In which Katie gets as far away from other humans as possible, wakes up on the beach, and decides it’s time to go home.
Yesterday, I had my first brush with death of the whole trip.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t a brush with death. But it was a brush with serious vehicular injury, and it left my teeth chattering behind the wheel. I was in the left lane of a busy three-lane highway, about to cross Nueces Bay into Corpus Christi, when I heard a ferocious roaring engine getting louder behind me. I peeked into my rearview mirror just in time to see the culprit, a silver Nissan 370z moving significantly faster than any car I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes. And it was rocketing up the left lane, right behind me. And it was accelerating.
Within fractions of a second, I swerved halfway into the middle lane, which was thankfully empty at the moment. The Nissan squeezed up against the jersey barrier and passed me in the shoulder of the left lane.
Any of my high school math teachers will tell you I was a horrible estimator. But based on the speed I was traveling at, the speed with which the Nissan disappeared up ahead, and the speed at which the cop passed me a few seconds later, I’d guess the 370z topped out at 160 to 170 miles per hour. And it didn’t slow down in the process of narrowly avoiding my truck.
If I had ignored the noise, if I hadn’t looked up right when I did, if I were in the process of passing someone immediately to my right, I might have woken up this morning on the shores of the Great Beyond…whatever that might be. But instead, traffic and circumstance were good to me. As a result, I had very earthly amounts of sand in my sleeping bag this morning, a level of discomfort that can’t possibly exist in the afterlife.
But I do think the universe is telling me to go home.
Aside from the “God Bless President Trump” billboards, the lackluster attitudes about COVID, the highway systems that make me want to cry and the resident Evel Knievels who make me want to scream, these last three days on the Texas Gulf Coast have been magical. I got closer to two whooping cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge than I would have thought possible without professional guidance, and I enjoyed the lazy undeveloped island vibe that prevailed around the area. If the other National Wildlife Refuges in the Central Flyway were khaki-clad laced-up soldiers fighting for habitat preservation with their rules and regulations, Aransas was the laid back beach lifeguard who was just trying to keep the birds, alligators and scrubby oak forests safe and happy.
Padre Island National Seashore hosted two nights of camping, the first night in the bed of my truck at an RV campground and last night parked right out on the beach. The sunrises over the pristine white sand and warm waves rivaled those of the South Dakota Badlands and the winter wheat fields of western Kansas. The Milky Way dolloped the clear night sky and Cassiopeia and Orion watched over me until the moon rose, well after I had fallen asleep.
When I stayed out on the beach last night, I was the only person for at least 700 yards in either direction. I played Kenny Chesney from my truck and danced in the waves under the cover of darkness. Any passerby would have asked me what hallucinogenic I was tripping on. I would have told them dopamine and Modelo.
I spent my Saturday night in Fulton, a small coastal town just north of Rockport. I ate catch of the day and drank cheap beer on the waterfront patio at Moondog’s while writing about my emerging love for the Gulf Coast, like Hemingway might have done decades ago. Eventually pen ran out of ink and my mug ran out of beer, and I heard live music drifting on the breeze outside. I wandered over to the Sugar Shack.
The local haunt had an outdoor bar that was playing the Clemson Notre Dame game to the tune of well-covered Skynyrd and Dwight Yoakam. I fully invested myself in the game’s two overtimes as a defense mechanism against the way-too-friendly AARP-aged bachelor crowd. I have practiced this social discipline a lot during my time as a solo traveler. The key seems to be avoiding eye contact like the plague and talking in short, incomplete sentences, like their fishing buddies might do during a too-early morning on the water. Any wide-eyed girlish appeal I might have had disappears when I start behaving like one of them.
And to all my dad’s buddies who helped raise me from infancy, thanks for teaching me how to cuss, drink cheaply, love southern rock and entrench myself in college football with Saban-esque focus. You all know who you are, and you are the reason I feel confident in these situations. Yuck Fale, war eagle, yadda yadda yadda.
Today, I start my northbound journey. Winter storms are forecasted for Montana’s upcoming weekend. My summer tires are no match for an icy interstate, four wheel drive engaged or not. So I leave the whooping cranes to Aransas’ shoreline salt marshes and sandy oak forests and gun for the mountains again. I will miss the warm weather and the mellow bum I transformed into on Padre Island. I won’t miss interstate commutes that resemble Grand Theft Auto.
It’s almost 1 in the afternoon and I have no idea where I’ll be sleeping tonight, which has become pretty par for the course. But I think I’ve overstayed my welcome at this particular coffee shop, which has also become par for the course. Maybe it’s time for a new course.