Back in early September—back when this maniac adventure was still in its spring—we abruptly changed course, making an about-face turn in the mustard-yellow hills of Southern Montana away from raging forest fires to the north, towards less smoky latitudes in Colorado and Utah. As we turned south, we began to chase the yellowing aspens into autumn.
In the Colorado Rockies we made our acquaintance with fall in the mountains. We broke out our versatile Patagonia jackets as the mornings and evenings developed a crisp chill. At elevation, the snowpack began to accumulate, building up the reservoir of water that makes life in the west (for plant, animal, and human, alike) possible. In the valleys, animals anxiously followed the first few instructions in their time-worn how-to manuals on winter survival. Flocks of birds passed overhead, headed to warmer environs below.
As we traveled west, down into the dry and dusty basins and ranges of Nevada, autumn rolled with us like fog down a hill. There, fall turned the sagebrush seas a rusty brown and ice crept into the edges of ponds and streams. The occasional prescient local would side-eye Madge at a gas station pump, express his concern (Are y’all sleeping in that?), then instinctively shiver and wish us luck and warmth. Indeed, winter nipped at our heels, once dropping to a toothpaste-freezing four degrees overnight.
Snow chains in hand, we hurried to the golden coast, beating winter’s impenetrable arrival in the Sierras by days. Alas, finding autumn-like weather in Southern California is as easy as burning through another tank of 87 octane.
While we were spared from the predictable December snow storms among the Arizona High Country ponderosa pines, the chill of winter at seven thousand feet required packing our loft bed full with a Rocky Mountain of blankets and comforters. In the Valley of the Sun, Madge, Angie, and I basked in the daytime warmth, but those fiercely blue daytime skies portended dry, cold nights.
Along the Mexican border in New Mexico and Texas, the Chihuahuan Desert—cantankerous on its best days—provided little relief from our perpetual late-autumn weather as vicious wind whipped at the sides of our canvas pop-top tent every morning and evening, stirred up by a devious sun.
Don’t misunderstand, five months of fall—crisp air, warm sun, chilly evenings under clear, impossibly
starry nights—was a season of a lifetime. Peaceful and rejuvenating. Challenging, too. For two mid-Atlantic-ers, experiencing a five month-long stretch of any reasonably consistent weather was as unique as this journey has been invigorating.
Yet in mid-February as we sat in a parking lot somewhere in the beige suburban abyss between Dallas and Fort Worth, sleet tick-tick-tick-ticking off of Madge, we realized it was time for a season change. Like that day in early autumn in Montana, we pointed Madge’s obedient bulldog snout south on impulse, this time towards the swamps and sand of the Gulf.
As our yearlong adventure transitions to its early autumn season, we’re travelling—hopefully—towards a whiff of spring.