spit out lightning like raindrops. Then the sirens went off.
I even miss the thunderstorms, the ragers that we just don't get back home. But the kids freaked on us, despite me telling them I'd been through dozens, if not hundreds, of tornado warnings with nary a scratch. This storm wasn't even that bad, with some driving rain, strong winds and a lot of thunder but no hail, really strong winds or, you know, a funnel. I'm not sure why the sirens went off. Maybe for old times' sake.
I stared out the window as the rain settled down, and, even if I miss it, I was grateful this was a fun event, an unusual thing, something we do once a year, like eat BBQ or catch lightning bugs.
The things you miss, I've found, seem to lead you back to the places we are lucky enough to now call home.