Whap! It was 3:00 A.M., and the alarm clock let me know without debate it was time to get up. I was leaving for a solo road trip through the great state of New Mexico that had been a year in the making. With thoughts of feral freedom, dry deserts, picturesque mountains, and the always lovely road trip food that I was likely to encounter I quickly threw on my clothes and ventured out the door. After rubbing my eyes a time or two I stuck the key in the ignition, and embarked into the dead of night on a journey I would not likely soon forget.
Heading west on Highway 380 I was fast on the way to my first stop, Roswell. Where would I sleep? What would I do when I got there? How long would I be in the car? All valid questions that would be answered very soon. Zooming through the town of Bridgeport, however, I would soon have more pressing issues. Red and blue glowing buzz kills were interrupting my ponderings in the form of a Bridgeport Police cruiser. This is the first clue I had that my perfect trip may not be so perfect after all.
One hefty speeding ticket later I was back on the road. Heading through such bustling metropoli as Graham, Bryson, Throckmorton, and Rule I persevered on my trek. With the occasional assistance of an Allsups, I arrived in Roswell seven hours later. Yes, THAT, Roswell. However, alas, I could not find aliens anywhere at the Days Inn where I was staying, and believe me I tried.
Upon waking up the next morning I arose with a rejuvenated sense of optimism. Careful planning with maps and travel guides had birthed a Day 2 itinerary that only the New Mexico Department of Tourism and Clark Griswold could appreciate. My first stop was the old town of Lincoln where the legendary Billy the Kid was sentenced and imprisoned. From there I visited the White Oaks ghost town, Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, and the beautiful snow white sand dunes of White Sands National Monument. From White Sands I headed west, negotiated my way through a Border Patrol stop, and pulled into the dusty desert town of Deming for the night. I went to sleep satisfied, sunburned, confident in my hollow planning abilities, and looking forward to another day of clockwork fun in the Land of Enchantment.
After cruising a menagerie of state parks the morning of Day 3 I was eagerly looking forward to searching for ghost towns near the Boot Heel of New Mexico. A couple of months before the trip I purchased a book that claimed to show the locations of ghost towns all over the state, and armed with this information I was positive I would be able to find them. After all I had bought a book, and clearly this made me an expert.
If I can offer one piece of advice to the young people of America it would be that 20 year old ghost town guides are utterly useless! The landmarks and street signs listed to find the towns were no longer in existence. I found myself driving aimlessly for miles on gravel roads deep in the desert until I came to a dead end, or threw up the white flag of surrender and simply gave up. The punishment endured by my poor Dodge Durango on these narrow unpaved roads was very troublesome considering I was in one of the most remote sections of the United States. Fully realizing I was in over my head I cut my losses, and accepted that I wouldn't be seeing any ghost towns on this day. Disappointed with a hint of adventure I pulled into my next stop, the aptly named Truth or Consequences.
My experience in Truth or Consequences began with checking into the local Super 8 Hotel. If you ever wondered what the '8' stands for in 'Super 8' I think I have an answer for you. Clearly it represents the poundage of the bug that was waiting to greet me as I was introduced to my room. Stunned and completely unaware of the local leash laws for such an animal, I knew I had to quickly dispose of my potential roommate even though he offered to pay half the bill. A brief insect-filled toilet flush later I was on my bed planning out my night in T or C, and the fateful day that was to come. Following a cultural experience at the local Denny's I was back at 'The 8' to call the curtain on another day.
This is the part of the story where I collide with The Apache Kid Wilderness. I thought I would meet The Wilderness like a tourist meets any other landmark. Perhaps with a little awe, a splash of appreciation, a picture or two, and without the slightest incident to cloud my day. However, as I was soon to find out, my introduction to The Wilderness would be more akin to a blind man meeting a powerful Jack Dempsey left hook square in the jaw. I wouldn't see this coming either
The Apache Kid was a bandit in the 1800's New Mexico Territory. The area he used as a hideout was very appropriately named The Apache Kid Wilderness. Due to its desolate population and remote location The Apache Kid Wilderness has been declared a true wilderness area by the government. Along with its isolation The Apache Kid Wilderness is also bedazzled with spectacular mountains, rolling green valleys, and majestic mesas. Some adventurers can even brave a several mile hike into the heart of The Wilderness to visit the grave of its namesake juxtaposed against a backdrop of spectacular rare beauty.
My infallible plan was to cut northwest through The Apache Kid Wilderness to visit El Morro National Monument. The plan seemed sensible enough at the time as it appeared to be quicker than taking the interstates, and would offer plenty of opportunities to stop and take pictures along the way. "Good idea, Erik," I confidently quipped to myself.
