Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mark's Excellent Road Trip, Part One: The Majesty And Glory

Am I crazy? Why yes, of course I am. But you already knew that. What I mean is, am I crazy to embark on a long road trip like this knowing my condition, knowing I'd be driving for eight hours today after having had a date night with my wife at a local concert last night? I'm on my way to visit and support friends, and a very special cancer brother. It's called adding life to my days.

I wouldn't have missed the concert for the world, even staring at two straight days of long distance driving. I was also supporting a friend there. But mainly, it was time with my beloved. Memo to the husbands out there: If you're going away for a week, a date night the night before is a really good idea. No matter how long your journey is, or how early your flight is the next day. Just a tip from a guy who's been at this for almost 40 years.

I'm on this excellent road trip to visit my friends Christopher and Lori Caminti, the couple that my wife and I met in Santa Fe, New Mexico last April. I talk about them in my post The Incredible Shrinking Man. Christopher is a Stage 4 prostate cancer patient like me, but his cancer is more advanced than mine is. He is a true warrior. I'm a wimp compared to him. I'm really excited to see them tomorrow, and stay with them until Monday.

But while being with my friends is the primary reason for this trip, which as you know is always a huge priority for me, there are other benefits too. This is my first solo road trip post-cancer. I used to drive alone to faraway gigs quite often, and always enjoyed doing that, but that was before I started getting Lupron shots in my posterior. I'm attempting this trip after having been on hormone treatment for 21 months. I'm taking that into account. Never fear. I stop often and stay alert. Recovery days are built into this trip. That's why it's taking a week.

My main concern has not been fatigue. It's been the pain in my left shoulder. For the uninitiated, when I was first diagnosed, doctors thought they found cancer in the bones of my left shoulder. They eventually decided that what they'd found there wasn't cancer, that it was more likely some kind of tendonitis thing. Well, now it hurts all the time. At my last visit with my oncologist, he told me to take ibuprofen at a certain dose level, and to do rotator cuff exercises. If it hasn't improved when I see him next week, we'll do more scans. I've been taking the ibuprofen, but I haven't been doing the exercises. And I've been taking more ibuprofen than he prescribed. It isn't any better. If anything, it's worse.

Driving is especially painful. I have to hold my arm in one position for long stretches. I can switch it around a bit, but I need to drive with two hands. So my shoulder did hurt during the drive, but it was more or less manageable. We'll see how it feels tomorrow.

I'm staying at a motel in Albuquerque, New Mexico tonight. I left our house in Denver, Colorado at around 9:30 this morning, Mountain Daylight Time. I arrived at the motel around 5:30 this afternoon. But I don't want to talk about my itinerary. I want to talk about my journey. Today was more eventful and meaningful than I anticipated it would be. And more exciting! And through it all, God spoke to me.

I've talked before in this blog about my favorite rock musician, Neal Morse, and his band, (also my favorite band) The Neal Morse Band in my post The Album I Can't Stop Listening To. His music has been a balm to my soul since I was diagnosed. I own most of his albums, both the studio albums and live recordings. So since I had this long drive coming up, I decided I wanted to do something I'd never done before; listen to all of his progressive rock albums in chronological order. I started with the studio albums, and when I'm through those, I'll listen to all of the live recordings, also in chronological order. All the ones I have, anyway. They're all conveniently arranged in order on my iPod. No changing CD's while driving on the interstate for me.

You might think there wouldn't be enough music to fill that much drive time, but you'd be wrong. The Google Machine tells me that the drive time for this trip is 26 hours total, round trip. My playlist for this trip is 36 hours! That's prog for ya. Being able to listen to all of this music that I love so much in the order that it was made while being surrounded by some of the most majestic scenery on this planet has been beyond inspirational. And I'm just getting started.

In case you're wondering, I didn't take that picture at the top. Thank goodness for Google Image. But as I drove south on I-25 this morning, I looked at that exact view, from a few angles and distances. I hadn't even gotten to Colorado Springs yet, maybe an hour from my house, and I found myself looking straight at Pike's Peak. And while I'm looking forward to seeing places I've never seen before in New Mexico and Arizona, I was reminded how beautiful my own state is. How can I forget that? Pikes Peak, a place people from all over the world travel to see, and I've driven right by it many times without even noticing it.

So while I'm on this road, (and trying to keep my eyes on the road!) I'm also trying to be aware of my surroundings, of the beauty that I pass by. I don't want to just drive by and not see it. I've been guilty of that too many times, living in such a beautiful state. I don't want to be guilty of that now. Not today. Not on this trip.

