The Vagabond Novelist

My Journey. My Dream.

Category: East Texas

Days 17-19: A Trip to the Hospital

In the desert there wasn’t cell phone coverage or WiFi. It’s thirty miles to town and I didn’t know if they had a hospital.

The last two days I’d done little else other than write and think. The more time I allowed for quiet reflection the better I feel mentally. Quiet reflection, sadly, isn’t the best medicine for a sharp, stabbing pain.

I’m an optimist, so I generally think everything will be alright. This pain wasn’t life threatening, I thought, based on my years of advanced medical training (I’ve seen EVERY episode of House).

I’m also a novelist, so I can also imagine a scenario where my body is found in the desert being chewed on by coyotes.

Artist's rendition of Brian. Not an actual photo. Liberties taken with the word "artist."

Artist’s rendition of Brian. Not an actual photo. Liberties taken with the word “artist.”

The numerous and varied ways I was going to die played out in my head for few hours as I lay as still as possible. The pain wasn’t bad when not moving. I didn’t have food, so eventually I would have to move.

As I lay there planning my own demise, certain in the optimistic view that whichever way I died it would be HUGE for book sales, I was very much letting the creative juices take hold. Everyone loves reading a novelist eaten by mountain lions (scenario 6). If I hadn’t been in so much pain, I’d likely have done a good bit of writing.

Now, I’m not one to go to the hospital, or a doctor, or community theatre shows involving mimes, but it was seeming to be a bit serious. I decided to get in the car and drive the sixteen miles or so I would need to get one bar on my phone. It didn’t hurt to find out where a hospital might be located just in case.

The voice in my head was still telling me I’d be alright and to just suck it up.

Fortunately for me, my author buddy’s husband (who I had called) was much more pro-hospital than the voice in my head. He convinced me I needed to go. It was to be found about 70 miles away in Alpine, so I headed north on 118.

The stabby feeling subsided as I was driving because I wasn’t moving about. Sasha, my trusty sports steed, hummed along and I actually enjoyed the drive. It was late evening and the surrounding high plains were beautiful. Not a hungry mountain lion in site, but I did see one coyote. He was chasing a road runner and the jet pack on his back seemed to be malfunctioning.

When I arrived at the hospital, I got out of my car and started the long thirty-yard walk. It sounds like I’m joking, because I’ve been known to do that sort of thing, but I couldn’t take steps that were more than six inches. I looked like Tim Conway when he was playing an old guy on the Carol Burnett show.

Artist's rendition of Brian in the hospital. Not an actual photo.

Artist’s rendition of Brian in the hospital. Not an actual photo.

Three hours in the hospital, a prescription for ten days of antibiotics, and a wheelchair ride back to my car and the prognosis was that I would live.

The whole experience was wonderful because of the quality treatment I received from the staff, most notably Jim the nurse. He was awesome!

I didn’t go back to the bus that night. Instead I got a hotel room at the Quarter 7 hotel, which is lovely, and gets a 37 just for how Carlin helped me get checked in. I couldn’t even stand at the counter. He found me room 112, which was the closest to where I was sitting. He helped me get my stuff from the car and then even parked it.

When I got in my room, I had a pain pill the hospital had given me. I was so tired and beaten down I couldn’t open the little silver packaging. Carlin did that for me, too.

The pain pill helped and I watched NHL hockey before dropping off to sleep.

Looking back on the experience it was wonderful. The decisions that the old Brian would have made could have led to serious problems. The hospital staff was wonderful and it ended up costing much less than I imagined. In fact, because I paid all at once, they knocked the bill down from $1000 to $650. I didn’t know hospitals could do that, but apparently they get so little from insurance companies that for those who pay up front they’re able to cut the person a break. It changed my views on going to get help when I’m sick. That’s a valuable lesson right there.

It’s not the most fun chapter in the life of The Vagabond Novelist, but it might be the most valuable thus far.

Day 16: Literally Breathtaking

blue map of TexasA few days ago it was suggested I check out the Santa Elana pass in Big Bend National park. That was my plan when I got up, but not first thing.

The novelist part of being The Vagabond Novelist hasn’t been something I’ve talked a lot about. I’ve been writing a bunch. Admittedly, the first week of traveling about I didn’t do as good a job as I had hoped.

In my mind the picture was of me sitting in coffee shops, possibly in a turtleneck with the smug look of tortured artists, banging away on my iPad. I love writing in public; I’m writing this in a bar, now. The reality was that my time was mostly being spent Vagabonding.

Life on the road takes a little finesse and I’m still getting my sea legs while working on my mixed metaphors. There is a fair amount of logistics to consider. Since I’ve not, thus far, spent too much time thinking about what comes next, and haven’t done pre-planning through the first two weeks, it has meant my selection of AirBnb places is limited.


