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  • Writer's pictureJ&J

October Replay - A Tale of Many Deserts

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

Hey all! It’s been a while.

As is our periodic tendency, we evaporated from the internet for a bit and I let my phone die which led not only our families, but also my financial advisor (Hey Michelle!) to reach out and make sure we weren’t dead or still stuck in Pittsburgh. Thank you all for having our back. Yes, we are still alive and YES we did eventually make it out of Pittsburgh. The call that the car was fixed came in approximately 15 minutes after I put up the last saga. My apologies for leaving you all hanging.

The last month has brought with it an abundance of marvels. We have fallen in love with the desert, seen snow and then hastily escaped from it, made many unexpected detours, and found our way to friends. The open ended question of what to do and where to go is quite the maze wherein, we have the incredible joy of choosing which way to turn. This of course means that we occasionally run into walls, staring up at the endless expanse of barrier wondering which turn we missed or how we could have wandered so far. The hurdles are humbling, albeit magnificent in their own right. There is always so much learning left to go.

A brief snapshot of where we’ve been and what we’ve been up to:

Total States Passed through: 20

Total States Stopped In: 11

Time Zones Accessed: 4

Shooting Stars Spotted: 5

Old Friends Seen: 9

New Friends Made: a bushel and a peck

Max Days without a shower: 5

Total Number of Car repairs: 3

Total Cost of Car repairs: $3300 (yikes)

License Plates Viewed: 52 ( Washington DC, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and all US states except the all elusive Hawaii)

Number of people who have called Jacob “Ma’am”, “Miss”, or “Lady”: 12

Longest walk: 15.2 miles through Las Vegas

October was a time of sand dunes and desert sunsets. We got more vitamin D in the last month than I think I’ve had in about 3 years. I’m sporting a brand new tan which is a notable accomplishment all its own. Along with that abundant sun has come an experiential existence full of vibrant color and amazing landscapes.


I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out the best way to share some of those spaces with you. How can one translate something so wholly three dimensional and sensory onto a screen? I suppose the short answer is that your experience will be different than mine was, but I will try to be the most responsible reporter I can. Here is a snack sized summation of our world over the last month. Dig in.

October 2-4: The Marathon (Pittsburgh, PA to Moab, UT)

There is something energizing about having an immediate and unavoidable test of stamina. Some might liken it to being in the zone or experiencing a flow state, for me it’s a thorough activation of the senses. If my eyes could narrow and burn, they would. Go time. After our car came out of the shop the evening of October 2, we had approximately 48 hours to complete our 1800 mile drive to Moab. What better way to prepare ourselves to spend a week and a half with a bunch of ultrarunners, than doing some ultra driving?

On our second night, after completing 1250 miles of our trek, we treated ourselves to beds and a shower in Goodland, Kansas. Named after the town of Goodland, Indiana (because why not) Goodland boasts a rather curious site plopped in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable town. Right off of I-70, the area is home to the largest easel in the United States. At 80 feet tall, the structure has no problem supporting a 32' x 24' rendition of Van Gogh's "Three Sunflowers" rendered by Canadian artist Cameron Cross and representing the central location of the local sunflower industry in the middle of the Sunflower State.

Travel Journal - October 5, 2020:

“Against all oddities, three days of wild distance driving were adventures all their own. Cramped and joyous, grumpy and playful, determined and wonderful. I love the art of the drive. That is certainly one stamina oriented process that I will put my word behind. Good test of the brain and body, also a fantastic time for dreaming.”

October 5-22: Let's Stay A Little Longer (Moab, UT)

When we first drove into the desert, I was sad. Having just marathoned our way through Colorado’s mountains, the sudden lack of trees felt distressing, the landscape barren and lacking character, and worst of all there wasn’t a body of water anywhere to be seen. I decided right away that I wasn’t that into it. Of course, I was being huffy and within 30 seconds of seeing a kangaroo rat bouncing through the sand alongside our car, I changed my tune. Desert sunrises and sunsets with their extreme color palettes and heart wrenchingly clear skies are some of the world’s most potent love potions. The land does, in fact, have lots of character with its soft sands, red rocks, cacti, canyons, mountains, and, yes water. The reason I couldn’t appreciate any of this beauty upon arrival? It was 8PM and already dark out. Never judge a landscape by its nighttime.

For our first 10 days in the desert, we spent our time volunteering at the Moab 240, a single loop running event where athletes from around the world propel their bodies 240 miles through the desert sands, canyons, and mountains for the glory of saying they finished. The front runners crossed the finish line after running for over 60 consecutive hours without sleep. The grit and determination of these athletes is a force the likes of which I've never seen. If the elite runners impress you (or make you scratch your head and wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to run 240 miles for fun), let me blow your mind further. The final runner slid into the finish line after slogging through the desert for over four and a half days with less than 5 minutes to go until the cutoff time for the entire race. What a champ.

