This is an essay. A perhaps slightly Emersonesque meditation on the metaphysics of the nocturnal road trip I’d written in 1988, at the age of 27.
It details my philosophical musings as I took one of my quasi-frequent nocturnal road trips back in my twenties. I used to drive alone at night cross country, in my un-air-conditioned 1987-or-so Toyota truck. I loved (and still do) driving at night. As you can well see, I found (and still do find) a mystical experience there. I made my last such solo night drive from Wyoming to Colorado in November of 2015.
There is just something about the very air that changes at night.
Those you meet and pass…the distant lights of human dwellings….
One’s imagination runs wild…perhaps because there’s not much to physically look at, so our musings turn inward. However, in my case, my musings are frequently turned inward, I don’t need a lack of light to do that. But at night…it is something that takes on a whole new world…”gravitas” is the current term-in-vogue.
The essay, written in January of 1988, months after one such August’s night drive, details the entirety of that trip on the dark roads of the West. It is a trip I still think about, perhaps my most fun—certainly most mystical—road trip ever. I had driven from Colorado to Nevada to California. Stayed with family in Las Vegas (I’m not from there, but some family members lived and still live in the area), then continued on. Everything in here is as it happened…the musings of a frustrated 27-year-old wanting to reinvent his life.
I love this piece. Remember this drive. It was, indeed, a magical summer’s drive for me…one which I hope to always keep in my memory as Time continues its counterfeit, inexorable march ever forward. So far, I have.
I hope each of you has a similar Night Drive in your life…and if not, I urge you to do at least one! There simply is no other experience like it!
This essay has never seen the light of day. Please…keep it that way…and read it at night….
© F. P. Dorchak, 1988
I was engulfed by darkness.
A few minutes earlier, I had been sheathed by the warm familiar surrounds of city lights and sounds. Now, I had left them all, sneaking away into the dark like someone trying to leave a past behind. I was trying desperately to hide under the warm and comforting blankets of the dark. As my headlights raced ahead of me, I felt like—like a knife…slicing a path. A path toward a dream. A dream away from my work, a work I had come to hate, to abhor. Something that no longer suited me, that I no longer wanted to be a part of. I wanted out…to become a part of my new dream. I was in love with a dream…and on this August night, I was on my way to find it….
Maybe that was it, maybe I was trying to leave something behind, at least for the moment anyway. I had to get out and as far away as possible. I headed for the west coast.
It drizzled a little. It was a good thing that I had decided to bring a tarp to cover my belongings in the bed of my truck. The rain danced alive and taunting on my windshield, casting an eeriness I reveled in as the distances between me and the city increased. I felt a Beckoning….
The interior of the cab was dully illuminated by the console’s mild incandescence. The steady womp, womp of my wiper blades were hypnotic…comforting. I was propelled into a trance, a dream world of my own making…one I never wanted to leave and would many times since then, try to recapture….
My headlights cut a swath into the darkness, splitting apart the waves of black so I could find my way. A new way.
I just couldn’t get out of this state fast enough.
I dreamed about nothing other than how far I had left to go…but in a longingly way—anticipating. I was looking forward to the drive…of being out on the road while most were sleeping safely in their beds. I looked forward to driving through treacherous mountain passes at three in the morning…the eerie ivory glow of the moon bathing everything in its radiance. Few people ever really experience this mystical quality. And I don’t mean just a midnight’s drive through the city—though it too has its own mystique—no I mean driving on top of the world, totally and utterly alone…cliffs to both sides, hair-pin turns, fog, and the ever-present possibility of making a false move, sending you over the side, into the unknown depths of the deep….
It was something spiritual, though I have no ordinary religious beliefs. Something stirred deep within my psyche, releasing such a flood of emotion and feeling that are even now difficult to put down. As I passed through the somnolent towns on my quest Westward…the mercury vapor lamps breathing their own life into the night…I felt myself no longer separate from the night—I was part of the rhythm. I had become one with the darkness and their night songs.
