Land of Enchantment
The wind is blowing fiercely now, incessant, drawing tears from my eyes and drying them into white streaks of salt. I know that I still have to keep pushing to get to the stopping point I have planed, a rest area 2 miles ahead where I’ll set up camp. It’s me in a race against the sun, but the long shadows cast by the pebbles on the highway shoulder tell me it’s a race I’m about to lose.
The sun recedes from the cloudless sky without much fanfare, ducking behind the ridge of a mesa miles ahead. The coming darkness of dusk reveals something in the distance, the towering light posts of the rest stop ahead. I know it’s closed from the signs I saw a while back, but this is a good sign. It means I won’t have to worry about being disturbed by any motorists during the night.
When I reach the rest area, I see there are many picnic shelters, each with a roof, two high side walls, one back half-wall, and an open face. They are all oriented in different directions, so I choose one in back that has one of the side walls blocking the wind. It’s barely past six o’clock, but the sky beyond the rest area is already pitch black, and the disappearance of the sun has caused the temperature to drop suddenly. I sit at the picnic table and log on to my computer to update my progress and consider reading one of the books I have, but the wind and chill soon remove those ambitions. My priority quickly shifts to getting into the sleeping bag and huddling up against the side wall to keep warm.
It’s still early in the night, and the sun won’t rise for another twelve hours, but there’s not much I can do besides lay there on the concrete and wait for sleep. When sleep finally does come, it’s in increments of one hour or less, moving from one side, to my back, then to the other side to minimize the discomfort. By the time the sun rises though I’m already packed and ready to go–somehow I received a full night’s rest during all that tossing and turning.
Walking along the New Mexico highway I’m rewarded with some stunning views. Giant, wide open landscapes spotted with shrubs and cacti, and bordered by mesas and rocky cliffs. Even a roadrunner came out to play for a bit! The scenery here is unlike anything I’ve seen yet on the journey, but it signifies the most difficult leg of the trip. With less than 1,000 miles to go I’m entering the most challenging segment by far, both mentally and physically. Towns are spread so far apart that many nights will find me a day or two away from civilization in any direction. The Rocky Mountains are coming, meaning I have some uphill battles to face. Not to mention I’ll be doing this all during winter.
I had considered continuing on during the holiday season, which would put me a tent somewhere near the Arizona/New Mexico border on Christmas, and outside of Flagstaff for New Year’s Eve. I was debating whether or not it would be “cheating” to take some time of to visit with family and friends, but one specific incident finally tipped the scales for me.
On my way into New Mexico, an SUV pulled over and parked on the shoulder of the highway in front of me. As I approached it, a man and his wife and daughter got out and came to meet me. He said that he had seen me on the Amarillo news a couple days ago and then saw me walking along the side of the road the day before. He said that God had told him to give me some money, but that day he was already running late, so he couldn’t stop. He had told his wife about this that night, and she said if God really wanted it to happen then another way would present itself, and there I was. He handed me one hundred bucks and asked if I didn’t mind if he prayed for me. I said sure, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
I thought he meant that he and his family would keep me in his thoughts and prayers, or something like that, but he put his hand on my shoulder and linked up with his wife and daughter until we were all in a circle, bowed his head, and began to say a prayer aloud right then and there. Now I’m not a very religious person, but I found the gesture and the words very touching, and while I was there with his family I though about mine. I had already missed spending Thanksgiving with them, where I likely missed standing in a circle with them and saying grace, and then each saying what we were thankful for. It was then I knew the trip could wait a couple weeks, I’d go home and spend time with my family and friends, and New Mexico, Arizona, and California would still be there when I got back.