I set off alone on an afternoon in April of 2016. I’d packed my clothes, two bicycles, camping gear, two boxes of ESL books, and a cooler full of food. I would spend a week driving the 1400 miles to northern New Mexico, where I would spend a month teaching English to Benedictine monks in the most remote monastery in the United States. I was almost 65 years old and departing on a great adventure.
Night one was in a funky motel in the Yakima Valley, where I ate my picnic dinner sitting on the bed. When it got dark, I found that the blind wouldn’t close, so I asked for a new room. Why hadn’t I found one of those chain motels? But it was quiet and my car was right outside where I could keep an eye on it. In the morning I ate my hard-boiled egg and banana and got surprisingly good coffee from the guest laundry room.
It was on to Boise that day, where our friends Ann and Ed lived. At a bathroom stop on the way, my phone jumped out of my hand and into the toilet. How could that have happened?! I fished it out immediately – I’d already flushed – and held it under the hand dryer. But a few miles down the road it conked out. Richard would have known what to do. The division of labor we’d fallen into over thirty-five years had left me feeling handicapped in certain areas. But I couldn’t call him.
In Boise Ed put my phone in a tub of rice. It revived over the two nights and day I was there, and by the time I left, it was up and running. That day I drove 450 miles past sagebrush, Salt Lake City, more sagebrush and over the mountains to Price, Utah. At a rest stop in northern Utah one of the few cars in the lot had a message painted in pink on the back window: “Cancer survivor road trip.” Hmm. I walked around a bit, and when I was back leaning on my car eating trail mix, a man about my age approached and started talking to me.
“Two bicycles, one person?” he started out. I told him the second bike was for when my husband joined me at the monastery at the end of the month. He told me about his cancer, where he was planning to go, who he was going to visit. I told him about my bout with cancer three years earlier. The same kind! He was a bit more roughed up from it, with a small crater in his neck, as opposed to my barely visible scar. At the end of our conversation, which lasted about five minutes, we hugged goodbye. I drove off, happily thinking how my husband and friends might think it unwise to hug a man I’d just met in a remote rest area.
In Price I got a room in a more comfortable motel this time and ate dinner and breakfast in the Mexican restaurant across the parking lot.