Sunday afternoon I got stuck. Yesterday afternoon I was freed. More to come. I have to get the guys that rescued me some beer.
Disappointing update: The guys got their beer on Tuesday. They continued to insist it was no problem, no need. It occurred to me taking them the gift of gratitude involved a risk of getting stuck again, but I went the good road direction, and everything is fine, which is something I need to remind myself of.
The Whole Story:
Mana Road, the guidebook explains, is a 44-mile pastoral jaunt through the famed Parker Ranch, arcing around the northwestern shoulder of Mauna Kea. Stunning views of the mountain and the rolling cindercone plains and valleys are just out the window, where a mere twelve paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) work the thousands of head and acres. Take this left in Waimea to start, end at the access road to the Mauna Kea observatories. Close all the gates you open. Four wheel drive only.
The book’s oh-yeah half-paragraph description imparts a sense that this is an easy afternoon jaunt, suitable for someone who is too tired to do anything physical but whose guilt is activated by lying around the house. Reading it does not activate former suspicions of the book’s considerable omissions and elisions and the general local impression that it should be thrown away. It’s something to do that will take advantage of the extra I paid for this 4WD Escape. Big Blue wants to go for a ride.
I take my pack with only passing food and water, and the blanket and pillow are in the back because I don’t want to take them upstairs. I’ll be back that evening and won’t need much for an afternoon on the road. The SUV rumbles out of the driveway with the strange loose feeling of its transaxles hunting for where and what to be. Everything is automatic, the info card explained. All my knowledge of locking hubs and throwing levers is obsolete: just drive and the car does it for you. Its confusion in normal conditions is unnerving, but it always gets the hang of itself. It’s early Sunday afternoon as I head north up the belt road, the cliffs and then endless ocean off to the right.
Not far out of town a man walks backwards with his thumb out, his face a straightline wall of haggard history but not unhealthy, body lean and clean. His name is Brad. He insists how clean he is, but talking with him broadcasts he once wasn’t. Two weeks ago he had a job, selling ukeleles in a hotel store. He was living paycheck to paycheck. A cut to his hours brought that life to an immediate end.
“People don’t help,” he kept repeating, along with “I’m starting to get worried now.” He is here and conscious, clear on events and consequences, but he has that air of people from high school and college for whom life was a confusing and overwhelming gauntlet. I realized they would always need their parents a little too much and that an endless string of low-grade calamities would follow them everywhere. Brad is one of these, I am sure: the tattoos, the thousand-yard stare, the unrelenting patter of how honest he had been and how things that had been working out suddenly were not.
“I told her she was killing me,” he said of the manager that cut his hours. “She said, ‘We’re all hurting.’ And that was it.” His landlord, an affable guy and brother of the store owner, extended no largesse. The brother also owned the car, which Brad was making payments toward. I note the pattern of low-grade calamity implicit in the handshake, knowing-somebody means of living.
He had enough money to keep him modestly fed to this point. His possessions are in a medium-sized duffel and another small bag.
“It’s hard. I been working twelve hour days for years, been honest, clean, I’ll pee in a cup right now.” I probe a little how he could work so hard for so long and have nothing to fall back on. Rent, the car, gas, groceries ate it all but maybe fifty dollars a month, in a good month. If ukeleles make money for anyone, it wasn’t him.
Brad has been hitching around the island since the first of July, looking for work. He says there are no jobs in Kona, the resort town south of the ritzy resort area containing his former hotel. I know there is a new Safeway, Target, other mainland stores that have opened. These are not options for him. “No, man, can’t do those. You have to go through all kinds of things to get one of those.” Hilo was a bust too, he says, which could be true, or could not. Times are hard everywhere, and I haven’t seen any help wanted signs. But I have hardly been looking.
“You just have to stay positive and I’ve been positive. I’m not blaming and I’m not judging. That brought me you. It’s the start of something good, I hope, that things turn around, I hope.”
