by Revan Filiaexdeus
The First Road is an ongoing work about my experiences hitch hiking throughout the American West.
The Kessel Run In Less Than Twelve Parsecs
"Never tell me the odds!" - Han Solo
Sun Valley, Idaho
I think that "fuck it" can be a spiritual principle.
In years prior to this adventure, I have often asked “Why not?” either to myself or others when faced with a simple to do or to not do choice. Others ask “Why?” and well I certainly have my fair share of direct inquisitions into my surroundings I find myself more often asking the question “Why not?” it's the other side of fuck it to me. There is a book somewhere that describes these grand spiritual principles; highly recommended. Basically, if there is no valid reason not to do something I usually choose to do it it's all boundaries are broken or rather revealed that they don't really exist in the first place.
I've been meditating since about 9 a.m. and Rubens upper room while he and his compatriots pack of the day. I felt that I actually ever stayed my welcome. Guess 10 to smell like fish after a few days size 20 and I was done with this. I had an appetite for adventure. Like throwing ring into a volcano adventure. A stepping through a magic closet adventure. The voice that said fuck it was my own in response to God's most recent recent offer of adventure.
How do you like to make it to Salt Lake City tonight, Rev?
I chuckle. “That’d be brilliant.”
“So am I.”
I wait for some bellicose laugh from the Divine but none comes and so I realize how serious God is. I breath deep, His name on my lips as I inhale and exhale ... yahhh ... wehhh...
“You are serious.”
“Bastard. You got me right in the gut. Let's do it. It's 600 miles away. Can we do that today? How long is a day here? Why do I get the feeling this isn't just for my sake?”
It's not. Like most things we do here it's for other people - and then for you and me. Let's show these people in Idaho that they can be Fishers of Men for real. Let’s show them a miracle.
God hasn't let me wrong so far, and I don't think he's going to start.
A moment's thought. It's going to happen, I think. It’s really truly going to happen.
That's why I find myself hiking, once more, down a little country road in Sun Valley, Idaho. The conversation above took place not 2 minutes ago; already the morning sunshine was beating down from above, but I have never felt stronger or more motivated.
Before I'd told Reuben - a rubbertramp also headed to Salt Lake - that I would beat him to SLC.
“I'll let you know that I'm in tonight or tomorrow morning,” I said.
“It’s six hundred miles away. That will take several days at least,” he'd drawled.
Never tell me the odds.
It wasn't long before I got my first ride. Like most of the rides on the road this far, I wasn't thumbing. I was just hiking. The key to successful hitchhiking in the country is simply putting one foot in front of the other; sooner or later someone will see your hard work and respond in kind with a good work on their own. You get to where you're going, they receive a blessing, good karma, maybe a little good conversation. Everybody wins.
A beautiful red Chevrolet at least twenty years old pulls over. A man gets out of the cab and puts down the bed. He is the archetypal image of a farmer: deep wrinkles, tanned skin, a wholesome and earthy spirit.
“I can take you a ways up the road,” he says. He doesn't ask where I'm going and I'm okay with that.
“Thank you sir,” I say, and hop in the back.
Cool morning wind whips my face as golden fields race by. He takes me much further than I expected, for which I am infinitely grateful, and drops me off at the gas station. We leave each other, I to restrap my pack to myself, he towards Sun Valley.
I hike.. And I hike, and I hike, and I hike. I settle into the familiar monotony of side-of-the-road hiking. In times like these, a strange sort of anxiety sets in. ‘What if I missed that vital ride by accepting this one?’, I think. Things like that. It's a philosophical struggle with myself over opportunity cost, but that's the thing about metaphysical economics: you've got to trust the Guiding and Invisible Hand of Central Planning. I can feel both Karl Marx and Adam Smith rolling over in their graves right now. So trust I do as the golden fields roll by, one step at a time. I drink water in careful draughts and really would like a cigarette right about now.
Sun Valley was nice, as far as the place goes. I don’t know why miles of sagebrush is beautiful, but it is. The people seem very content to be there. It is home to multiple generations.
I do not really know how far I hike. I've gone for several hours, and have stopped only a couple of times, but the weight of my new equipment - pristine though it may be - bears down on me. I'm still getting used to this new pack.
