If I ever needed more proof (which I actually don’t) that my Guardian Spirits have a wicked sense of humor, all I would have to do is contemplate the irony of the vehicle they sent me when I decided to hit the road as a wandering cosmic change agent: a large, unwieldy, gas-guzzling, metal wind-sail masquerading as a van. Because, you see, all my adult life (and even before that) I have been in love with the romance of wandering two-lane back roads to nowhere. I was hooked long before I decided to live full-time in a van. I was pioneering seeking out bits and pieces of the oId Route 66 on my occasional sojourns cross country long before they were marked on any map, or conveniently pointed out by trendy little signs off the Interstates–when you had to figure it out just by noticing that little squiggly line on the map that wandered off the main artery and take your chances. And now that I am living a life with a bit more freedom and time to wander, I find myself driving a vehicle that frankly scares me more often than not when traversing steep grades or curvy mountain roads. Roads that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to in my tiny, intrepid Saturn wagon. And even when I’m not being terrorized by the wind sheer caused by passing trucks, I can practically see the gas gage moving as I drive down the highway pursuing my dream on a limited budget.
But, like I said, I am well aware that my personal Goddesses have a sense of humor so I try to have faith and enjoy the ride, scary parts and all. And what a ride it has been this last week, as I transitioned from my month in Southern California back to my “home base” here in magical Northern New Mexico!
I left Escondido last Tuesday on a misty morning and took the long grade up to Valley Center. The QME did a great job. (Actually, the fact that she is able to pull her own bulk up a hill at all always strikes me as somewhat amazing; that she was able to do it without going under 45 miles per hour or overheating was downright miraculous–a good omen for the days to come!)
Our morning ride through the back roads of northeastern San Diego County was stupendous. We wound up and down through rolling hills and mountain roads, with old orange groves (that heavenly scent!) on one side of the road and live oak forests on the other. Driving along Lake Henshaw, the mist was so thick coming off the lake and the trees were so green it felt like some of my back road adventures in Ireland. I took a circuitous route, partly to avoid the steepest stretch down Banner Grade, but mainly to see even more miles of pristine landscape, much of which I had never traveled in all the years I grew up in this country paradise. After crossing the mountains we dropped down through the desert towards Brawley, and the ocotillos, which I had admired on the way in a month ago, were still in bloom. The desert was alive with gorgeous orange flames.
After hitting the desert floor our idyllic ride was over for awhile as the highway led through Westmoreland and Brawley, before hitting the open road again through the sand dunes and rolling desert of Imperial County. Before tackling this second hundred miles, however, I decided to stop at the little gas station/mini-mart, El Sol, that I had discovered on my trip out. One last shot of real (i.e., Southern Californian) Mexican food before facing the next six months back in northern New Mexico, the land of red and green chile. (“Where is the fresh salsa, the refried beans, the excessive avocado?” my taste buds have cried these last ten years.) Since I recommitted to vegetarianism three months ago, Layla ate the bulk of the meat while I enjoyed the corn tortillas, cabbage, and guacamole with remnants of chicken–it was still heaven).
Fortified, we returned to the road for our eastward trip through Imperial County and on into Arizona. We rolled into Quartzsite about 1:30 pm. It had taken over five hours to go 200 miles. I decided to be uncharacteristically moderate in my road trip goals and spend the night on BLM land here in Quartzsite instead of pushing on towards Cottonwood (the QME has converted me from a 500-mile-per-day road trekker to a 200-mile-per-day road wanderer). I sat in the Burger King with the van parked in plain sight in the shade of a tree and spent the afternoon on line catching up with business while sipping my coffee milkshake (not on the menu, made to order–would this ever happen at a chain restaurant in high-powered suburban California–or even here in Quartzsite at the height of the season?).
After a very lonely (and kind of creepy, I must say) night in the same area we had camped in just two short months ago alongside millions of RVs, now completely deserted, I decided to gird my loins and tackle the drive to Cottonwood, where the remnants of my RTR tribe awaited, despite a forecast of high winds on the far end of the journey. Everything went fairly smoothly all morning, wandering 60 to 71 to 89 to Prescott (only 12 miles of Interstate and over 100 miles of back roads–now that’s a Road Trip!), where we parked in the main square and fixed a light lunch. The grade up from the desert floor had been a bit unnerving and the curvy mountain road down the other side even more so, but it was stunningly beautiful and with all the recent front end, steering, and brake work the QME was handling the moderate winds just fine, even on somewhat exciting back road terrain.
After lunch we gassed up in Prescott Valley, turned off onto 169 towards Interstate 17, and the nightmare began. The wind was blowing us around and I was white-knuckling it big time with a line of cars behind me (which I kept pulling over for whenever it was safe, but there is a limit if one hopes to make any headway at all!). When we hit the Interstate it was even worse. Mercifully, I had completely forgotten what this stretch of road was like, although I have traveled it several times over the last four years. But never in a metal wind-sail with high wind advisories (which I found out about AFTER the fact!). I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life. When the exit for 260 finally appeared in the middle of a very, very long, very, very, VERY steep hill I was never so relieved to get off of a highway. I was still rockin’ and rollin’ the last four miles down 260 towards the forest service turnoff and when I finally found myself bumping down the rutted, uneven (but no longer so noticeably windy) dirt lane that led to camp and tribe, I had never seen a prettier road.
I rolled into the spot just waiting for me on the top of a lovely hill and sat inside having a cup of hot herbal tea with Kona coffee shortbread cookies while the wind came roaring up and over the hill, shaking Esmarelda like a leaf on the wind. But as long as I’m not moving, careening down a steep grade in the slow lane with a sheer drop-off to the right and giant trucks hurtling by on my left, I can enjoy being buffeted by the winds of change. Indeed, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt cozier or more at peace. I spent the rest of my afternoon into evening with map in hand, planning my next back road adventure in a few days’ time. And this is one of the greatest joys of the road. I could craft a life where I can avoid ever having to be that scared again. But without the thrill of adventure and the renewed sense of gratitude at just being alive, I would miss the deep joy, beauty, and peace they bring. And that is a trade-off I am not willing to make.
After two lovely days and nights, where I reconnected with good friends from this year’s winter retreat in Arizona, and even met some new ones, it was time to say goodbye. I had put off my return longer than I’d meant to, being seduced by the joy and comfort of old and new friends in both California and Arizona, not to mention warm air and beautiful scenery. But six months is long enough, and my shop, my renewed commitment to The Work that awaits me there, and the soul family of my little artist/hippie village were calling me Home to The Land of Enchantment. Time to hit the road and savor one last day of Back Road Heaven… more on that Perfect Day in an upcoming blog. For now, good bye and happy trails, wherever you may be!