Chapter 6 - "staying awake"

I don’t know if I’ve shared this or not yet, but we were geared up for about a 30 hour trip, that is if we drove through the night non-stop. Needless to say, the 6 hour hold up only served to make the already death-defying trip that much more torturous. Driving through Minnesota was akin to having a root canal while also having your planter’s warts on your feet removed with a dull, rusty scalpel. It seemed that the bulk of my energy went toward just “staying awake”. I didn’t know how much mental fortitude it took to try to keep your body from dozing off. It’s harder than running a marathon at some point.

The concentration, the Lamaze-sort of focus, the hallucinations, the little games you play with road signs and the measuring system in the top hand corner of your world atlas to figure out how far you’ve come and how much further you have to go…this kind of stuff gets borderline psychotic when you’re over-tired and under-fed. I can’t say as I was under-fed completely, I just mean that I wasn’t feeding myself with good food that stabilizes your immune system and provides nourishment for the vitals that are working hard to keep you alive. I was cramming my gullet full of things like salted peanuts, pickled bologna, Gatorade, potato chips, chewy Sprees, Gobstoppers, beef jerky and mini-carrots. It was getting old real fast.

Oh, back to staying awake. I can’t begin to tell you how demoralizing it was to think you were getting closer to North Dakota only to find that you had 200 miles to go. The sinking feeling in your gut is measurable. Thoughts run through your mind like, “This can’t be. I could swear we’ve already been in Minnesota for what seems like a week.” The ruminations only serve to burden your eyelids like 45 pound plates slid onto a weight bar at the YMCA. It only makes matters worse when you’re feeling this greasy sludge coat your body like the morning dew. A film of cheesy oil covers your face starting with your forehead and working it’s way over the remaining exposed skin and on into the places where skin is rubbing against skin like your armpits, etc. You want to take a shower almost reflexively, but a shower seems so far away from the proximity of possible. As your eyes glaze over and your mind starts to eat itself, it’s funny how paralyzing life becomes all the sudden. It starts to set in that you can’t just have what you want, when you want it. Beyond that, you’re forced to start accepting the fact that you are only going to get what you don’t want and you’re left to figure out a way of making due with that reality. You also begin to connect with the fact that you are a long way from home, and going back isn’t an option. That’s weird, and it’s probably why a lot of people never go far from home. I call it the “just-in-case” theory of living ruled by the “what if…” questions that leash you to a lesser life and tether you to a small world-view. I was feeling that subtle theory being tested.

You don’t say this stuff out loud, because in many cases, you don’t have good thoughts about what’s happening that lead to good words to describe the reality. But something profound is being raked over the refining coals of adventure, and it’s an undoing that you can tell ahead of time won’t stop until you’re undone. And I don’t know anybody that likes to be undone. Isaiah mentions that in the sixth chapter of his journal, and it doesn’t sound appealing…though you can’t argue with the results of giving into it.

As I fought to stay awake…I realized that this was why I was on this trip to begin with. I’d been fighting to stay awake in life for quite some time in my heart and it was necessary for me to figure out a way to stay awake my whole life. My heart was hitting rumble strips for the last couple of months and those pestering little notches carved in the pavement of my spiritual journey were telling me something I just had to respond to or else.

As I harnessed all of the energetic capacity of my faculties in the last hour of my driving stint, my eyes caught a sign that released another shot of adrenaline into my blood stream. Welcome to North Dakota! The only state in between us and the state of Montana. The place I was staying awake to get to. The place that my heart needed to see in order to stay awake in this journey called life. It was enough adrenaline to keep me awake for 15 more minutes. Enough minutes strung together to get us to what are known as the “Painted Hills” or the northern stretch of the “Badlands”. 15 minutes was all I needed.


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