Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 124: Village of the Zombies

Artesia to Hope. 20.1 miles/2354.7 total

Monday, November 1, 2010

9:45 a.m. I depart from the Walmart parking lot in Artesia, heading 20.1 miles west on US 82 to the village of Hope.

This morning I parked the motor home at the Hope Quick Stop on the far side of town, after asking the proprietor for permission. I sometimes take this precaution with the motor home since it’s so intrusive a presence, and it gives me a chance to chat with someone. On the few occasions when I’ve gotten into trouble for parking it’s been because of the car. Several times I’ve returned to the car and found notes on the windshield saying not to park in that spot, and once in Missouri someone wrote on one of the side windows in soap, “This is not a parking lot.” Then there was the infamous incident in Jackson, Mississippi, when the owner of a business called the cops to have my car towed, but the cop called my nephew because the car was registered to someone with the same name as his, and he intervened on my behalf. But never once has anyone said anything about the motor home. I think I know why. Ordinarily, wherever the motor home is parked is where the car will be the next day. People have already tolerated the presence of an out-of-state vehicle for one day, but by the second day they’re ready to take action (although in Jackson I had not parked the motor home where I parked the car). Well, today the car is safe at Walmart, and later I’ll get permission to park the car tomorrow at the Quick mart.

It’s probably ten degrees cooler today than yesterday. It’s in the 50s now and I doubt if it will get over 70. The sky is covered with high cirrus clouds again, but it looks like they’ll blow over soon.

Today I begin the ascent that will take me from 3,380 feet here in Artesia to 8,668 feet in Cloudcroft. The trip up the mountainside will take four days. The climb will be quite gradual today and tomorrow and steeper on the other two days. Then the descent from Cloudcroft to Alamogordo will be rapid, going back down to 4,526 feet in about fifteen miles. Roadside signs warn trucks of 6% grades on the other side of the mountain. I’m not sure how the cell phone or internet reception will be after tonight, and some of my dispatches may be delayed until I get into the city.

I pass the large white Artesia water tower, boasting of the many high school sports championships the Artesia Bulldogs have won. Most of them were in football, but there are a few for basketball and track and one for golf, even. It doesn’t say whether these are regional or state championships. I can’t help wondering if they use any alien ringers on their teams.

Within five miles I’m out in the country. Across the yellow grasslands everywhere the plant that is beginning to predominate is yucca. It consists of an array of spiky sharp thin green and white leaves, about 18 inches long and a half inch wide, terminating in needle-like points. The overall impression is reminiscent of Ron Wood’s hair. These bunches of leaves sometimes sit atop a thick trunk covered with old brown dried-up leaves. Up out of the leaves grow straight branch-like shoots, three or four feet long and a half inch to an inch in diameter, which produce bunches of white flowers in the spring and summer, and which are now dried up and contain only a few seed pods. An interesting and complicated-looking plant. In addition to the yuccas the fields are dotted with mesquite bushes and the occasional cholla cactus.

A mile or more to the north someone is shooting automatic weapons. I hear rapid burping bursts of machine gun fire. Maybe there’s a shooting range or a military installation on the other side of the low hill. Or maybe it’s just some Second Amendment lover shooting for the sheer joy of it. After another mile the sound of the gun fades away and is replaced by that of a chain saw and then silence.

I pass a beautiful large new house about a quarter of a mile back. On either side of the gate at the road are concrete heads modeled after the Easter Island statues, and along the driveway on both sides they’ve put huge rough-cut stone steles four or five feet high. It makes for an interesting view down the drive.

People here in New Mexico have been quite generous with their offers of rides. Each day I get at least three. Just now a guy offers to drive me into Hope, and after I decline and thank him I happen to look down at the pavement and see a bunch of discarded pennies, sixteen of them in all. That brings my take in change up to almost a dollar so far.

At 12.5 miles I’m still surrounded by vast flat or rolling grasslands in all directions. It’s only when I look behind me that I’m aware of how far uphill I’ve gone. When I look back into the haze I can vaguely see the valley where Artesia lies. It’s amazing to think of how many millions of acres—indeed, millions of square miles—of this country look just about like this: yellow-brown grass dotted with shrubs and other small plants. Practically half the country rolls out just about the way it does here, from the middle of the Dakotas down to Texas, and across to the Pacific, excepting only the coastal northwest. That’s a lot of wide open spaces.

