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  • Writer's picturecassie stern

april recap

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

WHAT WE'VE EXPERIENCED


In Big Bend National Park, our first itinerary stop, the truck gets her first feel off highway! I look at Sam, the thrill on his face to feel the rocks under our tires, desert bushes flying past us as we climb the sloping hills beneath the mountains. There’s a constant buzzing in the air surrounding us, the collective sound of bees and flies that can only be heard when the rest of the earth is quiet and still.


We hike 30 miles that first weekend. Hike in, camp, hike out, restock. Hike in, camp, hike out… We experience thunder and lightning at 7,000 feet, enjoying our first freeze dried camp meal sheltered from the rainstorm. It’s information overload as I try to take in every sight, smell, sound, feeling, the entire breadth of the experience so I can take it all with me.


In Big Bend State Park, we dunk our butts in the Rio Grande, the water not deep enough for a full submersion. Javelinas, wild piggy animals, bask on the shore of the river opposite us on a beach in Mexico 20 feet away. It’s peaceful, serene, the mountains rising up dramatically against the setting sun. We’re warned by a park ranger that the camp spot we booked will take 2 hours to drive to, on unpaved, rocky dirt roads. We scoff in the car, seeing the 20 miles distance on our GPS, then soon learn, “oh shit, she’s right,” and pull off at a fork in the road (not our campsite) to sleep for two nights. No one drives past us. No one cares that we didn’t heed the warning of the ranger in this desolate stretch of land.


We trek into the Guadalupe Mountains, on a trail long ignored by rangers and hikers alike. It’s more so bushwacking in the desert, avoiding thorny bushes and prickly cacti (see Lesson Learned #1 below). My will is tested after unsuccessfully avoiding a downed yucca and stabbing myself in the leg, blood soaking my pants despite the tiniest little wound it inflicted. But the painted sunset view washes away any ill feeling for the trail and we survive the hike out the next morning with no further injuries.


We descend into the depths of the earth at Carlsbad Caverns, traveling miles below the surface to witness the alien stalagtite and stalagmite formations. It’s dark, damp, and eerie, with openings leading even further into blackness, beyond what our eyes can grab ahold of.


We visit my childhood neighbors in Las Cruces who take us driving IN the dried up Rio Grande before heading to White Sands National Park, a playground of dunes, an otherworldly experience. The park is small in acreage, but what’s worth seeing is right below your feet, filling the space between your toes. The sky is the deepest blue against the colorless Earth here, with the puffiest clouds painted above.


We stop in Hatch, NM for chiles and the messiest burgers I’ve ever eaten. At Sharkey’s, everything is dotted with hatch, so a chile mango vanilla shake washes it all down. 10/10 recommend.


In Gila National Forest, we pass pastures of burnt trees, victims of forest fires on either side before finally descending into a thriving slot canyon, a small stream running through, lush green trees on either side. It’s a little oasis amongst the dry, desert forest. The hikes here are filled with river crossings up to our waists, the constant changing of shoes to avoid the wetness, then ultimately giving in and trudging through the sand and dirt with water logged sneakers. The water here is icy, the temperature cramping my feet each time they entered, transforming my supple limbs into blocks of paralyzed flesh.


We watch a professional bike race in Gila, the first day out of an open door of a brewery, the next on the side of the mountain, waiting for our dead batteries to recharge… they’ve died overnight and we’re forced to drive the camper out of the woods with the top popped. Not our brightest moment, but it’s all forgotten when the cyclists race by us, Sam blasting Metallica from our tiny speaker.


Texas and New Mexico welcome us with pomp and circumstance.




HOW IT ALL FEELS


April! Our first month on the road. Two weeks of preparation and time spent with family followed by a race across Texas, our first reservation in Big Bend National Park on the horizon. The days are packed tightly this month, with many mile markers across the Southwest portion of the country. There’s a rush to it all. A tumbling, an accumulation, an urgency to keep moving with the momentum. The excitement fueling our pace.


While driving away from our last pit stop, moving further and further away from home, there’s an unsettling feeling. Though we’re two weeks past New York, I’m just starting to digest the reality of our situation. Of where we’re headed. Of what we’re doing. The first two weeks were barely in focus, filled with the preparation, the planning, the troubleshooting, the goodbyes, the celebration… all in the spirit of this trip, but distractions for what is ahead. I existed in my previous reality: a roof, an indoor shower, a full sized fridge full of food, familiar faces, running water. We showered under a faucet just before departing, for the last time until when?


I’ve been getting calls from friends and family in these first few weeks. There doesn’t seem to be much to report on yet because it doesn’t feel like we’ve actually started. But we have. We left. We’re halfway across the country already, hundreds of miles away from the beginning, 14 days after we packed our lives away. For me, it feels like I just left New York yesterday. But for those back home, it’s the daily grind, each day passing just as the last, nothing to distinguish it apart. It's been a while since they said goodbye.


Every Monday, a “schedule social media” reminder pops up on my phone. It’s a weekly alert from my previous life when I ran the entire “marketing department” at my job, a department of one. Nowadays, it’s a reminder that on every first day of the work week, there is no work to do. I don’t have to report to my desk at 10am and sit until 6, staring out the window and longing to be on my feet. Our job these days is moving, whether by foot or by tire, covering miles and seeing spaces we’ve never laid our eyes on before. We remind each other often while on the trail that we’d be working right now if it weren’t for this trip, if we didn’t take the leap.


I’m constantly referring to my life back home. Thinking of what changes I hope to make when I “return”. It’s funny language. This is real life, my life, right now. Before leaving, I was asked countless times, “what are you gunna do when you’re done?” I question why we are even asking this. But I also feel the draw of it, to know what happens next on the other side. To plan for what I want to do and where to be. I’m feeling this desire to build something, create, make a space for people. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Redirecting my thoughts not to worry about the after just yet. Be here, now.


“I’m pinching myself,” I text my Dad, as if this life we’re living is just a story we’ve written. The days move fast. I hope it all starts to slow.




LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Every plant in the desert is trying to hurt you. Even dead yuccas stab deeply. There will be blood.

  2. Lighters don’t work at high altitudes. Bring matches.

  3. Make sure there’s enough water in the tank before you shower. If not, you’ll stand naked in the middle of the desert with soap in your eyes while Sam dumps water on you from a water bottle.

  4. Take down the hanging storage shelves before you drive on bumpy back country roads. If you don’t, you’ll rip the newly upholstered fabric you and your mom spent hours on, tear the straps from the shelves, and pull the faucet out of the countertop from all the banging.

  5. If the park ranger says that driving 20 miles will take you 2 hours, believe them. And maybe be a little scared.

  6. How to use a tourniquet. Thanks Lynne & Stu.



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2 comentarios


Pamela Stern
Pamela Stern
15 jul 2023

So happy you have the opportunity, the partner and the courage to take this voyage! LYLAFKLC

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Roger Blakiston
Roger Blakiston
09 jul 2023

Wonderful to read of your adventures before your arrival in Sedona. You are a great writer Cassie!

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IMG-9666_edited.jpg

hi,

thanks for reading

I hope you enjoy these thoughts & stories from our adventures!

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