West vol. 5: Borderline

O sleeper

Salt Lake City, Utah

1 November 2013

Dear fellow-travelers,

Midway in the journey, I have a new cart.  I was pushing it up a frozen road in the dark to the top of the Preuss Range, out of sight of the moon and considering wolves, when a hunched shape rose out of the snow above me.  His back was turned, and he was setting his rifle across his chest before turning his quad down westward.

“Hey,” I said.

The hooded figure spun in the saddle, revealing, under the enormous parka, a mild narrow man with a mild moustache.  We stood for a while in the shrouded forest, above the far-off yellow glow he pointed out as Georgetown, and he told me how his German wife had never understood what exactly he and his friends filled their time with, hunting, until he took her to Jackson Hole, and they stood there looking up at the mountains and the passing time made perfect sense.

“Don’t you have a coat?” he asked.

My cart wore out, but I found a new one.  My shoes wore out, but duct tape won me another hundred miles.  My feet went numb that night in the Preuss Range, but I did crunches in my sleeping bag until I could feel my toes again, one by one, and fell asleep as morning showed the ice in the tent.

This has been a lonely and disorienting stretch of road.  It’s not that it’s been empty – I’ve been around kind and generous people every day, all through his glimmering October – or that signposts have been lacking, or that the map and the territory haven’t matched.  In fact, the road hasn’t been lonely or disorienting at all.  It’s been full of aspen leaves, warm blankets, tractor magazines, banana peels along the roadside, smog so thick it hides the mountains, taco seasoning, expectant dogs, guns, TV news about polygamists and feuding irrigators, curious policemen, bicycle mechanics wearing perilously snug jeans, taxidermy, firecracker stores, familiar things like long-haul trucks that make the ground shake and the air cave as they pass.  Maltodextrin, MSG, titanium dioxide, nitrites, salt.  Even in the back of beyond, in places where people told me I should be packing in order to deal with critters, the rest of the world was a phone call or email away.

In a high snowy place, there’s a light down the canyon.  You can’t see windows, or streetlights; can’t see cars, can’t see neon.  By the time you get there in the morning, along a straight main road where every business is for sale, you’ll remember the cold, and remember the glow, and the passing miles won’t make sense.

I’m counting on a deeper desert.

Owen

Next: West vol. 6: East of the sun, west of the moon

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