A Second Chance? Christmas On The Loneliest Highway In America

(first posted 2/1/12)

“There are no second acts in American lives.” F Scott Fitzgerald.

But what about second chances?  We get those, right?  I seem to be in the presence of one right now, and I hope to God I never have a third.

This is part three of an ongoing saga.  Here is PART 1 and PART 2.

Twelve years ago mom called: “Michael, I have breast cancer.” The memory is vivid: A quiet shock set in, and I stared at the wall, speechless. Things had gotten strained between us after I left the house at 19. Religion was a major aspect of our lives, and remains so for a majority of my family, but had quickly faded from my life after high school. The tension from this became palpable, and my bad habit was to deflect attention when pressed; an unfortunate and unhealthy vein which runs in the male side of the family. One I am attempting to fix, lest I fall down the rabbit hole once again…


Mom and dad moved to Colorado in 97, and I stayed in Oregon but made yearly visits, mostly by car. One of those years I opted to take a new route, rather than the tired interstates. Highway 50 in Nevada was appealing: The Loneliest Highway In America. I knew little of Nevada, and what a lesson it was. Hour after hour in the 84 Camry through an otherworldly planet of rock, dirt, sand, and mountains. Basin, range, basin, range, basin, range; a taxing yet beautiful trip that must be taken more than once.

During my stay in Colorado those four months in 2010 I found myself bonding with a cousin whom I had only vaguely known in my youth. She’s fifteen years older than me, and had a much different childhood than I. While my family was, by all accounts, stable and happy, hers was far from it. Alcohol, drugs, divorces, poverty, runaways, you name it. We chatted for hours on numerous occasions, and the end result shocked me: how bloody HAPPY she is! Always a room-brightening smile, and a hug. I took to calling her “Chippy”.

Chippy and her husband are both nurses, and were a tremendous help during mom’s decline. Hospice was arranged, and provided vital assistance, but there’s nothing quite like family. The love and care on display was unlike any I had seen before, and still resonates with me.

The lunar landscapes of Nevada resonate with me as well.

Upon returning home to Oregon from Colorado in June 2010 I needed a car to replace my late Acura, and I found a one-owner 83 Tercel 5-speed on Craigslist. She accepted my $700 offer, which is what I paid for the Integra a few years before. I guess I’m on a roll.

The Tercel is about as basic as basic gets. Power nothing, am/fm stereo (one speaker blown), not even a passenger side mirror. The tires are straight out of the fine print of a “Blowout Sale! $29 each!*” advertisement. I figured it would do me well in getting re-established in Oregon.

However, fate intervened, and another roadtrip to Colorado was in store. Another chance at Highway 50.

Day 1 took me from Eugene, Oregon to Fallon, Nevada, which is essentially where Highway 50 begins.

The Tercel starts, and runs. Sure, it’s rough and about as refined as crude vomit, but it just keeps going. And it returns upward of 38 MPG, to boot. There’s not a lot of power to be generated from the venerable 3A-C engine (63 bhp, natch) but it will get up to speed and sip gas doing so.

Day 2 took me across 50 and down to Cedar City, Utah. The next morning I hit Zion Canyon National Park.

Zion is simply impossible to describe in words, so here a few more pictures. (click all pics for larger size)

Those cliffs go up some 3,000 feet from the valley floor.

Day 3 took me from Zion to Tuba City, Arizona, with a few nice views on route.

The Grand Canyon is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.

And now I’m back in Colorado Springs, which begs the question: why did I drive the Loneliest Highway In America alone on Christmas Day? Chippy called a few days before. She has breast cancer.