The pioneers of old might be ashamed of us today. They carefully plotted routes and stopovers and packed goods with utmost care. We tend to close our eyes and drop a finger on a freeway map, sleep on the side of the road with our hazard lights on, and buy beef jerky and soda every 300 miles. We cannonball through that which took months only a few decades ago, forgetting to feel the land and smell the air. We’re afraid to sweat under the sun. We hate the smell of campfire in our clothes. We want to look marvelous at all of the truck stops along the way. —Summer Journals, 2009
I’ve driven the desert and expanses between Los Angeles and Dallas four times in the past four years, and always much, much too fast. I’ve taken as long as three days, and have finished a solo straight-shot in under 22 hours. All experiences to be had, but not necessarily repeated—especially the straight-shot.
Everything I remember from that wild streak through the desert is played back in vignette as sleepy, ephemeral memories of flirting with a barista in Albuquerque, watching a cloud of moths swarm at a gas station outside of Needles, and having conversations with the taillights of shipping trucks:
Follow me, I know the way!
The trucks were my friends, ten minutes at a time, from when I first caught them on the horizon until I passed them and they moved to my rearview mirror. On that lonely road the trucks were sights of relief, miniature mobile lighthouses mounted on sixteen wheels that reminded me of our unique predicament: we are crossing the desert!
I tried to sleep along the way, but I couldn’t. I pulled into rest stops in New Mexico and Texas and shut my eyes, but the stillness and the quiet were too distracting. I was already used to the hum of the road. Its tune. Its song.
The worst part of leaving the desert is that unless you’re listening for it, you’ll never hear its song fade away. But given time, you’ll learn that it’s exactly what you’ve been missing.