Over Ebbett’s Pass, down through the valleys of the Sierra lowlands, and into Minden, Nevada, where I reunite with Kathi and Bob. They’ve been inviting me here for over a year now (we all marvel that it’s already been a year since the day she scooped me up from the side of the road…) and I’m so glad to finally have a chance to come. Bob cracks open a beer, bottles of wine emerge, and we talk and talk. They’ve actually been rereading my blogs and preparing questions for me! They feed me as if I’ve just run a triathlon. And after we eat, Bob builds a roaring fire in the hearth and Kathi lights candles everywhere that reflect in the black windows. At night the mountains are cold and silent; in the morning the colors of autumn will seep through the windows and flood the house. Like the time I spent with Karen, the evening is one filled with those simple pleasures that I miss on the road: home cooked meals, red wine, just sitting on a couch and watching TV with a bowl of ice cream and a dog insistently reminding me to scratch her head if I ever stop.
* * *
Soon I’m soaring across the vast emptiness of the Nevada desert. The sunset, a dry paintbrush smeared across marshmallowing clouds, melting. I arrive in the casino town of Wendover on the Utah border after dark. The only coffee shop open happens to be inside of one of the casinos. I park beside a billboard advertising Extreme Midget Wrestling next week for $10. Inside, I ask the barista about this event, but he seems to think I am making it up. Go outside and check the billboard! He does give me a free coffee though. As I’m searching for a spot to sleep, I round an outcrop of boulders and suddenly realize that this gravely pull off is the first place I ever spent the night in my car, when I passed through this way almost a year ago heading the other direction.
Across the salt flats at dawn. Blinding orange ricochets off the shimmering whiteness; miles and miles and miles of table salt soaked with sunrise. I drive into the heat of the desert summer, down through rugged remote vastnesses of Utah, and then across into the western plains of Colorado. The tips of the mountains poke from the horizon like scattered rose thorns and then gradually begin to sprout skywards. Then I drive from summer into a luscious foothills-of-the-Colorado-Rockies-autumn, orange burgundy leaves and silver yellow aspens touching the riverbank, the hillsides dusted with white. And then into the mountains, I drive into the heart of winter, the white dusting coming down to meet me until I’m navigating a mountain pass through thick white flakes and dying orange light. I emerge into Golden and then swoop up to Marie’s house in Boulder. We drink chai and play music together with a foot of snow on the ground outside.
* * *
The next days I weave in and out of the coffee shops. Trident Bookstore & Café my first morning, and that evening, the outdoor tables at The Cup, the place where I overheard the conversation about the northern lights—the moment that was largely responsible for prompting my journey north. I sit down and wrap my hands around a warm mug and devour the scent of my coffee. I am back. I can finally let out a breath. I still have a ways to go yet, of course, but returning to the place from which I left nearly three months ago feels like the definitive closing of this chapter. My northern journey has come to an end. And…I made it. I did it. I take a sip of coffee and smile to myself. I left Colorado in August with $200 and a full tank of gas. And now, back in Colorado, after a ten thousand mile journey over the course of three months: I have more money than I had when I set out.