This adventure starts with blood, droplets to be precise, running down my arm. I was not sure what to do. I was prepared for many circumstances. I knew how to best handle a bear encounter. I was accustomed to venomous snakes by now. I knew how to avoid hypothermia, and I may have learned a thing or two about sandstorms, but I was not prepared for the angry TSA agent at Chicago’s O’hare International Airport.
Somehow in the midst of things, while taking off my backpack, one of the sharp edges of a National Park pin I had adorned on my backpack, latched into the skin of my thumb and ripped, providing a slender stream of blood running down my arm towards my elbow. I wasn’t aware there was even a wound, until I saw the alarming bright red color cascading down my arm. I grasped my thumb with the rest of my fingers in the palm of my hand, adding pressure to stop the bleeding, and prevent the blood from dripping onto anything.
“Hurry up! Keep moving!” The TSA agent called out in a passionate and bothered tone.
I was trying— trying to get my belt off, remove my laptop from it’s case, put my shoes up on the conveyor belt, and empty my pockets while not losing location of my plane ticket nor wallet. And trying not to bleed on everything. If anything was an omen or foreshadowing of the rest of this year’s summer adventure. This was it.
In a clumsy sort of juggling act, I got all my parts and pieces up onto the conveyor and walked into the tubular cylinder for my body scan. Nobody knew of my bloody situation. I passed through, my belongings were delivered back to me, and I was trying to put myself back together and manage my wound before I’d be reprimanded for holding up the line.
Phew! I made it. First order of business: find a bandaid. I went from gate to gate. Either there was no employee or the agents were too swamped with passengers boarding flights. After adequate effort, I found a kind lady at a gate who disappeared and came back with three bandaids “just in case.” I was all set.
Here I was, on the verge of a new adventure. I had prepared months in advance for this. This would be my third great National Park adventure and road trip. Two years prior I had ventured out West, primarily to California, and hiked and camped in Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, and other National Parks. That was the prelude, the falling in love with the National Parks, that spurred my month long National Park adventure the following year, in which I pondered the Canyonlands and reached my highest summits. This summer would be the grand sequel, a continuation, the ongoing romance of me and the natural world.
Reading my accounts, one might think I am sort of a freespirit, and although that title does sound appealing, I do like my adventures to be planned out. I do make elaborate itineraries. I may not always stick to them, and I adjust when needed, but the underlying fear is to miss out on something, so I want to make sure all major points of interests possible are considered.
My plan was to fly from Chicago to Phoenix Sky Harbor, get a rental car I had secured months prior, and venture from Arizona into New Mexico, down through West Texas to the border of Mexico, back through New Mexico, up through Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, California and finally conclude in Las Vegas. The focus of the trip: visiting as many National Parks sights as possible and seek beauty and inspiration.
By now, I knew what I was doing, I was well experienced. I was only tired. A number of life’s circumstances had worn me out. I was hoping that this trip would rejuvenate me and provide me new perspective. I seek God when I am out in the wild. I believe he designs the natural world to point us to him. When we lose ourselves in it, God uses the beauty and symbols of nature to speak to us. When we seek, God opens the door. He honors that.
During my plane ride from Chicago to Phoenix there were no interesting characters to chat with, no painted young lady heading off to a tattoo convention nor a ditsy girl asking me if two bottles of water is enough for an overnight trip into the Grand Canyon. Nothing like that. I was alone to my thoughts. I knew I would be making many more memories, and it would be important to not forget any of the experiences I’ve had thus far, so I cracked open my journal and made a long outline of everything I remembered from my previous epic summer adventure. I would use that outline to start my blog, write a book, and recollect that entire summer experience. With that behind me, I would feel free to soak up new experiences, savor them, and write about them.
When I got to Phoenix, I picked up my rental car. My sweetest deal yet: $450 total for one month. I hit the road and stopped at a familiar Chipotle in Casa Grande, which I had eaten at the summer before. It was a good place to stock up on calories, and it was also right across from a Walmart to stock up on supplies. I’ve gone into great detail of how this works in the record of my previous adventure, but essentially, I have figured it cheaper to buy much of my camping gear after arriving, instead of paying for extra luggage. As quick as I could, trying to save daylight, I stocked up and hit the road southeastward to Chiricahua National Monument. I had entertained the idea of heading west to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, but after being bombarded with warnings online about safety; reading about a murder taking place in this National Park; and the National Park Service posting: “Illegal border crossings and activities, including drug smuggling, occur daily,” and what to do when encountering people in distress, I decided I didn’t need any of that in my life. Hence southeastward to Chicachua I went. I knew very little about this National Monument, and hadn’t heard about it until planning this trip, but its landscape looked out of this world.
The last encounter with civilization on my way to Chiricahua National Monument, was the town of Wilcox, Arizona, a half-dead, barely-clinging-on sort of place. With abandoned gas stations and hotels here and there. I was thinking, I’m really in the sticks now, but not so much sticks as much as prickly cacti. The next thirty five miles of the journey would be desolate but stunningly beautiful. My car swooped down a long stretched of two lane road surrounded by fields of amber waves and majestic purple mountains on all sides in the far distance, bringing to life to me a line from our National Anthem. I had to stop my car to step outside and take it all in. When I turned my car off, I was greeted with a profound quietude and peace. There were no other cars, no other sounds, just a rich and warmly golden glowing landscape, great distances for my eyes to see, an overwhelming sense of appreciation, and a keen sense of patriotism.
I took some photos and continued on my way. As I was driving, I was reflecting on all the diverse landscapes I have seen, from the tropical islands of Florida, the thick forests of Tennessee and Kentucky, the rounded reaches of the Sierra Nevada, the odd beauty of the Death Valley, the rocky cliffs of Maine, the red earth and pine forests of Utah, the beaches of California, and the prairies of the Midwest, even the high forests of Mexico, the deserts of Peru, and the jungle of Panama. I have seen many places, and I know they come from the same artist. The more landscapes I see, the more I get to know God in a grander sense. I see the extent of his artistry. The creativity and diversity is abundant, showing just how magnificent, wide, and expansive God is. Who is God? Take a moment, hike a trail, climb a rock, watch the sunset, observe everything and consider it purposeful, designed with meaning: God revealing truth about himself to you.
That is one of the main appeals of nature to me— the intimacy I find with God. Surely in this trip God would speak to me like he has done in the past. Formulaic, I thought: Get away, spend time alone, surely God will meet me here again. I do, I truly do believe God finds the soul out seeking him in the wilderness. But at the beginning of this trip, to an extent, I thought I had God figured out. I had put him in a box. I thought I found a way to hear from him on demand. Need God to speak to my soul? Simple. Get out in the wild alone. This would prove to be a humbling experience. Literally and figuratively I first would have to spend some time wandering in the desert.
Check back every Wednesday for new “episodes.” Next: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/my-crisis-at-chiricahua/
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