“I think I just saw Jesus come back,” and other reflections on the Colorado sunset
We’ve come a long way in the past few weeks. Austin was a whirl and a dream; we stayed for 11 days, but they flowed so seamlessly it hardly felt like any time at all. Adam took Emma and Trout to our oldest brother Austin’s house, while I stayed with Elizabeth. We had many small adventures, but perhaps the best was Free Art Friday. Every week, artists in Austin hide original works throughout the city and use the Instagram hashtag #atxfreeartfriday to create a photo scavenger hunt for followers. Elizabeth and I created a piece, and we took also took Emma searching. We ultimately ended up with a hand blown glass pendant each! In addition to art, we also sought out farmer’s markets and instances of local plant life. Although Texas was once home, it’s only recently that I’ve discovered gardening and herbalism, so I brought new eyes with me on this trip. What I heard from friends, gardeners, and plant enthusiasts alike is that it’s a real challenge to grow anything in the intense heat of the southwest. In North Carolina, the earth seems to be just waiting for the opportunity to blossom with plants and produce, so the contrast was instructive, not to mention inspiring. I know how much work I put into my own gardens back home, and I loved seeing people’s determination in the face of extreme climatic conditions, not to mention the resilience of vegetation, carving out space for itself in shady wall cracks and occasional rivulets.
^Brooke Daniel, finder of free art, and our free art pendants!
^zilker park in Austin, TX
The day we left Austin was as eventful as the previous weeks had been restful. We stopped in Fort Worth so Adam and I could see our father, and join our younger brother for lunch on his tenth birthday. The visit was too short, but lovely nonetheless. We then headed north to Ardmore, OK, where Adam and I grew up, and we stopped for a few hours to chat with old friends before continuing to Edmond, for our first stay in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Wal-Marts across the country allow overnight parking in their lots. It wasn’t until the next night, however, that we saw just how many people take advantage of this opportunity. In Colby, KS, Wal-Mart looked like an RV park. In fact, the first thing we saw when we pulled in was an older gentleman playing banjo in a chair outside his camper. We chatted about traveling with some of our neighbors, but the most interesting interaction came the next morning. We were drinking coffee with a young man named Daniel, who approached us when he saw the name of our bus to ask what it was all about. While we chatted about his life in Kansas and his imminent deployment with the army, a woman walked into the parking lot and approached us.
Her name was Eva, and it was obvious she needed some help before she even asked. She had come from central Colorado and was hitch-hiking east with a partner, but had woken up that morning to find that her traveling companion had disappeared in the night with their money and sleeping bags. We took her aboard and headed into Colorado. Because of our air brakes, we can’t safely go into mountainous terrain, so we went as far as we could before letting her out with some new shoes, a little food, and $20 to help her get the rest of the way home. She and I chatted for most of the drive, and my heart seemed full to bursting with her raw honesty and vulnerability. I found myself reflecting on those notions of charity versus community, and marveled at how much we can all benefit from just sharing a little kindness with those willing to give and receive it.
Our next stop was the town of Sedgwick, CO, population 150. Roads are unpaved, and the street signs are hand carved. Although Sedgwick is small, it boasts the only dispensary within a 150 mile radius. Called Sedgwick Alternative Relief, the business does peddle recreational marijuana, but has far more medicinal products, which is what interested me the most. According to the proprietor, many of the customers are not youth, but older individuals, who come for products like their salve, which combines hemp with oils like arnica. It isn’t an intoxicant, but provides topical relief for pain and skin disorders. Our culture has a tendency to label things as categorically advantageous or harmful, but the recent spate of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has led to some incredible insights into the medicinal benefits of this plant that most of us know so little about.
The very kind staff told us about Jumbo Reservoir, a camping and fishing ground just outside of town, where we have spent three glorious nights enjoying spectacular sunsets (I didn’t know some of those colors existed in nature!) and a multitude of avian life in a location so remote, you can see the whole Milky Way on a clear night. We did underestimate how much water we would need for this sojourn, but a generous couple we met, who camp here every year during Labor Day weekend, insisted we take several gallons of theirs. It’s not a perfect formula, but it does seem to us that the more open we are to kindness, the more opportunities we have to both offer and receive it.
As I write this, we are preparing to embark on the next leg of our journey, which will take us to Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming. We will be camping with friends from Asheville, Henry and Kathleen, whose current cross-country road trip is happily coinciding with our own. I am still very much adjusting to life on the road. We discovered our battery inverter doesn’t hold enough charge to keep our fridge running for more than a day, so we have decided to go without. The closest to washing I’ve gotten in the past week was lathering up with Dr. Bronner’s before a swim in the reservoir. Quarters are a bit cramped, and sometimes I can’t help but feel the tension of trying to meet the needs of so many people (and cat) with such limited space and resources. But as my father is fond of saying to me, if we have everything we need for today, we have everything we need. As I look around me at this little traveling home, full of things and people I love so much, I know that everything I need is right here. And I am so grateful.