After too many of these little country roads, I step onto the main highway.
Somewhere on Highway 75, Idaho
The main highway is neither better nor worse. I've learned this lesson enough times to reinforce it permanently my mind. Many of my hitchhiking brethren and sisteren argue the merits of back roads over high roads or high roads over back roads. I find they each offer distinct advantages and disadvantages. There are a wide variety of people to be found on the high road, any number of which may or may not feel inclined to become a traveling companion. People with a specific religious duty, young people traveling alone, and fellow travelers both retired from and actively on the road are the most common rides.
Though there always notable exceptions. You have a chance of hitching rides with truckers and other long distance travels. On back roads, there are fewer people but they are often more willing to take you short or medium distances. It's a much quieter vista. When I want to find a long hitch or traveling partner, I hit the high road; for a closer-to-home amble, I take the backroads. There's the added benefit that it's not illegal to hitch back roads. Most states frown upon interstate hitching. Though, most will turn a blind eye as long as you're not a troublemaker.
It's beating into early afternoon as I hike along the highway of Idaho. While I don’t yet see SLC-bound signs, I know I'm headed the right direction. Southern Idaho, it turns out, it's nothing like Central or Northern Idaho. The Idaho of Sun Valley or Pocatello is what most city folks would think of as Idaho: long stretches of empty plains dominated by monocrop agriculture (monoculture) to be broken only by an occasional small town or farmhouse. Even Boise, the largest city in Southern Idaho, it's little more than a large town. It's downtown area area can be traversed in just a few minutes. As I hike south, it only gets more monotonous. Even on this multi-lane highway, travelers are few. The sun was high overhead, its rays scorching my already Idaho tanned skin.
A modest sedan pulls just a few feet in front of me. I don't even know where he's headed but my immediate thought is that he's going my direction and has air conditioning. I jog up to see a college age young man, older than I by only a few years.
“Hey, where are you headed?” he asks.
“Salt Lake City,” I say.
“I'm headed that direction, though not all the way. I could take you up as far as my exit.” I hop in and we start cruising down the road.
“Where are you from?” he asks. “My name is Brad.”
“I’m Revan. Nice to meet you. Thank you so much for the ride.”
“Not a problem.”
“I've been traveling around since June. I'm coming from Sun Valley, if you know where that is.” He shook his head no.
“Man, that's cool. I'm traveling from X town to Y town.”
I thought he was done so I accidentally interrupt him: “You’re a rubber tramp?” I asked.
“Nah, haha,” he says. “I live in X and mom lives in Y. I go to see her every weekend and then drive back on Sundays.”
That makes me think. Really think. I am more grateful than ever that I spoke to my mom recently. I know it did her a world of good. Though he does not know it, this moment inspires me to stay in touch with my blood family more. Even if I don't always want to. The Spirit prods me very gently, but just enough to the remember Number Nine: honor your father and your mother.
“You must really love her,” I say. Brad looks at me from the side without taking his eyes off the road.
“She's all I've got,” he says. “Do your folks know where you are?”
I flash to that moment in Into the Wild where Jan Burres asks the same thing of Chris McCandless. It's in this moment that I choose to be different from him, radically different. He abandon his family and causes them an immense amount of pain by keeping his plans a secret. It is Chris's great failure that he condemns the world its violence and the method by which he chose to separate yourself from the world was extremely emotionally violent. Is Chris a hypocrite? In some ways, yes. Though he is an idealist of the highest caliber, he failed to grasp the highest ideal of all: that one cannot simply condemn an action without practicing an alternative. That alternative must be a true alternative. Violence - be it physical, verbal, emotional - cannot be fixed with more violence.
But it's the nature of idealists to learn from one another, in both contemporary and historical senses. I choose, here, to learn and Spirit speak strongly with a force and an energy that I had not recently seen.
People are not the world. The world is not people.
It doesn't make sense it first.
“People compose the world,” I start to say.
Spirit corrects me: people's choices make up with this world. Choose differently and the world changes.
I might have known it before but I really know it, right now. This is, essentially, Zion: a society that is in this world but not of it. An interaction of people who makes choices radically different from those of worldly people. Chris wanted to change people, but that can't be done by human effort alone; we have natures, a nature common to us all and an expression of that nature that is individual and unique. That is what makes up our humanity. But our choices can be changed, and therein lies the crux of the matter: why do worldly people make the choices that they do? Why do Zionites make the choices we do?
