Author’s note: This is the second in a series of articles chronicling the Offutt Family Vacation. Pray for me.

There’s never been a long road trip that coffee didn’t make better. I’m sure the Hobbits would have made it to Mount Doom with a little more zip in their step if they’d had coffee, and Hannibal’s trip over the Alps during the Second Punic War would have at least involved fewer threats to “turn this thing around.”

So, our stop for coffee was important.

The Preschooler shifted in her car seat and crossed her arms before addressing her mother and me, her siblings in a sleepy daze beside her. It was 5:30 a.m., after all.

“This is NOT the mountains,” she said, the indignant tone in her voice much like when I tried to tell her the chicken nuggets I made at home were the same as McDonald’s.

We were on our way to Colorado and had made it to a convenience store five minutes from our house. Five minutes. Boy, did she have a 10-hour surprise coming.

There’s only one problem driving from Missouri to Colorado – northern Kansas. Not that Kansas is in itself a problem, it’s just that it’s roughly 400 miles of farmland broken up here and there by small towns with no sign of economic support. It’s like South Dakota without Wall Drug.

But, darn it, we were going to make the drive interesting.

Planning a trip would be fun if it weren’t for all the planning. Google (all hail our AI overlord) provided us with three options for driving through northern Kansas, one of which went right by the geographic center of the contiguous United States.

First fun family-friendly stop? Check.

“What are we doing here?” one of the children asked when I braked at the historical marker on the end of a rural highway two and a half miles outside Lebanon, Kansas, population 212.

“There’s nothing here,” one of them moaned. I couldn’t tell which. After a four-hour drive, it’s easy to forget your kids’ names.

“Rural America,” I said. “We’re seeing rural America.”

“Rural America’s boring,” another one said. Or maybe it was my wife. Whatever. It was one of the people I’d brought with me in the car.

“We live in rural America,” I told them, then took a picture of the family in front of a sign that read, ‘Welcome to the Geographic Center of the 48 States.’ The Preschooler faced backward.

As a child, I wasn’t like this on family vacations, mainly because we didn’t take many. The only trip I remember was to Colorado when I was 5 and ate bad bologna. I threw up all the way home. The Geographic Center of the 48 States is Disney World in comparison.

“We’re loving this, right guys?” I said when we got back into the car, not expecting an answer.

“This is NOT the mountains,” the Preschooler said again.

Great. I’m not going to say a word about the World’s Largest Ball of Sisal Twine in Cawker City, Kansas. We were stopping there next.

Next week: Part three.