I felt the orgasmic thrill as I rushed head-on into my journey!
All the times I had felt alone or lonely faded away as I drank in my by-my-selfness. I wanted to be alone. I looked about my cab…to my cooler filled with juices and sandwiches…and enjoyed being alone. Just me and my truck and the dark. There was no one else on the road.
So I hit Monarch pass.
I was so close to the heavens, but would later find out hours into the future, that I would get even closer. The clouds whisked above me…seemingly mere feet above my head. The moon was the eerie atmosphere I thought ahead to in my earlier hours. I wanted to stop, but felt that that might ruin part of the atmosphere…that I was to continue driving…that it was part of the whole process. Moving. I was moved by the dark argent of the night. How can this be explained? It can’t, it can only be experienced.
I spiraled up and up, trying to reach the moon. Wisps of clouds flew past my truck, wetting the outside. My travel seemed to not be of this world…but a travel into other dimensions….
At one point I had driven around and across Blue Mesa Lake. It, too, was ghostly…the moon glinting off the waters understood how I felt. Understood me and my intentions. I looked into the water trying to figure out what it must be down there now…in the darkness…and if there was any life form within those dark waters….
What it would be like if I were on that lake right now…alone…in a small rowing boat? Sitting out somewhere in the middle of Blue Mesa Reservoir just letting the current take me where it will?
I saw one or two campfires off among the hills…and at once tried to place myself there…to mentally see who and what was going on…and, at the same time, to not even be bothered. To let those people feel the same freeness and openness I now felt…without any intrusion whatsoever…mental or physical. I was, for perhaps the first time, truly in love with life and me.
Who I was.
Had been and wanted to return to being.
I continued onward through and past towns called Montrose, Ouray, and Silverton.
It was at these places that I became a ghost…a nonperson flying past in the dark.
I stopped at several 7-11s, both for gas and food. Teenagers were huddling about in their groups and cars, hardly taking a notice of me. And I thought back to the times I had made my way to such places at night for mundane reasons. I might hardly have taken notice of similar passers-by…not stopping to realize how much a part of life they were. That they have names too…loves…hates…bills and desires. And how they too might be thinking the very same thoughts I am now thinking….
It’s like you have invaded a protected reserve of some sort…being allowed to experience for a very short period of time…a slice of life elsewhere. These 7-11s have the same ice machine that “my” 7-11 has…the same blue-and-white metallic AT&T phone booths with the perforated phone on the side, placed neck high. The same Coke machines…the same No Parking fire lane out front, and the same red tape markers lining the entrance/exit glass doors to judge the height of criminals by. It was all the same…except for the location.
Even the empty refuse blowing around the stores’ grounds was alike.
But as I paid for my goods and pulled out, leaving the lights and life behind, I couldn’t help but think that it was all an elaborate, mystical setup…just for me!…and that as soon as I left it all, it would all shut down…close down…people stopped moving and the lights would go out…die….
That all that was just there for effect only.
Only there for me as I stopped and continued on in my night drive…my solo (but not lonely!) sojourn.
Then I passed the town of Telluride below me, heading up a steep mountain pass. This pass was to be higher than Monarch had been, I was to find out. And even more of a mystery. It was here that I got my inspiration of all this as my “religious experience.”
It was the windiest road I had ever driven, and I threw my consciousness into the future, imagining what the drive would be like in the winter…people attempting the drive to hit Durango…or Telluride for skiing. It would be impossible with snow, would it not? As I passed certain points on my excursion upward, I noticed things like gates across the roads. There was one just as I hit the base of this road heading up. These were the same I had seen from my previous ‘home.’ They were gates to close off the road, conditions life-threatening.
Up ahead, I saw a flashing yellow light. Every time I took a turn, the light ended up on a different side of my travel, my perspective to it constantly changing. I began to give up trying to figure out where the light was in relation to me.