The simple presence of God is enough for an answer.
Love is God and God is truth. Love is true. Know the truth will set you free. That is the difference: Zion is free. The world is not. Show somebody Love and they are free. As long as they stay true to that Love, they are in God's hands, and He is the only Person that can truly change someone. The words “Come out of her, My people” are never clearer.
God makes it to rain and shine on the righteous and unrighteous alike. Had Chris understood this perhaps it would have been different. Who knows. I'm not saying going to Alaska was wrong. But running from people was. Right now, in Idaho, I've got a whole lot of sun - more than I can handle - and I choose to bask in it while I have it. Now it comes full circle.
“Yeah, they do,” I finally say to Brad. Only like five seconds elapsed between Brad's question and my answer - if that. It takes a lot of words to convey what the Spirit gives in a single moment of revelation.
“Kinda,” I continue. “They know I travel and what state I’m usually in but never exactly where, because I move around so much.”
“Where are they?”
“Florida. I'm originally from Florida. Like I said, I've been out since June.” Like it's a prison, or something.
“Do you talk?” There's something about the way Brad asks questions. They were sincere and real. Simple, unobtrusive. More than curiosity. Genuine concern sans worry.
“Yeah, we talk,” I say. And that's that. I can feel Spirit and Brad, and as I do, Spirit quietly speaks with a loving smile that says, Yeah I did that for you. Now you know.
We talk about other things as he drives and I sit. He offers me a Camel Blue, and we smoke. I tell him the states have been too, my recent adventures in Sun Valley, how I met Luke and our crazy road trips to Alabama and Denver. He's mostly interested in listening, so I learn only a little bit about him. His mom lives alone and so does he.
He is super excited when I mention why, precisely, I travel.
“I want to live a different way. I'm networking,” I say, “all across the nation with other travelers and locals. We just really want to eat good wholesome food, live peaceful lives and love each other.”
“How do you get by?” he asks.
“I trade labor for goods. Most of us do. I don't really have money, because I don't need it. Money is just the value of time and labor. I cut out the middleman and give my time and labor to directly to someone who has something I need or want. Or if I have something we both want, we barter. As long as both parties are happy, why not?”
He nods his head in the cool boy be-bop hippie beatnik ‘yeah man I dig what you’re saying’ kind of way.
“Yeah, man, I dig what you’re saying”, he says.
“It's my passion. The reason I travel. I learned to live this way back in Florida and I want to spread it all over the United States. And I’m not the only one! I'm just one link in a long chain.”
We stopped at a travel center, one of those combination fast food restaurant convenience store gas stations. It's the only thing all here on this stretch of highway in either direction. I start to unload my bag.
“You want something to eat, bud?” he asks.
I smile. “I'm more than happy to trade you for it.” And it's true. I don't like accepting charity. I always do my best to give back to the people who give me rides whether it’s something to trade, some wisdom, a blessing, or just company. Brad smiles back.
“Fruit. Not nearly as much as I had when I started, but I have a whole bunch of homegrown organic pears that Reuben and I liberated. I'll give you the rest of them if you like.”
“You don't have to do that.”
“I know. But I choose to.” Gautama Buddha wisely said the cause of human suffering is desire. Love of money is the root of all evil, says the Apostle Paul. Those are essentially identical ideas. What does man believe money cannot buy?
We headed in the store and sit down to eat. The Hardee's melt is the greasiest, most delicious, fulfilling thing I've ever eaten in my entire life. He also insists on buying me one of those cookies with the giant chunks of chocolate - for later he says.
We finish eating, but we’re not done yet.
“I need some beer for the house. You want one?” he asks. I ask for nothing, but he won't stop giving. This man has a heart of God.
“I won’t say no.” He grabbed an extra tall 24 ounce beer from the cooler and tells me not to wait in line with them just in case, given that I am underage. I meet him back at his car and he motions for me to climb in the front seat.
“You think this is worth a handful of natural hand-picked pears?” he asks, and hands me an ice cold beer, the large cookie, a pack of Camel Blues. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he adds, and reaches into his center console to pull out a prescription bottle full of percocet tens. Out of the bottle and into my hand go six.