Tonight in Waimea he will sleep in the baseball dugout. Monday morning he will hitch farther north to a town where a benefits office is to sign up for foodstamps. Waimea is a little ranch town whose modest exterior and small size belie the area’s great wealth, all from cattle. Given the combination of money and ranch culture, it is overrun with churches. Could some of them help, with food or transitional housing? He gives an elaborate but choppy explanation I don’t understand at the time and don’t fully remember now. I think his feelings that churches didn’t help bled over from his fear of shelters: the drugs, and worse being identified as one of the shelter people. His mien remains a blank droop, so I can’t tell whether avoiding shelter and church is more fear or disgust.
The conversation follows a loop from his job loss, to worry about being on the street, to being really scared now, to whether using his last cash to fly to Seattle would have been better. I try to reassure him, but I am some white guy in a rented SUV here for fun. We both must know I already made my leap.
I stop at a state park I like where he can shower. I don’t have a towel so he air dries and asks about Seattle, if that was the better choice. Who can say, I try to say as gently as I can. He reiterates his desire to find a caretaker job watching someone’s house while they are on the mainland, in the real world. The storeowner, whose brother took his car, would provide a reference.
Waimea is not long after the park. Brad takes great care in reiterating where Mana Road is, and to take a left, and to be careful. He wants out at a gas station. I give him almost all the food I have and my last $20 in cash. I realize now that while his patter changes–he is thankful and I am his brother now and this will bring good to both of us–his voice does not, and his face remains a straight drawn mask. He gives me his phone number. He asks me to call him if anyone knows of any jobs. My last sight of him is approaching some guys hanging out by the pumps.
I am relieved he’s gone. Not out of spite or dread or any physical discomfort, but more a sense that he needed more help than I would give. Should I feel bad? It is much lighter inside the car.
Waimea’s main drag is well-maintained and brief; it hardly takes a minute to double back to the Mana Road sign. Paved until that first left, the dirt road is smooth and no trouble. Two-wheel drives can do the first twenty miles or so no problem, says the book. The roadbed is a broad, smooth-grated crumbly red that makes no dust.
None of my maps show the road, beyond a short dashed line that runs off the guidebook’s page, a note explaining it’s 44 miles to the end. There are many houses, driveways, signs. The land is shrouded in cool mist. Waimea is high, and long minutes of driving through dense cloud give way to brilliant high-country sun.
The road has progressed from a broad dirt boulevard to a typical country track with spots of grass overtaking the center. There are hairpin turns around gates, forlorn single buildings that look like Sears instant sheds, and, occasionally, immense cows.
The Escape moves slowly. There’s already a scratch on the side, from who knows what, and the last thing I want is to spin off the road or throw up stones. The road seems easy.
The land changes to a dewy, northern California mood. Clouds move in and blow through the twisted hulks of dead koa trees. They look like the grey spines of reptile fossils.
Shadows lengthen as I open and close gates. The book says there are four; I make it through two. Before the second is a broad space with stable-like buildings, large tanks, stacks of wide pipes. I make some phone calls on the free Sunday in some of the best signal I’ve had.
The road worsens. Clumps of rock rise up in the center. Gravel road gives way to dirt or bare stone, huge tossed jumbles that wrench the car as I creep over them. The car is sure, though: nothing slips or spins. Going is very slow as the road smooths out to crumbling gravel, then rocks, then holes and fissures, always back to dust stretches smooth as a plate of baby powder.
I pass low, green buildings behind a gate on the left and the hill confronts. It’s not much of a hill, but the grass is high and the track deep. The area is full of offshoots to parallel roads and cul de sacs; the book spoke of them but provided no advice. I think: stay on the main way, go slowly, no sudden moves. It’s like driving on ice. I center Big Blue in the track and idle up the hill.
Wheels spin just short of the top. The dirt is cornstarch powder and there isn’t enough grip. Stomp the brake. I am centered between two tracks, powder filtering down.
I should have turned the engine off, breathed, gotten out, looked around, thought. An enormous realization hits: I have passed no one. I am in the middle of nowhere, I have used up most of my phone battery on Sunday afternoon calls, and if something goes wrong with the car it’s all on me out here on this unpaved road. A sense of fragile powerlessness straight from adolescence settles its glass bell over me. All the Dads you can call now will want money for help.
I thought a little, but not enough. I put the car in forward gear, but the fully automatic 4WD is not quick and lets the car roll backwards. I stomp the brake and am still in the ruts. Reason says use gravity and back down the hill. Reverse gives the same pause and then a lurch as power comes through. Bumps make it unclear what’s going on. I keep backing up, thinking it’s better to be all on or all off the road. Grass scratches and stipples under the car, then deeper sounds and lurching.
Gas doesn’t make any movement, though the traction control keeps the tires from spinning. Turning it off lets them spin with the car in place. The world is canted down to the right and rear and the crystalline adolescent panic I sensed from an adult future condenses into a sundown pall.
Moving is a struggle. The door won’t stay open at the angle; grass comes up to the runningboard. Holding the door and spilling forward the grass goes up to my knees. I push through to the road as if through snow.
The car is hung up. I know it’s stuck the way you know your friend isn’t calling back or you’ll never see your wallet again. I am not panicking, feeling something more like embarrassed dread. This is a problem I didn’t need to have and I walked into it like a sucker.
While I have the self-control to take these pictures, my mind races with:
- elaborate consequences of the rental company finding out
- did you break anything?
- will the exhaust start a fire?
- maybe you can dig it out
The dirt is finer than talc and I fall a little into it with each step, weight making an air cushion from dust. It’s the kind of dust terrorists want for bioweapons. It’s very clear that I think this.
Looking as I should have two minutes ago, I don’t see anything wrong with the car. No obstruction is behind it; grass-trapped wheels aren’t stuck in holes. Big Blue is upright and in no danger of falling over, and I realize only as I’m writing this that there is no danger of it rolling backwards uncontrolled. (Again it’s demonstrated that perspective requires time.)
After pacing and cringing and reliving some other past incidents where a moment to take an alternate path has just passed, I get back in and try again. Forward, backward, traction control on, off. Not enough grab to even rock a little bit. It’s stuck.
No panic in the sense of white knuckles and shaking fearful rage comes. Not even any doubt that this is, all things considered, only a significant inconvenience and not a calamity. It more demonstrates my stupidity than anything. Stupid, stupid. Why did you come out here? Why didn’t you turn around at the bottom where you sensed you should?
I am in that amorphous time where pure force of emotional will makes it seem that alternates are at that very moment happening. Clenching inner and outer fists hard enough wills reality to change shape, or it feels that way. Seconds just passed are close enough to grab them and change their vectors, but the only real thing is the sick cold feeling, or the flapping sheet feeling, and a sense of having been falling and now being at full rest.
I take the pictures and breathe. There is nothing to be done right now. It will be dark in an hour or so. I have the phone and the buildings I passed are just behind me.
I open the tailgate’s wide mouth and sit, which takes more energy to lean back and not fall out than merely sit. I don’t feel ants in my skin or my mind but there is that sense of rising air trapped beneath the skin. I have some water, some protein bars and a peanut butter sandwich. I drink water, eat a protein bar, and am absorbed in the act.
