Leaving Florida I had 10 days until I needed to be in Arizona for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t a lot of time, considering that I wanted to see new cities, visit friends, and get my feet dusty on a few trails, but I’d make it work. I drew a straight line west and started driving.
I spent the first few days cruising through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, rambling along the Gulf Coast and stopping for a sunset beach run in Biloxi. I attended a Rotary Club meeting in New Orleans and drove Tantor down Bourbon Street, making sure to leave before he got thirsty for one of those potent neon drinks the bars were serving.
That night I reviewed the map. I had 9 days left to make my final few stops…500 miles to Austin, 500 miles to Big Bend National Park, 400 miles to Las Cruces, and a final 500 mile push to Prescott, Arizona. Shesh, I’d need an oil change by the time I reached Prescott for sure!
The next day I entered Texas. I’ve always known it’s a huge state, but it really hits home when you see the interstate mile markers counting down to zero. In most states I notice the markers around 200 or 300, noting that I have a few hundred miles left before the state line. About 10 minutes into Texas I nearly had a heart attack when I saw mile marker 850! What!? I still had 850 miles to go, just in one state?!
I made my way to Austin, Texas because I figured with the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” I should show up with my hippie van and do my part. I toured the city, attended a Rotary Club lunch, went for a run, and took a quick shower in a public parking lot, yup, keepin’ it weird!
That night I met my former co-worker Carrie and her boyfriend Andy for pizza and beer. The next morning we grabbed breakfast burritos and ventured out to scramble over the rocks in Pedernales Falls State Park and then climb Enchanted Rock. Unfortunately, the rain moved in and the Enchanted Rock trail was closed. We hiked around the base in the drizzle before Carrie and Andy headed back to Austin and I continued west.
The next day I finished the long haul to Big Bend National Park where my college roommate and Appalachian Trail hiking buddy Ryan ‘Meat’ Simko is a Park Ranger. I knew he was working until 5 o’clock and I entered the park a few minutes before the end of his shift. I was minding my own business, driving under the speed limit, when a Park Ranger’s truck passed going in the opposite direction. I thought it was Meat, but the driver didn’t acknowledge me, so I continued on. A few minutes later I looked in my rear view mirror and saw flashing lights. Yup, that was Meat, and he was pulling me over. We rolled the vehicles off to the side of the road, greeted each other, and snapped a few photos. I followed Meat back to the staff housing village, parked the van, and opened a few beers to catch up on life and adventures.
Meat was off duty for the next few days so we explored the park. We borrowed two canoes and spent an afternoon floating down the Rio Grande, with the United States to the North, and Mexico to the south. We drifted past wild horses, roaming burros, and curious tourists. We stopped at a hot spring and jumped from the hot water into the Rio to float down rapids and run back to the steaming pool. That night we drove an hour to the nearest town, Terlingua, for burger night, live music, and cold beers.
The next day we drove Tantor all over the park, hiking a few trails, and exploring dirt roads. Meat and I climbed to the top of a mountain with a few beers to watch the sunset and returned home to grab some friends and head down to the hot springs for a midnight soak. That night was the Leonid Meteor Shower and I sat in the 105 degree water, listening to the Rio Grande churn by, watching millions of stars sparkle overhead and sporadic meteors streak across the sky into Mexico. What. A. Life.
Eventually Meat had to go back to work and I had to cover 400 miles to New Mexico. The morning that I left, we crossed the Mexican border to the town of Boquillas to have breakfast at one of the two restaurants in the tiny Mexican village. I had a blast visiting Meat and was surprised by the beauty of Big Bend National Park.
That night I reached Las Cruces, NM in time to have dinner with another AT hiking buddy Rayo and his wife. We talked about the trail, life after hiking, and New Mexico. In the morning Rayo took me out to run one of his favorite trails just outside of town. After our adventure I showered and continued on, I had another 500 miles to cover before my college roommate Kyle and his wife Jenn would be passing through Prescott and I was looking forward to seeing them.
I drove through melting snow drifts in the high Arizona mountain passes and made it to the town of Show Low. It was too small to have a Starbucks and I couldn’t find an outlet in McDonald’s to get some late night work done, so I parked my van in the Walmart parking lot and walked across the street to the local hospital where I connected to some incredibly fast WiFi in the emergency room lobby.
The next day I finished my drive to Prescott. I parked Tantor in front of my Grandpa’s townhouse. It had only been 5 months since I’d left, but 20,000 miles had passed under my tires, I’d visited 3 countries and 26 states, hung out with countless friends, visited family, and lived one epic story after another. I was glad to be back in Arizona and ready to have a home base for a few weeks, but I knew one thing was certain…I wouldn’t be standing still for long. Traveling the open road is a powerful force, and the chaos, uncertainty, and adventure would be pulling me in new directions sooner rather than later.