The Long Ride Home

Hello friends and family!

This is a bit overdue, but I thought I should write a final update about the tail end of my American sojourn. I had a few weeks in the magical corridor of eastern Utah that runs between Monument Valley and Moab. You’d recognize Monument Valley from Forrest Gump – if you pull off where the highway slopes down to the monuments you can watch tourists running in the middle of the road for Gump-inspired photo shoots. The skyline of monuments in the background is one of those classic American images: rocks shaped like fingers and mittens pointing in the air, rocks shaped like towers out of Lord of the Rings, and rocks shaped like massive industrial factories with smokestacks and silos. Though the park itself was closed due to Covid, the roads were still open and tourism appeared to be thriving. All along the roadside, Navajo salespeople sat in plywood shacks hawking silver and turquoise jewelry to the people who stopped to gawk at the monuments.

Monument Valley views

I headed to Canyonlands National Park next, which is located at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. It’s beautiful country: huge mesas, red dirt underfoot, juniper/pinyon forests, and tumbleweeds as big as a car blowing through my campsite. The south end of the park, the Needles area, features red-and-white-banded sandstone pinnacles that crowd together like a mouth full of broken teeth. I spent a few days hiking in and out of canyons, up and down ladders, past the pinnacles, along ragged Jeep trails – and ended each day resting my sore feet with a glass of whiskey in hand, watching the sun set behind a butte that looked like a deflated cowpie. I then moved onto the Island in the Sky area of the park, a grassy meadow that sits atop a plateau 1,300 feet above the rivers. Watching the sun set over the Green River one night, I could see the miniscule headlights of a Jeep making its way along the 100-mile White Rim Road, which snakes along the edges of the river valleys far below. That’s going on my bucket list, for sure, once I figure out how to jack this van up and turn it into an off-roading vehicle.

Views of the Canyonlands Needles district

I had visions of Moab as a real radical, funky and far-out place. And it is certainly home to lots of climbers and dirtbags, but I had no idea it’s also an ATV/off-road/Jeep motorsports mecca – a playground for people I’ll charitably describe as “Monster energy drink in human form.” They pay $300/night for a Moab hotel, then spend their entire vacation revving the engines of their $25,000 Polaris side-by-sides up and down Main Street. The main drag is populated entirely by t-shirt stores, overpriced coffee shops, and stores selling made-in-China “authentic Navajo” artifacts (I will except Back of Beyond books from my snark, as they’re the best bookstore in the southwest). The Navajo deity Kokopelli, whose hunched-over, flute-playing form you’d easily recognize, is plastered on all manner of trinkets, from tea towel to dinner plate to door mat. The commodified Indigenous culture and ever-present ATV noise pollution makes the whole town feel a bit like a southwest-themed amusement park. I suppose I should be thankful that most of those tourists were driving their expensive toys in circles all weekend instead of visiting the parks. Arches National Park is located just ten minutes outside Moab and gets really busy, but I still managed to see all the greatest hits: Landscape Arch, one of the longest arches in the world; Double O Arch, which features two arches stacked atop one another; and Delicate Arch, the crown jewel of the entire park. If you’ve driven through Utah, you’ve seen it on the license plates.

Then came the long ride home: the endless interstate highways, the monotonous flatlands, the unvarying sameness of Nebraska and Iowa. From Moab I headed across the mountains of Colorado through a snowstorm at 11,000 feet, driving head-on into the storm until the drifting snow looked like the long slats of light visible through Han Solo’s windshield when he goes into hyperdrive. I was nearly tempted to stop and ski, but I had 25 hours of driving to do. Every night I slept at some desolate rest stop that stank of cow manure, my body sore from sitting. On the interstate stretches through the plains there weren’t even any roadside attractions; I’d been hoping to stop off every hour or so at the World’s Largest Corncob and other such wonders, but all I found were truck stops. Granted, the truck stops are a marvel unto themselves, containing multitudes: restaurant, food court, truck supply outlet, gas station, trucking museum, dentist, chiropractor, gift shop, truck wash, pet hotel, barber, church and arcade. Truckers in America live in a world entirely parallel to ours, one that runs thousands of miles in a straight line so they never really have to veer off the highway. I joined that world for a week, traversing a joyless line between point A and point B, stopping only for energy drinks and bathrooms.

Lounging in my nice, clean van

Since crossing the border, I’ve completed my 14-day quarantine at the Mutton household with strict obedience, and used that time to do a good deep clean of the van – it’s incredible how much dust and dirt accumulates over nine months of gravel roads and desert winds. I replaced some of my plumbing and threw every cushion and curtain into the washer to get rid of the vague sautéed-onion scent of the van. I gave into my baser instincts and strung up some fairy lights around my bed, rendering the van’s look a bit more #vanlife-y (I’m still working on finding a subservient boyfriend who can take hot influencer photos of me, though). I even washed the floors! Now that I’ve cleared out Eric’s possessions, it feels like I have significantly more room. My living situation is quite decadent; the van feels nearly as large as any shoebox condominium in Toronto. I’m just really looking forward to getting out of the city and travelling around Ontario. I’d hoped that by the time I got back to Ontario the pandemic would be over, but that obviously hasn’t happened. Instead, it’s the perfect time to run to the woods and wait it all out.

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