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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

God's Land (Part I)


An account of a road trip across the USA

Day 0 March 11th, 1985
Behind a cloud of blue smoke and the amber glow of whiskey, the man cleared his throat then spoke in a jaded voice, made hoarse with the passage of time. “There's no place like it in the world," he said. "Things you would've not imagined exist. Spectacles beyond your grasp or mine. It's God's Land there and only He understands how beautiful it is.” The old biker didn't even look at me. In fact, he wasn't talking to anyone, but I was within earshot. He introverted deeper toward the recesses of his memory, taking another hit and one more swig before he drew a faint smile on one corner of his mouth and closed his eyes. In the mirror across, I saw myself standing on top of a mountain peak, scanning the white-capped Rockies all the way to the Rio Grande. Over my shoulder, a bald eagle rose slowly from the abyss below. It came close, very close, then hovered barely beyond arm's reach. The black feathers on the trailing edge of its wings fluttered like fingers playing an invisible flute. The winds whistled and sang, wrapping me with a white shawl made of zephyr and picked me up on the crest of an updraft. My waist-long platinum hair lead the climb as I darted in the air. The eagle, shrieking in ecstasy, followed in my wake. I saw what God sees and I understood. Someday I wanna go to Montana.

Day 1 September 11th, 2012 Porter Ranch, CA to Reno, NV 445 miles / 712 km
It was 10 o'clock when I picked up the car from the rental agency. A white, almost brand-new, Toyota RAV-4 was to be our ride across the continent. Dad was waiting for me out in the street by the mail box. He was as excited as I about the adventure awaiting us. He looked younger than his years. An open mind and a heart of gold makes him as much a son as he is a father to me. I was going to show him the America I haven't seen yet. We fussed over the road atlas and the GPS, the bottles of water and the candy bars, the peanuts, the crackers, and the potato chips, then we waved goodbye to the familiar house at the end of a cul-de-sac and got on our way. At precisely 10:30AM we left Porter Ranch, California behind. Our final destination on this cross country trip was Princeton, New Jersey. Never one to follow a straight line from A to B, however, I headed toward the American Northwest. Who knew when the next opportunity might present itself, if ever? Montana was two days away and I could hardly contain myself. Instead of following the clearly visible road sign ahead, the thick line on the map and the frantic British female voice of the Garmin, I passed the early exit to Interstate 5 and drove in a northerly direction over a high bridge. Dad objected at first, but I assured him that I won't let Connie (that's the name I gave to the owner of the sexy GPS voice) control me. “I'm running away from it all dad. When we get lost she'll help us. As long as we're temporarily disoriented, but heading in the right direction, I am in charge”. We took Hwy 14 through Palmdale and Lancaster toward the Edwards Air Force Base. We climbed through a path splitting the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in two and zoomed by the Sequoia and the Yosemite National Parks among several others. We only made a couple of stops on that first day, one around midday at a rest area to stretch our legs and another for a late lunch at Carl Jr's in Bishop, California. We opened the door to our hotel room in Reno, Nevada at exactly 7:00PM.

Day 2 September 12th, 2012 Reno, NV to Twin Fall, ID 599 miles / 958 km
Although a whole week went into the planning of our road trip prior to departure, we decided that we should pick our next day's destination every night and make the corresponding hotel reservation. We also agreed that I should drive for an average of 8 hours if we were to make it in 8 days. We both wanted our last day to be the shortest one as far as driving time was concerned, kind of a safety net to have if we were to encounter any forced inconvenience. We got in the car and started our day a little later than we would've liked, at 8:45AM. "It's OK though", I assured dad. "We have no appointment later tonight, nor for the whole of next week". The Sierras we crossed the day before brought us to higher elevations. Although we had beautiful weather throughout our trip, except for the last day, the temperature did drop significantly from the suffocating heat of Southern California. We mostly drove across the northern Nevada desert until we reached Idaho. There, our world changed and my heart told me that we were getting closer to where my eagle soared. I turned off the AC, rolled the windows down and drove through the wide welcoming streets of Twin Falls, Idaho at 5:50PM. We both still had too much energy to drain in single beds. I quickly looked online for nearby attractions and found that Shoshone Falls were 6 miles away. We rushed back in the car and headed there for a short walk to the falls and a gorgeous sunset. I was successful in navigating away from larger cities throughout this trip but if I had to pick a city I felt I could spend the rest of my life at then Twin Falls, Idaho would be it. I didn't meet a lot of folks to pass judgment, but with a nature like that and with beauty abound all around them they'd be fools if they weren't the nicest people on earth.

