Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 1a, August 1969
"GROWING UP IS THE FIRST STAGE
OF A TERMINAL DISEASE."
We burst out of the place, the hot summer air hitting our faces like a heavy rug. It was only midmorning and the sun was already beating down without remorse. Anxious to put this wretched place behind me, I hurried after Albert on unsteady feet. We headed for our pickups, both of them backed up against a wood fence close to the highway—ideal for a fast escape.
Gotta get out of here! Gotta get out of here! The words played over and over in my addled brain. My racing heart banged mercilessly against my ribs. Gotta get out of here!
I signaled to Charlie, my Samoyed canine companion, who had been watching our vehicles from a shady spot beside the building. She fell in beside me, keeping up the pace. I opened the driver door and she settled into her usual spot on the passenger seat before I climbed in.
With lightning speed, I shoved the key into the ignition and gave it a turn, relieved to hear the engine take life with a grumbling roar. In my hastened panic, I overlooked that I’d left the transmission in reverse. The truck jerked and leaped backward into the fence “Shit!”
I shifted fast and pulled out, leaving the fence undamaged except for a noticeable slant. I sped down the entry road and onto the highway after Albert, kicking up a monstrous cloud of dust. Looking into both my broad side-views, I saw nothing but an empty ram-rod-straight, two-lane asphalt road stretched back as far as I could see. Whew! Now to spin our wheels and leave that godforsaken hole in the ground behind.
Talk about jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, even with open windows down, the cab felt like a pizza oven. I tilted my triangular wind wing at a severe angle to get as much air flow as possible. Holding on to the steering wheel with my left hand, I leaned past Charlie and did the same with her window. She sat up straight against the far door soaking in the airstream, the wind buffeting her long white hair.
Controlling the steering wheel with my knees, I struggled out of my fringed buckskin jacket, allowing the warm air to hit my bare chest. Despite the racket caused by the whooshing of air, the rattling truck, and the engine noise, I could still hear the wild beating of my heart. I adjusted my disheveled black cowboy hat and prepared for the long drive ahead.
“Wow Charlie,” I said. “Man-oh-man, that was freaky. You have no idea what we just went through.”
She looked over with her typical calm demeanor, then focused on the air gushing through her window. I fumbled with the big white knob on my AM radio until music from a country station filled the air. Roger Miller crooned the lyrics to “Dang Me” on the radio. I managed a faint smile.
Adrenaline still raced through my system. I settled in, hoping the funky music would soothe my jangled nerves. Charlie stretched across the seat bench, placing her head on my thigh. I ran my fingers through her soft fur to absorb some of her tranquility.
It was working. My canine friend’s zen-like presence, along with the twangy music, began to bring down my heart rate. I drew in a deep breath and soaked in the desert scenery, admiring the earthy tones. The flat, sagebrush-speckled terrain seemed to be moving on its own, each detail appearing radiant and surreal.
“WHAP!” A large bug splattered on the windshield, spreading iridescent green and yellow guts in a butterfly-like pattern across the right side of the glass. Wow! Talk about metamorphosis.
It had seemed like such a brilliant idea at the time.
The previous day, Albert and I had followed Route 66 through New Mexico and Arizona, passing dozens of tiny desert towns. Billboards for reptile gardens, curio shops, and Indian jewelry littered the open spaces along the way. Near dusk, Albert took a left turn into a small campground. At the entrance, a huge green plastic dinosaur with bright yellow eyes greeted us. At least ten feet tall, the beast guarded a building with a sign that read “Dinosaur Caverns.” We pulled into an empty campsite and found a fire pit with plenty of wood left behind by the previous tenants.
“I wonder what Dinosaur Caverns is like?” I asked Albert as I stirred our rice and hot dog dish over the fire.
“I don’t know. My folks took me up to Mercer’s in Calaveras County when I was a kid. We toured some groovy caves. It was really cool—stalactites, stalagmites, flashy crystals, and stuff.”
“Hell, I wonder if it was the same place I went to when I was in the Boy Scouts. I still remember they had some crazy formations that looked like big sheets of bacon. It was in Calaveras, near the jumping-frog competition.”
Albert filled his tin cup with dark liquid from my blackened coffeepot, “Sounds like the same place.”
“I always wanted to go to Carlsbad Caverns but never made it.”
He took a sip of coffee, then said, “You know what?” A sly smile crept across his face. “I have a couple of hits of acid that Serena gave me. What do you say we drop in the morning and take a tour of Dinosaur Caverns?”
“Shit! I can’t believe how many times I’ve been offered acid this summer. Just a sec, let me check.” I paused, squinting my eyes, “Shucks, I think there are a few brain cells still kicking around up there. What a trip that would be—checking out caverns on acid! That’s going to be a blast.”
Looking back, I could see we had no clue what we were in for.
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails and Mountain Trails
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my personal gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s was a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns