Rodriguez Road and the Milky Way
I’ve always wanted to see the Milky Way.
Over the years I’ve seen all the photos, the same ones you’ve seen – the cloud of stars like a necklace, flung on the carpet, breaking into a million pieces and prettier for it. The photos are edited for sure. Bright, crisp, the sky a dark velvet brutish purple, the crayon in the box that never gets used because the color is too specific.
Due to the demands of the trail, I hadn’t thought once about the possibility of an encounter.
All day long I had pushed up and down hills, the steady thunk of my poles and the crunch of shoes on decomposed granite forming a hypnotic soundtrack to ignore. Thunk thunk thunk, crunch crunch crunch, an occasional perfectly-sized boulder to rest my pack on, an occasional sighting of the unstoppable Bubbles in the distance, Zog’s bright orange hat. Hours wore on. We were close to Rodriguez Road where we would stop for the night, and water.
I was exhausted and I made the mistake of setting my sights on a specific end point for my effort.
Rodriguez Road would now solve all of my problems because I could be done. I felt good, ready to quit but good, a little hotspot on my heel, I had to pee, I talked to my mom. She encouraged me and I could tell my adventure made her dream of a trip of her own. The sun was sinking slowly down but I had plenty of time to set up my tent and cook before dark. I scuttled into camp where a few guys were lounging around. I asked if they knew where the little spring was, and they motioned casually down a nearby hill, telling me that it was “about a mile that way.”
Right. I thought it was in camp.
What this meant was, two miles – an hour – lugging water uphill, setting up in the dark, eating in the dark. To make it worse, now I had to poop AND pee. But, there’s no getting around needing water. So I started the journey down.
For sure, for sure, the water tank at Rodriguez looks like a place you’d be murdered and your dismembered skeleton later found scattered about by coyotes. I mean, I’m just being real. The road is deserted-looking, you slip under weathered, busted signs, barbed wire, the tank out rusting in a field, random buildings hither and thither. The water source was a trickling little trough. I filled up 4L because I had to drink, cook, and hike tomorrow. It was an emotional and heavy decision. I was also hoping to spare Bubbles and Zog the walk down. I hiked back up cussing and maybe even a lil tear or two, of frustration, snuck out. (Maybe.)
Afterwards in my tent, Mountain House biscuits and gravy later, I remembered it was business time – so I quietly snuck out of my tent to handle it in the privacy and still of the night. Once outside, I looked up and immediately sucked in my breath.
Above me, the Milky Way hung in quiet grandeur.
I paused, realizing that this was one of those incredible moments you don’t see coming. The night buzzed with silence, my ears thrumming with it. Tents lined the road and they were also silent. I stared, unable to look away and break the spell. There was the little spot my mom and I talked – there was the hill of faraway cussing murder water – there was Zog’s tarp – there was the silhouette of the hills I walked on to get here. All normal things. All underneath this majestic and quiet display of God’s handiwork. Just me, a small thing, and the Great Milky Way.
Sometimes you have to laugh at the way life is. Such an encounter. Mixed with normalcy and stuff, moodiness, depth, the desert, the crunch of granite.
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