Day 3 September 13th, 2012 Twin Falls, ID to Powell, WY 430 miles / 688 km
I only saw 19 miles of Montana but I finally did. When I walked out of the car at the western entrance of the Yellowstone National Park in a little town called, appropriately enough, West Yellowstone, Montana, I went through a profound revelation. There I was, a man with an 8,000 years load of guilt, standing on a land that, until less than 3 centuries ago, had only been seen by its native inhabitants. In this incredibly short span of time, they were decimated by a rising civilization that hasn't developed a conscience yet to feel guilty. My mind drifted to Damascus, Syria, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (although the bastards are trying to kill everybody there and put an end to the record). How many generations, races and creeds trod along her narrow alleys, breathed her jasmine infused air and quenched their thirst from the Barada River? How many conquerors had been conquered by her charm? How many rulers had been ridiculed by the Damascenes and brought down to their contemptible worth? How much longer would it take history to belch the memory of these thugs and spit them out in the gutter where they belong? The passage through Yellowstone calmed me down and purged me from the sin of peaceful resistance. If I lived to be a thousand years old, I wouldn't experience a more enchanting place. Alas though, instead of days of wandering in these forests and nights of stargazing, we had to abridge our visit into hours. I was dwarfed by sacred mountains, bullied by a fearless bison, swept by the flowing river and drowned in the blue of a majestic lake. Millions of trees stood tall before the white man set foot there and showed me the puniness of man, any man, of any color or faith. Yellowstone permeated my bereaved soul with the cries of warriors slain in sacrifice for a holy land, God's Land.

(to be continued)

6 comments:

Gabriela said...

As we say in Spanish, this installment "leaves us with honey on the lips". What an amazing journey, and having the privilege to go along with such a gifted narrator as Abufares is a present from God. Yes, from the same God whose land you visited and we are visiting with you.

ken said...

Sounds as if you and your Dad had a wonderful time. I can not imagine that your Dad would do the nav. on the fly, since I know he likes everything well planned. But that is when it gets fun doing a road trip. Some really nice areas that you two had seen. Do not forget to nav. my way on the next trip! Ken

abufares said...

@Gabriela
You have a sweet tooth that always leads you to delectable honey. As usual, I'm glad you appreciate my account.
Writing this post was difficult for me cause no words nor camera can even scratch the surface of the experience. The problem is that such a journey needs at least months to complete. It's quite presumptuous of any traveler to claim knowledge of such a vast land in a week's time, but such are the restrictions of reality. An old Arab proverb goes something like this: "He who has mixed with a people for 40 days becomes one of them." That's the minimum needed, in my opinion, to claim knowledge to a single town, let alone a continent.

abufares said...

@Ken
You're absolutely right about dad. I think age and spontaneity do not go very well together, lol. However, we took each other's word before we started. He kept the daily running to me, while I fulfilled my promise to make it across in 8 days. In fact, we reached our final destination 2 hours ahead of schedule, despite the terrible weather.
I'd love to make a trip your way. We'll be in touch :-)

Isobel said...

Wow, Abufares! First of all I think it's wonderful that you did this trip with your dad. I'm sure it meant a lot to both of you. Secondly, what amazingly beautiful scenery. I was struck by the changes as you moved north and then east. Just the variations in rock formations and vegetation. It makes you truly appreciate just how large the country is. Thank you so much for sharing your experience both in your expressive words and stunning photos/video.

abufares said...

@Isobel
What will remain with me for the rest of my life is the memory of the time dad and I had spent together. We never got a change before to be alone for one whole week. The trip itself was fantastic as well. I made one error in the video. After crossing the Rockies we stayed in Wyoming then drove through South Dakota before we reached Minnesota the next day.
You would've enjoyed it, every minute of it. I'm fun company (sometimes) :-D