Friday, June 9, 2017

Mark's Excellent Road Trip, Part Two: Running On Fumes

It's been a long day
But I feel I must travel
-Neal Morse, The Similitude Of A Dream

In the first post of this series, I said that I expected the next day to be an altogether different sort of day than the first. It was. On the first day, my energy level was high, and I was all about taking in my surroundings. But I didn't sleep well that night. I rarely do when I stay up late to write, like I did that night. And the bed at the Motel 6 was not very comfortable. Good thing I brought my own pillow, or it would have been worse.

So I decided not to write last night, once I'd arrived here in Chandler, Arizona, at the home of my friends Christopher and Lori Caminiti. Better to get a good night's rest and write the next day. I'd been running on fumes the whole day, in more ways than one.

I also stated in my last post that I intended to drive on Route 66 on my way here. I wanted to have a burger at a classic diner on that historic road for lunch. I wanted to take in the Painted Desert and see the Meteor Crater near Winslow. I wanted to take a selfie "standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona," to quote the Eagles. But only one of those things happened.

As it turns out, Route 66 was decommissioned many years ago. But there are stretches of what's called "Historic 66" that you can still drive. But it confused my GPS to go that way, so I pretty much stayed on I-40. And I was so tired that I just wanted to get here.

The drive yesterday turned out to be longer than the one to Albuquerque. In spite of the fact that the weather was better yesterday, this drive had its own perils, borne mostly from my ignorance of the country I'd be traversing.

As I began my drive, I prayed that God would help and protect me, like I did the day before. He answered that prayer on Wednesday, and I had every confidence that he would again. But my confidence wavered a bit later in the day.

I intentionally skipped breakfast so I'd be hungry for that greasy burger I anticipated for lunch. I did have enough in my stomach to take my pills before I left, however. I never, EVER skip my dose of Xtandi. That would be a very bad idea. I began to get hungry around 11:00 AM, and started looking in earnest for that elusive greasy spoon diner. I think I was picturing something from Happy Days.

Because of the sheer number of billboards I saw for one place in particular, I stopped at a historic hotel/motel/restaurant in Gallup, New Mexico called El Rancho. It was right on Historic 66. Perfect. I'm sorry to say that the burger and the service were both substandard. But at least I was able to check one item off of my list, and get some much needed calories. I tend to lose weight fast because of my cancer and the treatment I'm on, in case you're new here. So I need to make sure I eat enough throughout the day, even when I don't feel like it.

Lunch took much longer than it should have, and this time, it didn't save me from a hailstorm. It just delayed my arrival by about an hour. Fatigue was starting to set in, and I still had several hours of driving to go, through desert and mountains.

Plans to stop in Winslow and at the Meteor Crater were set aside. My GPS gave me an arrival time of around 5:30 PM, and I didn't want to be any later than that. So I'll try to stop at those places on my way back.

I didn't realize that there is no interstate highway that leads from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona. What's up with that? Once you turn south from I-40, there is nothing but a series of state highways, often two lanes, with very little "civilization." I was just following my GPS's directions, and hoping it didn't lead me astray. If you've ever taken a long road trip to places you've never been, and relied on a GPS device to get where you're going, you know that feeling.

The first state highway led through scrubby desert country. The next began to climb into the mountains, and soon I was surprised by an evergreen forest all around me. I was not expecting that in Arizona. It reminded me of my home state of Colorado, except for the absence of snow-capped peaks above the tree line. No such thing in this part of Arizona.

I think it was in this part of the drive that I passed a tiny town with a gas station. But I still had nearly a half tank of gas, and my GPS said I'd be arriving at my destination at around 5:15 PM. It seemed I had gained a little time. The clock in my car said that was less than an hour away, so I thought I was fine.

