One sentence we heard repeatedly during our trip was „You are real people.“ At first, I was confused. What does that mean? And what does it mean not to be? When we listened to the meaning behind it, we heard other things coming to the surface. Real people as in "you are workers and not just shiny talkers", "you are holding the conversation with me", "you invited me in, you really wanted to have me over". This sentence, this phrase was given to us early in our trip. I didn’t know it would become such a theme and accompany us through all the weeks. Real people. What does it mean to be real? What does it mean not to be? And how can we be more real, again?
„If you really want to experience the big wide open with no people around, I can show you a back highway through Utah and Nevada and you will literally see no one for hours.“ Back in West Bijou, McKinley had recommended a route to Bridget and I had not questioned or asked about it. I was happy she had taken the role of our navigator while I was the designated driver on our rally team over our road trip weeks.
The drive through Utah was filled with ever-changing landscapes and colors, I didn’t even notice the hours and hours we worked our way through a state that is packed with sights I had not seen before. Even the towns’ names entertained me way longer than I would have expected. Names like ‚Grand Junction‘ where my mind went immediately on a journey through time and stories, peppered with all the frontier books and western movies that had been part of my youth.
The ground cracked and folded over like chips. The green of the trees by the river stood in contrast to the red and yellow of the sandstone. The dryness of the air that you can feel immediately in your mouth and nostrils and that made us grateful for the water bottle we never left behind in the car.
And sunsets. Watching beautiful sunsets, while sitting on warm stones that had been soaking in the sun’s energy over the hours of the day.
After staying in Zion, we knew we had to make a bigger push through Nevada on that very lonely highway. And it was lonely there. I remember when I had first seen the Prairies a couple of years ago, coming over the Rockies the other way, I had been in awe. Something I had never seen in my life before in the sheer size of the flat land before me.
Driving through Nevada gave me a similar feeling. Sometimes, I just had to pull over and step outside of the car to experience the space. To then quickly drive on to get through this long day.
Since everyone drove with cruise control set to pretty much the same speed, we didn’t really catch up with anyone. And no one with us. So, when we got stuck behind a car I wondered what made that driver slow down on this particular part of the road. When they swerved to the left and started an overtaking maneuver, I saw the motorcycle ahead. Well, a motorized tricycle, fully loaded and fighting with the wind that was blowing heavily from the front. So strongly, that I could feel it inside the car.
We stayed behind the tricycle for a while, seeing it swerve to the side and wondering how the load would hold up against the winds. How the driver would hold up. When finally a chance for overtaking opened up, I felt a little sad. Driving behind the tricycle gave me a topic, a distraction from the otherwise lonely road.
Not much later, we found one of the very few rest stops along the road and took the chance to pull out. A classic rest stop with a bathroom, picnic tables, garbage cans, and a couple of trees that had been planted there for shade and that looked so strange in this landscape where a Joshua tree was the tallest flora around.
We set the table for our typical lunch break – tortilla wraps, bananas, peanut butter, and hummus – when we heard the low roaring of someone else pulling in.
It chugged its way around the sparely marked parking spots and came to a stop not far from us.
With a grunt and a struggle, the driver wriggled herself free from the seat she must have been in for hours. She wore a heavily used jeans jacket with sewn-on patches of motorcycle clubs, bars, and places. And yoga pants. I had to smile a bit. Yes, of course, you wanted it to be comfortable on a long drive.
„If you need anything, we have water, juice, a banana, and nuts. But I think you have everything you need with you.“ I called over to her. She gave me a wave and we continued with our lunch setup.
„That wind is brutal. I am done with Nevada. I am so happy to reach California soon. And then it’s only homewards from there.“
We looked over at her. She stood with her big water bottle wrapped in her arms smiling at us. We smiled back and she stepped towards us.
We talked about our different trips and what brought us to this particular rest stop on this day. We learned that she was doing a lower 48 states road trip. „You know, I always talked about it. And my son said I need to do it now and not just talk about it before I am too old.“ I looked into a face of an elder lady that had a sparkle in her eyes behind wrinkles and facial tattoos.
„Since when are you on the road?“
„June. Nevada and California are my last stops before heading back to Washington. But I am so done with Nevada, I just wanna reach California, call my son, and tell him that I did and want to be picked up.“ She laughed. „Well, he would probably pick me up. But I will just drive straight back after that.“
We chatted about Rachel, Area 51, and aliens – you know, Nevada. About sleeping at rest stops and in tents off the highway. And California with more landscape features to break the wind.
„You know, during my trip, it was kind of comical that when I pulled into some of the rest stops, the guys would pack their stuff and move away from me. But women would come closer, have conversations, tell me how awesome they think my trip is, and then invite me to their places if I happened to drive by on my way through the states.“
Guys are scared while women engage closely. I can understand how our current society with messages from media, governments, and organizations can frame our perspective and reactions.
We packed our things away and got ready for the road again.
„You think it’s worth stopping in California, like in Yosemite? I am not sure if I want to.“
„We will be in Yosemite in 2 days. If you show up we will gladly invite you to our campgrounds reservation.“