Sunset bison

Sunset bison
Sundogs

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Anatomy of a journey: settling in for the long haul (Part 2)

This is the part I always forget about long-distance travel: the bonedeep weariness, the unrelenting boredom, the sense that time has slowed to a crawl. If the landscape had some defining feature it would be easier, but out here past Sharon Springs, Kansas, there’s nothing. It’s not flat, boring and ugly, it’s just flat and boring. A distant cow is the tallest thing around. If not for the clouds swallowing the blue sky I’d be tempted to believe we were going in circles. Same cow, same fencepost, same abandoned ruin, same prairie dog. The odometer claims we’re moving, but I’m hard pressed to believe it.

“I’d hate to spend a winter here,” Chod says.

“Or a summer,” Jim adds.

Or a spring or autumn. One would have to love the land to make a home here, to see something other than utter desolation in fields plowed to the horizon, or close-cropped by hungry ungulates. Not that there’s much grass to eat. Or anything else for that matter. Out here it’s all sky and wind and little else. It takes a certain breed of person to carve a life from a land stripped to its basics. I’m certainly not cut out for it. In fact, I wonder what my impression of the state would have been had Lori introduced me to Wallace, or Page, or Sharon Springs. Somehow I think we’d still be living in Colorado.

When I get home I’m going to hug a tree.

***

Chod’s telling Jim about a store in Cimarron, New Mexico, that caters to the massive influx each summer of Boy Scouts to the nearby Philmont Ranch. My fellow codgernauts are scout masters, and their entreaty that I volunteer to lead a pack of impressionable young men would be laughable were it not for their earnestness. “It’ll make you feel younger,” Jim says.

“I prefer to age gracelessly,” I snap.

Chod says the banana splits are heavenly, the best he’s ever tasted. When the scouts come off the mountain after backpacking a hundred miles they hit the place hard and eat everything in sight.

“I would, too,” I say. “I’d have a beer float.”

An awkward silence descends. Jim studies me out the corner of his eye. Chod shakes his head.

“You are screwed up,” Jim snorts. “That’s why I like you—you make the rest of us look normal.”

When we hit the time zone we set our watches back an hour. For a long time there’s just the whine of the tires and the hum of the motor. Cow. Fencepost. Ruin. Prairie dog. Cow.

***

We haven’t been on the road for a full day and already my plan is unraveling.

In preparation for this trip I rented “Jason and the Argonauts.” As a kid I thought it the best movie ever made, with thrilling swordfights, skeletal warriors, a gigantic metal Cyclops, the Hydra, the Golden Fleece, etc. There was something about the Argonauts that stuck in my mind and made me, decades later, want to inaugurate our trip along the same lines. But why were Jason’s men called Argonauts? And how could I adapt it so it would adequately describe the nature of our adventure?

The movie, alas, was almost painful to watch. “Argonauts” derived from the ship, which was called the Argo. Since we three are older and more crotchety than the young members of Jason’s crew, I settled on a translation of codgernauts, or curmudgeonauts. Personally I preferred the latter but found it unwieldy. When I realized we’d have to name our vessel in order for the scheme to work, I almost gave up. A white Chevy pickup named Codger? Wouldn’t fly.

On the console between the two front seats is an envelope with the words “Receipts for geezer trip” written in bold letters. Chod is evidently thinking along the same lines. My problem is that I don’t consider myself a geezer. As Chod and Jim are both a decade older than me, they certainly classify as geezers. But me—I’m a young thing.

But I am a codger, and a curmudgeon, and I know my partners are, too. Age teaches us to adapt, whether by begging, borrowing or stealing. I call it blending. Taking the best of both definitions (“eccentric,” “old,” “ill-tempered,” “full of resentment and stubborn notions”), in spirit if not in letter, I settle for codgernauts.

I secretly think the others find the term ridiculous, but they’re ill-tempered old farts so I’m going to ignore them.

***

The Arkansas River Valley of southeastern Colorado, cottonwoods tinged with yellow and orange, broad fields bracketed by acequias, the Hispanic influence at play. Someone forgot to tell the cartographers that this part of the state belongs to New Mexico. I’m on home turf now. My pulse quickens. The sun touches the horizon.

In Lamar, we’re three to a room, Chod on the floor in his sleeping bag and pad, Jim and I with our own queen-sized beds. We unpack, trying not to breathe too deeply of the manure-infused air, and walk across the highway to a steakhouse. The food’s excellent, worth every mile of the drive.

Now we’re back in the hotel, Jim’s asleep and Chod’s watching the Weather Channel for tomorrow’s forecast. The smiling face says there’s a 30% chance of rain and snow showers tonight, tapering off with a high of 57 tomorrow.

I call Lori. As always her voice turns me inside out. It’s awkward talking to her with the others in the room, but we’re all friends and this seems to be the norm. Sheba, Lori says, is sulking under the table. Wants nothing to do with her. Wants me. She isn’t the only girl in the house with that problem.

(Continued next week)

1 comment:

S.Edwards said...

Good reading, Tom! I know what you mean about bleak landscpapes. Walking across southwestern Kansas and Oklahoma, my songs would get louder and more stupid, and my arguments with myself more animated.
I think "Geezernauts" would be an appropriate moniker. You could stay in a state of denial. "We are geezers - naut!"
I love road stories and anxiously await the next installment.
-Scott