“Good Lord, this is more than worth it,” I say. “Thank you so much, Brad. God bless you.”
“You as well, brother.” I really feel it when he calls me brother.
I load everything into my backpack and place the rest of my pears, about a half dozen in all, into his back seat. Some would balk at this trade, but Brad and I were both satisfied, so who cares? That’s the beautiful thing about Zionic economics. Nothing has a set value; value is decided on the fly according to use.
As I watch Brad drive away, I pray for him.
“There goes a man of God,” I think, and the Spirit tells me that he really is blessed for what he does. Blessing is not in things, but in people. A man that does not call himself a Christian is more Christian than most Christians.
I walk a few miles down the road heading south. The afternoon sun beats down on me. It must be three or four o’clock and it is still hot. The wear and tear of my quick pace of hiking eventually gets to me and I stop underneath the cool shade of an overpass. I take out my bottle of ibuprofen and take a thousand milligrams to soothe the aching in my joints. I think, “Why not?” and pop back a percocet with the ibuprofen and plenty of water.
“This is as good a place as any to thumb a ride,” I think, and so I crack open my ice cold beer, pop back another percocet and smoke a Camel Blue as I sit in the cool shade.
Somewhere on Highway 84 Idaho
I'm going to have to disappoint you, dear reader. I'm sorry. There's no more transcendentalism, no more goodness from the hearts of men, no more illustrious tales of what it means to be human - at least for now. More of that comes later, but for now I'm going to have to tell a story. It's going to be true to life and not necessarily what you want to hear. This is a bad story.
I take a drink of my beer beneath the shade of the overpass. I spend probably 15 minutes there, smoking and thumbing, drinking only when there's not a potential ride headed my direction. Patient is not exactly the right word to describe my state of being. Eager is more like it. So I decide to hike, beer in hand, hell or high water.
Life is funny this way. It has a tendency of taking you where you don't want to go but know in your heart it's where you want to. I barely hike out in the sun before this little red coupe stops ahead of me. ‘It's party time,’ I think, and James Brown's quintessential I Feel Good begins to play through my mind as I walk up to the car.
“Hey man! Thanks for the ride. I'm headed for Salt Lake City,” I say. He shakes my hand and we hit the road.
“What's your name?” I asked. “I'm Revan.”
“I can take you up as far as the Salt Lake exit, but I'm headed the other direction,” he slurs. He doesn't have a speech impediment. Shit. He's been drinking whiskey. Sure as snails, I smell it on his breath a few seconds later.
He swerves a little to the right as he offers me a plastic soda bottle full of fire water.
“You want some?”
“I've got my own, thanks,” reminding him of my beer. I take a sip. Few minutes later, he offers me some more and I take a swig anyway.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. There's no way I can get it this far just to die in a car crash with some alcoholic who is either kind or drunk enough to pick me up.
"God, don't let me die now," I mutter to myself.
Chill out, Rev, I got you. What Spirit says is almost comical, but I grip my seat nonetheless and invoke Psalm 91. You won’t die.
I also really don't want to be horribly mangled.
This is really killing my buzz. Don't get me wrong, I’m still high. But any thought I had about relaxing is now gone. Why didn’t I just ask to be let out? I don't exactly know know. It seems like forever passes between that bridge and the y-intersection.
Finally, it comes up, I get out and he swerves on his way to Pocatello.
“God protect that man,” I say out loud.
Fuck. I need a cigarette. I sit on my pack, drink, and smoke. I never learned his name.
Highway 84 by Snake River, Idaho
What the fuck was that, God?!
Did I yell or think that? Probably both.
At least I'm alive and unmangled. It cannot possibly get any worse. Only up from here. Upwards and onwards then.
The y-intersection on the main highway near the border has two possible routes: one going to Pocatello, the other to Salt Lake. I’m not keen on either walking the loop de loop or the steep incline down to the road in this condition. Don’t get me wrong - I'm not drunk, I’m mostly just rattled. So I sit on my backpack and wait for a ride.
I down the rest of my beer and light another cigarette. I tell myself I chugged the beer to get rid of it for anyone that might pick me up. I don't even pretend to lie to myself about wanting another cigarette. I'm not scared or worried. Mostly just concerned for Mr. Whisky’s sake.
