I left a bad relationship by running away in the night. I walked and walked and walked, sleeping along the way on the doorstep of a church, in an abandoned house, in the driveway to a pasture in front of the gate, and in a wrecked car outside a closed auto repair shop. Although it was June, the altitude was high enough that it still got cold at night. I had nothing besides the clothes on my back, the glasses on my face, and my driver’s license and a broken headlamp in my pockets. Whenever the cold would wake me, I’d stand up and start walking again.
Sleeping in the car was a luxury. I could almost stretch out in the backseat, which was plush and cushiony. It was fairly warm in the car, and I felt fairly safe. I found the car just before dawn and slept there until late in the morning. I don’t know how I managed to go unnoticed. I guess it was a blessing.
I walked and walked, and the day got hotter. I stopped at a gas station and drank water from the sink in the restroom. At one point I lay down under a tree on the side of the road and napped. I walked more and realized I probably should drink more water.
I saw a row of businesses set back from the road. I thought maybe I could get water from someone working in one of the stores. I walked up to find most of the stores empty. When I peeked through the front windows, I saw that the rooms that weren’t empty looked more like workshops than stores. I walked down the line, past more locked doors, until I found a man in his workshop polishing stones with some sort of belt grinder.
I asked him for water. He took me a few steps away to his tiny house. He filled a mug with water and handed it to me. As I stood in his doorway and drank, I told him where I’d come from and where I was headed. He said I was still six miles from my destination. He took an empty gallon plastic juice bottle from his dish drain, filled it with water, and handed it to me. I thanked him and went back to the road.
I walked, and I walked some more. At least now I had water to sip. I found a long, sturdy branch, so then I had a walking stick. I found a ball cap on the side of the road, so I had a little protection from the sun. I walked and walked. In all, I walked eleven miles, but I felt like I’d walked an eternity.
The person I was leaving behind had told me repeatedly that I was a bad person, that whenever people didn’t help us or when bad things happened to us, it was because of me. In that walk, I was testing the universe. Bring it on, I thought. If I’m a bad person, bring on what I deserve.
I saw a car pulled to the side of the road, a woman sitting in the driver’s seat. I approached the car and told her I hadn’t eaten anything all day, asked if she had a granola bar or something else I could eat. She handed me a Cliff Bar. I ate it slowly as I walked.
I ended up in a tourist area where people sell arts and crafts. I looked at what people had for sale. I looked at one woman’s jewelry. It was lovely and I told her so. Her prices were good, and I told her that too, but said I had no money. I told here where I’d just walked from, and she asked if I wanted some cold water. I said yes, and she gave me some from her thermos. It was icy and delicious.
At this tourist spot, there is a rest area with restrooms and water spigots and picnic pavilions. I went there, walked around, scavenged in the trash cans for food, found a picnic pavilion that faced away from the road. When it got dark, I lay down on the concrete between the bench and the stone wall of the pavilion. When I woke up cold, I went into the women’s restroom where it was warmer and lay down in the larger of the two stalls.
Shortly before dawn, when there was just enough light to see where I was going, I began walking down a trail that started at the edge of the rest area. I walked and walked until I came to lone tree. Under that tree I sat and rested.
That day was much like the first, except when I got back to the rest area, I noticed an attendant/groundskeeper, so I added avoiding him to my list of things to worry about. I was afraid if he noticed me hanging around, he would call the cops on me. I didn’t relax until he left at five o’clock.
On the third day, I talked to one of the sellers who told me about a food bank in town the next day. He told me they would hook me up if I could get there. Then he suggested I talk to the woman who owned a concession stand in the tourist area about doing some sort of work in exchange for food. I’d had the same idea, but was glad to know he thought she’d be agreeable.
When I approached the women with the concession stand, she said she’d be happy to let me work to earn a meal. She cooked an egg and cheese burrito for me and had me eat it before I spent twenty minutes washing the windows on her stand.
Later that day I met a man who said he’d give me a ride to the food bank the next day. He asked me if there was anything else he could help me with, and I said I could use a blanket and a backpack to carry my (meager) belongings. He said he did have a backpack he could give me and a sleeping bag too. Then he said he lived with his mom, and if I wanted to, I could go back to his mom’s house with him and spend the night there.
I guess I should have been skeptical or more cautious, but I absolutely trusted the man. He didn’t give off any weirdness or bad vibes. So I went with him, and everything was fine.
His mom lived nearby, in a rural community, in a home she had built herself over several years. The house was small and rustic, not by design, but by necessity. Electricity was generated by the sun. Water was collected from the rain and snow that fell on the roof.
The man and I walked about half a mile down the road to the community free box where I found a pair of tan linen pants and a pair of too-large-but-they’ll-do Keen sandals so I didn’t have to wear my boots in the heat of the summer days. Once back at his mom’s house, I took a bath in water from the previous winter’s snow. After my bath, I put on my new-from-the-free-box linen pants. The man gave me a clean shirt—a bright tie dyed t-shirt he’d bought from folks selling such shirts to finance their journey.
The man and his mother shared their dinner with me, although I could tell their resources were slim. When it was time to sleep, they showed me to a single bed in a small storage room. I slid into the blue sleeping bag the man had given me, and I felt a little bit safe.
The next day we went to the food bank, and I got to pick out canned goods and granola bars because I had no way to cook the dried beans and rice they were giving out to people with normal kitchens. Later we went to the river and the man swam while his mother and I just put our feet in to cool off. When we went back to their house, they shared their food again (this time a little fancier because of what the man had gotten at the food bank), and I spent another night in the storage room.
The whole time I was there, the mom tried to convert me to her Baha’i faith. She showed me a book which outlined the principles of the religion. I think she thought I’d been sent there for her to convert. I listened patiently and attentively, but I didn’t feel any sort of calling to the Bahi’a faith. As for as religions go, it seems like maybe it’s one of the better ones, but I understood an expectation that in order to live happily, all people will have to become Baha’i. I believe to live happily, people of each religion need to leave alone people of other religions. That probably means I wasn’t (and am still not) ready to be Baha’i.
When we woke up in the morning, the man and I went back to the tourist area so he could try to sell the jewelry and leather goods he made. I spent the day with him, but after the rest area attendant left for the day, I went back to the picnic pavilion that faced away from the road. When it got dark, I lay my sleeping bag on the concrete between the back bench and the stone wall and went to sleep.
In the next few weeks, I established a routine. I’d roll out my sleeping bag in the picnic pavilion when the sun went down. I’d wake up at the first light of dawn, gather my few belongings, and put on my shoes. Then I’d walk down the trail I’d found on the first day. The attendant was only responsible for the rest area and never went down the trail, and I never saw a ranger out there either. I’d walk out to the tree, spread out my sleeping bag again and sleep for another few hours or just hang out in the shade until I was pretty sure the man would be out selling his goods. Then I’d walk out to meet him and sit with him until he went home.
I wore the tie dyed shirt every day.
One morning I was under the tree in my sleeping bag. The sun was fully up, but I was cool in the shade of the tree. I had my glasses off and was lying on my side with the sleeping bag pushed to my waist. I heard a loud sort of buzzing behind me and thought it was some kind of large insect. I didn’t move or try to swat it; I just lay still. Then I felt something bump my back. It wasn’t a big bump, but I definitely felt something hit me. Then I heard the buzzing in front of me. I opened my eyes and saw a hummingbird for just a moment before it zoomed away.
The hummingbird had seen my bright tie-dyed shirt, thought I was a flower in the middle of the desert, and tried to sip some flower nectar. The hummingbird was probably just pissed off and hungry, but I thought my encounter with it was a blessing.