As soon as the tires of my trusty Subaru tasted dirt on the 21-mile road that winds south from Highway 89A in northern Arizona to the headquarters of House Rock Wildlife Area, I lost cell coverage.
The tires hit dirt, the bars dropped to none, and time slowed to a crawl. I was surrounded by sage flats, with a low range of hills to the west and red cliffs far to the east. I crept along, nursing the tires, looking for pronghorn and scaring up horned larks and black-chinned sparrows. I could see dozens of miles in every direction. There were few signs of human presence other than the road I was on, if you can call it a road.
Driving that long, rocky road, I had time to think. One thing I thought about was all the questions I should have asked Carrie King, who manages the wildlife area, when I was preparing for this trip. For example: How bad is the road? How far is it to the spring we’ll be hiking to? When you say, “Bring water,” how much water do you mean?
Those are questions a good journalist would have asked before going on assignment. I asked none of them, of course. But I can’t claim to be a good journalist. I didn’t go to J-school; I haven’t worked for a newspaper. I’m just a person who reads good stuff and loves to write; a person who knows just enough about wildlife to talk and work with and write about people who know a lot more.
Plus, there’s this: No matter the situation, I tend to trust the universe and my own resilience or ingenuity (or, most likely, dumb luck) to see me through. Another way to put this is, I’m used to throwing myself into the deep end and expecting myself to swim. Not asking how deep it is before I jump? Right in character.
I’m not saying this is an easy way to move through life. But going into brand new situations expecting myself to be ready for anything is just how I roll. I doubt J-school would have trained it out of me.
When I did, finally, meet up with Carrie King, the first thing she said was, “This road eats tires.” And so, the adventure began.