The sensible thing, some mental process concludes, is to walk the short distance to the buildings to find someone. The native raised pickup truck must be on hand and hopefully someone to operate it and pull you out. It is immediate action. I lock the car, taking only sandals. I write my phone number with a finger in the windshield dust, and beneath: HELP – STUCK – AT CAMP
The camp is five minutes’ walk. Signs announce it is forest land; others point to trails. The gate is locked but a ladder allows an easy walk over the fence. The institutional green bunkhouses are well-maintained and neat on the inside, unmade bunks with sheets on the top of striped mattresses visible through the windows. All are locked. Large steel sinks work, though the water is marked non-potable. It works fine to wash off the thick dust. Four giant black tanks huddle together under a sharp-lined metal awning, full of water from the sound of knocking on them. Everything is locked but the composting toilets, which smell horrible but not as bad as pit toilets. The toilets more than anything indicate regular use: the building is solid wood siding and concrete, a long accessibility ramp running up to the men’s. Multiple rolls of Kirkland toilet paper are inside on the windowsills.
No one is here, though someone was recently: the lawn is freshly mowed. There is no phone or electricity. I sit on the sink rim and wash the red dust out of my feet and sandals. I am realizing I will be out here tonight, and I can never sleep when dirty.
Phone calls are made with the phone’s half battery, to a friend back home. She thinks it’s hilarious, without cruelty. It happens to everybody. The conversation is about where I am, what I did, what I have with me. She will get some phone numbers for me to call tomorrow, since I am adamant against a tow truck’s astronomical expense. Parker Ranch sounds like the smartest bet to call first.
The conversation I direct revolves around how fucking stupid I am, just like me to do something so stupid and obvious. Who knows what happened to the car, how much it will cost to get it out. And I was already worried about the scratch.
Well, she advises, you have a couple options. You can let Monkey take over: it sounds like he’s well on his way. Or you can treat it as an adventure. The stars are beautiful out there, and you have what you need to sleep in the car. True, you’re not absolutely safe, but you’re more safe than not. Take a deep breath and enjoy where you are and deal with everything else in the morning.
All the frustration, anxiety, rage, self-immolation and dread I would be feeling a month ago is gone. As the stars come out I realize this: that I am stuck and worried about the car, even terrified for it, but I am not all that worried about me. Nobody on the phone is either.
Returning, no rusty paniolo is waiting by the obvious stuck haole car to pull me out. I struggle inside. This is not the flat interior comfort of Spencer’s or even Mauna Loa. I’m dirtier than I’d like, don’t have a good pillow, and vibrate with my insulted folly. I suddenly realize my own car insurance doesn’t have comprehensive or collision, just liability. The credit card will protect you. I repeat this: the credit card protects you.
When I was a kid first driving I was terrified of something happening to the car. We all were with our first hand-me-down limping wrecks, knowing that any dent or scratch, any unreasonable mud or broken part, any slip or failure would beget hours of yelling and assertions that we were bad kids, doomed for life. I remember an incident where something minor but happened to the car, and minor, painful but invisible happened to me. I remember the clear thought: Let me get hurt over the car. I’ll heal, the car will stay broken. I was far less important than an old car.
I turn the phone off and work to lie down. I think to read but don’t want to turn any lights on. I wonder if anyone will come by and am frightened by the prospect for some reason.
I realize I am far better off than Brad.
Comfortable positions are impossible: the car is at such an angle that I slide into the closed tailgate, or all my weight is on my legs. Weeks ago I gave two kids a ride, the loudmouth girl telling stories of Hawaiian ghost warriors appearing. I am a long way from anything, in complete silence and thick dark. The wind blows claws of dust against the car. I realize I can freak myself out, and somehow don’t.
Where I am is a different place from where I am: between strange remembered pasts which are by definition distorted and inaccurate, and a present which is at once arrested, mutable, and unknown. Where am I, really? Why did I come out here, really–to the place as a whole, to this exact place? Why do you keep getting stuck?
Did you need to leave? Did you try as hard as everyone assures you you did? What if you didn’t and never did? What if you could never face the truth of anything?
They say that doesn’t make you selfish. Are there any things in life you have actively wanted? Or are you driven by long ago programmed aversion to punishment, trouble, displeasure, fear. Fear, everybody’s friend.
In the glassed-in dark the only connection is through the knowledge that the phone will turn on. Stars are brilliant until the clouds move in with their wind.
I slept because I remember dreaming, though not the dreams. They are the immersive panoramas where you are the dream and there is no difference between reality and dreaming, everything normal and seamless and the precise amount of real as to be real and not something else. Waking only slightly registered where I was, and without emotional implications. One dream had something to do with Christmas. I remember the lights.
When I wake it is mostly from the angle and a little from cold. At one point I put the wider rear seat down, lying against it with legs dangling in the open space, but sometime later I shift back to the car’s length. I keep wrapping the blanket tighter, throwing the rain gear vest over the top for a little extra warmth. A foil-lined survival blanket is in my pack, but too much to bother with half-asleep. Time moves in discrete blocks of dream-not-dream where the time within is indeterminate.
Sun rises early here and I work to stay asleep, down in the deep rest I haven’t experienced in a very long time. In the half-light I can believe I am somewhere else where there is no calamity or challenge, but as the light grows it becomes harder to deny gravity and cold. Fairies have not lifted the car back onto the road, or back to 1986 where I can do it right this time. I am covered in dust, faced with the rental company, and really have to pee.
I fake sleep until the sun warms the car, which takes very little time, and then put the parka on and walk back to the camp. There is something deeply relieving about using a real toilet, funky as it may smell. I brush my teeth with the non-potable water and am confident the residual antibiotic level will scare anything away. The camp is green and dew-drenched. It would be a nice place if I could leave.
The phone turns on and I call the friend. No moks, lava monsters or lesbian space lizards have picked on me. It sounds like a normal Monday for her. She has texted numbers for Parker Ranch and my landlady has sent a couple tow truck numbers. I realize I am unhappy because I can’t affect my own agency, that I am in a state I don’t want to be in, but there is no emergency and I have nowhere to be. The phone could have more battery, though.
I switch sides of the car to hide from the sun. Close to 9 I call the Parker Ranch number, where a friendly woman answers who does not make fun of me. She transfers me to the affable security chief who informs me I’m not on their land. They will call around and look for someone who can help, though.
My mood raced up and down during the call: high from the woman’s concern and sense of action, to a flat vacuum when the guy makes it not his problem. No one is driving by and I sense no one will.
Reading a book about the physiological nature of love while isolated and powerless makes me reflect in a brittle, stressed way. The world is still real, unlike last night, and it’s not helpful to see myself as having failed in yet one more thing. I keep reading. The stack of books and magazines I brought along hasn’t shrunk much. A friend insists this is good as it means I’ve been doing other things. Magazines keep coming in the mail.
A new number rings the phone, with another Parker Ranch person. He sounds young and eager, says he has contractors and wardens around. Call in an hour if you don’t hear from someone. In twenty minutes someone calls to say he can’t help. Friends and my landlady text occasionally asking how it’s going. I call the young guy back who seems surprised and says he’ll call around some more. I am turning the phone off to save it. Around 11 it doesn’t turn on any more.
To save myself embarrassment as much as anything, I pull at the grass trapping the raised tires and stuff it under the ones in the dust. I read Ford’s manual of usual tips about rocking the car when stuck–not much compared to instructions for permissible tow trucks. Drive, reverse, traction control on and off: stuck.
It is grey now but not cold, with wind and lukewarm spitting rain. With a dead phone there is nothing to do but start walking. The young guy said he was only a mile ahead.
It’s not a bad walk, though I have no way to measure distance, and I can’t judge time well. The land loops and sways, dropping into gullies and rising to crumbled lips where the road has worn through to rock. I feel like I did on the Mauna Loa hike: reality has always been this place, this state, this bubble of time when something is supposed to happen but nothing is happening but walking in the weather.
When you are in a bad way, or think you are, and you want something to be true, what is in front of you shimmers and sways. Is that a person? A shadow. All those school afternoons waiting for the car you’re waiting for but the street remains resolutely empty, the school quieter and quieter. I had a book bag and Star Trek books then. Now I have a pack with half a peanut butter sandwich and a book by three scientists on love.
