I had just finished my summer removing bushes with 1 inch thorns and chiseling trails into the dry, dusty rock of an Arizona canyon and making teenagers do the same thing in the equally harsh burn zones of Idaho where dead trees would fall in the middle of the night and the mid-July sun made the tired, defiant 16 year olds puke and threaten to expose themselves to further heat stroke by sitting on top of a boulder. My compensation: some of the best memories of my life, a hernia, and a $3,500 stipend that I immediately used to buy an old 86’ Mazda pick up off a high school friend back in my hometown in California. I had my eye on it for a while and thought such a deal! Single owner, well maintained, low mileage, and camper shell. How could I go wrong? So I made my way down the street in increments, jerking and stalling as I dumped the clutch.
I drove down to see family in San Diego – enjoying the tailgate of my “new” truck in the sand sprinkled parking lot of dog beach before I began my long trek to Humboldt. I left at 2am and hit I-5, stopping once at Denny’s for coffee. The morning sun revealed the bare, flat, nothing of south eastern California and was bound to heat up the black highway to egg frying temperature.
Once I got past Sacramento it started to smell like cow manure and my ipod died, leaving me with Christian radio or country. My eyelids grew heavy I decided to pull over next to a lonely fruit stand with hot strawberries that smelled rotten and bees that swam in their juices on the dusty ground. I opened my tailgate and climbed in the back, splaying my legs over my bike tire and closed my eyes.
I couldn’t stand the heat and still sweat for more than 15min before I hit the road again, knowing I wasn’t far from the 299 where I anticipated the big, rushing teal rivers that snaked between the tallest trees on earth. I got a good view of them while I sat on the side of the road at plateau of a grade waiting for my truck to cool down enough to pour some oil into its bone dry tank with out burning my arm on the engine block. Warning #2 came when I began to head down that grade, smiling at the beautiful landscape below and my road ahead that split right through the middle of it. My smile faded fast though as I pushed my brake pedal and it went straight to the floor.
I started pumping the breaks. Each time it was like squeezing a sponge and each time my fingers got tighter and tighter on the steering wheel. My legs went numb and I let myself coast down the windy grade. As the bottom neared I smiled bigger than I’m sure I had ever smiled and just as I sighed my right, front tire exploded and my truck was pulled to the side of the road. I slid through gravel with my failing brakes, kicking up a cloud of dust as the rubber on my tire slapped my wheel well and I came to an abrupt stop. Oh, glad my brakes decided to work again.
I called roadside and waited against my back bumper. I looked as a semi flew by and must have kicked up some gravel because as a man began to pull off the road a rock the size of a quarter hit me right above my right eyebrow so hard my head flew back. I reached up whispering “ohhh…(curses).” The man must have saw what happened and simply said “one of those days huh?”
I looked up holding my forehead. “I guess.”
“You going to be okay?”
“Yeah” I lied, really quite unsure.
“Alright” he said, possibly unsure himself, maybe laughing as he pulled back onto the freeway.
I stood up and looked at my reflection in the cab window. I had a swelling, bruised, cut right above my eyebrow slowly oozing blood and began to laugh that kind of laugh crazy people cover their problems with.
Then the tow truck driver came and disappointed me by changing my spare, using the donut under the truck that was just as old instead of towing me and before I left I asked him “are there anymore grades after this?”
“Yeah, two big ones.”