“You don’t have to understand life.
You just have to live it.”
— Matt Haig, “The Midnight Library”
Tuesday was brother the elder’s 67th birthday. That could mean just one thing.
Brother the middle had just turned 65 days earlier, hanging up his typewriter — although there were no actual typewriters remaining on the planet and if they were they likely couldn’t be hung — and freeing him up for the excursion.
Brother the younger, being a software tycoon, had retired years ago, so he was in. And he had no typewriter issues, although he was right-handed and could therefore not be trusted.
They all met in Marfa, a chance to see the lights and the Prada store and the artists, before heading to, of course, Big Bend. That was the place where it all began; it might as well be where it ended.
Rick was in fine form. A bag of jerky, a case of diet Coke, a pith helmet perfect for making jokes about on the road. The beloved Land Cruiser was recently restored. Mike drove, being the only Smith Boy still in moderate control of his faculties and right-handed. Rick was shotgun given he had brought his ridiculously large map collection and there’s no Google Maps in the wilderness. I sat in the back, doing my Hunter S. Thompson impression with a cigarette holder and a bag of pills. Sadly, blood pressure pills and an iron tablet. But still. Gonzo is Gonzo, even if it’s just the muppet version.
We drove by Mitre Peak, where treasures or flags or corpses, depending on which story you heard, were still buried after all these years. A detour to Terlingua for tequila shots, moon pies and a visit to the cemetery. There are no better ghost stories to be found on the planet.
And then, there we were. A roadrunner led the way into the park of our dreams, the mountains stretching out forever in the background. The remnants of the Rio Grande, already having done its job after carving out the two enormous canyons. The campsite at Chisos Basin. The trail to the window. The sunsets that can’t be captured on a phone camera, only in the soul.
We talked around the little stove, warming up jerky and bad coffee. They say it’s bear country, but that’s why the little brother is here. You don’t have to outrun the bear …
It was exactly as I had always dreamed it would be. The three of us — starry-eyed lads now trapped in the bodies of elderly gentlemen — breaking out the guitars and questionable trail snacks. When did we have to get back to work? Ummm, never.
We hiked and talked and joked and backpacked to the top for days before reluctantly packing up and climbing back into the Land Cruiser. Which proceeded to give a dying wheeze, a puff of smoke and an eerie silence. Well, we always knew one of us had to go first.
Not to worry. Rick, using his Smith Boy charm, procured us a rental truck. We buried the Land Cruiser on the side of the dirt road leading out of Santa Elena Canyon and clattered down the trail in the rental beast, a fitting reprisal of the Bike Ride Across America, in which he snapped an axle and stole a U-Haul. Some movies never get old.
Nowhere to go, nothing to do. But that’s OK. Kerrville was only 10 months away. We could pitch a tent there and wait.
Dear midnight librarian: This is the version I want.