Land turns green and strange signs appear: a red arrow hanging like a carriage sign with a word in florid script. I don’t remember the word, just the careful shape and deep color of the sign, as out of place as a dolphin. Kapu-No Trespassing signs are everywhere. I think I’ve walked an hour, which should be an easy mile. Maybe not quite an hour; I don’t know. I know I passed a house with trucks in front of it before I got stuck–should I turn around for it? I keep walking to the next hilltop, the next curve. I sense the conundrum of always walking a little farther because, wouldn’t you know it, a house or truck or wandering cowboy was just there, a little more ahead. Just kike if I’d only stopped and looked around, only turned the wheel more, hadn’t come out here, hadn’t gotten sick, hadn’t refused to believe all those trivial mortal human problems were things I had to deal with too.
It is very quiet on the outside with the clouds. The trees are tall now, green and alive: lean new forest down to the left, sinuous thick bulks up to the right.
Up a short hill there is a driveway on the right, and I can see green walls, a window. I walk up without expectation, hope, sense of future, force of will to make anything–I tell myself I am doing these things. When I hear the voices I am not sure to believe they are voices, but keep walking until the hill clears out and there is a truck, and a guy, and other guys.
“Hey.” I can manage nothing else because I am not thinking of anything besides whether these guys are real or not.
There are four of them, all native Hawaiian. They are not disturbed or surprised or invigorated. They are sitting at a picnic table under an awning, the sliding door to the building open. Two guys are young and wiry with smooth faces and dark skin, though one is more the color of motor oil. There is a guy seated at the table, his face lined and pitted, his hands filthy and stained by the endless cigarettes he must have held like the one he holds now with folded arms, hunched. And there is a big guy, gut like a continent pushing his shirt away from his waist, a guy where everything is big.
The conversation is predictable and nothing I can remember. The two young guys don’t speak: it’s mostly the old smoker and the big guy. The smoker is a punk grown up, a smartmouth, a backtalker. Stuck bad huh? Tow truck six, eight hundred bucks out here. Yeah, why I went walking. Glad to find you guys. Yeah, should be. We get you out. Who say? You get him out you want. I do it for six hundred bucks!
I am a white guy among four natives who work for a living–really work. I have no cash, absolutely nothing to offer. This is no transaction but an appeal for charity.
Somehow the tension leaves, or my imagining it stops. The bulldozer’s starter has burned out and they have to go to town anyway, and the big guy will help. He and the others make noise behind me while the smoker asks questions and I answer him. This is the one that would help for as much as a tow truck.
Why you out here? Typical–divorced guy getting out of town a while. Oh, divorce, too bad. You got money then, huh? No, not really–it was fair, she got the house. Shit, man, tell me about it. Goddamnit just paid her thirty thousand child support. You watch it, huh? No, she’s not bad to me. So what you do, fly off the road? No, got hung up, went over the side a little, just enough to not get out. You stay out there, all night? Yeah, slept in the car, no big deal, walked to that camp for the john. No shit? Shootz, it no cold for you? No big deal, like home. Nobody come by and steal your wheels, huh? Hah hah hah. Where you from? Seattle, you know. You do software, huh? Where you glasses? All them smart guys got glasses.
I like him in the way you like a rough fuckup uncle. I think he likes me. All of them seem to appreciate I walked here. I am sure they like my not making them my concierge.
Stan, the big guy, will take me while the other guys mess with the bulldozer and the smoker smokes. They reason Big Blue can’t be very far and it’s a quick job. Stan has a beer-colored small-bed Mazda pickup truck that takes the rocks and holes like a Conestoga wagon. He tells me not to be embarrassed–people get stuck out here all the time, and it’s locals, not dumb haoles. Dumb people, man, you not believe. Last winter we get a call. Family stuck out there, kids, baby. No food, no water. Just being stupid, man.
