Leaving my friends and Chicago after a torrential downpour, which had left them with over three inches of rain in their balcony rain gauge in just a few hours, I programmed my phone for Cleveland, Ohio. It seemed the logical next stopping place, as it's halfway between Chicago and Elmira, in upstate New York, where my dad lives. I'd booked an Airbnb there with a nice Chinese electrical engineering doctoral student named Harlin.
It was with a little reluctance and sadness that I left Hopi and Dick's place this morning. It had been like being home again, or vacationing with my parents. The atmosphere was very quiet and relaxed, with NPR's Morning Cup playing softly in the kitchen or Terry Gross's Fresh Air interviews wafting upstairs while I wrote.
Man, did I totally sleep in today. I ignored it when I woke up at 8:30. I ignored it again when I woke up at 10:30. "Just a few more minutes," I thought. I checked the clock a few minutes later and it was 11:45. As I'm prone to do when I sleep that late, I jolted bolt upright in bed, my embedded Yankee Work Ethic program instantly online and already berating me for wasting most of the day.
I left the beautiful old Minneapolis house at about 11, an hour late. The housekeeper had already arrived and was bustling around in the kitchen. A stunningly beautiful Jamaican woman with long, fine braids in a ponytail down to her low back, she told me, "Shugah, don' you worry nah. I've got two othah rooms to do fust." Wow. I was in awe of her beauty and grace.
Man, do I loooove Airbnb. After driving from the middle of South Dakota today for 7-8 hours, I've finally landed at this great, circa 1809 place tonight in Minneapolis for $35 and here's what I get, all to myself:
Isa and I said goodbye in the morning, agreeing to stay in touch, and I got on my way. It was hard to leave the beautiful, restful Plenty Star Ranch and her. We'd grown so close in such a short amount of time. I hoped to get to Sioux Falls today, despite the 7+-hour drive. On my way to I-90 East, I stopped in Hot Springs, not too far from Plenty Star, to get some gas and eat the rest of my buffalo sandwich for breakfast.
Today was really low key. I needed a break from the road, and this lovely spot was just the thing. It was great, too, knowing I had the whole day to poke around and not be up early the next morning to check out.
After sleeping for about 10 hours in my fabulous tent, I woke up slowly and wandered over to Isa and Jack's ranch house nearby. There was fresh coffee on the shady deck overlooking the property, and Isa came out after a bit to say good morning.
This morning in Cheyenne, I left Motel 6 behind (perhaps for good, because I don’t want you to leave a light on for me if all it does is show how dirty the room is) and found a nice breakfast place called The Egg & I. The server showed me to my seat, but almost the whole room was occupied with what sounded like a city council meeting.
After leaving Mel and Ron's place, I stopped at a cafe called the Brown Dog in Buena Vista. Around here, that's pronounced "b'YU-na vista." It's a phonetic thing. I wrote there for a couple hours, breaking a long fast with a great sandwich, a big, home-brewed coffee, and a thick vanilla shake. Must be the mountain air or something, but it seems I'm constantly hungry on this trip.
I’m going to keep this kind of short tonight, as it’s already 11:15. There’s no Internet access here above the tiny Rocky Mountain town of Howard, so I’m writing in Word on my trusty laptop and will upload tomorrow on my way to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’ve got myself propped up in my tent with Cisco’s old Pillow Pet (buffalo variety) and a Mexican blanket. My faithful traveling companion, Miss Kitty, is here by my side.
It's 9:30 PM here in Salida, Colorado, and it's still a little light out. For some reason I find that remarkable. The wind is making whistling noises under the door, and I can smell smoke from the far-away-but-huge Ute fire I traveled to the east of all day.
I'm little upset with myself for staying at a hotel again, but I got here late after spending part of the day in Taos. And you know what? Fuck it. I'm on vacation for the first time in, let's see, 9 years. So yeah, I'm not beating myself up too much. There was a cool spot to camp that I missed, though.
