I’ll Get By With a Little Help
Waking up in the Catalina Inn, I was absolutely beat and weary from the first few days of the adventure. Never before had my body been exposed to discomfort and travel for as long as I had just experienced, and I was feeling it in every bone, muscle, tendon and ligament I possessed. I stretched out as best as I could, suppressing screams while doing so, and got ready for the final descent into Tucson. I contacted Doug Bostic, the head of a historical fencing club who I had known for a couple years, and began to arrange a place to stay for a few days. I didn’t get to fully set-up the arrangement by the time the 11am checkout came, so I hiked a couple miles up the road to a Safeway that had a Starbuck’s in it. I spied a little Mexican joint called Nico’s off to the side, and decided to grab a bite to eat.
Inside, while waiting for my food, I spoke with one of the employees, who thought I was crazy when I told her of my quest. An older lady named Wendy overheard our conversation, and came over to talk to me. She also thought I was crazy, but in a good way, and gave me $20 to help me along the road! She also told me about a friend of hers named Josh Fielder, who travels the country with his three dogs in his camper, writing about his experiences and adventures. After she departed, and as I was getting up to go to Safeway, another man came up and gave me $10 as he headed out the door! Who knew I’d be paid to eat lunch?
Once inside the Safeway, I immediately felt like some stranger, out of his time and place. Here I was, surrounded by men in shirts and slacks and women in dresses, while I walked in with a gigantic backpack, a big hat with a feather sticking out of it, clothes that had seen better days, and a 5-foot quarterstaff. I made my way to the Starbucks area and got out my laptop after I claimed a table, catching sideways glances and double-takes all the way. I managed to finish arranging a stay with Doug, who hooked me up with Jay Voris, a good guy who I had crossed swords with a few times in the past. We agreed to meet at the REI outlet at the Tucson mall in the evening, because that seemed fitting, and I had some shopping to do anyway. I got up to buy a drink, and as I did a man came over and was curious about me. I told him my story and he said, “Woah! Let me buy your drink, I wanna be a part of this!” The line ended up being too long for him to wait, so he instead gave me $5 and wished me the best of luck as he departed. Afterwards, I stocked up on some food and water, and hit the road again.
I had walked about three miles when I realized I was in bad shape. I was struggling to maintain a decent pace, my knees were aching, and every step felt like the Earth was throwing an uppercut into my feet. While taking a break in the shade of a tall highway wall, I decided that I was going to board a bus as soon as I got to the nearest stop. I was within the city limits anyway, and it seemed appropriate to use local transportation once I was within an urban area.
After another tough hour, I spied a bus stop about half a mile up the street next to a Walgreens. As I was crossing a side-road, a truck hauling a trailer pulled up in front of me, and the man driving it offered me a ride. I found this oddly fortuitous, so I hopped in and introduced myself. His name was Terry, a disabled ex-convict who bought used quads and fixed them up to sell around the area. He told me a couple stories about how, once released from prison, ex-criminals are abandoned once they exit the gates, and since most of the time the prison is quite a ways from where they lived (and sometimes don’t get a phone call to arrange a pickup), a lot of them are forced to hitchhike to get back home. One winter in December, he saw a fat middle-aged woman walking on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere, and gave her a ride into town. Terry was real upset by that, and began gesticulating a bit wildly while denouncing the justice system for its callous nature towards convicts. I got him to calm down, and our conversation turned to more… arcane topics. Somehow, somewhere, we got to talking about God and evolution, and he revealed his secret theory to me.
“You see this rock here?” he said while pulling one out of his door-pocket. It was the size of his palm, shaped like an elongated pyramid. “I’ve been seein’ these rocks for years now whenever I go out. You think it’s just a rock, but check this out.” He pointed to a few markings that, if you squinted really hard under a blacklight, could be mistaken for eye sockets. “People always talk about how ‘What happened to birds and dinosaurs?’ This is the answer! God created birds right around the time dinosaurs died, and this is one of the fossils from those birds. It’s a fuckin’ skull!”
