It wasn’t a restful night, but I slept well enough in my creepy dirt nest. The first thing I noticed when waking up at 6:30: everything was soaked. Again. This time, rather than condensation: desert dew. Since I’d slept outside of the bivy, the sleeping bag bore the brunt. As did the uncovered backpack. But, moisture aside, the sleeping bag rocked again and the shell kept its insides dry. Still, I again needed to dry it before stowing it for very long. At least I was still at a Flying J. Easy fix.
The second thing: a car parked nearby in the nothingness! It was just 40-50 yards away and sitting directly beneath the massive sign luring I-40’s traffic to the Flying J. I don’t know which creeped me out more: a car so close to my nest or that I hadn’t heard it pull in!
“Whatever, Adventureman. The sun is up. You’re visible. Everything about this nest is creepy and generally uncomfortable. Quit gawking. Get moving. Dumbass.”
My Method Dragon magically arrived. I was packed and out in near-record time.
I spent another $2.50 drying the sleeping bag, again, while talking to a trucker who was lingering around the laundry area waiting for a dryer himself. He proudly told me all about the “smokin’ hot” young Australian hitchhiker he’d once picked up while (bravely) making her way around the US. Despite bragging about how he’d convinced her to show him her “tits”, his story somehow didn’t come off as creeperish! He somehow struck me as someone who was looking out for her. While gawking at her apparently legendary tits the whole time. Yes. Maybe he altered and sanitized the “facts’ for me. Maybe there was no tit-show at all. Whatever. It was still an impressive storytelling high-wire act. I commend him for that. I don’t know how he pulled it off. Write The Moth! Call Ted Talks! After 10-minutes, my bag was dry and I gave him the remaining 45-minutes of dryer time in exchange for sharing the Legend of The Bodacious Hitchhiking Titties. He said he’d offer a ride but was heading west, not north. That was a story I’d heard before.
By 8:30, it was decision time. How to escape Albuquerque? Cue my now-familiar, chronic destination indecision. Rail Runner to Santa Fe? Amtrak to Denver? Amtrak home? In my research, I discovered Amtrak’s eastbound Denver Zephyr runs from Denver -Ft. Morgan, CO every night at 7:00 for just $18. At least Denver wouldn’t be a problem. Worst case scenario: the light rail to Union Station then Amtrak to Ft. Morgan and where everything began in 2008. There was also ample time to improvise and refine my route to Standing Rock along the way.
In the midst of my indecision anxiety, I got a surprise call from Chris. He was freshly back in the US from Germany and after a 10-15 minute chat I’d decided to leap: Amtrak to Raton, NM, which is on I-25 and basically at the Colorado border. Santa Fe’s weather sounded much like Flagstaff’s and that ultimately was the tipping point removing Santa Fe from the radar.
I bought the Southwest Chief ticket online and, since I was too far out of town to use public transit, decided to try something new: Uber. I didn’t trust hitching to get me downtown in time and, honestly, after the last 12-hours I was eager to leave the Flying J. Uber worked beautifully and added itself to my toolbox. Yeah. That toolbox with the “Fuck Cities” sticker on it? That’s mine. Feel free to borrow it anytime.
THE SANTA FE CONNECTION
I regretted my decision to bypass Santa Fe as soon as the Southwest Chief left Albuquerque. I was on the phone with Chris again and we spent 45-minutes discussing all things travel and philosophy until my signal predictably dropped after 45-minutes. By then, the New Mexico landscape had transitioned into the ruggedly breathtaking terrain I ‘d once called home.
I unexpectedly encountered something else intimately familiar. The intense Santa Fe Connection I thought had dried up and died on the vine 10-years ago.
BACKSTORY TANGENT: It struck for the first time in 1998 while I was driving from Des Moines to Phoenix to visit Jeff after being fired from an early radio gig and it’s not hyperbole to say it literally changed my life. Immediately after that experience, living in Santa Fe and working at the radio station that soundtracked that day became a long-term goal. Even a quiet obsession. From that day on, I “knew” I would be living there. Somehow. Sometime. Hurricane Ivan and our disgust for all things Florida became “sometime” in September, 2004. By Election Day, the U-Haul wagon train was winding west as George Bush was re-elected. All this, not coincidentally, was just over two months after “The Calling”.
SCOLDING METAPHYSICAL SUB-TANGENT: Don’t worry, newbies. You don’t need to know exactly what “The Calling” means right now. No. It wasn’t the Zombie Messiah working in mysterious ways. Relax. I’ll elaborate as time goes on. Or, you can go pick thru the volumes I’ve already written here. Stabilized yet? Good.
