I hadn’t made a plan, only a trajectory, It was the first of the year, and I had packed my van with most of what I thought I would need to live in and live out of it for the next month, as I did my best to escape some of my least favorite parts of winter, cold weather and cold feelings. It was rainy, with a winter storm warning I was hoping to miss. I filled the tank, installed a new headlight bulb and set out to head west, looking through the rainy windshield, being cleared in incremental tempo, as 21 inch arcs gave me literal moments of clarity as the wiper blades did their best to help the van guide me towards something, to which I wasn’t at all sure it would be.
The first part of the drive led me west into the mountains, to a small college town called Radford, where I drove up a dirt road, and had a cup of coffee across from an Army munitions factory, and traded some art for a tank of gas, to keep going until I hit Knoxville in time for a winter thunderstorm. It started snowing, roughly 450 miles from home and it was still the first day of the year…
Waking up to snow on the ground, I continued west towards Memphis. The mountains of Tennessee and the roads passing through them were covered in snow. Weather became more mild as the elevation dropped into the valley of the Mississippi river, enough for a bike ride, Pedaling around different cities you can usually tell what bottling company is nearby or what beer is cheap, empty Modelo cans seemed to be littered all over Memphis. Maybe it was on sale recently. Either way, dinner and a visit to a friends art studio were next. That and another tank of gas.
Onward across the Mississippi River, The water is warmer than the air, fog was rising up like steam off a big ol dirty cup of coffee. Cold weather and dirty wet lowlands took me across Arkansas. Sunny white light through a dirty winter windshield guided me to the Texas border.
Passing through Texarkansas, Dallas and the like, my route turned south, with an expansive Texas sunset to my right showing me silhouetted trees, factories, powerlines, farms, water towers and billboards. Visiting Texas small towns like Manor, Taylor, Round Rock, and the capitol- Austin. Each one showing me a little bit of Americana while I did things like drink coffee, check out local eateries, and go on bike rides.
Bad weather gave me an off day to do some errands, change the oil in the van and wash some clothes. The coin laundry by Stew’s was mostly just street folks trying to get in out of the rain. Outside, it was just cold and grey and the areas surrounding both very upscale developments by investment groups or totally skid row style, not much in between, and the laundromat smelled like piss as it started to flood. This was my cue to pack the van and once again head west.
A pre dawn drive had me rolling through Texas hill country, a brief rearview sunrise quickly muted by overcast skies, as I passed postcard towns like Johnson City and Fredericksburg before meeting up with Interstate 10, for a long drive through central and west Texas winter, where every thing seemed to be grayscale, the road, the horizon, the dwellings and roadside landscapes, all gray, eventually becoming black as i drove into the night, landing in Silver City New Mexico, just east of the continental divide. All along, I could almost see Mexico outside the driver side window.
I got a $75 room at a place called the Drifter Motel, before waking up early to ride a park in freezing temperatures at an elevation of about 5900 feet. Wandering the old mining town, where Geronimo and Billy the Kid had once drifted through, I too kept it moving up over the mountains before coasting back towards the interstate, another postcard view, a two lane road, purple mountains on the horizon, and an econoline van like a white horse in the distance.
Tucson was the first taste of warmer weather since narrowly escaping an east coast winter storm and driving through a cold front that blanketed most of the country. A wandering bike ride around parts of the city, enjoying some much needed sunshine before another day on the road. Another cup of coffee and eventually I’d be turning left at I-8, passing Yuma Arizona near the border, then onto Calexico where the road starts playing that trick again where you can’t tell if you are crossing the flats, on a slight descent or climbing a slow mellow uphill desert wall, it can be mind numbing. The gray of west Texas traded itself in for a slightly more saturated view of various shades of tan, eventually arriving on an area filled with sand dunes before crossing the Tecate Divide. Weaving through an exaggerated boulder filled mountain range was the last ascent before rolling into La Mesa, eventually San Diego, an then the Pacific Ocean.
Sleeping in the van in the warmer temps, after loitering across the United States southern corridor was welcomed, even with helicopters circling above, and waking up to people rummaging for recycling in the alleyway mornings, all while realizing I was smack dab in the flight path of San Diego International airports morning take off rituals. Sunrise coffees on the coast with the Fast And Loose crew were highlights, as I did my best to shake off the mileage between Richmond and Point Loma.
I wandered more, North Park, Ocean Beach, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas to catch up with Gilly and Crazy Joe, the history we all shared together was more expansive than the space between home and where I had just motored through to get here. We did our best to re live as many laughs as we could as 40 something year old teenagers. It was probably the first time in 25 years we all sat on the deck of a ramp together, and the first time palm trees stood tall above us. More laughs and loitering and I was on the move again.
My father had been stationed in Coronado, in the sixties before being shipped overseas to fight in an American war. I took some of his ashes to sea beneath Sunset Cliffs, and said another goodbye. Nearly three thousand miles from where we started, another journey to the sea. Bike rides along this coastline the next couple days felt good.
Another mini van wake up call, I ended up at the OB park, where I met Neil Blender, and felt like my trip was done. I turned out of the parking lot and headed east. No less certain than on the first day of the year, I hugged the border of Mexico, now outside the passenger side window, until I got to Las Cruces and slept in a cold parking lot. I’d spent days heading west, but after another bout of restlessness I once again found myself in West Texas. another winter storm chasing me, looking to the rear view mirror with a dirty bronze winter sunset coming through the unwashed back window, the roads slowly went from wet to frozen as the rain turned to ice, and I drove uneasily into the darkness to the sound track of Townes Van Zandt and ice hitting the windshield…