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Since I’ve been back from my nearly two month journey, the most frequently asked question has been “what was the best part?”

Often, I would preface my answer with another question: the best part of which part? The tent camping, the seeing people, the being alone with my thoughts, the food, the sightseeing–to the extent that I actually went sightseeing, for that was never the intention of this journey.

Although I am able, when pressed, to point out one or another highlight, the more I thought about it, the clearer it became that the whole of it was the best part. The whole, here, is something other than the sum of its parts.

Here is a list of many parts from this journey which are no greater or less than any of the other parts. It was in the process of writing all of this down that I developed another layer of appreciation of the power of being fully present. I am as guilty as any other of losing sight of that quality, of judging, or measuring, comparing, to what-if-ing.

–Selma, Alabama, walking across the bridge, taking in the harsh history, being reminded of the redemptive power of hope.

–Driving for two and a half days across Texas in torrential, sideways rains. After my experience in April, when I hydroplaned and went down into a ditch (likely having hit a dead animal or some object on Highway 220 during the evening and heavy storms) I’ve been anxious about driving during those same conditions, even pulling off the road to wait out rains normally not problematic. I would have lost almost three days of driving had I waited for all the rains to pass, so I was able to get more comfortable driving through heavy rains again. Although I was not doing it at dark, it was pretty good post trauma work as I am now able to drive comfortably during reasonable amounts of heavy rain.

–Staying two night in a motel in Marathon, TX, instead of camping. Ongoing torrential rains. See above. Time to just stop moving, do some writing, communicate, walk around when it wasn’t raining. I got one great day in Big Bend National Park, and that was worth it.

–Big Bend National Park. I could’ve stayed a week and not properly seen it all, but I had a great day with perfect weather and a few nice photos out of the bunch.

–Carlsbad Caverns, wandering down the mile and a half path, slippery with bat guano, to the “Big Room” which is the size of 14 football fields. I’d been there about 15 years ago and wished to see it again. So I did.

–Alamogordo, New Mexico, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico Museum of Space History, crossing the wide open spaces, staying at the cleanest, comfiest motel sojourn over my entire two month adventure (White Sands Motel, the one with the old fashioned lit up sign out front). Good price, too, with a decent continental breakfast. I liked it so much that when I needed to make a huge detour to avoid highly inclement weather on the way back from Southeastern CA, I decided to go back through there so I could stop and rest at that motel.

–Las Cruces and Old Mesilla, New Mexico, with my beeline (chile line?) to Andele Restaurant for my much-missed taste of Hatch chile in a comfort food style stew, a stroll around the historic Mesilla Plaza, all served to add a bit of enchantment to my travels, in “Tierra del Encanto”.

–Camping and hiking in the Cochise Stronghold, Coronado National Forest, Southeast Arizona. This was, in fact, a true highlight. With no perceptible wind and no threat of rain, and a cozy sleeping bag for a 40s degrees night, I was able to enjoy sleeping under the stars in my mesh sided lightweight tent. I hope to return there again.

–Engaging with Humane Borders, Inc. and Joel Smith, operations manager. We were a good match: me, for my desire to understand more about the work they do, and to experience it firsthand, and he, desiring to share this story and this life with anyone showing a genuine interest and concern. It was a priceless experience and I share my experience both in writing (see Borders and Borderlines on this website) and with anyone seemingly remotely interested in hearing about it.

From here, I had to admit that I am more of a social butterfly than I would have people believe! Graciously hosted by the marvelous Michele, I was able to also have great visits with Sara, Susanna, Ken, Bob, and Janet, in and around the metro Phoenix area. Great conversation, food, sightseeing (who knew there is now a reason to walk around downtown Mesa?) over a several day period. I was able to spend a whole day with my dear friend Sharon, with Ken and John joining us for lunch. Sharon was one of the first people I’d met when I lived in Phoenix back in 1990, and we’ve remained friends ever since. We don’t see each other often, but when we do it is incredible how we just seem to pick up where we left off. Leaving from Phoenix, I drove the alternate way over the White Mountains region and had a lovely visit with Becky and her husband Scott. Again, conversation, great food prepared by Becky, a walk around a nearby lake, and a good night’s sleep, had me on my way to Northern New Mexico.

I stayed for a night with Teresa at her home in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque. It was a wonderful evening and morning of conversation and reflection. She has a wonderful traditional style home, and it was a pleasure to spend time with Teresa, and to just be there in that space.