I was fascinated by this theory. “Really? How do you know it’s a fossilized skull?”
“Check out these lines. It looks exactly like the lines of a skull. Here, there’s the eyes, the nose, and there’s the back of the head. The spine would have attached right about here,” he said while pointing to the rock, which had moved into my hand by this time. “See? That’s what happened. The dinosaurs all died because of who knows the fuck what, and then God created birds because the land was all destroyed, so they could fly over it faster than walking. That’s why we don’t know where they came from, ‘cause God created ‘em! I got a whole box of them at home, and they all look the same. What else could that mean? While you’re out hiking to New York, look for these fossils around you, they’re all over the fuckin’ place!”
I agreed to do so, and our turn into the mall came up, which I pointed out to steer the conversation and the truck in the right direction. I thanked Terry once we stopped in the parking lot near REI, and he insisted on giving me $20 to help me out, which I gladly accepted. I waved him off and walked to the store, releasing a long laugh I had been stifling for the last 10 minutes.
Inside, I had the employees find somewhere safe to store my stuff while I shopped around. I picked up a more powerful headlamp, a blister treatment kit, some more paracord, a fold-out map of Arizona, a Rite-in-the-Rain mini journal, and since I hadn’t used my sleeping bag and it was only getting warmer, I bought a heat-reflective bivvy sack that folded to half the size of a sub sandwich and only weighed five ounces. I figured I’d sell my sleeping bag while I was in town.
But as I was shopping around, I began to feel disconnected from the world around me. The employees were all wearing vests and dressed in costumes that looked like “outdoors wear”, but actually weren’t. Whereas I was dressed in a thrift-shop outfit that had endured the heat, dust and thorns for the better part of four days. From leaving Queen Creek, I had probably been traveling for longer than any of these people had in their entire lives. All the advertisements in the store depicted clean, happy, young women dressed in trendy clothes and gear on some picturesque mountain trail. Life, it seemed, was fun, and safe. I couldn’t help but think how petty all of it seemed, this fragile little bubble of consumerism.
This feeling haunted me as I purchased my things. The young cashier lady asked me if I was going somewhere, so I told her I was walking to New York City. She said “Oh, cool,” while handing me my receipt and saying goodbye.
It was still a few hours until Jay would arrive, so I sat down on a bench outside and made myself comfortable, while I pulled out my tobacco pipe to take the edge off. Soon enough the sweet-smelling smoke filled the air around me, while I, unnoticed, watched the people go about their lives, observing them in detail. Every exhale of smoke drew me further and further into the recesses of my mind, conjuring up old memories that took on new meanings.
Years ago, I was among friends. We had all taken the magic mushroom and were laughing at the absurdity of life, and at the divine discoveries that were unfolding before our enlarged pupils. In the midst of that flowing dreamscape, I stumbled upon something about myself that made me lose the laughter, and may very well have set me on the road I’m on now. In a brief moment, no longer than it takes to remove a mask, I saw myself as a lion, peeking out of the forest to converse with lambs in a meadow. I was enjoying their company, but I knew that no matter what I did, or where I went, I was not one of them. I then saw myself retreating back into the forest to find another meadow, another group of lambs to spend time with, always searching for another lion but never finding one.
I found myself as that lion once more, observing these people walk about slowly and aimlessly, carrying shopping bags full of trinkets and talking about small matters. I don’t know why my mind chose a lion back then, since I’m neither particularly brave or strong, but there’s some meaning in that symbol that I haven’t discovered yet. Maybe there are only two animals in this world: the lion and the lamb. You either live in the blissful comfort of the flock, or the wizened restlessness of solitude. But then again, lions hunt in packs, so I don’t know, maybe it was just the drug.
I contemplated these thoughts for a while, taking a stroll through the mall to kill some time. Eventually the moment came for Jay to arrive, and I met him outside, glad to be among familiar company. We drove to his place in the central part of the city, where I was given a comfy couch to crash on. Man, what a week!