I want to tell you what it was like to be at Mile Marker 37 on Highway 128 to Moab, Utah again.
of all, a little background. In August 2008, during a cross-country road trip from my old home in Alexandria, Virginia
to San Diego to start a new life, following the scenic route a friend had kindly mapped out
for me, I was on that same road toward Moab when I suddenly had to stop and pull over – onto a small patch of
faded black asphalt at the Mile Marker 37 sign – because I was so
overwhelmed by the immensity, vastness, openness, and alone-ness of
where I was, unlike anyplace I’d ever been before.
On that long-ago day, I got
out of my car and just jumped around for joy. No cars passed; I had the
place all to myself, for miles and miles in every direction.
also hit me in that moment that I was free – free from a nearly
10-year relationship that had been weighing me down and making me old,
free from a job that made me feel like a sellout (not that the company
itself is bad at all, but when you’re a former newspaper journalist and
you find yourself working on things like corporate press releases and
conference programs and ghost-written “articles” that are really
marketing pieces with a clear sales agenda – you mourn for your soul),
free from living in the same state that my ancestors had lived and died
in for hundreds of years… free from inertia, free from boringness.
on that day back in 2008 when I got to that spot, I pulled over and
ran into the empty road and jumped around. To me, in my memory and in
my self-mythology, it was a moment when I truly realized that I was
starting a new life, embarking on a crazy new adventure, doing
something gutsy and bold.
This time, I had checked out of
my room at a Ramada Inn in Glenwood Springs, Colorado (simply where I
happened to be when the sun went down) before dawn, hoping to catch a
sunrise over that dramatic landscape. It was an overcast morning, the
sun peeking in and out of clouds. I knew that I had to see my old spot
when the sun was shining – if I came upon it during a dim and gloomy
moment, I worried, it could color my perception of that long-ago
ebullient moment, and of the whole rest of my upcoming trip.
A few things happened on my way there.
was intermittent rain in the region, and a thick, faint rainbow shot
down out of the sky and onto the road I was driving on as I headed
toward Highway 128. No kidding.
As I neared 128, I
suddenly knew exactly what song I wanted to hear – Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Storm." It's the song that a friend of mine was listening to
in his truck while driving through Wyoming under a red sky to
start a new life himself, in Park City, Utah, having just broken up with his
girlfriend of five years. Sometimes my loved ones and I pass mythology –
and music – back and forth this way, layer upon layer.
music could not have been more perfect, or more perfectly timed, every
mile along the way. There’s the opening, a few tentative notes before
trumpets venture sounds of determined resignation; a slow build to a
beautiful crescendo; and then a triumphant section accompanied by a
marching beat that builds and builds even more, until it breaks – and
there’s this sweet section that sounds like… coming home. I can think of
no better way to explain that section.
I sped along the
wavy little hills of 128 – Mile Marker 40… Mile Marker 39… Mile Marker
38… – racing against the sun as it slid inexorably towards the nearby
And no kidding – just as the music hit that sweet section, *just*
as it hit… there I was, at Mile Marker 37. There was the green vertical
sign, bigger and closer to the road than I remembered, like a
welcome-home banner. There was no one else around. The sun shone pearly
and bright onto the scene – perfect, so perfect, could not have been
more perfect. I pulled over onto that asphalt patch and sat there, the
music playing, perfect – and I just started crying.
I can’t remember the last time I felt so much at once.
felt so full of joy at being back there again, so moved and gratified
that it felt just the same as it had that first time; overwhelmed
thinking about the hope I’d felt going out there, and all that happened
during that time and the despair I felt at going home, but how it had
turned out for the best – I have Jonathan now, after all – and how many
times I had longed to be back here, right here, in the six years that
So with my hand pressed to my heart, I looked
out onto this scene, more beautiful to me than any other, and cried.
Make-up ran in rivulets down my face. I felt a release I hadn’t felt in
I don’t know how long.
Finally the music came to a
natural stopping point, so I pressed “Pause” on my iPod, put the car in
park, took the key out of the ignition, and stepped out of the car.
wind felt soft and silky, different from the air back East. It was so
peaceful – no sound except the wind and a few distant birds. The light
I took some photos. And then I just stayed there
for a long time. I reveled in it; I tried to absorb the scene as much
as possible, to imprint it deeply in my memory. I looked around, and I
knew, in that moment at least – this was where I wanted my ashes
scattered, in this spot on the planet, on this silky wind.
really caring whether I looked crazy, I raised my arms up to the sky
and let the wind slip through my fingers. I imagined myself – years
from now, I hope – as ash blowing on this wind, in this wild place. My
hair and skirt blew around me and I thought of myself – all of me: my
mind; this weary body that is trying so hard and failing to produce a
baby; this resilient body that has had less-than-respectful things done
to it by some guys with shallow intentions – all turned to ash and
blowing in the wind here. I turned to the sun and felt the full force
of it on my face, on my skin.
Before I left, I felt
compelled to leave something of mine there. I happened to look into my
purse – and somehow, inside my zipped-open camera case, there was a
stray pre-natal multi-vitamin that must have escaped my notice after a
bottle of them spilled in my purse one time. I thought – last time I
came out here, I wanted to start a new life; this time, what I want
more than anything is to have a family. So I took the vitamin and
slipped it into one of the holes in the Mile Marker 37 aluminum post.
I’m not a superstitious person, I am metaphorically oriented in my
writerly way, and somehow I felt that I couldn’t leave without leaving
something of me there, in a way that wouldn’t disrupt the scene.
I’m on a different journey now.
was hard to leave. I stood there for a long time, thinking: “Right
now, I’m here in the present – as soon as I leave, this becomes the
I only left when the wind died down and
another car appeared at the end of the road, and I remembered – this
was never a final destination, but a stopping point along the way to