Way out in the wilds of Oregon, an overstuffed hatchback is laboring up the side of a tiny mountain at about eight o’clock in the morning. Though the recommended speed limit is a brisk 70 miles per hour, the wee beleaguered hatchback is huffing and puffing along at a sluggish 35, due to its general and aforementioned overstuffed-ness. Now (if you’ll humor me), let’s peek in the window of this particular hatchback and take a closer look at the driver: keeping his grumbles and complaints to a bare minimum, the driver (who, it’s worth mentioning, is a devilishly handsome fellow) stoically switches on the emergency blinkers and guides his vehicle gamely up the giddy steepness of the mountain slopes while, in the passenger seat beside him, the driver’s patient and long-suffering girlfriend encourages him with well-chosen words bursting with good-natured positivity. There’s a light drizzle pattering over the windshield, and everyone involved is suffering from a more-or-less dramatic lack of caffeine.
I mention this seemingly random scenario because it’s exactly the situation I found myself in a few days ago as I set off on yet another move to yet another state. As you probably guessed, I was the driver, and the hatchback was bulging with possessions packed for my move to Denver, Colorado. My girlfriend had recently accepted a place in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Denver, and so we’d planned to drive out to Colorado together at the beginning of July. The move had begun with general excitement the night before, as my girlfriend and I strapped miner’s lamps to our foreheads and stuffed suitcases into the car under the cover of darkness (I don’t know why we waited until nightfall to pack; it probably had something to due with my baffling tendency to forget about important things until the last minute). However, once we began driving and realized that the Physical Laws governing the Universe mandated that any moving vehicle hauling many, many pounds must slow down accordingly (especially when faced with generously lumpy foothills), the reality of our situation sunk in. We were in for a long, stressful day of driving, and we knew it.
Our plan was to leave Portland early and follow I-84 East out of the Gorge and into Idaho, and then finish our first day in Salt Lake City, where some friends had agreed to let us sleep on their couches. However, as the reality of our sluggishness set in, we realized that such an ambitious scheme (drawn up with oblivious calm at the dining room table) might have to be amended. We pushed the car as hard as we dared, pulling over to the right-hand lane and waving to the honking drivers whizzing past us. Slowly but surely, we made it out of Oregon, and the damp woodlands faded away into the golden, rustling hills of Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho. The blue sky sizzled above us, and plump cows bumbled about in vast enclosures dotting the hills, and I realized I’d never been to Idaho before. I mentioned this fact to my girlfriend (who, at that particular moment, was rather occupied with merging into perilously heavy traffic and understandably unable to fully appreciate the gravity of my statement) and then stared out the window for a while. Once again, I realized, I was flinging myself well beyond the borders of my known world, and I had no idea whether or not sinister monsters lurked on the frontier.
Late in the evening, just before the border of Utah, we stopped at the world’s smallest rest station to stretch our legs. I strolled out to the edge of the highway, put my hands in my pockets, and stared off into the rolling hills. The setting sun had burned the golden fields into a rusted red and, way out at the hazy horizon, a single truck labored down the road, struggling to outrun the dark hooves of a galloping rain cloud. I was alone at the edge of the highway, and the world was suddenly and irretrievably silent.