I laced on my running shoes and jogged out into the early morning of the Mojave Desert. The sun had not quite yet made its appearance from behind purple mountains. This is the best the weather would be all day and I planned to make the best of it.
Not far from the truck stop where my adventure began, I saw a camper out in the desert. A peculiar sight for someone from Tennessee, but not at all uncommon in the vast desert. I’ve pulled my truck out in the desert to spend the night before. As I approached it, I made out large letters across the hood, “CB Man.” Moments later, an older Hispanic man emerged from the camper. I could not help myself so I ran over to him.
Manuel Gonzales is a Mexican immigrant who came to America knowing he could build a better life than back in his home country south of the border. He brought skills with him and put them to good use. Living and working in an old RV he purchased for $500, he repairs and installs CB radios for truck drivers. He advertises at the four truck stops nearby and is on call 24/7. He has never asked for a penny from anyone and has never taken government assistance of any kind, unless living in the desert would be considered taking a handout. His smile warmed me as the new morning sun cast a glow on his brown skin. We said goodbyes and I continued to trot down the highway.
I stayed on the road for a short while, then left the pavement behind, pounding across the desert floor. Soon I came to an entire community, completely abandoned. I’d read an article the night before about Barstow, California that had been printed in one of the large LA newspapers in 1955. It touted the boom town as the next Las Angeles. With its 10,000 citizens at that time, it was the crossroads of California. Today, sixty-one years later, the population has only doubled. I’d stumbled upon row after row of uninhabited homes in the middle of nowhere. I stared at the graveyard of a dream that promised to thrive, only to be boarded up and long since forgotten.
The cold morning briskness reminded me how harsh the desert can be. Buzzards flew overhead and landed nearby, just in case I succumbed to the harshness and became their morning meal. The wind began to whip the sand in my face. I knew all too well, it was only a prelude of the tropical storm strength winds that would come through later in the morning.
I spotted a young man riding a bicycle. As he approached, there were several unique things I noticed about him. His bike was a one speed beach rover, hardly what he needed to successfully navigate the desert. He carried everything he owned in a backpack on his back. And he was very, very happy. He embraced the morning and enjoyed a freedom that normally only eagles experience, having the entire Mojave Desert as his playground with no fences to restrict his adventure in any way. We talked for quite a while just like we were old friends. Jeremy’s pure uninhibited joy and zest for life was infectious. He was a bright red rose in the midst of a dry barren desert, the second one I’d seen this morning.
Jeremy reluctantly rolled on and I continued my jog through the brown sand, watching carefully for signs of rattlesnakes, though I knew the cold had driven them underground. Eventually, I made my way back to the road. I’d run much farther than I’d intended. The desert just lured me deeper and deeper into her enchanted grip.
I passed a deputy sheriff and waved gratefully, although I never felt anything but perfect peace in the Mojave. I looked up and saw a man walking toward me. As he approached, I began to slow and finally came to a stop as I reached him. Brock carried a huge backpack and had walked all the way from San Diego in search of a better life. He has friends some three hundred miles to the north and was going there hoping he’d find work, perhaps on the farms.
It seemed I was doing more talking than running today but this courageous man had me so intrigued, I did not want to leave. He did not feel comfortable asking people for rides so he used his own two legs and was making his way north. He then divulged he’d watched television and was afraid to get into vehicles with total strangers.
I told him about my bicycle trip and told him America is filled with wonderful people with a genuine desire to reach out and help their fellow human beings. He thanked me for being so positive.
I needed to make my way back east to my truck so I wished him well and jogged away. Suddenly, I remembered I had cash in my running pouch. I spun around and shouted his name just as I saw him leave the road and retreat into the desert. He stopped and turned. I jogged back to him.
“Brock, do you need money?”
He did not hesitate, “yes!”
I gave him the folded bills I had in my pouch. I have no idea how much it was but I saw a twenty and a five-dollar bill. Then I said, “Brock, don’t give up on Americans. Don’t doubt there are wonderful people out here who can help you get to where you’re going.”
With that I jogged off. After a while I looked back. He was still standing there staring at the old lady in spandex shorts in the middle of the Mojave Desert on an early Sunday morning.
Three people I encountered on a run through the middle of nowhere. Three times I came across a rose in the desert. One found a way to make a life. One left a life in search of freedom to be himself. One walked away from disappointment and marched hundreds of miles toward hope.
I’m not sure who got the greater blessing in the Mojave, them or me but as I jogged the last four miles back to the truck stop, my heart danced on the wings of the wind. As I rounded the corner and my truck came into view, Siri told me the wind was blowing at 23mph. I knew the window of opportunity to run had been timed perfectly. What a tragedy it would have been if I’d not experienced roses in the desert.