Sunday, November 21, 2010
Day 137: Tumbleweeds
I-10 exit 55 to exit 34. 22.2 miles/2622.2 total
Sunday, November 21, 2010
9:13 a.m. I’m setting out from exit 55 on I-10, heading down the access road for about 14 miles and then onto the expressway itself for another 8 miles to exit 34, which is the junction with New Mexico 113. Total distance of 22.2 miles.
It’s chilly, in the low 50s, with a very stiff wind blowing at me from the west. It’ll probably get into the mid-60s, tops. I’m sincerely hoping this wind will settle down a bit. Right now it’s coming in at about 30 miles an hour.
Today’s walk will take me past another of those Bowlin truck stop stores, and that’s about it. Another day of little to report other than the fact that I got through it. Tumbleweeds are tumbling to beat the band.
Very soon into the walk I cross from Luna County into Grant County. Silver City, to the north, is the county seat.
At about 2.5 miles I arrive at a rest stop on the south side of I-10, pretty much the same as the one about seven miles back on the north side through which I walked yesterday. It has little shelters containing picnic tables and places for RVs to park. Very civilized. As I am walking through this rather large area, I encounter a man walking the other way. We stop and greet one another. I ask him where he's going and he nods at a tumbleweed and tells me he's following it to see where it will go. I give him a careful look and see from his aspect that he's of something below average intelligence. But hell, he's on a mission. I tell him I'm going in the opposite direction from the tumbleweeds. We nod at each other and part.
This rest stop also has a historical marker; it's about the various uses to which the Indians put the yucca plant, including eating the fruits and flowers, and using the leaves to weave baskets. The yucca is related to the lily. I imagine the long stalks or branches of the flowers make good firewood, too.
I’m seriously wondering if I can do the whole walk today with this wind, which must be gusting to 40 mph. It makes each step take double the effort. I’ll make for the store, at 13.8 miles, and decide then whether I can go on. If I do break it off, it’ll be the first time I’ve done that since I started the journey, but you never know what’s going to happen on any given day.
At about 5.5 miles I pass a sign that says I am at the Continental Divide, elevation 4,585 feet. This is a momentous occasion, because it means that I have crossed the rough north-south line that runs down the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to Mexico, to the west of which the rivers run to the Pacific Ocean, and to the east of which they run to the Atlantic. In theory, at least, it’s downhill from here to California.
Today it’s as if the mountains have been pushed back away for ten or twenty miles. On either side of the highway are thousands of flat acres of yellow grass populated by yuccas and sage. Alongside the access road are the tumbleweeds, either light brown skeletons moving with the wind or hung up and waiting to be freed, or dark green to black ones still connected to the ground. Also, in spots, is a veritable thicket of tall skeletal bushes, six to eight feet high, with bare thick branches at the ends of which dangle brown balls that used to be flowers and are now prickly round burrs the size of ping pong balls. I don’t know what they are, but they look a little like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. On the edge of the pavement, and sometimes even out of the asphalt itself, grow plants about a foot high with little yellow berries hanging from them, and also the occasional gourd vine.
Eventually the paved access road becomes dirt, and in the far western distance I can see a gigantic American flag I know is flying in front of the Continental Divide Trading Post in Separ, at exit 42. It’s there that I’ll decide whether to walk on or hitchhike to the motor home.
The wind has shifted a little, and now is blowing from the southeast, still hard and relentless. About a mile before the exit the succession of Bowlin billboards begins, advertising the usual stuff—fireworks, jewelry, food. This store has no gas.
At one time there was a small community here in Separ. Now I think it qualifies as a ghost town, with a scattered handful of buildings, all lacking doors and windows. Not an old west ghost town but a new west ghost town. There is a large truck repair place that claims to be always open with a mechanic on duty. Maybe so. Also a defunct gas station. Down the road from that is the Continental Divide Trading Post. In front, between what were once gas pumps, sits a rusting 1962 Buick, at an angle. Inside at the wheel is a life-sized skeleton wearing a hat and a New Mexico souvenir t-shirt that says “But it’s a dry heat. . .” Nice touch.
I have my little moment of truth and see I’m not that far behind schedule and decide to press on for the last 8.5 miles. The wind has died down to a relatively gentle ten to fifteen miles an hour, and the blisters on my left foot, while bothersome, are not intolerable. So off I go, armed and fortified with a cappuccino and a Diet Coke, in addition to my water.
The access road stops here, and I must climb another barbed wire fence. After doing so I climb up the embankment to the shoulder of the interstate, nice and smooth after miles of gravel road, and get out my iPod for another installment of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. The scary thing about this novel, for me, is that the descriptions of the horrible conditions of the Chicago packing plants and the adulteration of the meat only tend to make me hungry. Think I’ll have a can of potted meat when I get done today. Mechanically separated chicken and beef tripe--nothing like it. Here's a bit of doggerel from the time about a hundred years ago of which Sinclair is writing:
Mary had a little lamb
And when she saw it sicken,
She shipped it off to Packingtown
And now it’s labeled chicken.
I spot a coin which I think might be my first nickel in New Mexico, but when I pick it up I see that it’s a Mexican one-peso piece. Nice looking coin, with silver-colored metal on the outside and a center of copper-colored metal. I see by the internet that there are about 12 pesos to the dollar, and that seems right. This coin looks like it could be somewhere in value between a dime and a nickel.
At about 21 miles I see the signs for exit 34 and New Mexico 113 heading south to a place called Playas. After going up the entrance ramp I cross over the road to a large parking lot in front of an abandoned gas station, where the motor home awaits.