Most state slogans are embarrassing and stupid. What the fuck is a “Hoosier?” “The Show Me State” sounds like it’s a state filled with clones of the trucker from earlier. New Mexico calls itself “The Land of Enchantment”. This one fits. There is something legitimately mystical about parts of it and the “enchantment” blindsided me in 1998. I wasn’t looking for anything except a cool road to drive; I figured Trinidad, Colorado would be the highlight! But, once I’d driven thru Las Vegas, NM, something suddenly “activated’. When I finally moved there 6-years later and introduced myself to Ira at KBAC in 2004, I told him that story. Instead of thinking I was a batshit he just smiled, nodded, and said he’d heard that story a hundred times; that Santa Fe was filled with people who’d experienced it. Whatever it was.
A few years later, New Mexico was the sole commonality I discovered with my father in the three lifetime-hours he was so gracious to allot me. He was a Marine and hitchhiked home to Michigan from California passing thru New Mexico once his tour ended. He said, “there was something about New Mexico” that grabbed him then and it had remained one of his favorite places ever since. He appeared uncomfortable in trying to explain it. He didn’t need to.
It’s hard to overstate how powerfully transforming that initial connection episode was. It literally (proper use of the word) changed my life’s trajectory.
I was astonished to feel it again. This time with fresh flavors: familiarity and nostalgia. Physically, my energy level and sense of synchronized connectivity—to the trip itself— soared. I was suddenly in full-sync with what I was doing. I can’t clearly articulate what it feels like but this is a better high than anything I’ve ever felt. The closest is psilocybin, but in these periods of flowing connectivity are cleaner and the sense of clarity is astounding; every synapse fires smoothly, efficiently, and in conjunction with each other. It really is a temporarily altered (yet sober) state. Sleeping on the California beach for the first time, hopping the Oregon freight train, sitting on the side of the PCH as the sun fell: it’s happened before, but not while traveling the US since the last day in Limon in ’13. I was afraid I couldn’t “really’ get there anymore.
Lost in introspective thought and the headphones, I missed the conductor announcing Lamy’s (Santa Fe’s historic train depot) approach. Once I realized it, without actually thinking (and to the passenger’s amazement) I rapidly gathered my stuff and sprinted downstairs intent on exiting the train despite buying ticket another 3-hours north to Raton! Unfortunately, I was in the wrong car; no conductor. I could have opened the door and just hopped off but ,times being what they are, ones of paranoia and fear, I was literally (proper usage again) afraid they’d think I was a domestic terrorist making my escape! I envisioned hours of detainment while the train was evacuated and searched. Seriously! To this day I don’t think I was being overly paranoid. The home of the brave is peculiarly terrified of that which is out of the ordinary. And what it just doesn’t understand. An apt sensation with the election looming the very next day.
I could have arranged to hop off had I given myself just 5-minutes. I regretted my Santa Fe misfire all the way to Raton, despite (maybe because of) the enjoyable ride. But later, with the benefit of hindsight, this Santa Fe experience, and failure, would combine with other things to pay enormous dividends and guide me “home”, so to speak. I talked about beacons in another post. This one was real. Its signal was incredibly strong.
Back in my seat, I’d become a piece of a bizarre curiosity to other Amtrakers and they began asking about my traveling. Then, I was pestered for way too long by the previously silent (now overbearing) middle-age guy sitting alone in front of me. Most days he wouldn’t have been a bother, but I was busy processing things on a higher plane. I needed this dufus to just go away. I found a convenient conversational lull, put on my headphones, then pretended I didn’t hear him when he resumed.
Who’s a fucking thespian? This guy!
I gave him a fucking card!
[gallery ids="800,801,822,820,823" type="slideshow"]
The sun slowly dipped toward the Sangre de Cristos out my window to the west and I remained semi-connected as Amtrak loosely followed the old Santa Fe Trail from Las Vegas thru Wagon Mound. I watched I-25’s familiar spots drift by while being flooded with memories of 2008. That stretch of highway is special; friendly ghosts haunt it all the way to Denver. I reminisced about the numerous treks undertaken in my crappy Saturn to see Chris that spring and summer; about our endless dreaming and philosophizing then finally manifesting what was before just a persistent vision. I miss those days.
And, after 9-years there’s still no Sprint service after Las Vegas! I was slightly pissed they still haven’t fixed that! But in retrospect I’m also happy I didn’t waste this stretch psychologically masturbating online.