A long while passes. I stub out a few more cigarettes. The road invites me to cease smoking and start walking. But it was terribly hot and what else was there to do at the side of an empty - a truly empty - Idaho interstate? So I sit and think, smoke and enjoy my state of being. Even this desolate Idaho mono-expanse has a certain loveliness about it. There’s the six different shades of yellow that Van Gogh noticed and it just keeps going to the horizon.
Damn, I told you I wouldn’t get transcendental. I did my best, but it's in my blood, I suppose. Along with a lot of nicotine, alcohol and oxycodone.
Every few minutes a car will pass this way, but they're always going to Pocatello. Always. I chuckle; I know a girl in Pocatello who is a model. Met her through the grapevine, a friend of a friend type of deal. Maybe this is God's way of telling me to go there instead of SLC - but Spirit says no.
After what seems like forever, a pickup truck with one of those snap-on bed covers stops and a grizzly man pops out. A dog is panting in the back.
“Name is Jim. You traveling?” As if it is not obvious. His voice is a gritty as he is. He has the distinct makeup of a biker type: plenty of five o’clock shadow, vague aura of aimlessness, layer of grime on skin comparable to my own. I don't sense any ill intent from him. What's more is that, unlike Mr. Whiskey and I, he's sober. That much is good.
“Me too.” He says. “Help me with this stuff in the back and we’ll be on our way.” I do. His covered bed is filled of the essentials of life. I barely squeeze my backpack into the back and hop into the cab.
“You a rubber tramp?” I ask.
“A traveler, but with wheels,” I explain. “I'm a leather tramp because all I have are my two feet, whereas you’ve got four wheels”
“Yeah, I suppose. Been traveling a while. To tell you the truth, I don't usually pick up hitchhikers, but you remind me of my son. He does what you do.”
“I appreciate the ride, I say,” and I mean it. God is good. I'm going to make it to Salt Lake in one day.
I look around the cab of the truck. There’s a picture of Jesus on the dash. A a POW-MIA sticker on the roof. Some Vietnam-esque paraphernalia scattered about. Strikes me as one of those characters who still thinks the war is going on.
“You're a veteran,” I say. It is not a question.
“Yep,” he says. And it's all he says. I’m not about to press the issue with him; I learned that well enough back in Daytona with Mike.
We chat about other, happier things. Kind of. I learn his wife had divorced him. He was once an alcoholic but is not anymore. I share some of my recent exploits, but mostly we spend our time in silence. I'm just happy to be on the road and putting miles behind me. I gaze out the window to the flat Idaho skyline.
After a while, he says, “I’ve got a headache. We're going to stop up here just a minute. You can stay in the truck.” I say okay, we pull off at a rest stop and I think we're going to chill out for a while. Instead, he hops out. A few minutes later he returns with a packet of Tylenol.
“I can't take them any other way than this,” Jim says. I don't know what he means until he pulls out a small mirror and a straw. I watch him carefully crush two pills and suck them up into his nose. He yelps somewhat like a dog and grabs the wheel, shaking his head to and fro. And with that, we start to pull back out onto the highway.
“I hope you don’t think I’m crazy.” Jim glances at me from the side with a sort of wild eyed look. I could not make this up if I tried.
“Nope,” I say, but I genuinely am not sure. Sure, I've done stranger things. I’ve put caffeine up my nose. And a Goody or BC powder is basically just freebase tylenol and caffeine. What’s the difference between putting it up your nose and parachuting it?
We spend a long time in silence. Deadpan silence. The kind of silence so thick and loud you could cut it with a butter knife and put it on toast or use it to make an excellent roux with a little flour for a gumbo. It’s like the aural version of Florida’s humidity.
“YES SIR I LOVE OUR LORD JESUS, WOO-HOO!” he offers out of nowhere. His voice is loud and cracks a little. God, I hope that was just Tylenol. I look at him. There’s that same wiry look in his eyes.
“Me too. I'm Christian,” I respond. Best not to draw doctrinal lines with this guy. I try to change the subject. “When do we cross the border into Utah?” Things are starting to get uncomfortable.
