The words of John Steinbeck stay steady in my ears. I have always advocated for each traveler to take hold of their own experiences. Gather tips from friends, hear about the greatest places to go and the stops not to be missed, and then chart your own course. Or, better yet, chart nothing at all and head on until you feel the draw to stop. So far, that has worked for me.
My mother always said it is better to leave before you want to go rather than wear out your welcome. Thus I left California and began the trek eastward last week. When I headed East to West, the trajectory felt very frontierswoman like. Yes, I was minus the wagon and the bushwhacking and I tote an IPhone and GPS. I suppose it is nothing like being a frontierswoman. Hunted animals did not stew over the campfire, nor were any animals skinned for my warmth. Still I left behind the congested cities of the East for the wide expanse of the West and felt an exploratory sensation as the roadways torpedoed me toward large mountain ranges, vast open lands, and skies that seem to extend beyond the earth. Along the way, signs warn: No services the next 72 miles and one gas station noted: Welcome to the Middle of Nowhere. The heightened sense of wonderment pulled this traveler westward. That and the gain of time! Each zone adds an hour onto life. In my twisted calculation, I not only gained more daytime, but I went back in time…with each mountain pass, age slipped away. Of course my return to youth may have more to do with the camping, eating dinner out of the pot I cook in, and not showering some 2 or 3 days at a time. All which may have contributed to my feeling a tad younger….or perhaps a tad regressive?
Heading East takes those hours back and in the late fall as winter begins, the light has been taken away as well. After dinner the other night I was thinking of bed when I realized it was 5:30. I took a walk instead and killed enough time to justify getting in the tent to read. I think I made it another two hours. Morning seeks its own delay, but late fall sunrises are most stunning. My last morning in California was in Joshua Tree National Park. Not far from Hollywood and my campsite rivaled any movie set.
Before the high desert and human-like rock formations of Joshua Tree where I saw faces and figures in most boulders, I traveled the California coast. Along the winding roads of Highway 1, I oogled at the mansions pitched on the side of the cliffs overlooking Big Sur and took in the boulders being whipped by rising waves. The elephant seals lounged along the sands and seemed only bothered by the invading tide. I set up camp at Carpinteria State Beach and prepared to enjoy a spot between the surf and the railroad. Two of my favorite sounds for never have I heard a train whistle blow and not wished to be on board, nor a wave cresting the shore and desiring nothing more but to be in its wake.
The California rains chased me down the coast which I outran before mudslides and road flooding, but
not before being evacuated from a campsite. I packed up when the State Patrol rounded up the tent dwellers due to the predicted fifty mile an hour winds. Evacuation is typical in the East with our hurricanes, so I am familiar with the drill. West Coast folks, in their adventuresome ways, seem to seek the challenge. My friend Tina took me to Yosemite last year during the Rim Fires. When I asked if we should be concerned, she thought not.
On my accord, I headed East for higher ground and less drama. A young woman I met who was traveling with her cousin was going to ride out the storm. She packs a little more moxie than me. She also packs her own marijuana. She let me know this since I was traveling East through Texas and would hit the boarder patrol. “Best to just be honest and tell them you’ve got pot on board. You are packing your own, aren’t you?”
The last time someone asked me if I was “packing,” it was in reference to a firearm. In both cases, I have answered in the negative. Somehow I love that this young women did not assume that I was not smoking. Do I hold that air of Western hipness or am I just that disheveled at this point to look like I am an obvious pothead? She translated my non-packing to mean I was buying pot while on the road.
“I always pack my own. You never know what you’ll get out there. Best to get it from a trusted source.”
I share her wise practice; I always pack my own…my own coffee. I mean you never know about the sources out there.
I did come across those boarder patrols even though I did not go to Mexico. Since I was darn close, I assume there is a chance I could have a stow away. When the official bent down to inspect inside my car he inquired: “Traveling alone?”
“Yes, sir, I am.”
His head swung toward my back seat where the clothesline hangs. Guess all he needed to see was my wash cloth and underwear hanging on the line to know I probably wasn’t packing anything more questionable than my laundry.
“You can go on.”
Texas is big. You have heard that before. Even the sign that reads: Historical Marker 1mile, translates to three miles away. But someone said Texas is flat. There I disagree. Big Bend National Park is a gem of a place with a small reputation and a big output.
I tried to take in as much of the park as possible, but several days could be spent in just one or two areas. After climbing a few miles straight up, I was rewarded with a view that offered desert, mountains, river, and even another country. As the day crested and the sun created long shadows, I sat a top huge boulders at the end of the Grapevine Trail. Silence surrounded me, not even the wind moved. It was one of the places I wanted to stay forever.
For my birdwatching friends there is apparently plenty to view at Big Bend, although I missed migration season. There were roadrunners and a few owls serenaded the early morning hours. I slept better in the park than anywhere yet. Perhaps it has to do with the weather, the clear skies, the Rio Grande lapping not far away, or the fact that this adventure had no plans for Big Bend…heck I never heard of it until a month or so ago. And, yet, here it is and here I am…taking in that journey that has really taken me.