Luck has it I got stuck in a seldom traveled middle section that also happens to be the least maintained. Though it’s a county road Hawaii doesn’t seem to bother about the middle. After where you found us, smooths out, gets a lot better. Just go ahead, don’t worry. If you get stuck we’ll be there in about an hour anyways. And he laughs.
It isn’t far at all, maybe ten minutes. It’s a good ride as Stan tells me about working for Hawaiian Home Lands, cutting the koa trees (expensive stuff, very valuable), every manner of hapless straggler like me that wanders down the road or through the fields to them. Like ghosts, man. At least you walk up the drive, make noise!
Big holes make me doubt how smart it is to come this way, but the truck keeps moving. Stan is telling me to not take pork to parks lest I confuse the gods about an offering when we top one hill back and see Big Blue shining there, stuck in the sun.
Stopping at the crest of the hill where I’m stuck, Stan considers. He shuffles over the fine powder like all giant Hawaiians, his feet barely inside his slippers that somehow stay on. “Shit, man, how you do that?”
He has me get in, start it, put it in reverse. He puts his giant hands on the left front above the headlight and gives a good push while I gas it. The car instantly lurches back, keeps rolling. I panic and stop. “Dude, keep going! You okay!” He directs how to turn the wheel, whether to go back or ahead, how much, stop, go, go, and after half a minute I am centered in the track. He keeps waving me back, back, and I stick my head out the window and creep down to where the road is flat with the grass, put it in park, and feel relief like that first autumn wind in Texas. Stuck about eighteen hours and all I needed was a push.
“Go up the other side!” Stan yells, pointing at the alternate track I should have taken last night. That way is smooth grass, no ruts at all.
With Stan behind me I creep to their camp, edging over huge rock crests, pits to one side or the other, falloffs. At points I stop and look back to Stan, and he points left or right, and that’s how I go. “You got all kindsa clearance, man,” he shouts. “You doing fine.”
It seems we take far longer to get back than to get out. My jaw hurts from clenched teeth as I inched over obstacles I knew would rip the oil pan, crack an axle, but all I have at their camp is a sore jaw. I pull into a wide space, stop, get out. Stan is stopped behind me pulling my pack from the passenger seat.
There is an awkward, perhaps obsequious and probably embarrassing exchanges of gratitude I don’t really remember. Stan insists it’s nothing, no big deal, don’t worry about it. Aloha. He asks my name, says his is Stan, shakes my hand.
Driving ahead is a practice of exquisite, heightened care. Every lump of rock is a trap, every curve treacherous. The wheels slip where the road is nothing but broken rock. I don’t believe they’ve lied to me about the road but I’m not yet convinced. The countryside is something to see, if I would look. The phone is dead, so I can take no pictures.
But the road does improve: to smooth track with low grass between, to an actual one-lane road, to a broad gravel road. Forest reserves and wilderness preserves pass off to the left. I pass what looks like a ranch or the Branch Davidian compound. A giant dual-axle pickup passes driven by a tiny young Hawaiian woman who waves. The road is good for twenty miles an hour, just like the cigarette man said it would be.
The forest yields to scrub and dust and dead cinder cones. I remember a road between Reno and Las Vegas I traveled with a grad school roommate. I went off that one too, in 1993. Two Indians came by and wordlessly pushed us out. Those guys could have killed us and nobody’d know. But they didn’t and we drove on.
Twenty years later events were more complex, but the result is the same. I am moving forward again.
The road goes up, there are signs, and in the left distance the broad highway of Saddle Road. There is a rough slope and a stop sign, and the road is paved. Turn left to civilization. I stop the car and get out and walk the asphalt, barely warm from the altitude despite the sun. It is real. There is no need to cling to what is no longer there. I am free.
[Photos from the beer delivery trip the next day]