“We are in Utah,” he says. I haven't noticed, but it's true. Northern Utah and Southern Idaho might as well be its own separate monotonous state. The subject does not stay changed for long.
“Yep, I was a lying, whoring, alcoholic, thieving, sinning son of a bitch before I came to know the Lord. Do you know the Lord?”
“Yes, I do, I -” he cuts me off before I can say anything else.
“The Lord is the most important thing in a man's life!” he yells, and beats the steering wheel. The dog yelps in the back.
“Shut up!” Help. I look at it. Jesus f***, that couldn’t have been just Tylenol. But it had to be! I watched the whole thing in front of me. There was nothing else on that mirror. That being said, though anyone that just casually has a mirror and razor blade doesn't reserve it for just over-the-counter painkillers.
What have I got myself into? This sobered me right up. There's something about a possibly crazy and shell-shocked the Vietnam war veteran that does that. He’s continuing to ramble this whole time and I just let him. I give him the true benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's not crazy. Or shell shocked. Maybe he really is just super excited about Jesus.
So I decide to talk to him.
You can already see where this is going. It ends up being a mistake.
“Jesus really is great,” I say. He nods and furtive agreement and asked if I've been saved.
“I've been a Christian my whole life, but really embraced the faith through a powerful experience the 7th grade.” I don't mention my conversion to the Restored Gospel. I decide on neutral topic of conversation. “What's your favorite part of the Bible?”
His answer was completely indirect. I don’t even know if he comprehends what I asked. He keeps ranting, beating the dash and tapping that portrait of Jesus over and over again.
Tap tap tap.
“All you gotta do is submit to Jesus,” Jim says.
“I like to think of Jesus as my brother,” I say. “He's the brother of all who are faithful. He himself says it in the Gospels.”
As soon as I say it, I can see the gears clogging in his mind. Someone has finally broken his paradigm and he's struggling to resolve the current cognitive dissonance, the kind of dissonance that results from a personal opinion being challenged by objective truth.
“The Bible says that he is God...” his voice trails off.
“He is God,” I reply. “But that doesn't change the fact that he is our brother and that we can do the things that he does. Christianity in it’s real form is submitting to God by following in the steps taken by Christ. He is the perfect example. That example is meant to be followed.”
“But he's God, we can't do the things he did...”
“John chapter 17. Jesus says we can be one with the Father even as He is one with Him.”
No reply. Deadpan silence.
I look to the left and see the previously ranting driver staring straight ahead with a white muscle grip on the wheel. He mutters something.
“You insulted my Jesus.”
You mean your conception of Jesus, I think to myself but I don’t dare to say that. I didn’t mean to make the guy feel insulted.
Honestly. I was just quoting the Bible, but since when can you count on Christians to know what Jesus really said and taught? Rather than candidly share my thoughts, I say, “No, I, I didn't, I was just quoting the Bible. John 17. You can read it yourself. I'm saying the words of Jesus.”
“No, no, no, no! NO! NO!!” He yells. Shit. Fuck. Damn. Hell. I'm in trouble. “You insulted my Jesus! Take it back!”
“It's in the Bible -,” I repeat, but my pleadings fall on deaf ears. He slams on the brakes and locks down, veering off to the right shoulder and we come to a dead stop at the side of a very empty two lane highway in Middle-of-Nowhere, Utah. We went from seventy to zero in about six seconds. He decelerated faster than some sports cars accelerate. He gets out of the truck and I hear the back hatch open, the dog wailing loudly.
I jumped out. “Look, man, I don't want any trouble.”
“You insulted my Jesus!” He yells at the top of his lungs.
There is no reasoning with this man.
“Take it back!”
Decision time. I could do my best to calm the guy down and let him see we’re on the same side; after all, we’re in Utah now and I really don’t want to be stuck out here. I don’t like making enemies out of anyone. On the other hand, that would require denying what I have previously said, and I cannot deny that the words of Jesus are the words of Jesus.
I’d become Judas.
“I can't. It's the truth,” I say.
With that, he slings my pack onto the ground. I shudder for the computer inside, and he continues to yell swears as he gets back in, flip me the bird. With a shout of “Motherfucker!!!” he speeds off. He swerves a little and blows the horn several times.
Middle of Nowhere, Northern Utah
I look in both directions down the empty two-lane road.