After leaving the Super8, I discovered I hadn't gone far enough the day before and hadn't really gotten into Taos proper. A few minutes of driving north brought me into an area known as Taos Plaza, which is where all the galleries, shops, music events, and cool hotels were. Out of curiosity, I looked up Taos on Airbnb, kicking myself for spending $136 the night before when I could have stayed in a private bungalow in the the heart of town for half that. Dammit! Note to self.
Leaving the Lariat behind after being scolded by the Hindu proprietor for being 15 minutes late, I found my way to the locals' favorite breakfast place. I walked in and for the first time in my life, I was the only white person in the room. I tried not to stare at all the beautiful faces around me or at the long, glossy, blue-black hair hanging down people's backs, loose or in thick braids. Some spoke a language I'd never heard. Many paused to pray before they ate.
Stupid fucking bird again. But I kind of smiled when I thought it this time. My little forest friend was in the same tree, it was still dark out, and I still didn’t want to get up, but I was a little grateful for this natural wake-up call today. It was time to leave Angel Valley and Sedona, and my dear friends. I felt a little nervous to leave the cozy bubble of their love and support, but also eager to be back on my own on the open road.
A large-ish bird, probably another infernal mockingbird, settled itself in a tree near my head way before dawn, stars still shining down, and launched proudly, brilliantly even, into his finest mating repertoire. There were chucks, beeps, trills, fabulous credenzas and arpeggios, inquiring whistles, and even complicated clicks and pops used to punctuate the whole complex concert.
Stupid fucking bird.
Today was the last day Daniel and I were able to stay at the Thunder Mountain house before renters came in for a week. He’d asked me to be packed and ready by 7:45am, and to my surprise I was ready to go and in a great mood. He was taking me down to Angel Valley, a spot just outside of town down a long, “primitive” dirt road. I left the Mini at Cara Marie’s, loaded my never-used camping gear into her SUV, and we headed for the retreat center.
My second day of waking up to bird song at 8:29 am! Of course, I ignored it and rolled over back to sleep for a few hours, but I had noticed it. Such effortless waking is generally unheard of in my world. Normally, when my alarm goes off, I feel like I’ve been dead and now, for reasons that don’t excite me, I have to not be dead again.
I explored Sedona as Cara Marie and Daniel tended to their clients. Both had given me recommendations for wonderful places to try in town. I spent a couple hours writing at the Chocolatree, a café and shop surrounded by a food forest the owners and employees have planted over the years. At this cool, tree-shaded oasis in the middle of summertime Sedona, I went nuts over the unusual menu, ordering elixir teas, porridge made of chia seeds, goji berries, and coconut cream, and maple-sweetened butter coffee.
I awoke again garbled and confused. The Subway wrapper lay in a crumpled heap by the bed, but three of the desert-themed beers remained in the fridge. I felt happy about that, and resolved to leave them for the kind housekeeper if she wanted them. Blech.
After finishing my tea, I entered the cavernous maw of the windowless, fluorescent-lit handicapped bathroom to take a shower. The sprayer was at chest height, just in front of a wide bench. As I turned on the water, the showerhead clattered to the floor, and it hurt my back again to pick it up. I grimly noted the irony of feeling superior to the dank, extra-large bathroom as an able-bodied person while simultaneously considering the idea of using the bench while I shaved my legs to keep my hip from hurting. I ignored the idea and soldiered on.
As I realized I was feeling a bit depressed and just as exhausted as the day before,
I woke up sometime in the late morning, hit the on button on my vintage turquoise Sunbeam coffeemaker (yes, it made the #miniworthy cut! I mean, c'mon!), and caught sight of myself in the mirror on my way back to bed.
Holy shit. As my dad used to say when my sister and I were sick, "You look like you got rode hard and put away wet." And Sweet Jesus, I did. Puffiness overwhelmed my normally bright eyes and the overwhelming sense was of haggardness. Old. Washed up. Seen better days. Let herself go.
My cut-up t-shirt with a picture of Jesus and the words "I never said that." looked decidedly less jaunty suddenly. My belly poked out from underneath.