Dispatches from New Mexico (pt 1)

Quite surprisingly, I find myself with internet access, in the middle of this Vision Quest week. How exactly that happened, I’ll cover later. Meanwhile, here’s what happened in the first few days of the trip:

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I drove for ~12 hours from Austin to Tucumcari NM. It was the longest stretch of driving I’ve ever handled alone, but surprisingly the driving itself wasn’t so taxing.

What was taxing was the solitude. Coming from a life packed with a constant feed of people and interaction and stimulus and response, my mind began to spiral out into whimsical circles. It felt like a mild panic. It felt like an addict’s withdrawal pang. Perhaps the Lord was in it.

Somewhere up in the panhandle, between Sweetwater and Lubbock, I passed an assisted living home. Without meaning to, I began to gravely consider my own mortality … which I haven’t done, not quite with such sobriety, since I was a little kid and realized for the first time that one day I would die. I imagined Nicole and I growing old and frail together, and dying somehow alone, in a place of cold and regret. I pictured my life’s work falling into disrepair, my achievements and relationships fading from the memory of the earth. Amidst this emotive flailing, a certain song by The Civil Wars came on which builds to a soaring emotive crescendo, and suddenly I wept. I wept. Driving through green fields of giant wind turbines near Snyder TX, I wept bitterly. And I don’t really know why.

Part of it was the mental fatigue. Part of it was a pure emotional release that has been needed for a while. Part of it, I’m convinced, was Jesus. I asked him what the hell He was doing to me.

He seemed to reply: “I’m asking you to lose your life.

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As I finally cruised across the New Mexican border, the roads deteriorated. In Clovis the sun drew near the western horizon, forcing to me to stare basically straight into it. As I turned north from US 60 to NM 268, all the houses and gas stations started to disappear. It was the final stretch to Tucumcari. The sun was setting, I was alone in my car after a long day of driving, and passing through a sea of interminable, empty ranch land. I passed a sign indicating wildlife could be on the road for the next 30 miles. And it was dusk — which is when wildlife comes out.

In my degraded state, that last 30 miles was alarming. What would happen if I hit a deer and damaged my car out here? What if I swerved off the road and found myself immobilized? Injured even? This was a backwater road. Nobody would find me, not for a while, I thought.

It’s funny what the mind does when it’s going through withdrawal. I got to Tucumcari just fine.

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The next morning, Sunday, I sprinted out of Tucumcari at dawn and made it into Las Vegas NM by mid-morning. I had set my sights on what looked like an excellent dayhike to start my week of adventure: the Hermit’s Peak, just outside Las Vegas, on the east end of the Pecos Wilderness.

I had read a trip report that said the plateau atop the peak was so nice that you might as well camp up there after finishing the climb. So, I decided to load up with my overnight gear, and managed to finally get on the trail, alone for the first time, by about 11:15am.

By noon I had hit the steep switchbacks, and was starting to sweat bullets and breathe copper. My first foray into this thin air was climbing almost a half-mile vertical — brilliant plan, Mr. Schumann!

Then the sky darkened. I steeled myself for a brief summer storm, the kind I’ve seen before in these parts.

But it wasn’t like that. It was thunder and lightning, and then it was hail. Wild, out-of-control ice pellets coming down everywhere, battering my umbrella, getting into the cuffs of my pants and filling up the side pockets of my pack. For a few minutes I stopped on the switchback, put my back against an outcrop of rock, and laughed and sang in amazement.

But … the laughter didn’t last.

After a little while, it still hadn’t let up. I was starting to get cold. Gingerly I unstrapped my pack and put on my wind jacket, all while keeping my umbrella above my head. By then I could feel my breathing start to gently rattle, could feel the cold and wet in my hands, and looked around me to see a forest scene transformed. The ice had filled up every empty space on the ground, blanketed everything in white, and now as it rapidly melted, was turning the rocky trail into an angry, icy river.

It was time to turn around.

Having come 3 miles up the trail already, with sleet and lightning still shouting down the forest around me … it was a long way home. The matter at hand was now a balancing act — keep going fast enough to maintain my body temperature and not chill out; but don’t go so fast over the trail/river that I manage to break an ankle and immobilize myself.

These things are, of course, more interesting when you’re utterly alone.

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Again, I made it back to the car without issue. I was tired and stiff and cold and wet, and feeling the altitude in my head … but not nearly so bad off as I’ve been on earlier mountain trips.

Changed into dry clothes, turned the heater on, and cruised out of the hills and back into Vegas. Checked into the Days Inn. Collapsed on the bed. Ruminated thus:

Well, that was a fantastic start to this trip. I reached too far, should’ve packed less gear, should’ve chosen an easier starting day, and should have checked the weather first. All typical, just typical. This crap always happens. I always prepare too much and reach too far, and then have to retreat and regroup.

This time of year is the southwest monsoon season. These storms are normal, commonplace even. What am I thinking? Am I crazy? Will I enjoy this week if it’s filled with repeat experiences of today? Do I want to spend this week fighting the elements in desperation, and searching for dry firewood amid a wet forest?

I’m not sure. Maybe I need to rethink this thing.

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That was Saturday and Sunday. Later I’ll catch you up on more recent things.

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2 Comments

  1. You’re not crazy, this is what you wanted, or believe you wanted. The elements will be there, they come and go, it is in those moments when things settle, that you remember why you’re out there. Just as you weather “torrents” in your daily life, buckling down and grinning and bearing what may come, you should hang in there and ride this out. Nothing is gained in fleeing from the storms.

    Ride this out, don’t let your doubt, expectations, fears even, derail what may come from this trip.

    Reply

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