Nothing. Literally nothing. I have no idea where I am at. I know only that this road in this particular direction will take me to Salt Lake City, and that and I may or may not actually be in Utah. It looks exactly like Idaho. But some good news: the sun isn’t beating down anymore. It’s late afternoon. The downside is there's not a patch of blue sky and not a car in sight. If all else fails, I can pitch a tent and call it a night here if the sky decides to come down.
God makes it to rain and shine on the righteous and unrighteous alike indeed.
“Well, God, what are we doing?” I sit on my pack right where it was thrown.
I want to tell God that He got me into this mess. I don’t. It wasn't true. I got me into this mess. I had chosen this path. All my decisions until now have led me to this precise point. Still, I can’t help but feel the guiding hand of the Divine here. I don’t believe in coincidence or free will, after all. Free agency: we can choose our path but not the consequence of that path.
Deep breaths in the middle of nowhere Utah.
I look up and am utterly convinced it's going to rain and destroy the non-waterproof contents of my bag. I really want a cigarette, but I think better of it just in case a strict Word-of-Wisdom-keeping Utah Mormon should come along.
“Please don’t let it rain,” I plead.
Like something out of a movie, the clouds directly above me part and a ray of sunshine illuminates where I’m sitting.
“Are you serious, God?”
Sometimes, God really feels like being stereotypical. Most of the time He wants to defy our boxed concepts of Him but then there are moments like these that are just hilarious to me. I like to refer to these encounters as Technicolor Divinity. Though the humor is not lost on me, I feel genuinely comforted. I think back to God's promise this morning, to my own spiritual experiences, to Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
I hear a car coming from the same direction Jim and I were coming from. It would be too perfect if they stopped. Sure enough, they stop just a few feet in front of me. A woman that looks to be about my mother’s age is inside and she beckons towards me. This is the first time a woman has ever been kind enough to pick me up, and she's alone.
"Thank you for basic faith in humanity,” I mutter, half to God, half to the as yet unmet woman. I saunter up to her car in as non-threatening a way as possible. She rolls the window down.
“Need a ride? I'm going to Salt Lake City.” My heart leaps for joy! God is good! I can only describe her voice as motherly. She has the heart of a saint; I can feel it in her energy.
“Yes, please, thank you! I'm going to Salt Lake City too!” I hop in with my backpack and we hit the road.
“Thank you so much for the ride,” I say again. I can’t mean it any harder. A great peace washes over me and I know beyond knowing that this was all God’s doing.
“You're welcome. What are you doing out here all alone?”
“I just got kicked out of somebody's car. He was a little crazy. I decide to be honest and she looks at me quizzically. “He snorted a Tylenol and ranted about Jesus. Also a Vietnam veteran. He said I insulted the Lord.”
“Well... Did you?” she asked. There is genuine concern in her voice.
“All I did was quote John 17. Jesus asks the Father to glorify us with the same glory that He has, that we may be one with each other and with Him even as He and the Father are one.”
“I see you know your Bible well. Are you a Christian?”
“I’m LDS,” I say. She subtly breathes a sigh of relief. Whatever tension there was at having a stranger in your car just disappeared. Suddenly we are no longer strangers, but siblings in the faith. Fellow Zionites. This, right here, is Zion.
“Where are you from originally?”
“I live around Salt Lake. Why are you all the way over here?”
“I'm traveling. A mission of sorts. I want to go to Temple Square in Salt Lake. Plus I also have friends there.”
I hadn't really remembered Temple Square until just now. Long forgotten memories begin to resurface in flashbacks. I remember being with my parents on vacation in Park City and we decided to go visit Salt Lake for a day. We took the tour of the Temple Square complex. I was mesmerized. I was probably 9 years old. The missionaries were very kind. I remember seeing a wedding that day, the bride and groom coming out of the temple. The temple was unlike any church I had seen before. I asked dad why they got married there and not somewhere else.
“They believe they can be married forever,” Dad had said.
I found that thought unique. I had thought, well duh, marriage is always. Even at that age, I understood. I looked at the hymnal when we went into the Assembly Hall. I saw names I had never seen before next to chapter and verse identifications.
“Who is Nephi?” I asked Dad again. Only I pronounced Nephi’s name as Nee-fee.
“He's not in the Bible,” Dad answered. I was confused. The missionaries giving us the tour overheard and taught me how to pronounce his name properly. They explained the story of the Book of Mormon in terms friendly to a nine year old.
“Why do they believe that if it's not in the Bible?” I asked after the missionaries went away.
All he said was “Exactly.”
That answer hurt. I thought that Dad knew everything. I failed to understand why we were there in the first place. After leaving Temple Square, I decided to put it away until almost a decade later when a Saint named Lexi Payne he gave me my first ever copy of the Book of Mormon.
Lita’s voice broke my nostalgic reverie. “A pilgrimage of sorts?”
“Yeah I guess you could say that. My name is Revan, by the way.”
“Lita.” I like this woman. The Spirit testifies with my spirit that she's a real, true living Saint.
“Why'd you pick me up?” I flat out ask her. I feel led to ask such a question. She looks at me again, but softer.
“I can let you out if that's what you mean.” She gently presses on the brake and smirks at me.
“No, no. I mean people don't usually pick up hitchhikers in the literal middle of nowhere.”
She shrugs. “Holy Spirit said so. Felt it was right, so I did.” The moment passes, and she asks if I had ever been to Salt Lake before.
“Once when I was little. I don't remember much of it.”
“It's easy to get around. The whole city is organized around Temple Square. All the streets go up by one hundred in any direction, with the temple being the center of the city. Then there's welfare square if you need it, but you said you've got people in the city. The missionaries can hook you up with a free shower.” I get the drift. I stunk. “Where did you start out today?”
“Sun Valley, Idaho.”
“That's a mighty ways from here and you're going to be in SLC tonight? You travel fast.”
I shrug. “That's our Heavenly Father, for ya.”
“Amen to that.”
We pass the miles between moments of comfortable silence and chit chat. Afternoon turns to evening turns to dark. Like many, if not most of the people I encounter, they're equally as interested in me as I am in them. I gave her my testimony, which made me think a lot. As I told it, I could really feel the Spirit saying, See I told you this thing is true. And I believe it, but I didn't know it yet. At all. I hope, in a lot of ways, that my time in Utah will help strengthen my faith and maybe even give me some knowledge on the matter. So much of me wants the Church to be true. But I am just not sure.
In the fading sunlight, I watched the monotony break it up into activity: golden fields gave way to green mountains until, finally, I looked into a great valley upon a smog covered city. By the time we got to downtown, I was dead tired and ready to fall asleep. I almost did in her car.
She dropped me off on one of the 100 streets and I could just barely make out the outlines of a large structure through the darkness. It doesn’t help that I have Monet vision. I’m so beat. Rather than explore around, I find the first solid patch of grass, lay my sleeping bag out and fall asleep without even smoking a cigarette.
Four thirty in the morning and the bane of my traveler's existence pokes me in the back.
Krshshss goes that all too familiar noise. Wetness immediately soaks into my back.
It's still dark out as I hastily gather my belongings and move them to a dry spot on the sidewalk. There's no going back to sleep; I might as well wait it out. So I stand and walk in small steps as I inhale the blue smoke of a camel.
Dawn's first light comes and a few missionaries walk past me. I namaste to them but they barely acknowledge me. What a great way to start out my Salt Lake experience. Shortly thereafter, as the sky lightens to a cool cerulean blue, the sun's magnificent rays illuminate the space beyond the security walls, and I see, I really truly see, the temple of God built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in what was then called Deseret territory under Brigham Young.
I roll up my belongings, finish my cigarette and step up as the missionaries unlock the gates.
It is a new day.
“Spirit guide me,” I pray. Deep breaths as I reflect in the morning sun (no pun intended). Twenty four hours ago I was deep in Idaho. Now here I am standing before a temple of God, exactly where God told me I'd be.
In hindsight, I realize that God was telling me something: both times I traveled to Salt Lake, no matter how great the distance I was away, I got there in a day’s time despite the fact I was on foot. God telling me something indeed.
Our God is a God of Miracles.
Never tell me the odds!
The chairman of the Dept. of Publishing is a traveler, misfit, social reformer, and author. First published in 2012, he has credits in a variety of works including academia, books, and periodicals.