In the absence of dead mammals I turn my attention to a more plentiful form of animal life, the grasshoppers. The black ones with the orange and black wings are just about gone now, with many lying dead or dying. Occasionally I see larger grasshoppers, fat and tan and scaly with blunt tails and no wings, eating the black ones. But even most of these big guys seem to by dying off, their fat butter-colored bellies exposed to the sun. I’m aware that some of the different sized grasshoppers may be stages of the same species, but I know the black ones and the big fat yellow ones are different.

At about 14 miles I cross a dry river bed called Eagle Draw. I was at the Eagle Draw City Park in Artesia yesterday, at the free municipal RV dump site, so I think Eagle Draw must run down from here into the city. I believe this is what they call an arroyo here in the west.

I come upon a deer skeleton, or more accurately a scattered, bleached, chewed-up collection of bones that I identify as a deer skeleton based on a piece of mandible that happens to remain. The skull is gone, probably carried off. Since I’ve had so little road kill so far I’m going to count this. Deer number one.

At 17.6 miles I enter the Village of Hope, elevation 4,085 feet. That means I’ve gone up about 700 feet on today’s walk. The wind is now blowing stiffly out of the north as I head toward the center of town, still a mile and a half away. Hope has arrogated to itself quite a bit of municipal land, most of it vacant. As of 2000, the population was 107. Wikipedia doesn’t have much to say about Hope other than the fact that it became somewhat known because a novel called World War Z, written by Max Brooks, was set there. It was where a group of humans successfully fought the zombie horde. So I guess it’s safe for me to approach now.

There’s a story about how Hope got its name. Two settlers tossed a dime into the air and one said, “I hope you lose.”

At 19 miles the speed limit goes down to 40 and I see the first real trees I’ve seen on today’s walk, some pines and a collection of elms, and also several I think are mountain ash trees, with compound leaves growing alternately about 15 to a stem.

I pass a little convenience store called Hope Store and next to it a defunct antique store with several rusty farm implements out front. Across the street from that there’s a little park with about a dozen benches and four picnic tables. Down one side street is the Methodist Church and down another is the Church of Christ. Take your pick.

After a short rest on one of the picnic tables I resume walking, on a brand new wide sidewalk. In fact, this is a hell of a nice sidewalk for such a dinky place. It even has wide handicapped ramps at all the intersections. As much of a fan of urban infrastructure as I am, I’m having trouble seeing how this is going to get enough use to justify its cost. The same thing goes for that little park. You could fit the whole village into it with room to spare. I don’t see anyone else outside. Maybe the zombies got them all.

I pass the fire station and the post office and in a few blocks I reach the Hope Quick Stop and the motor home. But first I spend a few minutes talking to the proprietor, a pleasant woman named Lupe who’s from Artesia originally, but has been up here since she got married 27 years ago. I told her Hope had some pretty fancy sidewalks for such a small town, and she responded enthusiastically, saying "lots of people" walk on them and the kids ride their bikes on them, too. Wonder where they all are now? Lupe also said that last year when they were putting them in they let her write her name on the sidewalk next to the store. She’s quite proud of that.

I got her permission to park the car here tomorrow, then told her my story. Like many people she wanted to know if I was walking for some cause. I always get a tiny bit apologetic when I tell them "No, I'm just doing it," even though I don't care at all for the idea of embarking on random quests in support of disease cures. If it's a good cause, just give the money--who cares if someone hops around the world on a pogo stick, for Christ's sake? On the other hand, imagine how much money I might have raised so far if I just had a cause. But no, I rebelled against the idea of using the walk for that purpose. I guess that makes me just a . . . .


Anonymous said...

Hey Pete,
Good to see you on the road again. Good luck for that climbing.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Hope you're well. Gone to Hamburg yet?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Frankfurt, got back three weeks ago. Now I'm in the follow-up...