We hit the turn at around 50 miles per hour. Plumes of red-orange dust shot out from either side of our once institutionally white ten-passenger van as we burst from the confines of Texas two-lane onto a path between Mexican dunes left by the mighty Rio not 200 yards from our tires.
As Carson hooted and ye-hawed into the walkie-talkie, Van Two cautiously slowed and eased into the landscape several hundred feet behind us. As they flexed and articulated through the terrain, we scouted the path ahead via air as we sailed over and ricocheted off of the embossed desert surface…tires more of a precaution than a necessity.
If, as we returned from orbit and touched down once again on terra-firma we’d all found ourselves simultaneously choking on trail-mix, then perhaps the synchronized Heimlich action imposed by the van’s seat-belts upon our diaphragms would’ve been a more welcome surprise. But much like lying out belly first in the end-zone to catch a game winning Thanksgiving day pass from the all-time QB, this abdominal trauma was far to mild to wipe the smiles off of our faces as we skidded to a halt in a cloud of aerosol desert and laughter.
Like fish from a shattered aquarium we poured out of the van and dispersed outward in every direction into the thorny countryside. As the second van rolled to a stop behind us, it became clear that our glee was infectious. As the seams on their van burst to expel it’s writhing and anxious passengers a voice was heard from the thicket of brambles just yards away:
” A Carcass!”
A leg. A hoof. A pelvis. Ribs.
Like buzzards we descended upon the kill. The soul of the beast long passed on, the bleach-white bones merely a remnant of the scaffolding within the vessel that once was. We felt no shame. No guilt, no remorse. Only celebration at the discovery.
As they hunched and huddled over the hood, it was no surprise to any of us that zip ties and 550 cord were enough for a small and dedicated crew to secure the leg in place firmly upon the grill of van-two. Our van followed suit with a shoulder blade wedged behind the front license plate. It would stay there for the duration of our journey, eventually cemented in place by the juices of two-thousand miles of bug curtained asphalt.
Channeling Bo and Luke, each of the crew dove back into the newly adorned vans head first and with gusto.
Throttles open we pressed on.
Moments later after cresting a small hill, we saw it.
We bailed out of the van before it even slowed down as though desperate to escape it as Carson announced at the top of his lungs what we all knew and yet had not fathomed.
“IT’S A SPACESHIP!!!!”
It was a space ship. Like bees to honey, we swarmed around the discarded cement mixer and canon-balled inside as we buzzed with elation. Pure, stupid elation. It was ridiculous, as any spectator could have told you.
But there were no spectators.
We were all participants on a journey through space. The fact that our interstellar craft was nothing more than a vaguely cylindrical hunk of wasted steel in the South Texas desert was irrelevant. For a few moments we were on Mars. We each took turns posing and documenting the landing with our craft as any astronaut should, for it was an historic occasion indeed.
Although we’d all traveled there together, through the magic of modern technology, astral projection, and certainly more than a little bullshit, each of us returned to earth on our own. Some before others, but all to the same destination. Earth.
Begrudgingly, but still flush from the exhilaration of re-entry everyone weaved their way back the vans the way a child exits a toy store; coveting glimpses along the way.
A million flickering strips of yellow pass us by as the earth turns beneath us and becomes more familiar by the mile.
Truth be told, there were hundreds of times throughout our trip through the American Southwest that gave me pause in appreciation for what we were experiencing. Fourteen of us began the journey together as part of a spring break trip at Georgia State University. I only knew, and only needed to know one other person on the trip; my friend Carson. But as strangers became acquaintances, and later friends, I realized that a concept as ostensibly abstract as “discovery” was in fact almost palpable, and on occasion indisputably visible in the eyes and smiles of the uninitiated.
Although the realization is recent, I know I’ve always been a romantic. Perhaps more accurately, excitement precipitated by possibility is as common breathing for me. If growing older has taught me anything, however, it is that this is a strength rather than a weakness so long as the excitement can either be tempered by realistic assessment, or augmented by follow-through.
As I witnessed the worlds of the others on the trip expand before my eyes, I was presented with the same choice that has been set before me hundreds of times in the past: Spectate or participate.
For nearly fourteen years I’ve held desk jobs. Now at 29, I’ve realized that while I’ve learned much, and have really and sincerely appreciated many things about my various jobs and responsibilities in the offices I’ve inhabited, my true passions and joys in life have always revolved around the things that I saw both in the eyes of my fellow travelers in the desert, and heard in the voice of my great friend Carson as he led them. It takes a special kind of person to elevate 13 others to a level of excitement about the world and just being alive that a cement mixer in the desert can become a spaceship on mars. Carson has that, and I am praying that I do too.
I wanted in.
In January, I gave a 3-month notice at my current job at an investment firm and have begun the process of leasing out my house in Quincy to a young couple. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be driving south to work for Carson through the summer. Together, we’ll lead backpacking, rafting and kayaking trips and I’ll be forced to decide whether or not these things I’ve romanticized in my mind are in fact what my heart and soul are built to do.
Late at night, a week or so after our trip culminated and my plane had landed a thousand miles away in Illinois, I received a phone call from a familiar number but from a less familiar voice. One voice became many and as my ear was passed from mouth to mouth a story began to materialize.
In a scenario that good beer has been known to cause, the most fantastic bits came out first and loudest.
Bones. Police. Pagan Rituals.
The details are still a bit fuzzy, but from what I understand: the day after our trip ended, someone decided that the best way to dispose of the carcass remnants that were still adorning the grills of our vans was to simply toss them down an alley between buildings on the GSU campus. A phone call, yellow tape and several interviews later an investigation was closed regarding the source of the unidentified remains. The official conclusion as to their origin: Voodoo Magic.
Given the fact that we’d collectively traveled through space in the belly of a discarded hunk of desert steel, and managed to avoid rigorous interrogation by the U.S border patrol in spite of our carrion bejeweled radiators, I think the ATL-PD may have been onto something.