The bales of hay in the fields outnumber the cars on the freeway as I continue chasing the sunset through Nebraska. When I reach Colorado, I’ve put a thousand miles behind me in a single day. The cold sun slips up to touch the Rockies and I continue north at dawn.
Wyoming is lonely. The colors of morning disappear into a halfhearted fog, and all scenery becomes white with snow or frost. The world has finally become black and white. My skin has become reptilian. Snow begins to fall and the highway becomes a thin layer of wet powder braided with tire tracks. A herd of antelope lazily grazes for roots buried somewhere beneath frozen grass. The road plunges into white, gray. I see only in monochrome now. At 7000 feet, I reach the continental divide. These hills are cold and lonely and ancient.
After descending a few thousand feet, I pass into Utah after nightfall. I can’t see the lake but I can smell it. So, though it’s in the 30’s (an improvement from the mountain passes), I drive with the windows cracked so I can have some sense of the immense body of water as I drive past. Memories of the ocean flit through my mind and capture my concentration for the next hour as I pass through the Bonneville Salt Flats. Before I can prepare myself, I circle around a massive outcropping of boulders and the impenetrable blackness is shattered by the casinos that announce my arrival into Nevada. The neon spotlight flashing piercing penetrating brightness practically induces a seizure on the spot.
I walk into a Burger King and sit down with my food. A guy in a booth across the lobby from me calls over. “Hey!”
“Hi,” I nod. I am immediately wary because I cannot see a legitimate reason for anyone else to be in this Burger King at this time of night.
“I wanna…cut your hair off.” He stares at me. “And smoke it.” He collapses into giggles.
I decide from his laughter and glazed eyes and late-night Burger King presence that there is only one appropriate way for me to respond to this declaration. “Thank you.”
With a stomach full of grease, I decide to head back into the relative stillness of Utah to sleep. Five minutes on the road puts the neon casinos back behind the shadowy boulders, and I pull into a gravely lot to spend the night. I put the seats down and lay out my sleeping bag and fall asleep with most of my body in the trunk.
* * *
Dense pockets of fog obscure the path before me. I can see just far enough to keep going, yet there is no way to see where I am heading. I have faith that this road will deliver me to where I am trying to get, yet it could vanish at any moment and I would be lost or crash. The next morning’s driving conditions are a potent metaphor for my life, I observe dryly as I rub my neck which is sore from spending the night in the trunk of a car.
Every so often sun cuts through the fog and I emerge into a pristine patch, catching glimpses of immense snow-capped summits. I can see the next bowl of cloud before I drop into it, yet each time I am unprepared for the dense gray blanket that swirls around me. An occasional vulture picking at carrion comes into hazy view only a few dozen feet ahead of me and casually lifts off to evade my car, rotting entrails dangling from its beak.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains. Climbing into the Sierras feels almost like a homecoming. I recognize the fir trees and the steep cliff faces and the meandering unnamed streams. Over the mountain pass more quickly than I expect, I find myself in flat Sacramento and I have successfully traversed two mountain ranges in winter.
At the Cloud Forest Café in downtown Davis, I meet Joe for the first time in a month. We acknowledge that our paths have finally diverged, and we both recognize on some level that this may be the last coffee we share for a long time. Later, I head to Cara’s house for the night. She helps me remember that my path is my own and my responsibility is to listen to what is in my heart.
When the sun hits tree tops, I head onwards and up. Everything looks exactly the same as it did when I first descended from these mountains three months ago. A few hours later, I reach the cabin.
I have now returned to Arnold, California—the place that, six months ago, became the sanctuary in which I was able to write, reflect, and search my soul. It also became the place in which I ultimately ended up causing the severance of some of the most important relationships in my life in my quest for solitude. I will spend a few days here trying to make peace with this place.