Part II of the story:
People often think that loneliness is one of the hardest things about traveling solo; they couldn’t be farther from the truth. The real difficulty occurs when you cross paths with a “random” someone at just the right time and place on the journey; then you must go your seperate ways. The pain of that seperation is in some ways to the loss of a favorite dog. You know that it’s an inevitable part of the process, yet you choose to engage in it anyway; the rewards are that rich.
This is the feeling that I experienced when leaving my newfound Apache friends at the Labonte bridge and headed back south towards a much different type of bridge. The Rio Grande Gorge bridge is just west of Taos, and the aura of the area around this bridge, for me at least, is what defines New Mexico.
The the bridge is the 10th deepest in the United States, and one of the only spans that is designed with walkways that not only allow but encourage tourists to stroll out to the middle of the span and gaze into the Rio Grande some 700′ below. The sides of the canyon are often populated with big horn sheep, and vendors of native American crafts are usually in attendance at the west entrance. Add this to the sight of the southern tip of the Rockies rising out of the desert to the north, mix in the smell of sage brush rushing across the plains, and well, I could go on all day.
But for every action there’s and equal and opposite reaction, and the bridge is no exception. On my first solo motorcycle trip out west, I discovered the guard rails of the
span to be festooned with rosaries. Not being Catholic and not being as conscious then then as I strive to be now, it didn’t even occur to me that they had any significance, and I took one. It was later that night that a waitress in Taos informed me that they had recently held a service out at the Gorge in remembrance of the “jumpers”, those that had used the bridge as a different pathway to escape their suffering. Yikes; I had to take that rosary back. The problem is so prevalent that crisis call boxes have since been installed at both ends of the span as well as at the midpoint; I have no idea as to their effectiveness, but I commend the state for their efforts.
Then there’s the prescence of the Earthships to the west, the rumors of alien activity(the green skinned/bug eyed variety) in the area, the surreal sounds of KTOA FM, this mix of positive and negative energy all combining to create a very “trippy” atmosphere, and I can’t get enough.
It was on this stretch of desert highway that Charlie and I spotted a peculiar figure. Imagine a man approximately 6’4″ish, 175 pounds if weighed immediately after a particularly heavy rainstorm, with a beard and shock of unruly hair that gave him a remarkably Lincoln-esque profile. As we passed him, he tentatively stuck his thumb out, almost as a afterthought.
Just to make things clear, I am not in the habit of picking up random hitchhikers, but things often make perfect sense out on the road that make absolutely none back in “civilization”. Much like the earlier experience back at the Labonte bridge, I figured that if I couldn’t handle myself in the prescence of a bony traveler, and didn’t have much business being out there. Besides, if he did turn out to be a bit sassy, I knew that I had an ace up my sleeve, or to be more accurate, a Charlie Bravo in the back seat.
But any concerns were moot. As I pulled onto the shoulder, he did what you want to see a hitchhiker do when given the opportunity: he took off running towards my Subaru. Not sauntering, like he’s doing ME a favor with his company, but advancing with alacrity, as to not slow my travels any more than absolutely necessary. And Charlie is a great judge of character, showing no concern as he folded himself into a shape that allowed him to wedge into the tiny Subie.
And away we went, on towards the Gorge. He started telling me that he lived off of the grid, way out in the desert in a deserted mobile home with no utilities. He had ten cats that he was training not to use the sand around his trailer as their litter box; do what? What type of wizardry is this? How do you train a cat where and where not to crap outdoors? He told me that he payed close attention to where they hunkered, then covered those areas with little piles of flat rocks. He then would move those piles further into the desert, farther away from the trailer.
I told him that that was probably the stupidest story I had ever heard, especially in comparison to the one I had heard earlier that day concerning the bud and the blue jeans. He then said, “oh, you thought that I was saying that I’m some sort of cat whisperer, eh? Like I could wiggle my fingers, WOOOO!!!, and they would be like ‘hey, Bob! You can’t poop over there; he’s doing that thing with his hands again!”
Well, the sight of this oversized Ichabod folded up into my passenger seat, wiggling his branch-like fingers and making WOOOO! noises was just about the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I was laughing so hard that I almost spun off of the road, and was actually begging him to quit before I ruptured another internal organ. All this did was cause him to amp it up a few notches, using different voices to act like his cats were having a conversation. It was actually painful…
When I dropped him off at the bridge, the final bit of weirdness in a long procession of weirdness occured when we did the customary traveler’s “half hug”. As he was 6’5″ and I am 5’6″, we found ourselves with his lanky arm around my short shoulders, and with my stubby arm around his bony butt. After a uncomfortable pause, we both made a silent agreement that the situation was better left uncommented upon and we went our seperate ways.
All in all, just another day on the road; it’s always a party!