Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Highway to Heaven

Yosemite was beautiful and lush. Maybe it was because I was lost, but the ravines, gorges, bottomless basins and granite bluffs seemed to be shuffling sneakily behind the trees. It was a bona fide fantasy land.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end – even national parks. Yosemite dumped me out by Mono Lake along Route 6 in Nevada.

Everyone says that Nevada is plain and boring. It’s plain, but it’s also powerful. Crossing into that expanse, you feel like you’re on a plane floating between heaven and Earth. You’re in the open and all the mountains are watching you. The only other travelers you meet out there are clouds chasing their own shadows. They speak thunder – I think they’re telling you to leave. Nevada is where God goes when he wants to be alone.

I hurried along so I wouldn’t intrude on God’s privacy any longer than I had to. Then everything changed. As darkness fell, the land grew ugly and forbidding. If in daylight you feel like you’re halfway to heaven, at night you feel like you’re halfway to hell. The road is no longer empty; it is lined with suicidal jackrabbits and their glowing eyeballs. It’s like a cult ritual: The rabbits wait in rows for their turn to attempt suicide under your wheels. The black asphalt is caked with streaks and pools of fresh red blood.

And the jackrabbits aren’t the only creatures participating in the ritual. Once, two pronghorns attempted to blockade the road, forcing me to thread the space between them at 90 miles per hour. Then every once in a while I would come across a herd of cattle moving slowly toward me as if on a protest march through the desert. As I approached, they would stop and watch me creep cautiously between them.

The calves, with their fluorescent eyes, were by far the scariest creatures in that valley of death. They looked like hellhounds or overgrown pit bulls – anything but docile cows. All this time, as I passed through flat, barren desert, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was surrounded by huge, looming forests. I think it was just the depth of the darkness.

Constantly braking to avoid these apparitions of the night didn’t do my gas mileage any favors. At that point, I was already pushing the limits of my tank on a 200-mile stretch between towns. Sure enough, I had to switch to my reserve tank after 160 miles.

I rolled into the Shell station with a hundredth of a gallon left. After that night I stopped at every Shell station I passed, whether or not I needed the gas.

Judging by the dozen 18-wheelers snoring along the road, it seemed that the Shell station functioned as an informal truck stop. I approached the attendants and they said I was welcome to put up my hammock by the picnic area. I did so and spent the night fighting off all kinds of unidentifiable insects. Somewhere far away, I knew you were playing to a packed house. I put in my earphones and fell asleep listening to your music. You were my most comforting thought.

The next day, I woke up feeling brand new and ready for Utah. Overall, Utah was very pleasant and pretty. The landscape changed drastically with every bend in the road. You might be flying across an endless green prairie when, all of a sudden, you’re magically transported to a stand of tall pillars and arches of bright orange rock. Next thing you know, you’re descending a tree-covered mountain toward a flat white slab polka-dotted with shimmering blue lakes.

The canyons are the best of all. For most of the ride, I was cranking over sweeping curves as the road followed rivers that cut back and forth between steep canyon walls.

Along one curve, I pulled over and set up camp. I stopped while the sun was still up so I would have time to wander. After a long struggle to get my bike through the sand to a safe hiding place, I set up my hammock, stripped down to my jeans and set off into a maze of canyons. For a while I tried tracking a coyote that appeared to be tracking a deer that appeared to be tracking a mouse. Of course, that went nowhere, so I went off in another direction, chasing a lizard.

The lizard led me to a scalable section of the cliff. I worked my way to the top where I had a spinning vision of the whole network of canyons. I lounged about for a while then decided to get a workout in. If anyone in the cars passing below had troubled to look up, they would have seen me stark naked doing plyometrics on top of the cliff. After the exercise and the climb back down (way harder than the climb up) I was ready for sleep. Despite having to fight off a whole new lineup of insect assassins, I managed to get a pretty good night’s sleep.

The road is not a lonely place – not boring, not empty. It is more than an in-between; it’s part of where you’re going. Try not to rush. If you just want to get from point A to point B, take a plane.

When you want a real journey, take a vehicle that exposes you to the environment. Trucks are good – convertibles are better. Motorcycles are good – Razor scooters are better. While you sit back and scan the horizon, the world is happening. Scenery blows by with the wind. You might feel passive, but the road is always active. After a good day on the road, you should have tangled hair, seven colors of dirt on your face and bird shit on your shoulder. People will look at you and say, “That man has been somewhere today.” Now you’re road-tripping.

The road has its own religion, too. God is in motion. He rushes by you like a hurricane mixed with an avalanche mixed with a tornado. In his swirling wake of mountains and deserts, he leaves you wondering if you can keep up. What does it take to keep pace with God? You could sell your soul to the devil for a faster bike, or you could putz along, trying to stay out of the way.

The world changes faster than our minds can grasp. In the breadth of a moment, you’re completely destroyed and completely rebuilt. Always and forever. God is not a watchmaker, he’s the opposite – he’s the ticking of the watch. Go ahead and stay indoors as long as you can. Find a sturdy house and a steady schedule and a faithful wife. But when the wolves start howling in your dreams, get on your razor scooter and go to Nevada. You won’t find any wolves, but you might find God.

Desmond Rawls is a senior in the College and is taking a year off to work as a mechanic for an offshore oil company. He can be reached at Wheelie appears every other Monday on

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