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Utah to Santa Fe

After camping on the edge of a cliff outside Zion National Park, I moved east. I targeted a camping spot on BLM land between Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase. I use an app where people upload GPS coordinates and descriptions of places to camp on open public land. You can browse a map, find a potential spot, and then plug the location into Google maps to get driving directions. The West is still alive, and free, if you seek it out.

I turned off the pavement onto an unmarked dirt road that meandered through scrub brush terrain. After a few miles of washboard that demanded a brinksmanship of speed to harmonize the insane bumps, I turned onto a rugged single-track driving trail. Despondent, I found that my hopeful camp spot had already been snagged. I continued on to the backup spot. This involved crossing over a steep hill which almost immediately questioned the capabilities of my soccer-mom SUV.

Eventually there was a steep, rocky section of the road that I knew I couldn't do. You would need a serious, modified overland rig to crawl up gnarly rocks like that. Welp, I needed to turn around. Mother fucker. This track of dirt wasn't wide enough to turn around. The mountain dropped off aggressively at the edge of the road. High consequences. So I walked down to scope out a potential turnaround point and found one about 150 meters downhill. Mind you, I had pushed the limits of the "truck" on the way up, carefully approaching gaps and rocks at just the right angle so I wouldn't bottom out. This is one of those moments where you go, "Yup, this is a little sketchy. This might not turn out well." But you try not to freak yourself out, and just focus on thoughtful action. I did my offroad maneuvers in reverse, and luckily made it to the turnaround with only a minor cosmetic fender ding. A well-earned reminder that I had pushed the car just over the line. There was the boundary line, right there. I now knew the limits of the machine that was my partner in crossing a continent.

After returning downhill defeated but unscathed, I noticed that my camp spot competitor seemed to be putting his dual-sport dirt bike onto a trailer. I rolled over and got out of the car. "You just getting here or you heading out?" I called out against the wind, sneaking in a slight cowboy impression. To my luck, he was getting in his truck to pull out at that very moment. I got lucky. For the four days I stayed there, I had to disappoint at least three suitors to my desert enclave.

Doing computer work from the wilderness has a strange beauty to it. Productivity cycles with temperature, wind and time of day. I had to actively manage the angle of my solar panels, and plan out the use of my energy-thirsty satellite internet. In the evening, after the sun dipped below the canyon walls, I lit a small fire and felt a completion to the day. I hit a stride, and felt the satisfaction in granting myself a merit badge in wilderness digital nomad skills. In the pure wilderness, when you catch yourself scrolling on Instagram, the psychic impact is very apparent the moment you put the phone down and are immediately engrossed back in the pregnant desolation of dirt, juniper, wind and rock.

Eventually, the computer won. I was compelled to meet the next engagement on my google calendar. Santa Fe was next. I had been chatting on the phone with an old college buddy who lived on a property called Synergia Ranch that was built by a group of enterprising Boomer hippies.

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