I’ve always loved the outdoors but during my 20’s I spent much more time in the city than outside. This trip has reinvigorated my love of wide open spaces. When I started my epic American road-trip nearly three weeks ago, I was sure that I was going to find amazing locations and have interesting experiences, but I wasn’t quite as prepared for the dramatic way that certain places across the American West would dramatically change the way I saw the world and my place in it.
I’ve always loved the mountains and the sea and seen them both many times, but I had never been to the desert save for a few layovers in Vegas or Phoenix. It always looked so barren and so bleak. I once told a pretty girl sitting next to me on a flight that I thought no one could love the desert. She told me that she did, and that she thought the desert was very pretty. I remember telling her that I pitied her level of Stockholm syndrome. At that time, I couldn’t imagine loving a place unless it was flat, green, and lush, like the Mississippi river valley in which I was raised. But after spending about a week and half traveling (sometimes hazardously) through the effortless expanse of the Great Basin and the Mojave, I now realize how wrong I was. The desert is barren. The desert is bleak. The desert is beautiful.
I sit here now in San Rafael, California- about thirty minutes north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate. This is an incredibly beautiful part of the country. It is green here. The weather is perfect. There is always a sea breeze and there are whales in the harbor. It isn’t anything like the desert. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about the heat, or the sand, or the silence of mountain valleys hidden away behind hundreds of miles of sage brush. I can’t help but think about the faces of the little animals I saw who, drawn by the sound of my car, came running in the vain hope that maybe, hopefully, I would spill some water.
I find myself missing the soul crushing heat of the place. When I spent my first night in the desert, at Colorado National Monument, I was amazed at how beautiful it all was, but surprised at how chilly I found it. Of course, we were up at about 7,000 feet, but I expected the desert to give me a little more than that. But when we spent our next night in the desert, at the aptly named Valley of Fire, we were almost at sea level and the temperature was approaching 120. My poor car, Serengeti, barely made it to the campsite. At first, the heat was mind-numbing. All I could think about was how hot it was. But then something strange happened. All I could think about was how hot it was. Everything else went away. All my frustrations, doubts, moments of self-loathing, worries, everything went away. It was hot. And the hot was all there was.
Hot breezes blew across me like dragon’s breath. There was no comfort in them. The ice in my cooler melted within a few minutes and all my drinking water became hot. The jug of water I kept on the table for washing up was hot. Like, it was hot. Imagine having the sun beat you into the earth until your body screams out for water for it to be almost steaming when you drink it. Under other circumstances I think I might have been driven mad by it but there was peace in it all. It was hot. That’s all there was.
There was no respite in sleep either. My tent was an oven. The ground was so hot that it heated my sleeping bag and pillow to the point where it hurt to lay on them. It was hot. It was hot. There was only it was hot.
When night fell there was no sound. There was nothing. The wind howled ferociously above the canyon and yet nothing stirred- not the crack of a twig, not the folding of a leaf. There was nothing. It was silent. I think the desert will drive you insane if you let it. In fact, the trope of a stumbling mad man making his way across the Mojave is a long established creation. It’s not a lie. I easily imagined myself doing the same. When morning came I packed my camp, tried to clean the sweat off me and got back into the car, and for another thousand miles the desert dragged on and on. Endlessly. Infinitely. There was nothing else but the heat.
What is love like? I think love is absorbing. I think that love replaces all other thoughts. The desert did that to me. It replaced all other thoughts and I can’t shake the feeling that I want her to do it to me again. I want her to do that to me forever. I want that the only thing I can think about is her. I guess that’s love.