The drive home took four days. No camping, partially because some forests were closed but mostly because I wanted to have easy nights if I was going to drive many hours for four days. In the heat. We stayed in casitas, entire small houses available through Airbnb. We had no trouble finding them and all of them were well-appointed and unique.
We had stays in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Tucson and Kingman, Arizona. Some beauty along the way but mostly beauty of the desert kind and more desert. Joshua trees again, and Junipers and Las Vegas.
Lots of driving, just getting there driving and not pushing the bus or Michelle or Mo or me too hard.
On our final approach, from Barstow through the Mojave, we had a headwind, and not just any headwind. Our tops speed dropped from 70ish to 50. It was a brutal, relentless, featureless blast of not-so-hot air—thank goodness—coming right at us. At least 55 or 60 miles per hour and even the slightest grade necessitated a shift down to third gear and 40 miles per hour.
What was normally a 2-hour drive seemed that it would be endless at that speed, and I was truly worried that Storm would break down, the engine would blow fighting that wind which was essentially the same as climbing a huge grade that had no summit.
And then we got lucky.
We weren’t the only ones struggling and I found a friend, though I’m not sure he saw it that way. I tucked in and drafted behind a travel trailer almost all the way across the flattest and windiest of sections, tucked in behind him closer than I should have been, and suddenly we made close to 65 miles per hour.
I was so focused on staying in his wake, of drafting and not losing the sweet spot, knowing that if I lost it for a second, he would pull away and I would be back in the wind tunnel.
And it wasn’t until I did lose him on a tiny grade after perhaps 35 miles of unintended help that I noticed, noticed the name of his trailer. The Freedom Express.
We had another hour plus battling the wind to home and I was curious what my reaction to my hood would be. How would it measure up, in a sense, to all the wonderful places we had driven through and visited?
And we drove on familiar roads, vistas I have seen thousands of times while rushing off to meetings or excursions, mountains I mostly didn’t take a great deal of notice of in the daily business of living. It is so lovely, I thought.
And as I compared my familiar world in my mind to the unexpected warm springs and Juniper forests of Nevada, the stunning cliffs of Utah, the many varied mountains of Wyoming, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the windswept plains of North Dakota, the early Spring and myriad lakes of Minnesota, the lush grasses of Iowa, the glorious green of Missouri, the swaying trees and streams of Oklahoma, the vastness of Texas, the dry glory of New Mexico, the variety of Arizona and the splendor of Vegas…
I thought that this little corner we had settled in over twenty years ago held its own quite well.
As we pulled up it occurred to me that if this southern terminus of the Sierra Nevada mountains at the extreme edge of the Los Padres National Forest, a forest of Yuccas, Pinons, Fir, Ponderosas and Pines, a land of sage and scarce water, if this beauty were in Kansas, it would be a National Park.