The older I get the harder it is for me to make my annual solo treks west. Hard both physically and emotionally. This last one found me driving 600-mles from Valley of Fire to Carson City through beat-up Beatty, Nevada over plains of desiccated sage; sleeping in the Subaru in an empty campground while a hard rain fell all night long; passing through a once-familiar but now unrecognizable neighborhood; getting lost in Sacramento; being stuck in a traffic jam on the interstate in Las Vegas; worrying about snow on the summits, and visiting a parent oxidized by age.
But it is the highlights along the way that make it all worthwhile. The exhilarating drive over the San Rafael Swell; a walk with my daughter along the Truckee River in Reno; eating at a Greek café; sharing a hot tub with sis while looking out over the Sacramento delta country; a lunch of fish ‘n chips on the coast north of Half Moon Bay; hiking into the morning misted Pinnacles surrounded by dew-flecked flora and volcanic monoliths; exploring a hillside in the Sierras where granite boulders fat with moss flanked gnarled oaks; watching The Big Lebowski again with my new son-in-law; good conversation with old friends; and that wonderful moment on the return leg when red rock cliffs rose up against winter-white mountains telling me that I was as good as home.
I can still do the journey. I can still endure the long distances, though my hips and legs complain mightily. While they ache in the background, my eyes take in the foreground – the vast expanses of west. The wrinkled horizons of the Colorado Plateau or the razor straight horizons of the central valley and the delta. The tawdry towns. The energizing interstates. The rusty car, white trash heaps in the middle of Nevada. The dilapidated house boats along the sloughs. A pair of geese on the wing over the Sevier River. And in all these things the reflections of my life. From a childhood where I watched the Valley of Hearts Delight morph into the Silicon Valley. To a career as a park service nomad in seashore, mountains, and deserts high and low.
I will still do the journey for as long as I can. For as long as I am driven by that restlessness and sense of adventure. As long as I can keep these old bones working and my mind fresh. I always come home with something new, if only an intangible feeling of having once again survived the great open spaces of hope and anticipation.
I can’t help it. I am an old man with young dreams.