I was 35.
I stood in the middle of nowhere, between Maybell, Colorado and Evanston, Wyoming on a gravel pathway known as Brown’s Park Road, smoking a cigarette, not because I’m a smoker, but because that is what you do in the wild west, a thousand miles between somewhere and somewhere else. Waco, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the barren wasteland of eastern Colorado and Denver behind me, Salt Lake City and Boise ahead of me. Truth be told, I was about as frightened as I had ever been.
I was in the middle of no-when, sandwiched between 35 years on a path, mostly a straight line, heading west from East to the Heart of Texas, a decade in a city that had become home, and who knows how many years on who knows how straight or crooked a paths toward my ultimate destination.
The not-knowing was unsettling.
Between my resignation at Barnes and Noble, the end of the semester, and the beginning of my job as Community Pastor at UBC, I had two and a half weeks to myself. (Assuming more than I should have,) I had the wits about me to believe that I may never again have that long without any responsibilities, so I decided to head west to visit friends in Denver, Portland and Seattle. I chose to drive, to make the road itself my middle place between somewhere and somewhere else, some-when and who knows when, to allow the earth to roll under me, and maybe to change me, preparing me for what was ahead.
At the time I had no smart phone, so I relied on a paper highway map, the kind that will someday be yellow and dusty, on display in a museum somewhere. The map showed roads, but not elevation. So when I left Denver after visiting Grant and Desiree, and decided to shun the interstate and stay on backroads, I was unaware of the mountains and valleys I would be traversing.
There were many.
I traveled US 40 through the Rocky Mountains at a snail’s pace, fearful of the drop-offs and narrow roads. Just past the town of Maybell (Population: 72,) I had a choice to make– Stay on Hwy. 40, which took a sharp turn south, in the opposite direction I wanted to go, or take State Road 318, which stayed on a northwestward course toward Salt Lake City, which would have been my final destination for the day. I chose 318.
The sign at the beginning of 318 warned me there were no services available for the next 90 miles. What it failed to say was at the end of sixty miles of dangerous cutbacks and steep drop-offs, the pavement ended where Colorado met Utah and was replaced by a gravel road that was barely distinguishable from the land around it, and another choice would have to be made– stay on the gravel road to who knows where, or head back the 90 miles to Highway 40.
I chose the gravel road.
It was only 30 miles of mostly gravel that hugged the far northeastern slice of Utah, depositing me onto 190 in Wyoming , but it took my Saturn Ion an hour and a half to cover because of the rock and dust. On two occasions I had to stop for elk and deer to pass.
I knew I wasn’t on a completely forgotten stretch of road about ten miles in, when the gravel turned to pavement to assist vehicles with a steep incline. This lasted a couple of miles, and in the middle, at a sharp bend in the road, there was an area wide enough to pull the car over to rest. And that is where I found myself, in the middle, between somewhere and somewhere else.
An alternately fulfilling and tumultuous year was ahead of me, though I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was I was looking out at Colorodo, or Utah, or Wyoming. I couldn’t be certain. Maybe I was in all of those place and in none of those places at the same time. I did know one thing though. This was as far away from people as I had ever been. No artificial lights, no cars, no power lines. Just me in outlaw country.
I didn’t want to get back into my car, but I knew I had to. Sunset would arrive in an hour, and I knew I shouldn’t chance being any more lost than I already was when darkness came. Because, ultimately, I want to be somewhere, with people…. or at least to have that option. I paused for one last moment, leaning on my car, taking a drag. I thought about how few had seen what I was then seeing, and have heard the silence I was hearing at that moment. (Later research would inform me that this had been a favorite area for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to hide out. So at least they had seen and heard.)
I felt like a kid, weary at the end of a long decade playing, catching my breath before the second half… the somewhere else.
(Adapted from a blog written on April 12, 2011.)