The perilous journey home. Well....not so much "perilous" as boring and mind-numbing...

 The sun was just coming over the horizon this morning when I dragged myself out of bed at the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe and started to organize for the day. The event I came to town to photograph ended the day before at noon and I spent the rest of my time walking around with my most eccentric camera and lens combination (Leica SL2 + Sigma 18-50mm f2.8) looking for stuff I hadn't seen earlier. I found a few images but nothing spectacular. The tell the truth the two day drive to get there and the two and a half days of documenting a company event while grappling with the altitude and the diminishing air quality (wildfires to the West) took the energy right out of me. 

Last night I came home from dinner late and started packing. I hate packing. I like having all my stuff around but I hate putting it back in the rolling cases and camera bags. I didn't have a tight deadline today; I could have waited right up till the 11:00 check out time but I was antsy to get on the road. I grabbed coffee and an egg sandwich, packed the last minute stuff (toothbrush, razor) and called down to the front desk. Five minutes later the bellman showed up and loaded all my crap onto a cart and we headed down to the garage to unearth the car from the valet guys. 

The valet services were swamped this morning so my bell guy took it upon himself to go find my car and bring it up. We loaded the stuff into the hatchback, traded handshakes and a tip, and then I drove off on the first leg of my two day trip back to Austin. I had a camera sitting on the passenger seat, ready to capture any fabulous scene I might come across but I have to tell you that after you get 50 or 60 miles outside of the mountains everything flattens out and you end up driving for long periods of time without no change to the scenery. Just dry agricultural fields. And five house "towns." The camera didn't get much use and when I did photograph something I was.... uninspired. 

While the camera didn't get much use I did decide that I like my Subaru Forester more than any other car I have owned. It's rock solid on the road, comfortable to sit in for long periods of time and also reassuringly bossy. It alerts me too frequently to mild lane departures and, every couple of hours it reminds me that I have been driving for a couple hours straight through. I think that's a passive/aggressive way of the car saying, "Hey! dumbass. Take a break." In addition to the "Eyesight" safety features the car also has a "lane-keeping" feature that constantly monitors the vehicle position between the center lines and the side lines painted on the highway and actually makes steering corrections to keep itself centered. Couple that with "adaptive cruise control" and the car nearly drives itself --- but without all the drama of a self-driving Tesla. I presumed I could take my hands off the wheel and when I did I was surprised to find that the car did at least as well as I would in keeping in the lines. But after you take your hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds the car chides you and warns you to keep your hands on the steering. I don't know what would happen if I were to disregard the warning but I don't want to find out because, as I said, the car is bossy and I'd hate to be put in time out.

I'm sure my European readers will presume that there are widely available amenities all along the route but the reality is that you can go 50 or 60 miles and not seeing anything other than cars, trucks and grass blowing in the wind. There are no restaurants, no rest stops, no toilets, and darn few gas stations. You learn to pee when the opportunity arises and you learn to keep your car's tank at least a quarter full at all times. 

Today's lunch was "enjoyed" in Clovis, NM. I checked the Michelin Guide but sadly, there were no listings in Clovis. There was a McDonald's "fine dining" facility. Texas travelers have come to count on McD's for several things. First is hot coffee at all times of the day. Second are the generally clean, well maintained restrooms and third is a general consistency to the food. I had my first Big Mac in probably a decade and it wasn't half bad. The large coffee kept me awake all the way to Lubbock. And yes, if there is a restroom I'm going to give it my best shot. 

If you drive on the most efficient route between Santa Fe and Austin the estimated travel time on a good map app (fun to say) is about 11 hours. But that doesn't take into consideration stopping for gas, stopping for food, stopping to pee and stopping because either your car or your Apple Watch are strongly suggesting that you take a break, stand for a minute, etc. What did we ever do before our devices became de facto wellness nannies? 

Lubbock was never on my radar before. It's flat, out in the middle of nowhere and its biggest attraction (as far as I can tell) is the Buddy Holly Museum. And I've never been so much into Buddy Holly that I just have to go somewhere, pay $12 bucks and learn every detail of his life. I selected Lubbock as my midway point in both directions simply because the Marriott hotel chain had put one of their hip, young Aloft Hotel properties there. It's probably the best hotel for a tired, single traveler in the whole area. And it skirts a very new shopping center. 

Did I mention that close to the hotel (walking distance) is a Costco complete with discount gasoline? After I checked into the hotel this afternoon I walked over, bought two pairs of my favorite pants and also a nice t-shirt. It was Saturday and the store was packed but efficient. Very efficient. Where else can one get $3.55 USD per gallon gas and $15, nice trousers at the same time?

Traveling alone always sounds better when you are planning the trip or just starting out. At the end of a work week out of town, and sitting alone in a sterile hotel room still 380 miles from home one can start second guessing (or ruing) one's strategic planning. I'm sitting here just starting to understand that I logged 350 miles over the course of six hours today and that after a night spent tossing and turning in a strange bed that I'll need to hop in the car tomorrow and do the same darn thing. 

If I were still 26, or maybe 46, I probably would have convinced myself that it makes perfectly good sense to drive straight through. twelve to fourteen hours behind the wheel mostly on rural, two lane blacktops with giant trucks shimmying past at high speeds just a few feet away in the opposite lane. The oncoming lane. 

I drive the speed limit not because I think it's the moral or ethical thing to do and not because I want to but because it's more fuel efficient than driving faster. So, when the sign says "65" mph, I try to set the cruise control right there and abide. This is anathema to most native Texans, and nearly every big rig driver, and sets up a dangerous scenario in which giant pick-up trucks and even giant-er 18 wheelers race up behind and then risk life and limb trying to pass on narrow roads with limited site distances. I always try to pull over onto the shoulder when I can..... but some people are impatient. Especially the guy in the dually pick-up that passed me today enmeshed in a black cloud of tailpipe emissions. I'm guessing it was from a diesel engine but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the engine had been modified to burn coal....

One thing I've known about driving my own state for most of my adult life is that the bigger the truck the faster the Texan. They feel comfortable at 90 mph. But all bets are off if it's raining, snowing or the roads are covered with black ice. In those situations they feel an urge to go faster. 

I've now shopped, had dinner, brushed my teeth and wound down from the day of driving. My last task of the day was to practice my writing. 

Tomorrow is the homeward stretch. Wish me luck so I can write again in the future.