Continuing north on I-25, I arrived in Santa Fe. I had been to both Santa Fe and Taos in the past, but was unaware that two friends from high school, who’d shared some great times with me over the years, were now living in these towns. Laurie lives in Santa Fe with her teenage daughter, and we had hours to catch up on our lives while I was there. We went out partying a few nights, the first just the two of us to hear her boyfriend, Tom, play in one of the bands he is in around the area. Tom is super, and it was a pleasure to meet him and hear him play in both a more modern music band as well as in a traditional jazz band a couple of nights later. Two of the three nights we went out, Alex, who lives in Taos, joined us. I hadn’t seen either of them in well over 15 years! It was fantastic to see them again. After four days in Santa Fe, Alex picked me up (we were worried about my Civic handling his off-roads, and in hindsight, for good reason) and we drove up to his home above Taos. Alex is a woodworker, and more than that, he can fix just about anything. He built his home on the side of the mountain, off-grid and fully solar. He gave me the royal tour of the area, a mix of scenic wonders and cool bars and restaurants. We spent time with his girlfriend, Janet, who is a sweetheart. Perhaps the best part of the visit, though, was the time we got to just talk about all kinds of things, sitting in his home, listening to music, getting deep into some topics. Those were some very special days, with Laurie and with Alex. Oh, lest I forget: Madrid, NM. A special highlight. J

–Rhyolite NV, Tecopa CA, China Ranch Badlands, Mojave Preserve, Nipton CA, these are some of my favorite spots in the United States, for disappearing off the grid (or nearly so) sometimes for days at a time. I had not planned to travel to California on this journey, but in speaking with Laurie in Santa Fe about the pull this region has on me, and her reminder that it was a lot closer to Santa Fe than Asheboro, North Carolina, I decided to make the 13 drive to spend a few days in the desert. I could and probably should write more about that, but suffice to say it was worth all the added hours behind the wheel to soak in the hot springs pool and wander the desert land. There was one day when the winds were so intense and relentless that I could not keep my little tent up and had to sleep in the car. All part of the experience.

–Norman, Oklahoma is the home of my new friend Laura and her family. Niece to my good friend Beth, she welcomed me on my eastward trek. In fact, Beth’s mom was visiting at the time, so it was fun to see her there and get to know Beth’s family a little better. Laura and her husband own a horse farm. She might be one of the hardest working people I know. After putting in a full day’s work in OKC, she give riding lessons on her farm, and then tends to all the tasks necessary before bedtime. She spends time with her young daughter, bathing and reading and putting to bed, then getting to bed before it’s time to start all over again. A dream comes with much hard work, but she loves what she does. I was also able to have a wonderful visit with my friend Vernice, who lives nearby. We’d only know each other virtually until this recent visit, so it was really special!

–Arkansas, where I was able to stop and pay a visit to the Clinton Center in Little Rock (worth one’s time!) is the home of two friends I’ve only known on Facebook until this trip. Jeanie invited me to her and her daughter’s home for a night, and we had a great day together. Her grandson is the best! The next morning we met up with Jeanie’s sister Margaret and we went out for breakfast together. I really like both of those ladies. At Margaret’s suggestion, I made a quick stop in Fayetteville and walked around the town center. I could see that there were strings of lights all over the trees, and when I saw photos shared by them later of the sight of them all lit up for Christmas, I wished I’d been there a little later in the season. Glorious! Arkansas is beautiful. I need more time there, next time.

–Tennessee was scheduled full. I visited the National Civil Rights museum in Memphis and was glad for the suggestion from my friend Debra R. back in North Carolina. Powerful record of events! I headed that evening to see Ricci and Leigh Ann. They have a beautiful home and made sure I felt quite comfortable. We went to Beale Street in Memphis one night, to make sure I’d get a taste of that classic Memphis scene. From there, I had a number of Tennessee stops: Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, where I was a cochlear implant research subject for a few days, and where I had dinner one evening with Jennifer, Diana, Dennis, and Emma. Such fun! Onward to Chattanooga, where I spent two nights with Ruth and Gary. Always gracious and ever helpful, I was able to bounce ideas off of them for my future planning once I returned home. I visited with Laurie and Steve in Maryville. As always, Laurie and I had some great conversations, and we went for a scenic drive near the Smoky Mountains one afternoon. As I prepared to leave town, I did one of those check-in posts on Facebook about getting my car oil changed. I got a message from Bill D. asking if we might meet for lunch. Such great timing! Bill, his partner Emalie, and I had a wonderful lunch together before I headed out of town.

I was able to enjoy a few more stops in North and South Carolina before heading back for the duration: hot springs in the mountains, an invite to stop by for a plate on Thanksgiving by Eric, a fun weekend in the Charleston area with Beth, Nancy, Steve, Alex, Savannah, and with Carol and Bruce. Then, it was back to the business of discovering what my next life chapter will look like.

It was all the best part.