Just before the light, I passed a vehicle alongside the road, uninhabited. I thought how lonely it looked, like a dog without its master. It looked so lost, its personality lying latent until the turn of a key. It sat off the road on a cleared shoulder which looped off the road.
I found the light, flashing at the mouth of a short tunnel, maybe 75 feet in length. As I approached it, I suddenly realized what it really was—not a tunnel at all, but a snow shelter. The yellow light was harsh and abrupt as it spilled all over the concrete and mountain, but at the same time warm and friendly. It was something active in the midst of inactivity…in the middle of darkness…and I seemed to strike up a brief but deep friendship with it as I passed it…similar to how one might feel were they the last person on earth and spied…met…another human…but could not stop….
I speculated how that it would still be flashing long after I left…unlike the microcosm at the 7-11s. This inanimate object was real…and everything else wasn’t. I felt lonely for it. Thinking how it must look in the midst of a snowstorm…covered and iced…the light forcing its way through the buildup of snow upon it….
My turns became yet tighter…more brutal…the moon grinning to itself, seeing if I was worthy of my quest. I grinned back defiantly—besting it! There were a few close ones, especially with the fog, but I proved myself equal to the challenge. The moon welcomed me at the top.
And here, it seemed like I had truly touched the sky!
It was a rush being so high, on tiny winding roads, in the early deadness of the morning hours, moonlight bathing the scenery before me. Looking out and across the chasms and gullies, I was hit with the ‘religiousness’ of it all. I am not religious, but my beliefs were at that point substantiated. Everything is connected, and it all does make sense if you just open your mind.
I…was a spirit soaring through the night….
I was feeling a sadness descend upon me as I began to leave the peaks, spiraling downward, now. I saw some headlights up away from me, and wondered if the driver or drivers within had experienced the same-or-similar adventure as I had.
I approached the Four Corners and Arizona, the mountains quickly faded behind me. The sky was slowly cracking with light in the east. Four Corners and I were shortly to meet.
The sky had brightened only slightly so, initial streaks of red and blue and yellow staining the air to my rear. I turned onto the Four Corners road, traveling down it about a quarter mile to where I saw the sign. It was a dark, heavy wood engraved with the words ‘Welcome to Four Corners‘ carved into it. Alone…the only one there…I stopped, got out and took a picture of the sign with my headlights aimed on it….
Morning now having a firm hold over the sky, I saw flashing headlights miles ahead of me. The Arizona desert had barely been up, few cars out on the road. There were many lights, it seemed, the brilliant lights of red and blue startling the empty, early morning.
Finally getting there, I saw that there were several state patrol cars and an ambulance parked to the side of my road…a desolate road out in the middle of nowhere…
A body lay on the ground…covered in a white blanket.
I looked as I slowly drove by…the indifferent looking patrolman waving my through. It was my view of an actual dead human being, though I couldn’t actually see him or her. It was just the body. In spite of the official cars around it, it looked so brutally and eternally lonely. How long had s/he (I got the feeling it was a ‘he’) had lain there? What happened to him-or-her? Who had found him-or-her? It seemed that even though there was an actual body there…that something tremendously large was missing. That there was a huge emptiness engulfing the area. The emptiness of the body’s person….
Leaving Las Vegas behind, I made my way north.
It was a paradise of the dark.
When you drive the desert, everything seems so much closer to you, especially at night. The light of your headlights seems to pull the landscape up and into you as you drive by. Literally bringing everything closer…it’s an amazing, metaphysical quality. You seem to see things clearer—the tiny cacti…the shrubs…any little creatures that might scurry across your path. The light that is shed is different from ordinary light—different from any other light. It is like there is no other land—nothing—beyond the borders of your illumination. All the terrain available is only what is lighted.
Then you come upon other drivers…and you feel that unspoken pride among you, as you realize that you are witnessing a part of life others are not or will never experience. It is a common experience shared.
I passed a group of motorcyclists, wondering how great it must feel to be even more exposed to the night and its elements. I almost didn’t even want to pass them, but finally decided upon it.
