|July 13, 1989: Route 666|
I refilled my canteen at a gas station in Gallup, walked north along Highway 666 (!), and started hitching once I cleared the last traffic light.
It wasn't long before I got a ride.
In fact, in the next three hours I got seven or eight rides.
I lost count.
I never had to wait more than fifteen minutes to get picked up.
But no one was going very far.
I was on the Navajo Indian reservation now, and I was surprised by the poverty there. Away from the road I could see where the people lived: mostly trailers, some run-down houses, even shacks and shanties. The land, in marked contrast, was impressive and beautiful and (to me at least) very, very weird. There were no plants growing higher than my shin, but bizarre towers of rock rose straight up from the ground and leaned like frozen giants. The highway lay across the endless plane and divided the world in half. There was almost no traffic at all, and as I stood on the shoulder waiting for my next ride I could feel the immense hush of the place. When a vehicle appeared on the horizon, its engine made no noise; I watched it draw near in perfect silence; there was no sound until it was almost on top of me.
As I traveled through that alien landscape, I came alive to what I was doing for the first time: I was halfway across the continent with just a knapsack and a canteen, I was on the road, I was here, I was doing it... That hit me as I rode in the back of a rumbling pick-up truck, driven by a Navajo I'd spoken maybe five words to. I was holding my baseball cap on my head and squinting in the wind at the impossible rock formations, and even though I was already wide awake, I felt as though I was waking up again. I laughed out loud, and the sound of my laugh was swallowed up by the rumble of the truck and the vast sky above.
I almost made it to Durango, but after it got dark nobody would pick me up. I was just outside the reservation in a tiny town called Flora Vista, only 45 minutes away. When I called Seth at a pay phone, he said he couldn't get a vehicle, and so I was all set to sleep out under the stars. But at the last moment some relative of a friend volunteered to come out and get me.
I sat in front of a Circle K convenience store waiting for them to arrive. A teenage kid with spiky black hair and an earring pulled up in his car, and as soon as he saw me he asked if I needed a ride. I told him I didn't. "Okay," he said, "just let me know if you need a ride or anything." He went into the store with his girlfriend, and when they came back out she gave me a pack of Juicy Fruit and a giant Kit-Kat chocolate bar to eat while I waited.