I climbed off the Southwest Chief into chilly (low 40’s) Raton darkness at 5:30. Once layered up, and with an uncharacteristically clear plan (ha!), I set off for the I-25/US-64 interchange. I’d stopped here for gas several times and knew ahead of time that it was a good spot to stealth camp for the night.
My two-mile walk cut thru the center of Raton gave me a glimpse of it that I’d never seen. Or sought out . It’s depressed and depressing. I instinctively went into “photographer mode” wishing I had my “real” camera for the shuttered businesses and abandoned homes. I was disillusioned by my iPhone’s comparatively shitty camera by now and didn’t feel like fighting the lack of light. So I just didn’t bother with any photography that night. I wish I had. It was a harsh reminder that rural rot has spread beyond just the rust belt and I felt pangs of old plight-based empathy that echoed all the way back to 2008 and beyond. I knew nothing about Raton. But I “knew” Raton.
With that came another twinge of something I’d forgotten about during most of Monday: tomorrow was Election Day. Everyone’s money was on Hillary Clinton bludgeoning Donald Trump. But my intimate little Raton walk sent up a warning flag. I wondered how things would “really” go despite the overwhelmingly one-sided “expert” prognostications.
From the beginning in 2008, I sensed the anger. It was everywhere I traveled from, 2008-2010. So much so, it became a mini-theme. I identified the Tea Party before the Tea Party became the Tea Party! I warned as early as 2009 that the sure-to-come anti-Obama conservative blowback would make the Bush years look like Camelot. In Peru in 2015, before the Republican primaries, I warned Chris and the mostly European guests visiting his Andean hostel that Trump could actually win. They looked at me like I was having an intellectual seizure triggered by late-stage syphilis.
Funny. They’ve since accepted my observational superpowers as real!
Another painful flashback bit me about a mile into my mini-trek: a fucking heel blister! In fucking Zamberlan boots. Again. (If you wear size 13, let me know!) Also obvious: my legs, back, and core were relatively weak after doing nothing but printing and selling photography all summer! (The Universe and/or Jesus wants you to buy some as well. Here. Or here. Amen.)
Raton continued the day’s theme of "No Sprint Cell Service” and as I approached my exit ramp, it was getting relatively late. If I didn’t find a way to send an email and remind her of Sprint’s New Mexico Dead Zone, my girlfriend would be shitting before long. “Hey! Look! McDonald’s! Free easy wifi!” I grabbed a snack, plugged in, let her know all was well, then updated my written journal. And this all felt good! Walking! Searching out wifi in creative spots! Physically writing while the phone topped off! Like the old days! I sat at McDonald’s too long without really knowing why. Muscle memory. Hindsight rocks.
Directly behind my targeted gas station I spotted an out-of-place campground just a short walk down the access road running parallel to I-25. A night in my virgin tent sounded delightful. (What’s with the deflowering/virgin theme?) Being it was November, I assumed I could haggle if they were KOA expensive but unfortunately, no one answered the house/office bell despite people clearly being there and the sign reading “Open”. Shit. I really wanted to spend a night in that virgin if for no reason than to justify carrying her!
My dreams of pristine camping luxury dashed, I returned up the frontage road and immediately grabbed a spot on the other side of the public right of way fence (I hope) in moderately long, soft grass. My new nest was situated between the frontage road and the northbound exit ramp: perfect! Not perfect: this tiny road was far busier than I’d anticipated! Cars and trucks kept sneaking up forcing me to duck out of site to avoid being spotted setting up by nearby residents. I thought it best to spare any unnecessary anxiety. For both of us. Except for the surprise headlights, setting up in the dark was a breeze.
Method: achieved. No Flagstaffian fuckups. This time, my method took only two days to find its way home! Screw you, McCandless! Abandoned busses are for pussies. Behold: Bivyman! Send cheesecake as tribute.
Except for the nearby gas station and residences, it was almost completely dark and the New Mexico sky on the edge of what becomes the Great Plains was star-filled and massive! The clear sky also meant it was cold. And getting much colder. Bivyman was cocooned in his bourgeois down sleeping bag by 9 or 9:30., He was also happy with the realization that the reason he’d had no cell service all day was that at some point he’d turned off cellular roaming. An echo back to more arcane times when we were charged for it, no doubt. I now had a phone but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy being without it.
Front to back, what an interesting day. I felt like I was tuned-in and reclaimed the proper momentum after Santa Fe and the night’s old-style walk thru Raton.
I mentioned that the next day was the election, right?