Last week I stopped at the mall and bought myself a new pair of summer shorts. All the shorts I own are either tan or beige; I wanted something bolder, more vibrant. I wanted plaid. Granted I picked out the pair with muted tans and browns, but at least they were plaid. I have had a consistent 36 inch waist line for decades and when I tried the shorts in that size they quickly slid down my hips. I grabbed the next size down from the rack, 34. They fit without being tight. I had dropped a size.
I first noticed it three weeks into my around-the-country trip that my belt, the only one I packed, had run out of holes. I forgot to pack my awl. I was just finishing up my A to Z tour of Utah—Arches to Zion—and the constant battle of trying to keep my pants up was distracting me from enjoying the scenery. Well, that and my annoyance with all the other tourists angling for just the right photo op. There was the one German woman at Arches National Park waving her arms wildly and shouting in her native tongue for everyone to get out the way so her husband could take a picture. He couldn’t move or reposition himself of course, everyone else was supposed to. As I was getting ready to depart St. George, Utah one my shoelaces broke, so I decided it was time to find a store.
I knew I had dropped some weight along the way. I had no appetite. Except maybe a small appetite for adventure; I simply wasn’t hungry. I had been without routine for several weeks. My eating habits had been out of whack and I was lucky if I made the time for one meal during the course of a day. My mind was filled with other things in any particular 24 hour period: Where was I going next? What route would I take to get there? Would I find a motel or an available campsite once I got there? Would the rented RV in front of me, on the way to there, pull over as a courtesy for the stream of cars in back? Why were the French so photo-obsessed with every squirrel they saw?
I had made previous stops at big box retailers on the outskirts of small town America. These are the places where you can find the same item in the same aisle in the same corner of each store, whether it be Santa Fe, NM; Albany, NY; or Stuttgart, Arkansas. And in every store, there was the same overweight woman wearing a tank top, flip-flops and gray sweat pants. She would always be bent down in the cereal aisle revealing way too much of the crack of her ass. But stops at these cookie cutter stores allowed me the opportunity to quickly run in and out and buy the same jugs of water, the same bag of ice, the same quart of juice, the same blend of granola and trail mix without lingering. And on queue after every stop the ice would melt by the next morning, the juice would get warm and disgusting and the granola and trail mix would get lost and forgotten behind the passenger seat not to be discovered until the next time zone was entered. Primarily I was sustaining myself on bad coffee and gallon jugs of warm bottled water.
There was at least a nine day stretch in the Southwest where I didn’t see any familiar retail chains. The reservations and desert lands of rural New Mexico and Arizona don’t lend themselves to much big box development. The land is there, the economic factors for success aren’t.
Diners weren’t as plentiful as I had hoped along these rural roads and finding a place to eat—that wasn’t attached to a gas station—was a challenge. The one meal a day I typically consumed was eaten after I had driven seven or more hours, usually mid-to-late afternoon, long after the daily specials were sold out. And sparingly I ate overcooked burgers, greasy fried chicken, bland mashed potatoes and mushy pinto beans. Whether it was the tasteless food or the knotted stomach, most meals were left only partially eaten. The waistline grew thinner and the one belt accompanying me on this adventure lost its effectiveness.
By the time I got back to Albany, after driving more than 12000 miles and consuming not many more calories than that, I had dropped 10 pounds and one pant size. But that’s a good thing.