On Giving and Receiving: Charity vs Community
Hi there! It’s Alyssa, sister and sidekick to Jack Friday (Adam) and Jane Witchweeks (Emma) on Hot Daniel’s maiden trek across the United States.
We left my home in Asheville, NC, two weeks ago, but the experiences we’ve already had could fill volumes. The journey has been predictably unpredictable, as we adjust to living on the road, on a bus, with three people and a cat.
Our trip started with a hiccup- we loaded ourselves and our belongings, took a picture for posterity, and cheered with excitement. And then the bus wouldn’t start. After much banging with wrenches on the alternator, we realized that it might just be the batteries. It was. Two new batteries from the local Advanced Auto parts, and we were actually and officially underway.
My friend Elizabeth joined us for the first leg of our trip, from North Carolina to the Houston area. We donned silly hats and danced to Jerry in the back of the bus as Jane drove down I-26 into South Carolina. It didn’t take too long to acclimate to the bumpy ride, and we cruised through the Southeast and into Alabama without incident.
We stopped for the night in Tuskeegee National Forest in Alabama, just west of the Georgia border. Excitedly hopping off the bus to look around, we were promptly swarmed by fire ants. For our readers who aren’t familiar with insects of the Deep South and southwest, a tiny explanation: fire ants are evil demon creatures. They are tiny and look harmless, and their bites feel like getting stabbed with acid-tipped needles. The bites swell over a course of hours, and leave angry blisters for days after. Despite these minions of the Great Deceiver, we still had a lovely night complete with lentil stew, campfire sing-along, and my first ever night sleeping in a hammock under the stars.
Our spirits strong, we embarked the next day for New Orleans, with hopes of Andouille sausage and fried everything enticing in the distance. However, a few hours driving across Alabama and Mississippi made apparent to us the one gaping hole in our plans for our initial journey: we hadn’t accounted for the heat and humidity. Sweat soaked through our clothes as we approached Louisiana, and we realized that stopping the night in New Orleans would guarantee good food, but also desperately uncomfortable time in the bus, for us, as well as sweet Trout. Emma, in a typical display of strength and heroism, drove straight through, and we arrived at my mother’s house after an epic fifteen hours of driving.
My mother’s house was like a paradisiac dream after the heat of the road. She and my younger brother greeted us at 2am with love and cold beer, and we settled into a week-long respite full of delicious food and near constant board and card games.
We met many of her colleagues and friends from the Conroe ISD where she has taught for more than a decade, and received words of encouragement and suggestions for easing the stresses of the road. Finally, our time drew to a close, and we headed for Austin- college home of both Adam and myself, current home to many friends and family members (including aforementioned Elizabeth and her partner David; older brother Austin and Cassie, whom you’ll meet soon).
To say that we were generously greeted would be a massive understatement. When Jane Witchweeks, Jack Friday, younger brother Alex, and I arrived in Austin late Friday night, we were welcomed to Elizabeth and David’s home with hot stir fry and cold beer (we love being greeted with a cold beer), and the local extended family almost all made appearances. In the five intervening days, we have gone out for tacos (ALL THE TACOS), toured my old college campus, taken a plunge in a secret beach, mapped routes, and made art.
Now that you’re up to date on the more mundane aspects of the trip, I want to reflect for a moment on what, for me, has been the main undercurrent of this journey to date. So far, we have encountered many small obstacles. There have been no catastrophes like what our fellow gypsy friends from Hill People (https://www.etsy.com/shop/HillPeople) navigated on their cross country journey, but we have felt the pressure of plans that don’t execute the way they were imagined, logistical difficulties, and a general sense of defeat in the face of what seems astronomical oversight in preparations.
However, despite all the bumps in our proverbial road (not to mention getting used to the bumpiness of bus travel), we are absolutely flourishing. Texas turned out to be simply too hot to live in the bus right now; our family immediately offered us solutions in the form of rooms dedicated to Trout habitation or even offers of cat-sitting while we work out the initial journey kinks. Some plants in the greenhouse turned out to be harboring nests of ant eggs; once again family came through with suggestions for natural ant poison and accommodations for us while we deal with the minor ant infestation of Hot Daniel.
For me, it has been two weeks of learning new humility. Some people find it hard to ask for help; in my usual extreme fashion I can have a hard time accepting it even when it is freely offered, because the thought that someone observed me “failing” is tantamount to conceding defeat. However, I have had to realize that despite my problem solving personality, I cannot handle all issues that arise on my own through sheer determination and cheerfulness.
This adventure has proved to be an intense foray into personal vulnerability; as with any community it necessitates a willingness to share and be shared with, to help and be helped. But because our entire lives are contained within the body of Hot Daniel right now, when our resources there fall short for any reason, our only recourse is to look to those around us for that support.
So far, we haven’t even had to ask. The loving generosity of our friends and family has buoyed us through all the little pitfalls. I’m grateful for the opportunity to practice trusting those around me. Right now we have still only ventured into the realms of established community; in a few days we’ll be heading north, then west, toward places none of us have ever travelled. The home has been built; the community around it grows. Thanks for reading this and being a part of it.