I've made this drive south into New Mexico a few times before, and one of my favorite moments is always when you come over Raton Pass, and Colorado foothills suddenly give way to The Land Of Enchantment. Rolling plains and gigantic mesas surround you, with otherworldy coloring. It's a truly magical place. I stopped at a rest area for lunch. My wonderful wife had made me some wraps so I wouldn't be stuck with fast food at an interstate exit. This rest area had little stone shelters with picnic tables. Of course, I took a selfie and posted it to Facebook. I never used to understand people who narrate their lives on Facebook, and now, here I am, doing it myself.

But it seems there was more to this stop than wraps with nice surroundings. I took my time, and it was a good thing I did.

After having taken in the majesty of Pikes Peak earlier, and being focused on taking all of this splendor in, I continued south on I-25. Before long, in the distance, I could see enormous storm clouds straight ahead, and on both sides. What looked like a solid, torrential downpour streamed from each. I wish I'd had the chance to take a picture of it. They were fearsome and awesome. Awesome from a distance, anyway. I hoped and prayed I would avoid all of those storms. And I did, just barely.

While the storms were still far off, pouring their wrath on the majestic mesas of New Mexico, I happened to be listening to the third album in my playlist, Question Mark by Neal Morse. It's a concept album about the Temple in ancient Israel, and how God was present in his Temple. But it goes on to say that since Jesus came, we all can be the Temple of the living God. God lives in us now, not in a temple made with human hands.

As I watched the storms ahead and listened to this album, I had my first real moment of worship. A choir began singing a passage I'd heard many times before:

And the glory,
And the glory of the Lord
Shall be revealed

I can tell you, the glory of the Lord was revealed right in front of me as I drove. My eyes teared up, and I had a lump in my throat. God was very real, and very close. If you're not a believer, I can't describe to you what it's like to have that experience. I wish I could.

Every time I thought I was going to drive straight into one of those storms, the road curved, and it passed to the side. There was a little rain, but nothing serious. My mind began to wander as the open road passed under my wheels.

I began speculating about the upcoming consultation I'll have with my oncologist after my next PSA test this Wednesday, the day after I get home. One that could end with a shrug, or some very hard choices. By this time, the third Neal Morse album in my playlist had ended, and I was listening to the fourth, Sola Scriptura. It's another concept album, this time about Martin Luther and the Reformation. Two lines jumped out at me as I pondered my mortality:

God will make a way 
He will decide my fate 
Whether or not I live or die

Not doctors or treatments, but God. I've heard those words many times before, but today, I felt they were just for me. And then, I saw an example of how true that is. A really scary, and at the same time, hilarious example.

Yet again, as I approached what looked like the worst of the storms, the road curved again, and suddenly the storm was off to the east, moving away. Up ahead, I saw red and blue flashing lights. I thought it was probably an accident. But it wasn't. It was snowplows. That storm had left inches of hail on the highway. By the time I reached it, the road was fairly clear, but the plows were still working, throwing amazing amounts of hail in their wake.

How close had I come to being right in the middle of that storm in my little 2003 Toyota RAV4? Perilously close. If I hadn't taken my time at lunch, my car might have been totaled, and so might I have been. I laughed in amazement and thanked God out loud for sparing me from that storm.

There are times when I experience God in a very sweet, intimate way. But today, it was all about the majesty and glory. It was about his power. How big he is, and how small I am. Who could see what I've seen today, and hear what I heard, when I heard it, and doubt it?

Because I've made most of this drive a few times before, I didn't expect much from this leg of the trip. But this was quite a kickoff to Mark's Excellent Road Trip. From this point on, I'm traveling to parts unknown. With my eyes, ears, and heart open. I expect tomorrow to be an altogether different sort of day. A day filled with Americana, as I'm driving Route 66 for the first time in my life. I plan to find a classic diner for lunch, see the Meteor Crater, and of course, be standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. If you don't get that reference, go put yourself in timeout. And by late afternoon, I'll be with my friends.

It's way past time for me to go to bed. It's been a very long day. But I had to tell you this story. It's been my plan all along to blog at each stop of this road trip, and I'm gonna do it. The first day of this journey was one to remember. Mostly because the majesty and glory of the Lord were revealed to me in a new way, and I was shown how my life is in his hands. #waroncancer #bearingwitness #marksexellentroadtrip


  1. I have had some very in intimate encounters with God on road trips. Once I had to pull over on the highway into Moab because I couldn't see through the tears.(Btw that was while listening to Jars of Clay's first album.) I love the 'me' time when driving. To shut out the cacophony of the world (And dive into the 1200 song playlist of my fave musical artists) Will be doing 2 shows in New Mexico with TLR the end of June and looking forward to that time on the road.
    Be safe my brother!!

    1. Dude, you need some Neal Morse in your library! I'll make you a sampler disc.

  2. Finally catching up! Love this one; and it made me reflect on our great visit. <3