After waking up the next morning I loaded up my car, took one last glance at the mesas that guard the city of Truth or Consequences, and set out on my way. I took a northwesterly course after exiting from the interstate, and pierced The Apache Kid Wilderness for the first time. Pausing only to take the occasional picture, I was fast on my way to El Morro.
The further I ventured into the imposing grasp of The Wilderness I noticed that several sections of the road were drenched with water, after all it was New Mexico's rainy season. "No problem at all," I thought to myself, "at least the road is paved." That indeed was true, the road was paved...............until the state of New Mexico decided, for some ungodly reason, to not pave it anymore. "Seriously?! Why pave a road, and then just quit? That makes about as much sense as a rainy season in the desert!" Confident in my driving talents I thought I could still proceed down the long, narrow, winding, and now unpaved road if I was careful. "No problem," I boasted. Foolishly confident I continued to my original destination, sans-concrete of course.
The dictionary defines the word dilemma as a situation that requires a choice between two options that are equally unfavorable. A concept that would be certainly not be lost on me when I came to a section of road that was completely washed away by a deluge of New Mexico teardrops. Ankle-deep mud completely dominated the road for at least ten yards. Not exactly a flood of biblical proportions, but just enough to present me with a fateful decision to make. Should I turn around retracting my steps back to Truth or Consequences potentially setting me hours behind, or should I soldier on and possibly find a passable path through the muddy obstacle? Before I tell you what decision was made let me first say that the dictionary defines the word idiot as a person of subnormal intelligence.
As you've probably guessed I chose option #2, and attempted to drive through the mud on a section perceived to be dryer than the rest. Wow, was I wrong! So wrong, in fact, that after fifteen minutes of failed attempts to free my black, but ever-browning, Dodge Durango from the shackles of water and dirt I had to finally admit to myself that there was a greater than zero possibility that my car might be stuck..
My suspicions were confirmed when a county worker approached my window and asked, "Did you get stuck?" I thought, "No Captain Obvious, this is just a mobile home, and I'm just getting settled in for the Summer!" Needless to say sarcasm was a bullet best left out of this chamber as these mysterious county workers were my only hope to get out of this predicament.
I was told they could pull me out, but for legal reasons I had to attach the chain myself. Taking a second to process this new information I realized that this would require me to lay face first into ankle deep, wet, sticky, cold, and gooey mud to attach the chain. "Curse this litigious society we live in," I screamed on the inside.
I stepped out of my Durango like the big failing loser in some awful Roman chariot race, and began to walk to the back to hook up the chain. "Welcome to New Mexico," exclaimed County Worker #1 as I opened my door. "Great! I'm stranded in one of the most desolate areas on Earth, and I get stuck with a comedian!" As soon as my feet hit the mud I could feel it seeping in between each toe, creeping up my ankle, and swallowing my flip flops whole. I never saw them again. My flip flops became the second casualty on my trip after the overgrown bug back in my hotel room. Come to think of it I wish I hadn't sent my insect friend to insect heaven. Why waste such a physical specimen when he could have gotten out and pushed?
After singing a quick silent version of Amazing Grace for my deceased flip flops I knelt down, became one with the mud, and hooked the chain to the back of my Durango. I was now completely covered in mud from head to toe. Stepping back in my car I had turned into a muddy King Midas. Everything I touched, sat on, brushed up against, or looked at weird turned into mud. At this point even Pig Pen, of Peanuts fame, surely would consider my car an unacceptable pig sty.
Working in tandem, my new friends helped to pull me out of my muddy derailment. County Worker #1 patiently guided me on where to steer while County Worker #2 pulled me out with his truck. Feel free to insert a "light at the end of the tunnel" clich here.
Following a quick u-turn, and removal of the chain the worst seemed to be behind me. Of course that was until my brake light seared on, and I noticed my car not exactly stopping on a dime when slowing down. Knowing that functional brakes are generally useful when negotiating your way around winding mountain roads I knew I had a huge problem. I never thought I would miss the mud!
Assessing the situation I decided on a plan of action. I would drive back to Truth or Consequences, and locate a mechanic to repair my rapidly deteriorating brakes. T or C was over an hour's drive away. Knocking on wood and proceeding cautiously I actually made it back to Truth and Consequences. Stress and anxiety began to melt away from my body when I noticed a Wal-Mart sitting right off the interstate complete with its own mechanic shop. My ordeal had to be coming to an end right?
Wrong! Upon further inspection of this Wal-Mart I noticed that it wasn't scheduled to open until the following week, and a drive around town revealed no open shops anywhere in town. What was I to do? I'm in a foreign state by myself with a car that had minimally functioning brakes. If that wasn't bad enough I was still coated in mud from head to toe, and not wearing any shoes. "This would be hilarious if it was happening to anybody else," I kept telling myself. "If I can survive this I'm going to have a really good story!"
I had two options at this juncture. I could drive 200 miles north to Albuquerque, or I could drive 70 miles south to Las Cruces. I decided that driving 200 miles to Albuquerque with damaged brakes wouldn't be the smartest move I've ever made, so off to Las Cruces I went. My plan once I arrived in Las Cruces was to drive around aimlessly until I found an open shop. Seemed disgustingly simple enough, but nothing about today was sure to be that easy.
Following a quick respite in a parking lot to scrape off caked mud from my legs, arms, and head I was back on the road with a destination south to Las Cruces. Wobbling and creaking the entire way my "Little Durango That Could" limped into Las Cruces.
Translated from Spanish 'Las Cruces' means 'The Crosses' which was fittingly charming because with each creak and swerve of my car I prayed enough to make even The Pope question his dedication. Shortly after arriving in Las Cruces I struck a gold mine in the form of an open mechanic shop! The shop was cozy, and sat perched along the street as an aged relic bridge to the past in its modernizing surroundings.
Exiting my car to find a mechanic I must have been quite a sight. Surely with my shoeless muddy appearance he must have thought I resembled a cast extra from Hee Haw. After explaining my day to the mechanic, and why I needed his assistance I'm positive he thought I was a cast extra from Hee Haw. At this point I really didn't care.
Immediately upon diagnosing the problem Mr. Mechanic went to work like a skilled surgeon. He patched up my damaged brake line, and even removed some rocks that had been trapped underneath my car from my day of failed ghost town hunting. $200.00 later I was...........Could I be?.............Yes, I was free! Even I felt comfortable enough to insert a "light at the end of the tunnel" clich in this portion of the story.
Momentarily I had taken the day's events as a bad omen, and a sure sign that I should head home. Please note the emphasis on the word 'momentarily.' A quick time check revealed that it was only 4:00 which gave me plenty of time to reach my original destination, obviously bypassing the Apache Kid Wilderness. Even Clark Griswold knows when he's had enough.
Cranking up the radio I merged back onto the road from whence I came. To borrow a Yogi Berra line this truly was, "Dj vu all over again!" Little did I know that the vengeful state of New Mexico would leave me with one last kiss before my ever so relaxing trip would end.
A few miles north of Las Cruces I pulled into a Border Patrol checkpoint. Checkpoints of this kind are not uncommon in Southern New Mexico and having been through one already on this trip I believed this to be a mere formality. Slowing down as the cars in front of me did, it resembled vehicular cows waiting for the slaughter as they inched ahead only one mechanical bovine at a time. Even though I knew I had nothing to worry about I still felt a ripple of anxiety as I pulled up to visit with Officer Friendly, and
answer his series of questions. No doubt he would ask why I was traveling alone, and where I was traveling. I was ready for this test!
The closer my newly repaired car inched to the front of the line I noticed something odd. The Border Patrol Officer that was quizzing the cars was the exact same officer that questioned me outside Deming two days earlier, and sure enough he remembered. What are the odds of this? "Weren't you outside Deming two days ago," he asked. Ever suspicious he listened to my story about my car, why I was traveling alone, and why I was now near Las Cruces. Before I could even squeak out an answer I heard these words, "Do you mind if I search your car with a drug dog?"
Let's recap the day's events. After getting stuck in mud my charmed existence conjured up two nearby county workers, in a wilderness area, to pull me out. I cheated death after driving 70 miles with a damaged brake line. I even found a mechanic that fixed it cheaply despite my desperate helpless state. Now I was standing on the side of the road being questioned by three Border Patrol Officers while a drug dog rummaged through my Durango. Yes, New Mexico definitely needs to put this in their travel brochure!
Following a search of my car that turned up nothing stronger than Excedrin I was free to go. Finally liberated of any obstacles in my way I had a burst of freedom like a prisoner suddenly released from jail. With a little caked mud and a Chicken Little Complex I headed north, once again determined to make it to El Morro. If nothing else just to prove that I actually could. Into the sunset I drove, and the only thing I could think to do was call my friends and say, "Dude, have I got a story for you....."