There I was in my rubber-soled hiking boots shuffling backwards, on the safe side of the gravel-lined breakdown lane, facing the steady traffic of Hwy. 62. In my left hand was a cardboard sign that read, “Truth” with an olive branch drawn beneath the greeting. The thumb of my right hand pointed toward the western horizon serrated with scotch pine trees. The ribbons of alizarin crimson that had scored the coral blue sky earlier in the morning had suddenly cleared, opening up the most radiantly beautiful field of periwinkle blue I have ever seen.
I was headed west, hopefully California. This, my friends, is Hwy. 62 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I had just come down from Norris Dam State Park. I had no idea the Clinch River was so wide and proud and ran so thick with life. To hear that river breathe is an honor. Ideally, today I would like to make it to Memphis. If I make it as far as Cookeville, I will be satisfied.
Cars and trucks had been zipping by about a dozen per minute. I had settled on that patch of the berm for maybe less than half an hour of kids yelling obscenities at me, flipping me off, and scared old ladies looking at me, terrified of the potential voodoo my eye contact may level against them. None of it brought me down, though. The air was warm and breezy. I had rested well before the bacon and eggs hit the skillet. I was in no hurry.
Skidding to a halt on the gravel behind me was my first ride which came as a big surprise to me. It was a 1940’s K-model International Harvester bus painted cold gray with a jackrabbit stenciled on the rear and a Texas license plate with a passel of registration stickers keeping it up to date. The big surprise was the first impression of the driver, this old cat who cut his eyes toward the sun as he lowered the visor, approaching me. I thought he was yet another motorist on a mission to get somewhere, like so many others. No worries. No sweat. Now, here he was waiting on me. Sweet! The door swung open and revealed this skinny septuagenarian with a voice not unlike “Mule Variations”-era Tom Waits, just a little smoother around the edges and understandably twangier.
“Git on in, son!” he growled with a gold-capped grin, shaded by his Asleep at the Wheel hat. “Plenty of room in this here spaceship!” Then the funk of marijuana smoke hit me along with the sight of the multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags strung along the windows.
“This is gonna be a good ride!” I responded, nodding.