It was just getting light out when I woke up Friday morning. I took my towel to the showers: one button for 60 seconds of water, but hot. I did not forget and leave my shampoo behind again, but I did leave the cellphone charging in the bathroom when I went back to camp. The Moon was still high. Breakfast was a hard-boiled egg and a tuna cup. I watched as the Sun rolled up over the horizon. I went back to check my cell: it was about half-charged (or so it claimed) so I figured that was good enough.

I had to fight the urge to pack up in a hurry. There was a cool breeze blowing through the campsite; not a cloud in the sky. I washed a shirt and hung it out the dry as I walked around taking pictures. I made a note to roll my tent over next time to let the condensation on the bottom dry off before folding it up again. My electric razor seemed to be dead. Everything seemed to stop at Ute Lake: my razor, my cellphone... it was strange. I pulled out of camp at 7:30 Mountain Time. I circled the campsite, past campers I’m pretty sure didn’t pay for their overnight stay. Moochers. I pulled through Logan and headed southwest on Highway 54, crossing the Canadian River. Shortly before 9, flat-topped Tucumcari Mountain came into view. A few minutes later, I came over a rise, and the town appeared.

I drove down the old Main Stret, lined with motels long since closed. One advertised “spanky clean rooms,” but it didn’t look like anyone had stayed there in a long time. I stopped for gas: $10 worth at $2.63 a gallon. I called home and checked in with the family. After getting a 85 cent fountain drink I was back on Interstate 40. It was 52 miles to Santa Rosa. A sign warned of dangerous crosswinds ahead. A bunch of bikers passed headed east. The radio found nothing but Christian stations. I munched on beef jerky and Triscuits. The early morning sunlight illuminated the rich, ruddy ridges lining the highway. I crossed over into the Pecos River watershed soon before stopping in Santa Rosa. Gas was a few cents more expensive there than in Tucumcari. It was 114 miles to Albuquerque.

There was a big rest area at Exit 252. Along the highway acres of black-eyed susans grew wild. There were lots of signs for the Flying C Ranch. The highway gave a good view of the mountains. While scanning the radio, I came across a station playing the French national anthem. What the heck--? It turned out to be a classical music station. I listened to that station for about an hour. At 11:17 (Central time) I pulled off and stopped at Clines Corners (elevation 7,200 feet) for a pit stop. I spent over $9 in the gift shop. I was still an hour from Albuquerque. Above, high altitude winds whipped around the airplane contrails into a web of swirled, feathery patterns.

Past Moriarty, I saw a ranch with longhorn cattle. Big mountains loomed ahead. When I got to Albuquerque, I thought I saw new bike paths along the highway. I was still two hours from Gallup, and five hours from Flagstaff. About 20 miles west of Albuquerque, I pulled over at the 66 Pit Stop, “Home of the Laguna Burger.” Gas was $2.79 a gallon. I had driven 752 miles since leaving Broken Arrow. I got a fountain drink and ate an apple for lunch. The skies in the west started to look overcast.

Back on the highway, traffic was very busy. My electric razor started working again; I guess I just needed to get away from Ute Lake. Black lava rocks were scattered across the fields next to the interstate. The dramatic landscape always takes my breath away. I passed a pink car I was sure I passed earlier in the day. I figured the driver got around me when I pulled over. About six hours after hitting the road that morning I crossed the Continental Divide, 7,275 feet. There were some beautiful red cliffs off to the north. Coincidentally, I passed the exit for Red Rock State Park.
 