Ah the night!
It was truly a flat world we lived in!
As I drove I almost became convinced of it…that there was no curve to the landscape, just the flat terrain between the borders of my headlights. I passed several little towns and way-stations, totally mystified by the ghostly draping of light around their buildings. I passed one building where a door was open, interior light spilling out into the dark. There was a man standing around there, smoking or something, I surmised. I tried once more to project my mind there. It was sacred….
Moving, moving, always moving….
I needed gas, and stopped at a station up ahead in some hamlet of a town. Again, there’s something about the way light falls about a gas station and its islands at night, especially at stations in areas unfamiliar to the observer. As I stopped to fill up, the motorcyclists I passed earlier came to light at the same station, hair and beards windblown. I envied them and shared the pride and freedom they exuded from the ride. Whether that was all they did or it was just a summer jaunt, that was all they were doing then…and that was all I was doing then. We—the bikers and I—didn’t hold jobs…didn’t pay bills…had no responsibilities that outweighed our lives. No, we were road tripping into a glorious summer night…hours of late night and early morning.
I looked over at them, smiling, and said ‘hi’. They were a friendly lot, enjoying life. It was an exciting brotherhood I was feeling just then, in spite of how I normally feel about brotherhoods.
I never wanted this to end!
And for that summer, it didn’t.
I got back on the road, leaving them forever behind. California was still hours into my future and I was alive with ecstatic excitement! So, north I continued, landscape speeding by.
I let my mind run at breakneck speeds into imagination. I could do nothing but think about how magical my summer was…my best summer since childhood. The mystical quality was something I didn’t want to explain for fear of losing it, which I knew would never happen.
The road winded, threading its way up and down, through passes and around lakes, bits of habitation and life scattered here and there, but only us night drivers were the conscious ones….
Hours later I found myself needing another fill up, taking it at a major turn in direction for me. Now I would be heading directly at my dream, my goal. West. The lights at the station took on a new meaning for me, because my direction was now more direct. All I had to do was basically, drive ‘straight.’ Again I let myself get lost in the eerie aura of the station’s lights—an oasis in the middle of the dark night. I often wondered about the type of people who man these places in the wee hours. Do they feel the same way about the night…the darkness? Is that why they work those hours?
It was as if there was no reality outside of the illuminated confines. No other people. It all seemed to be a rather existentialist drama. Two people acting out some tiny performance for whatever god’s amusement…after which (since we really don’t exist) we simple go back into the ether of the universe. Patiently waiting-in-unconsciousness until called again to re-enact the same performance of events for yet another passing spirit in the dark….
I would have gladly given up my life to just that then! I would willingly live these same moments over and over again for Time Immemorial! This is what, I find, I live for—what my whole of existence was meant for. My Fate. And I welcomed it enthusiastically.
My God, how I didn’t want it to end! Ever!
I felt such emotion well up within me—even now, as I write this a couple months later. This is what I want my death to be! When my time is up in this form, I want to wander the night, doing what I was doing now. To become one with the night. There is only one Heaven in existence, and I was in it now….
I left the station, full of powerful emotion and sadness, knowing that this will indeed end…for with the coming of fall, there is the end of summer. Oh, God, why couldn’t I bring myself to die now! So This would always remain as it is now?
Oh, if only I could….
I drove onward through the mountains, through the likes of towns with the names of Yerington, Wellington, Markleeville, and Sonora. It was a hypnotic movement, going beyond the actual physical accomplishment of guiding a truck along a road. It was an opiating ballet of trance-like qualities. Yes. There was no vehicle, no road, no individual, no route. There was only but a collectiveness. A collectiveness of consciousness. There were no separatenesses—everything was intricately interconnected…becoming one intense moment…one united fluidity….
It was at that point that you knew…beyond all doubt…what your position in life was…and it wasn’t something you could adequately explain nor want to explain. It was something brutally personal…something you wanted no one else to know about you…yet something you wanted every ‘individual’ to experience for themselves. Maybe it was something that could most adequately be explained as a ‘tone of feeling.’ Something that defied ordinary explanation…ordinary words. It transcended them…using the realm of mind….mind tones….
As I weaved in and out of the passes…the approaching lights of the towns floated by…looking like space ships or space cities. The clusterings of lights hanging in the night air… seemingly suspended in the air by the dark….
Again, I thought of the type of people who must live among the mountains. So high up, and yes—even to some extent—isolated. Are they as me? Or are they as gods? I knew it was a silly thought, but as anyone knew who did much driving, things are not the same at night. Things change…the very air changes…people’s perceptions change. And it was this change that I was experiencing…thrilling in….
A few times along the route, I stopped, mainly to get my direction positive, as there were no light posts to light the turns that I needed to take. Few signs. It was like nothing else mattered. You would inhale the very night around you…it travelling down your throat into your lungs…the capillaries grabbing for it. It then shot out to every minute section of your being, revitalizing every facet of body and mind—
Everything made sense.
Wars, love, greed, rape…it all made sense…coming into a shocking clarity.
So onward I went again. I was no longer tired—I couldn’t be!—every fiber of my existence was on fire with this new knowledge and anticipation and excitement!
I was getting closer to my dream.
The night began to lighten as I approached Sonora Pass. I was becoming somewhat dismayed at the thought of leaving the nightness behind…but it was dispelled by the fact that this location on the earth was almost like a temple. The morning light scratching across the sky’s border lent its own mystical qualities to the land. The view of the surrounding area was breathtakingly gorgeous.
I wound my way up the steep mountain pass, the second highest mountain pass in the Sierra Nevadas, my mouth agape at the beauty. I had driven this route several years ago, and it was more beautiful then it was then. There was a light fog lighting around the spruce and lower-lying brush. Gray smoke weaved the air, coming from fireplaces. No doubt many were still asleep, but some were assuredly getting up, as this was a camping and hunting area.
My journey continued to take me to what seemed like a plot of microcosms…little dioramas of land…each one cute in its surroundings. The road would merge through these dioramas, only to disappear on the other end of it…yet continue with another one as the previous dioramas closed up with your passing….
Everything was so lush and intense! Like each diorama exploited life to its fullest in each of its microcosms! That that’s why they were set up like this. To spread it all out all over would detract from what this particular beauty was. It was only meant to be experienced in intense handfuls…and at night…by passing ghosts….
The feeling as I drove through it all was that of driving my vehicle over catwalks. I remembered how I felt back in college, when I worked in a campus auditorium and discovered the catwalk above everybody in the theatre. It was sandwiched between what was left of the auditorium’s ceiling and the building’s roof, a condensed space with precarious-looking hanging catwalk suspended by thin wires. Air conditions, heaters and lighting units filled this dark space, and there was a musty smell that I immediately felt comfortable with….
As I walked through wobbling catwalks, I constantly reminded myself to watch my step, or I’d fall through the ceiling…then another seventy feet or so onto the chairs below. But it was that feeling of walking (flying?) over everything, everyone below! Of being suspended over the world with its own little diorama around me as I explored….
And that was how I felt now…only that I was driving my truck…suspended over the world…and that if I deviated from the diorama, I’d go crashing down thousands upon thousands of feet. My trip was only a few hours longer now, as my destination within California closed in.
And I wondered if the things I had experienced during my night drive were still all there…behind me…when I answered my own question.
Of course they weren’t.
They had disappeared with the night’s release…but would most assuredly return when the days last rays again retreated….
As I drove on, a smile on my face and dreams in my eyes, I realized that life is great (as a friend once told me). I had a warm feeling inside me. But beyond that I knew that life is also as we create it. At that point in time, my reality exceeded my dreams. And what do you do when you reach that point in your life?
You continue dreaming.
My Short-Lived Modeling Career (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)