Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Richness

Greetings from the Rio Rico, AZ public library. This small town is just a few minutes north of Nogales, AZ, off of I-19. This is border country and most people speak Spanish or are bilingual.

Today is my day off from truck driving. I am only allowed, by federal law, to be on duty 70 hours in an eight day period. My onboard computer in the truck keeps track of all this, and when I near that 70-hour threshold, I need to take a 34-hour break where I don't drive the truck. Right now Mary (Short for Maraschino. Get it? My truck is red.) is parked at a Pilot truck stop about four miles from here.

It has been a good week for me. I went back on duty a week ago, Aug. 30, after a wonderful three day visit home, where I spent as much time with family as I could, renewed my teaching certificate, and saw other friends. The only thing I didn't do was see any live music at Cornfest. But I did run a 10K race, driving the truck to the race site near the old DeKalb High School, right when I got back into town.

During this past week on the road, I carried a load of auto parts to Chester, NY, and then got the longest trip so far, a wdelivery of 18,000 pounds of perfume from New Jersey all the way to Nogales, over 2,400 miles. This is the type of delivery truckers salivate over. The longer the trip, the more miles, the more money. This load is also the first hazardous materials load I've ever carried. And en route, I went through and passed my first Department of Transportation inspection. The inspector checked everything, including my logs, medical card, bill of lading, truck registration, lights, emergency air warning system, etc. It took about 45 minutes, but I wasn't too nervous. It helps that I did a pre-trip inspection, as I do every morning, to keep the inspection jitters at bay.

And it was a fun drive. Some highlights include driving down I-81 the length of Virginia and passing by Appalachian Trail towns and other landmarks along the way. It is fitting that it rained most of that day, as most of my memories hiking that trail involved rain. But it was strange to cover terrain in a day that it took over six weeks to hike. The previous day I crossed under the AT on I-87 in New York as it traversed the highway on Arden Valley Road. And the day before that, I passed by a segment of the North Country Trail on US20 in Ohio. I must have a real eye for trail signs because this section of trail passed through cornfields and I noticed the small NCT marker on a carsonite post as I drove by at 55 mph. I guess it is hard to travel too far in this country without passing some long-distance trail that I've either hiked or want to hike.

Other highlights of the Nogales trip include: discovering a bald cypress swamp on an after dinner hike near Little Rock, Arkansas; seeing multiple herds of wild pigs grazing on the roadside in Texas; walking around desolate, and seemingly abandoned Lordsburg, NM, at dusk, the only signs of life at a Dollar General and a liquor store across the street; seeing the sky island mountains of Arizona at dawn, while driving through the rain, seeing rainbows and spackles of sunlight on the mountains all around; and here, now, on my break here in Nogales, and the hike I'm technically still in the midst of (as I have 5K to go to get back to the truck stop).

I set out too late this morning, 9 a.m. on a hike towards some nearby mountains. After 2 1/2 hours, the heat was withering me, and when I noticed a rapid heart beat and started feeling dizzy sensations, I found the first shady spot, a tree at the end of someone's driveway, and took a break. In my fatigue I was overcome by reverie -- oh, the silence, no truck engines, no whizzing traffic; and the scenery, blessed desert mountains, huge vultures soaring overhead, riding the thermals, wishing for my demise. And the orange I brought with me was exquisite sustenance. The relish I felt for it reminded me of that scene in the movie, "Into The Wild," when Chris McCandless eats an apple and says, "You are the world's best apple!" I felt that joy, that similar feeling of near-euphoria over something so simple as a piece of fruit. And then a wave of nostalgia hit me. The silence, fatigue, the smell of salt and sweat mixed with sunscreen, little lizards running and chirping afoot -- this is just like a thru-hike experience. This is why I loved that life.

And this is why I love the trucking life so far. It has many of the same elements of thru-hiking, albeit with many marked differences, the least of which is constantly seeing the industrial underbelly of America as opposed to the scant few areas left relatively unmarred by the March of Progress. But the similarities include waking up in a new place every day, yet with the same immediate surroundings (hiking: a tent, trucking: sleeper berth), never really knowing where you'll end up, constantly seeing new and varied terrain, and having time each day to be in your own mind. Most people can't handle that. They need to clutter their existence with external stimuli. And I'm not too different. I read books and listen to music and watch videos on my phone. But I have the wonderful gift of having hours each day where, yes, my mind is engaged keeping safe while driving, but my imagination and thought life gets to wander to wherever it wants to go. This is a luxury so rarely afforded in the other distracted life.

And to top it off, I get paid to be a vagabond. There is no social stigma attached to what I do. I have wonderful support from home. Everybody is encouraging what I do. And it's a responsible activity. The lingering doubts I had while long-distance hiking about shirking necessary duties are absent here. I have a job. A J-O-B job. Unless you've been out of work at the edge of destitution for two years, as I have, then you have no idea the blessed relief I have at having a job. Who cares that it's not teaching? Heck, it pays more than teaching. I have no doubt I'll be instructing young minds again in the not-too-distant future. But right now I have a job, and it's kind of a cool job, the kind of job that lets me go on wandering hikes on off days and see parts of the country that I've never seen before.

It's almost as good as that orange. Almost.

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