By the time I turned onto Arizona Highway 87, I had descended into mountainous desert, this time dotted with gigantic cacti, the kind you see in Road Runner cartoons. They seemed to be twenty to thirty feet tall, and they were everywhere. As I descended, the temperature climbed, and the needle in my gas gauge fell. I began to wonder when I'd find another town with a gas station.

Seriously, these things were everywhere. The top one had to be at least 30 feet tall.

It was at that point that I began to pray in earnest. Lord, help me to find a gas station before I ran out of gas in the middle of the desert. I was running on fumes, and now, so was my car. Around this time, I looked at my GPS and saw that my next turn was in 58 miles. It then dawned on me that Arizona does not change to Daylight Savings Time, so my car clock was off by an hour. I began to be alarmed that I'd run out of gas before I found a place to fill up.

This happened to me once before, while driving to a gig in northern Wyoming several years ago. Until then, I had only driven through states with gas stations at every exit. My assumption that Wyoming would be like that nearly caused me to run out of gas in an area with no cell phone service. I managed to find one in that instance by following my GPS's directions, backtracking some ten miles to the nearest gas station in the dictionary definition of The Middle Of Nowhere. I found myself hoping and praying that similar fortune would find me in this situation.

At one point, a raven about the size of a 747 (a slight exaggeration, but in my worried state, that's how it looked) landed on top one of the cacti, and looked right at my car. The needle on my gas gauge was reaching that point where it begins to float between what looked like about an eighth of a tank and empty. Still no gas stations in sight. It felt like that raven was just waiting for my car to sputter to a stop so it could peck the eyes from my desiccated corpse at its leisure.

Suddenly, my phone dinged. A message from Christopher, wondering what my ETA was. I finally pulled over and told him my trouble. I asked Siri where the next gas station was, and she told me it was eighteen miles ahead. My GPS told me the same thing. Eighteen miles of mountain driving on less than an eighth of a tank. Christopher said if I ran out of gas, he'd bring me some. But I would have had to wait in a hot car in 100 plus degree temperatures for help to arrive. So I kept driving, and kept praying.

All this time, I continued to listen to the Neal Morse catalog. I'd begun the day with Testimony 2, then Momentum, followed by the first two albums by The Neal Morse Band, The Grand Experiment, and their masterpiece, The Similitude Of A Dream. I smiled ironically at the opening lines of that album, which I quote at the top of this post. It had indeed been a long day, and I still had to travel.

At one point I prayed, "Lord, you fed 15,000 people with a few loaves and fishes. I know you can help this little car stretch what little gas I have left." I was sure the little yellow light indicating that I was about to run out of gas would come on, but it never did. The Chevron station my GPS had found grew closer. Ten miles. Six. Three. One. Finally, I saw it on the left, and pulled in, thanking God. He had protected me again.

You might scoff at this, but you weren't there. You might call it "lucking out," as a friend did my hail story in my last post. But I don't believe in luck. I believe in a personal God who protects us when we need him to. Sometimes when we don't even ask, and have no idea what he's protected us from. What's that old expression? God protects idiots and the insane. That would be me.

Once I had a full tank of gas again, the worst difficulty I encountered was rush hour traffic in the Phoenix/Mesa/Chandler area. But before long, I had arrived at my friends' beautiful home in Chandler.

The view from the Caminitis' back patio. Nice neighborhood.

It was indeed, to quote my musical hero, a long day, and I did need to travel. And once again, I felt the hand of God on me, even in the midst of my fear. After my ordeal in Wyoming several years back, I learned to fill up when I saw a gas station the next time I drove through that state, whether I needed gas at that point or not. I learned the same lesson here in Arizona yesterday. And I learned yet again to trust God when it looks like I'm in big trouble. Next week, when I get my PSA checked, and see my oncologist, I'll try to remember this lesson. #waroncancer #bearingwitness #marksexcellentroadtrip


  1. Don't always listen to the GPS lady, if we had, we would be at the bottom of a canyon somewhere in Utah.

  2. We would have sent the calvary out for you!