It has been two years since my last road trip, a flight to Chicago, visit at Northwestern, and then more than two weeks coming back to Arizona with a massive telescope in the back of a rented van. Starting in Racine Wisconsin, I visited my grandmother in Iowa and friends in Colorado before making my way home to Arizona. Dan Heim was kind enough to receive the telescope, and later that fall work with me every weekend to refurbish and upgrade the beautiful instrument for the Mt. Meru Astronomical Observatory.
Now, I have lived out of my car for two weeks and three days, having left Cascabel, Arizona Thursday, July 30. I drove to the Alvord Desert of southeastern Oregon where the Pacific Spaceflight team attempted a manned hydrogen balloon launch. From there I enjoyed a night at the Crystal Cane hot springs, then two nights and a day in Bend where I pulled on rock and landed on a bouldering crashpad for the first time in months. A few days with Cascabel neighbors and good friends David and Pearl outside of Philomath, then to the Pacific Coast, lush forests and the splendid views along the 101.
Being on the road, the namesake of this entire collection of essays, is not what it used to be for me. For several years, from 2010 through 2018 it was my norm. I was never in one place for more than a few weeks (aside from my apartment in South Africa 2014-15), constantly packing and unpacking, hand-washing clothes, buying just enough food to fill a cooler. That routine with which I moved through world was not readily available to me at the start of this journey. I had lost the rhythm, the comfort of the day to day.
I am regaining comfort with me, away from home. Day by day, week by week I am regaining the freedom of living without attachment to so many material things. In so doing, I am once again able to reflect upon what I have learned from the road.
While COVID has restricted our movement, and made social interaction strained, nearly impossible in certain situations, overall we remain a social species, eager to engage. Smiles behind the masks of gas station attendants, well wishing issued from the far side of plexiglass at checkout counters, and campground stories yet told from across open fires.
I found focus again. Mornings spent fixing oatmeal over my Coleman stove, reading, and stirring the coals of the campfire from the night before. I sat upon my bouldering crashpad with laptop and hot tea, checking email when I had a signal. When my brain scattered, and checking email became an autonomous response to feeling alone in the world, I went for a swim or a hike. Two, sometimes three days in one place and then I’d move on. No real time frame. No sense of urgency to get home. The longer I was away, the more comfortable I felt, and the more I found balance in my days.
Cascabel to Tucson, Arizona … Las Vegas to Tonopah, Battle Mountain, and Winnemucca, Nevada … The Fields Station at the Alvord Desert to Burns, Oregon and then Bend, Corvallis, and Philomath. Down the coast for a few days of hiking on the dunes, then back inland through Eugene to Hills Creek Lake for three days and two nights on the backside of a massive reservoir. Swimming three times a day to cool off from the nearly 100F temperatures, moving my car and mobile office to remain in the shade of the pine and fir. Further along Oregon 58, South on 97 to Crater Lake for a rainy afternoon. At Klamath Falls I turned West along HW140 and enjoyed one of the most splendid sections of road in my journey, a narrow blacktop that wove its way over pine topped hills into cultivated valleys, through towns only visible in the fine print of the map. I spent one night at Hunters Hot Spring Lodge, a place whose more glamorous history is maintained only in the black and white photos on the failing walls. Whisky drinking, bikini-clad locals and friends of the manager gathered without concern for COVID at one end of the naturally heated pool while I remained at the other. I engaged in a conversation with a massage therapist whose story of managing a thousand head of cattle on horseback over a hundred thousand acres, a broken back, and healing through non-traditional means captivated me for a half hour. Her husband and son now ran an alternative healing clinic out of the Lodge with intent to expand, and purchase their own land soon. Through unexpected hard times often come the most unexpected triumphs, again and again.
I continued on Oregon 140 across one of the most magical stretches of highway I have ever driven. No power lines. No towns. No trees. Just wide open vistas that would give one the belief they lived on an uninhabited planet were it not for a vehicle coming the other direction once every thirty to forty five minutes. Full circle, drove again through Winnemucca and took the interstate into the heart of Utah, then south to Moab and my land. At 8000 feet elevation, the temperature was yet too hot for comfortable work by day, and so I drove higher to a campsite in the La Sal National Forest, at roughly 9500 feet elevation. I spent a week here, heading into town every other day for ice, food, and to get on-line for a few hours. I had rediscovered the kind of efficiency that comes with being on-line for just a few hours per day, downloading email and answering only those of import immediately, the rest from my campsite into the evening, sending the next day.
For the first time in eight years I climbed on top a mountain bike, and then decided to tackle The Whole Enchilada, a 32 miles ride of extraordinary challenge compounded by temperatures in the high 90s, over 100 by early afternoon.
Home through the Navajo Nation, visiting Colleen’s parents, and finally, Cascabel.