When I got to Gallup, I pulled off at Exit 26 because I wanted to see the famous flea market. I followed the directions I found online, but didn’t see anything. So, I pulled over at the tourist center to see where it was. The lady behind the counter said the flea market was only on Saturdays. Well, shoot. Since I was there, I stopped off for lunch at Earl’s Restaurant. I remembered stopping there with my family on our trip to the Grand Canyon ten years past. It was the middle of the afternoon, so there wasn’t much of a crowd. I had the lunch special: tuna salad sandwich, salad, hot soup and a drink, all for $10. It was very good. The streets of Gallup were lined with lots of motels. They all seemed to be doing a good business. Before leaving town, I called the hostel in Flagstaff to be sure I had a place to stay that night. 
I got back on the interstate and soon crossed over into Arizona. A half hour later I crossed Crazy Creek. The Sun was still bright and high in the sky, but time was marching on. When I went by the Petrified Desert, the dinosaurs and  Stewart’s was still there, across the highway from the information center. When I went under an overpass, I spotted a sheriff’s car parked in the shade, the deputy relaxing in a lawn chair next to the cruiser. I saw the Hopi Travel Plaza before stopping in Holbrook. That was where I topped off the tank; gas was $3.09 a gallon. A big family caravanning with an SUV and a U-Haul truck was filling up, too. The mom yelled at the kids to get in the back of the SUV; there were four kids back there, no seat belts or anything. A jackrabbit hopped across the road as I was leaving town.
To the west, dark clouds meant storms ahead. I stopped off at Winslow to get some pictures. The big mural at Standin’ on the Corner Park was partially dismantled; A lady in the store across the street said it was being touched-up. I bought a magnet. The western sky was looking really stormy when I passed Meteor City. I was less than a half hour from Flagstaff when I started getting sprinkles. It started raining in earnest a few miles later. At Mile Marker 217, there was a sign saying it was 6,000 feet elevation.
When I got to Flagstaff, I pulled off for the I-40 business route into town. I found the hostel easy enough, but the street was all torn up and I couldn’t get to the entrance. I had to circle around a few blocks and navigate the narrow Flagstaff streets to get to it. The rain had stopped by then, but there was water everywhere. I arrived just after 5:30 Arizona time. The Du Beau Hostel was right on the corner of Beaver and Phoenix Streets. It’s hard to miss, with the big sign towering overhead. The hostel was originally an old motel on Route 66. A lot of the original details were still there, including the hardwood floors.

I got checked in. There were eight bunks in the room I got, but there were some rooms that were left as they were, for just two people. I spoke to a guy named Taka, who was from Japan. He had a rough idea of where Oklahoma was, in relation to Texas. I also met Jonathan, who spent a summer traveling Europe, staying in hostels. He was starting school in Flagstaff that fall, and had been staying at the hostel while he looked for a place to live. Jonathan liked science fiction and fantasy books. One of his recent favorites was “Tilting the Balance” by Harry Turtledove, whom I met at Conestoga years back. I liked the Well World series, but he said Jack Chalker was not one of his favorites.

I found the common area, which had a pool table and foozball, as well as chairs and couches where people could sit and read. There were two separate kitchens and a laundry room I took a shower in the common area bathroom, only to discover there was on in my room. Oops. I cooked up a can of ravioli in one of the kitchens. Fed and cleaned, I went across the street to check out the Beaver Street Brewery, but it was standing room only in there. It looked like an Applebee’s on church night. So, I went next door to the Brew & Cue, a bar with lots of pool tables. I sat at the bar and got an IPA. As I sat, I talked to Eugene, a guy from the Hopi reservation 75 miles north of Flagstaff. He asked me why I was passing through. I told him about Burning Man; he’d never heard of it, but he understood the need to undertake a journey. When he found out I was from Oklahoma, he asked if I was with OU or OSU. I get asked that a lot. His lovely wife Yvonne soon arrived to pick him up. The IPA seemed a little bitter, so I tried some of the red beer they had on tap, but it seemed kind of tart. They were both pretty potent, however, and I was soon weaving my way back to the hostel. I did get a Beaver Street t-shirt before I left. Back in my room, there were five other people sharing it with me. I wrote a little, then went on to bed.

 
Prologue Aug. 26  Aug. 27 Aug. 28 Aug. 29
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
The Long Road Home  Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2010 by Tim Frayser
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