Travel Journal - October 7, 2020

“We completed work early enough that a group of us went on a hike before dinner. We trekked through sand, snaked along “trails” (highly questionable paths better navigated with a GPS), scrambled down a rather precarious rock face, and swam through a pool cold enough to shock the system. James [one of the other Moab volunteers] held out a branch to help pull us on to a rock table on the far side as the water stole our breath. [. . .] The whole ordeal was magnificent.”

We thought we would leave right after the race, but the warm weather (up to 85 during the day), abundant hiking, and stellar skies beckoned too strongly. Naturally, we stayed in town for another whole week. Our dopamine levels thanked us profusely.

Travel Journal - October 21, 2020

“There are endless ways to say ‘I love you’. My favorite is being gone from the rest of the world. Perhaps that’s why we’re still in the desert - the admiration of being plugged in with nature, plugged in with each other, and otherwise as absent as we want from other things. [. . .] It’s a blessing to be so well provided for, to get paid in beauty heat, and a kiss of sun. We really do need almost nothing”

October 23-26: North, and then South (Salt Lake City, UT & Cedar City, UT)

Salt Lake City sounded like a good idea. We have friends in the city. There’s an island that, despite being covered in bison, is named for antelope. Dance exists. Salt is cool. Plenty of reasons to explore. We bade farewell to our red rocks and headed North, camping out in what we would discover the next morning was absolutely not a campsite (turns out we have a knack for that - It happened later on in AZ as well). Our claimed spot, smack in the middle of an ATV trail, was however a fantastic place for an impromptu dance party and to eat oatmeal at sunset.

The next day, it snowed and by the following morning, it was 17 degrees outside. With one of our major goals for this trip being “avoid snow at all costs”, we decided it was time to hightail it out of there. But first, there was coffee and friendship. Unfortunately, I don’t have any images of these exchanges, but in our short time along Interstate-15, we were granted the gift of not one but two coffee dates (Hi Corrine, Hi Danielle!) and the opportunity to sit in on a University dance class. Neither Jacob nor I had touched a marley floor in over 3 months. Being in the room was heavenly though sitting proved to be a brutal tease.

October 27-30: A Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Death Valley, CA; Death Valley Junction, CA)

Plans love to change and we love them for it. Our initial trajectory following our foray in Utah was to slowly traverse the American South West, beginning in Arizona and concluding a few weeks later in Texas. When we got the chance, however, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to tack on a few extra states. Since mid summer, I’ve been corresponding with a contact at Death Valley Junction’s historic Amargosa Opera House. Just as our fingers were turning to icicles in Utah, he let us know he was in California visiting the site. Perfect timing. Goodbye snow, hello sunshine. Click to learn more about Death Valley Junction and the history of Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House.

A Poem - October 29, 2020

She orders:

Wait here, until

Your kneecaps radiate,

The flushed red of pounding pavement.

She goes.

I curl my fingers in little hooks

They stagger across my legs.

One step, two.

The pointer finger leg has a limp.

Do they know where three and four are going?

Are they sure they will stop?

There is no breaking when the brakes break.

On this day, I run away twice.

But only once for real.

Down a wooded trail lined with trees - gleeful,

Maybe dangerous.

The dogs follow, loud

Though untrained in sniffing out subtleties.

One dog, two.

Neither has a limp, and they won’t stop.

They don’t have brakes.

On they zoom, right past me

Yelping about nothing as I marvel

Both at the many colors skin can turn in a day, and

The inconvenient pity of only smelling one emotion at a time.

October 31 - November 2: Viva, by Accident (Las Vegas, NV)

I cried showering the sand out of my hair. Five days in the hottest, driest, lowest place in the Western Hemisphere left me aching for continuity. I wanted more blue skies, and salt that wasn’t snow, and the looming threat of dehydration. All things however, must come to a change. In my case, that change was cleanliness and a strange sense of overwhelm as I washed the earth off of myself in the desert’s least earthy place. Welcome to Las Vegas.

Travel Journal- November 7, 2020

“Las Vegas is a very strange place. The entire [city] is set up as a board game where the only way to win is to get stuck on the board forever. Do you drink? Great! Drink more than you ever thought possible while wearing a refillable cup the length of your torso around your neck. Do you have a gambling problem? Great! Feed it with a slot machine on every corner in the hotels, gas stations, and grocery stores. Did you have an addiction before you arrived? Don’t worry, you will before you leave. It is a place to explore and a place to test out or least inhibited instincts with the illusion of no consequence. The Bellagio fountain is still beautiful though.”


I can’t believe that we are already into our third month of travel. At the same time, it shocks me when I scroll back through our pictures and realize that we were still in New England only 7 weeks ago. Time has an agenda all its own, one that toggles frequently. If only we could all be so malleable.

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