Perhaps the happiest and loneliest I have felt all happened to me yesterday. Speaking of my maplessness again, I felt the triumph that rose up in me on the first leg of The Miles as I crossed into Washington state come once again as I crossed into California. I thought my decision to come away from coastal Route 101 going southeast would take me into Idaho and Utah towards the Grand Canyon that way. But, California? Seeing the “Welcome to California” sign….that was like a dream.
I got my wallet out when I saw the little horizontal lined booths. I thought it was a toll road. It was California’s Department of Agriculture checking for citrus and foods needing declaration. I offered up my grapefruit, lemon, and avocado for inspection. The lemon and avocado were coming home, they were from California, but the grapefruit, Texan booty I’d picked up on Whidbey, had insects the patrolman showed me. He let me keep it after giving me instructions on how to throw the peeling it away.
And then there was Mt Shasta. Breathtaking, amazing, and grand. Just looking at her stand all lonely, all those thousands of feet high gave me a rushing yearning ache. She is clearly a volcano with that wide sharp u shaped dip all volcanos seem to have, and suddenly I respected her all the more, for what she could do, for what she had done in the past, full of all the capacity to erupt but standing peaceful, graceful, beautiful, still.
The sights going deeper into the Cascade Mountains were just as inspiring. I must have stopped Catharene and jumped out 20 times to get a closer look at something. A raging river creek I saw just off HWY 44 was my favorite. I stopped and photographed, and drank deliciously from her spring. I ached to leave. I wanted to keep us close.
The trees speak aloud a language I was never taught yet I intrinsically know up here in the north and midwest mountains. Everyday I’ve seen, felt, or heard something that makes me want to stay….
But last night, on Nevada’s HWY 95, The Miles I usually love were a strange torture. I was full, for the first time ever, of a loneliness that felt like a malignant growing-by-the-minute tumor in my brain. At first I tried to ignore it, but it was rude and kept interrupting my peace.
There was no one on that road going in the direction I was. Every set of passing headlights were attached to a transfer truck whose passing force seemed to dump more wildlike loneliness on my plate. Each city I passed through was like cruel joke. What the map was calling cities kept turning out to be tiny mill like businesses with closing hours from long ago.
I finally called out to God, admitting what I didn’t want to say. That something was swallowing me out there in the dark, injecting me with a sadness that was draining me of life. That I wanted to find the quickest liveliest any road heading the east way to home. I needed to breathe in sync with somebody, anybody, going my way.
Don’t ask me where they came from, but I saw a two sets of red lights waaaaaay up ahead. I knew, if I wasn’t hallucinating, they were truckers. We hightailed it, Catharene and I, and sure enough the lights, and the people operating them, were really there.
I’m a passer. As soon as those double lines are on my side and it looks remotely safe, I’m gone past anyone who isn’t making the speed grade on the road. But last night, I happily got in between those two trucks and was grateful to ride under the speed limit for miles and miles and miles.
I pulled off at the first real city lights I saw, Tonopah, Nevada. Every night of The Miles I’ve been on the road, my stopping has been about fatigue. But last night, with another two hundred miles in me at least, I stopped with a new understanding of the power of loneliness.