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Speed Limit 75

November 12, 2013

in Other Travel

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Buying a car may be the best idea I’ve had in recent history. Not just because I haven’t owned a car in 15 years (since I left to join the Peace Corps). Not just for all the things it will allow me to do (from trail running to easily getting home after a party). Three days in, it’s already a fantastic idea because it has provided the opportunity for a road trip. I’ve never been to the American Southwest, and when I discovered for sale in Santa Fe a lightly-used version of the somewhat uncommon hybrid I had been seeking, it was an easy decision to buy it.

I fly to Albuquerque and buy my car from a woman named Rae. I like her, and I love the car: a 2002 Honda Insight (the first hybrid in the U.S. and only made for 6 years). 2-seater. Red. I pay for the car, sign all the paperwork, and drive off into the afternoon.

The factory stereo doesn’t have an audio jack, so I switch on the radio, and it plays the music of my childhood: Def Leppard, Journey, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, The Cars, The Police, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Idol, Genesis, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon. Rock & Roll. I confess I still know most of the words.

The first speed limit sign says 75. Is that right? I’ve clearly been in California too long–I didn’t know the speed limit could be over 70, but that’s what the sign in New Mexico says. Speed Limit 75? Yes!

The earth is wide open, expansive, which is just how I feel. A road trip embodies the freedom inherent in having a car: the ability to go anywhere, at any time. I drive through New Mexico not quite yet believing that this is my car, that it will be with me for years, that possibilities are expanding. A car is a piece of freedom, and I’m high on opportunity.

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Before the border of Arizona, I turn off the highway to visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Trees turned to stone are scattered chunks of black purple orange grey red. 225 million years of stillness. These trees have sat here undisturbed, give or take the occasional flood, for 225 MILLION years. You can feel the stillness of the place.

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I was recently told that New Mexico has no aura, and I asked, “What does that mean??” Sitting on a petrified tree, with the horizon glowing a thick line of pure lavender after sunset, the air clear enough to see 150 miles to the San Francisco Peaks (no kidding, the National Park Service says it’s some of the clearest air in the entire U.S.), pausing in the stillness, I was awash in indescribable beauty and unfathomable silence. No aura. I think I understand it now–an absence that doesn’t feel like absence, but simply like an easy quiet.

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The temperature drops and the land disappears into darkness, even as the sky reveals itself. In the blackness, I drive all the way to Sedona. An old and dear friend hooked me up with a place to stay for 3 days, which is such a blessing. (Thank you, Kyle!) I’ve been hiking and trail running and meandering along empty roads. Sedona is famous for its energetic vortices, but I find those hard to feel amidst the barrage of chattering tourists, so I quickly learn to escape to less travelled routes, where I pass only the occasional photographer or mountain biker. Each afternoon, as the sun inches lower, it shines its last rays across the flat earth, and the rocks catch fire. That’s something else I understand now through experience: the red rocks of Sedona. Wow.

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Today I’m off to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I look at my car parked beyond the patio, and I smile with ownership. A very un-Buddhist feeling, but there you have it. I’m a product of American culture, and there’s no denying this materialist pleasure: I’m happy because I own a car. Let me know if you need a ride…

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