Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.
We should have turned north by now. Headed up the spine of the Rockies for Denver, then Fort Collins. We’re scheduled to meet some friends there in two weeks time, but spring hasn’t found the mountain passes. Not yet. Cold winter nights linger there, waiting with late season snow and ice.
So we kept pouring west, gunning for Flagstaff, hoping to catch the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Moab before the summer sun sets the place ablaze. Hoping to hold onto temperate days as long as we could.
Arizona had other plans. We crossed the border, ran head long into a fierce and whipping windstorm. Gusts of 60 mph, the radio said. Great walls of dust rising up out of the yellow desert to block out the road ahead. It turned the blue sky dingy with grit, the lofted sand and dirt striking the truck broadside. It pecked at the glass at my ear, pushed us to the shoulder. The truck stayed stable enough, but there’s no hiding its profile. The wind hits like a hammer, and I spent the morning working the wheel to keep us pointed straight.
We aren’t strangers to wind. Our first night in Big Bend gifted us with a tearing wall of thunderclouds. We watched them rake their way down the valley, obscuring the tall and ribboned ridges to our east until we couldn’t tell stone from storm, the lightning ripping through their chests, a volley of violent shouts. We were spared the rain, but not the wind that bore them. Snaps of 50 mph beat on the truck all night, the roof popping and groaning in the unique tongue of tortured metal, the cabin swaying like a small craft in an ambivalent sea.
Kiddo slept through every last second of it, but it’s not a night I’d care to repeat.
All I could do was keep the truck steady and hope for sanctuary in the shadow of the Flagstaff hills, something the place wasn’t keen to deliver. The dust turned to thick and looming rain clouds. The wind slowed, sure, but the town sits at 7,000 feet, and what had been a soft and steady drizzle turned to snow; warm, wet, and miserable. Our stop for the night sat even higher, well into the sticks outside of town.
We had to make a call: brave a night of winter weather or abandon our plan all together. Gun south, maybe. For Sedona. The map showed fair skies down that way. Tolerable temperatures. It meant tacking a few more hours onto what had become an exhausting day. We went for it.
The three of us were here once before. In another life. Beth was four months pregnant and we set off on a 10-day tour of the continent. Did it in our Miata. Because we didn’t know what was coming, maybe. Because we thought we’d never get another shot at it. Because everyone tells you that having a child changes you. That the life you knew and loved is over the second they open their eyes.
Kiddo was a mystery then. A ball of maybes. Of dark and brilliant possibilities. An unknowable mass of more hopes and fears than we ever thought possible. We refused to find out the sex before she was born, figuring, we’d only have so many chances to be so surprised. Somehow, in my gut, in the quiet places that know such things, I knew she was a she. That she’d have her momma’s eyes.
What would I say to that history of me, if I could? That it will be fine? That she will be more perfect than you have any claim to? That she is a brilliant and ceaseless light? That she will pry a smile from you when your lips have forgotten the word? That you are fool to be so tired of the life you live?
No. Say nothing to that shadow of yourself. He wouldn’t hear the words.
We’re all quiet as we tumble down 89A, the low clouds chasing us from one red spire to the next. I watch the temperature climb 10 degrees, then 20. We wander outside of town. Find a secluded forest road and set up camp next to a wall of red rock, read the lessons of the millennia written there. It’s quiet enough to hear the wind washing at the stone, doing the patient work that’s shaped this place. It’s tempting to see these hills as permanent. Fixed points in the wash of the world, but the truth is sweeter. They churn like the rest of us. The sights we’re seeing are a flash. That we’re fortunate to be where we are, when we are.
I should be paying attention to gorgeous stone around us, but I can’t stop thinking about the past two years. How it feels like everything and nothing has changed. Drink in the realization that there is no such thing as stasis. That we are all in transition, always.
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