I didn't put my thumb out for the first full day. I had this idea of walking through the desert like Jesus of Nazareth. Also, being a kid from the suburbs, you are told early and often about the dangers of hitchhiking. I had no desire to get chopped up in cubes and having my organs sold on the black market. Also, I was not yet hungry enough, thirsty enough, or bored enough to start looking for short cuts. The other thing was that I literally had nowhere to go and nowhere to be. Everything is within walking distance if you have the time. So I walked. At first, I hugged the freeway, walking along the shoulder. It seemed safer than the barren and flat wilderness that spanned for miles in every direction. If I followed alongside the freeway, I couldn't get lost. Every now and again, a diesel truck would roll by. I would feel it coming a mile before, as the hot asphalt began to vibrate and hum at its approach. Heavier and louder and bearing down on me, until it would whoosh past, half pushing me away and half sucking me in, the sound a million decibels in my eardrums, and then it would be gone. I should have been able to feel the tiny vibrations becoming more and more faint as it fled, but the dramatic noise that its arrival had caused created a vacuum, and my senses took a while to return to their former sensitivity.
I guess that I spent the time thinking, but I couldn't tell you what about. There were some snatches of conscious thought that made it through the filter; thoughts about my family, my friends, sporting events. I thought about being a kid a lot. I remembered hanging out with my Dad while he was BBQ'ing, and putting my hands on the grill to lift myself up to see. I don't remember being taken away by an ambulance for 2nd degree burns on my palms, but I imagine what it must have been like all the same. I remember when we lived in Oceanside, just north of San Diego. This was before my brother was born, and I would walk with my parents down the boardwalk, feeding french fries to the sea gulls and watching the crabs scuttle around
One thing that I did not think about was any consideration or doubt about the choice that I made. I had expected to feel excitement, freedom, and a sense of adventure. I did not. Failing that, I had expected to feel doubt and worry that I was throwing my life away, or making a stupid decision. I didn't feel that way either. I didn't feel much of anything really. My everything was tied up in each individual footstep and each individual breath. I rationed my water, but I knew that at some point, I might have to hitch a ride to the nearest town in order to restock. I was in the type of place where you would come across signs saying "next fuel stop, 12,163 miles away," and I was pretty sure that I didn't have enough water to walk that far. It was hot as hell out. I had soaked a bandanna in water and wrapped it around my head, but within minutes it felt like jacuzzi water leaking down the back of my neck and the front of my shirt. Sometimes, when I walked in the middle of the freeway for novelty's sake, my shoes would pull the melting asphalt along with it, and black tar covered the bottoms of my Reebok hi-tops.
As the sun started to slink behind the horizon that first night, I realized that I would have to decide on a sleeping situation. Without a tent, my main concerns were snakes, scorpions, fire ants and spiders. As I was limited in my ability to do anything about any of that, I benignly ignored the possibilities. I left the comfort of the paved road and found a small outcropping of rocks a quarter mile off the shoulder. I looked around carefully for ant holes or piles, and for smooth tracks where snakes may have slithered. I didn't know how to look around for signs of scorpions, or even if there existed such a methodology. To a novice eye like mine, everything looked as safe as I could be assured of, and I pulled out my sleeping bag from the backpack. A foam pad would have been an awesome thing to bring, but it had somehow escaped my attention during the packing process. I slipped inside the synthetic sleeping bag, freshly purchased from my local REI, and waited for the sun to go down. I wasn't hungry. I wasn't even thirsty, so I just watched the light slowly make its escape, dwindling until it was just a sliver of gold over the end of the earth, and then disappearing completely.