I can feel that itch for the wild begin to hit me behind the knees. Things have been chaotic with work and life responsibilities as of late. I am ready to head out of town and get my priorities straight again. With a few weeks until my new job, Sam and I decide to grab the dog, pack up the Land Cruiser, and take some much needed time to be with each other and the world.
Our first stop on our 2-week overland adventure is Big Bend State Park in the majestic hills of west Texas. The road carries us down a winding path through the Chihuahua desert. The sun is setting on us with hues of lavender, gold, and fiery orange glowing off the dusty Davis and Chisos mountains that surround us. I feel myself wanting to close my eyes in the most soothing lull. West Texas will work its voodoo on you. We pull into the state park and after happily reviewing the trail map with the ranger we decide to take the more primitive route to our camping spot. We lower the tire pressure and enjoy the rocky ride to camp. I marvel at our luck. We have the entire place to ourselves. Like true Texans, our annual bout of weather amnesia begins to wear as we are confronted with the relentless July heat as though it were a surprise. The sun blazes down on us with little Texas mercy. I begin to feel like a lizard shriveling up on a dry rock. Heat waves radiate across the vast landscape of rock and brush.
The trademark Ocotillo plant of this region sprouts from the earth with its 20 foot tall branching arms that remind me of larger than life pipe cleaners. Its otherworldly quality makes me feel like I’ve landed on another planet reminiscent of my own. I wipe the sweat out of my eyes. The heat is making me feel a little crazy and I begin to think I like the idea of camping rather than camping itself. Sam sets up the shower tent with one wall exposed and open to nature. With water being heated off of the engine I wash off the day. It is in this moment, mid soap, that I spot the most beautiful rain shower from afar. It is an awe inspiring sight to see the sky pour down like that with such intention, washing away the heat and bringing much needed relief to this little spot of earth. It is a sight that makes me feel like we just stepped into an issue of National Geographic.
Soon we see another storm cloud form in the distance and then another. The lightning bolts are abundant as they strike the ground with force. I just stand there, mouth gaping. That is until Sam says, “I think they’re headed this way.” One manic episode later the car is packed and I am huddled under our comforter in the rooftop tent in the fetal position. Completely terrified as the wind shakes our little home, I find myself feeling much like one of the three little pigs. I shut my eyes tight and keep a close ear on Sam’s reports while I try to manage my existential crisis.
This is not how I envisioned my end. I’m too young for this. The lightning bolts light up the sky and the thunder shakes my core. Sam on the other hand is fearless. His inner boy has taken over with full force and unrelenting curiosity as he documents the events on his iPhone video recorder. I express my concerns about being on a metal roof during a storm of this magnitude. He cites something about rubber tires, Faraday cages, and a MythBusters episode he saw. This fails to calm my nerves. My instincts tell me to jump in the car and spoon the dog but we wait it out. [I would later find that I was right – get in the car when lightning strikes – also, did you know that 80% of lightning victims are men? Not surprising and oddly comforting for my own sake.]
The wind softens. My curiosity gets the best of me and I peek my head out of the tent next to Sam to watch the lightning storm continue on without us. With no real way to grasp the magic of this view I feel desperate in my desire to remember this sight forever. Exactly as it is.
My heart swells and I can’t help but think this is exactly what it means to be alive.