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June 4, 2012

Our journey through the pit of the earth started like any other; trapped in a car full of our prized possessions, a dog that would rather be running beside us in the open air, and a very unhappy cat in a carrier.

That morning on the east side of Texas, my husband and I arose to a thin layer of ice on the windows and a dog that desperately needed to potty. To her excitement, I drew the short straw and promptly dressed myself for our outing. The elevator ride to the first floor was something that had to be put up with, tail tucked between her legs, as elevators were a new and scary experience. Liberation into the outside world entailed being on a leash because, as I was smarter than her, I had seen the deer by the fence before she had. At that point it took all of my pulling and coaxing to convince her of her bodily needs. Deer are much more exciting for a cattle dog than needing to potty.

Eventually we all gathered in the car, ready to make a run for it, a really long run for it across the state of Texas. The goal was to be out of that crazy state before stopping for the night. Our goal was Las Cruces, New Mexico.

I took the first driving shift. All the animals, including my husband settled into their first nap of the morning. At that point, Texas was still a land of subtle rolling hills and greenery, and I enjoyed the colors of the rising sun in my rear-view mirror. I skirted around Dallas, leaving up to my imagination the sky-rises and office buildings that were no doubt just on the horizon. It wasn’t until then that anyone in the car stirred. My husband awoke to the dreaded answer “No, we’re still in Texas”.

At this point, I had to pee. That’s probably the number one thing I hate most about long car rides; having to pee. In Texas, this problem is magnified several thousand-fold because the distance between cities, or should I say gas stations, can sometimes be upwards of 60 miles. Luckily, outside of Dallas this isn’t the case, so we stopped shortly. Everyone was relieved, in more than one way (except for the cat. I suspect she has an iron bladder), and we switched drivers.

Now it was my turn for that wonderful morning nap. The nap in itself wasn’t so eventful, but what I saw when I got up was astounding. What did I see? Nothing. I kid you not. There was nothing. Only the curve of the earth stopped me from seeing farther. There were no houses, no gas stations, no hills, no trees, no other roads, and only the occasional other vehicle. Every so often we would come upon a patch of machinery drilling for oil with nothing else around. At one point in the distance I could see a little mesa which had some wind mills sitting atop it. It was nice to see that big oil Texas was taking an interest in developing natural sources of energy, but I wondered where in God’s name that energy was being routed to. We were in the middle of freakin’ nowhere!

In the middle of Texas, somewhere around Abeline, we stopped for lunch at a one-stop Subway-gas station-truck stop. I was fascinated with everything that walked through that door. There were the obvious travelers like ourselves that clearly had everything they owned in their minivans and just wanted a bite to eat and some gas. Then there were the old guys in beat up blue pick-up trucks, looking like they spent one too many days outside in the sun. There were the fat kids, with fat parents, and fat grandparents, all piled into the same little van and looked like they had just decided to come to the one and only local mini-mart for lunch. Where had they come from? It’s a mystery.

After lunch we proceeded to drive though numerous small barrios that looked reminiscent of broken down strip malls. Each of these small towns was separated by about 15 or 20 miles and each one had it’s token “object on a pole”. These objects ranged from cars to rockets to figures of Indians. Most of them appeared to be in good condition, despite the surrounding desolation. We started making note of them to share on facebook later, almost as a prize for when we survived our trip through the pit of the earth.

After this small series of towns the nothingness only increased, if that’s possible. At this point, I was at the wheel again and I drove and drove and drove. Luckily, the speed limit increased to 80 mph and I started to see caution signs for curves up ahead that recommended I reduce my speed to 70 mph. I laughed and flew down the highway. At this point, despite my newly increased speed, I decidedly felt that flying would actually be preferable to this desolation. We had come to the land of actual nothingness. There were no towns, there were no gas stations, there was no civilization.

Within site of Interstate 10 the landscape changed suddenly to that of hilly desolation, with a little wind thrown in there just to make things exciting. Once again we stopped to change drivers and give the dog and ourselves a much needed stretch of the legs and a bathroom break.

As we approached the boarder between Texas and Mexico we increasingly saw four-wheel drive vehicles idling on the side of the road. They were the dreaded boarder patrol and they made me feel uneasy, despite their supposedly patriotic mission to keep us safe. We passed 5 of them at a time until we finally came to a checkpoint. We easily got waved through with our very white faces and barking dog, but travelers on the other side of the interstate hadn’t fared so well. Traffic was backed up quite a ways while the boarder patrol stopped every single car.

It was getting dark and the increased concern about our safety in the form of boarder patrol gave me the heebie-geebies. Coming around a bend in the interstate, I saw the city lights of Cuidad Juarez snuggled up against the mountains. The lights hugged the mountains for miles and I couldn’t help but think how many people would die under those lights that night as a result of drug related violence. I was glad we were still driving 80 mph and escaping those lights.

We did a little dance and cheered a bit when we saw the sign welcoming us to New Mexico. We had survived the pit of the earth; now we just needed to find a spot to stay for the night. We had our sights set on a La Quinta in Las Cruces, another 50 miles up the road. The cat started meowing. I don’t blame her; I’d be cranky too if I had to sit in a carrier for 12+ hours. I tried to soothe her, but to no avail. There was nothing we could do and I felt rather helpless.

I continued to feel helpless as we pulled into the La Quinta in Las Cruces only to find out that they were completely booked that night. Who would have thought! Luckily there was a Howard Johnson that rumor said took pets. It wasn’t as nice, but it was a bed and a roof over our heads and we were all happy to get out of the car after our harrowing adventure through the pit of the earth.

We left the animals to enjoy the hotel room and headed out to a local Tex-Mex restaurant to renew our spirits. Those spirits, were appropriately smashed again when we were told that there were only wine margaritas. We were too tired to be heart-broken and tried the new drinks. They went well with the good greasy food, but they were no replacement for good old-fashioned tequila.

After making it back to our hotel and checking the weather report, we had no choice but to try and go to bed. A feeling of unease had settled over us again in anticipation of the next days adventures. A forecast of 40 mph winds with snow flurries had put a damper on our excitement at having survived Texas. We resigned ourselves to another stressful day in the car, but alas, we were about 700 miles closer to our destination, and that’s always a good thing.

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