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Birthday behind the wheel

September 19/Day 64. My 65th birthday. It seems odd that I’m not spending it with my family, but also appropriate that I’ll be on the road. Thoughtful as always, before I left home Jane gave me a slice of my favorite cake—carrot—to freeze and save for today. I let it thaw overnight and eat it for breakfast.

I’m on the road early, soon crossing into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. A string of small towns—Luna, Reserve, Alma, Glenwood—line the highway as it parallels the Gila Wilderness, the first wilderness area declared by Congress a hundred years ago. This is “getaway” country, the kind of place you want to head for Armageddon, so remote is it from people’s consciousness.

Then comes Silver City, in my mind one of the last remaining true frontier towns, followed by Deming, then the destruction derby that is El Paso.  By now dusk is setting in and I’m ready for a break. I pull into a rest stop east of El Paso near Fabens, only four miles from Mexico. There are four or five 18-wheelers already parked here, their diesels rumbling at idle, comforting companions in the dark Chihuahua desert.

By the time I eat my dinner, however, they’re gone and I’m the only vehicle in the rest stop, feeling exposed and vulnerable within walking distance of the border in an area notorious for its drug violence. I lie on top of the covers, fully clothed, eyes wide open, but in spite of myself I’m soon asleep. When I wake up at dawn, the rest area is filled with the reassuring sound of idling trucks.

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