Vagabond Cow

The lesson here is that I need to adjust my vision to see a little further out and then to book my next place sooner than a day before I need it. Also, the initial plan was to spend two to four days in a room (or bus as the case may be) and then move on. The reality is that wherever I go there has been more to see than can be done in such a short time. It added an element of urgency to my days that flies in the face of this life choice. I shouldn’t be creating stress but eliminating it.

This is why I’ve extended my stay with Ronda at Tin Valley Retro Rentals and why I’ll likely look for a room (or possibly a Tee Pee) that I can have for a week on my next stop.

All of these thoughts were rattling around in my brain as I drove into town for breakfast. I needed eggs, bacon, and biscuits. Also, I needed to write.

I found both food and WiFi. A couple of hours of connectivity meant I could visit FB and work on Beautiful Gears, which is actually going to be two books.

My author buddy and I have a secretish project we’re working on and this novel is part of it. I need to manage 500 words per day on BG, and I’ve fallen behind. The writing has been coming every day but all of it has been focused on the new blog. Being a new blog, it’s what I needed to be doing. Now, I need to start the fiction wheels turning again.

I managed a thousand words and they were good ones. Now, time for some exploration.IMG951586

Santa Elana pass is, from my understanding of talking to several tourists who were standing near it, a 1500 foot rock wall that was fractured millions of years ago by the Rio Grande river. It’s possible none of that is true. I don’t care; it’s a good story and seems plausible enough for a blog that isn’t big on fact checking.IMG959002

One fact that is undeniable is that the pass is breathtakingly beautiful. It should be noted that my breath may have been taken by the stairs as I walked up the canyon wall along the path. I was both winded and afraid, as I’m not a fan of heights. There was one little point that jutted out from the wall. It was obvious that some people, crazy people, had no qualms about standing on the very edge and looking down. The point didn’t seem to have a placard naming it, so I came up with my own moniker—NO!


Jim and Jesse

Once I eased past NO!, the trail heads back down and eventually one is back at river level. I met a couple, Jim and Jess from Brooklyn, who were taking photos with a really cool, plastic medium-format viewfinder camera with a plastic lens. I took two pictures of them and we chatted a bit. Jim and Jesse

About fifty yards from the tiny little beach at the end of the trail, where I could hear children playing and splashing in the water, I paused to take it all in. Crack! Crack! Crack! rang out from down the canyon. It sounded like heavy gunfire. The splashes, about thirty yards beyond where the kids were playing, told me what had happened. Three huge rocks had, after millions of years, decided their view was okay but it was time for dip.

The Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park

The children and their parents were noticeably freaked out… for about a minute. Back into the water they went. Play trumps near-crushed death trauma when you’re eight.

The entire round trip through Rock-Death Canyon, formerly Santa Elana Pass, is about 2.2 miles. I got some exercise, mingled with some folks, and had a great time. The Vagabond Novelist gives the pass formerly known as Santa Elana, a 33 out of 37 (the Meeks scale). I’ve heard that it’s most beautiful at sunset and might be worth two more points at that time. It’s definitely worth a stop.

Day 15: Leaving Comfort Zone, Population 7 Billion

blue map of TexasI’ve never been a car person. I like cars but not as much as my uncle Fred. He’s a car guy. I didn’t get it until a few years ago when I started watching Top Gear (the British version, obviously). Those guys LOVE cars and their frequent road trips made me want to know what it was like to get excited about a stretch of highway.

Today, I found out.

The road is from Terlingua to Presidio. It winds through the desert and mountains for a glorious sixty miles. Sasha, my trusty little sports car, was so happy. She kept saying “I can’t believe you’re letting me have such fun.” She’s a good car.Day 15 One

Day 15 Sasha Resting

My Trusty Steed, Taking a Rest

There are plenty of places to stop and take a photo or eight. Sasha usually preferred not to stop, but she knows how much I love photography and that it’s for the blog. She loves being part of the Vagabond Novelist journey so she understands.

I don’t know if this road is typically busy or not. I’d imagine there are times of the year where it is more crowded than it was on this day. I picked a great time and zipped along letting my eyes soak in the awesome, and the pit of my stomach take in the turns and hills. It was as I had always imagined when watching Jeremy, Richard, and James.

The world is a big place and I think we sometimes forget how much wonderful there is just on the other side of the horizon. It’s easy to get comfortable on the couch watching other people living our dreams and never consider just doing it. When you do hop in the car and drive down the highway to the edge of Comfort Zone, Population 7 Billion, and then blast on through, the view is new and worth checking out.

Day 15 FourWhat I could see when I got out of Comfort Zone was this amazing view. Until you’ve seen possibilities at sunset, you’ve not lived. I thought I was happy (and I was) back in Martelle, Iowa, writing my novels, and playing tennis. “Comfort Zone” happy. When the moment arrived that the days lying ahead filled me with the same excitement I felt on Dec 24th at age ten (trying to stay up and catch that thieving bastard who takes the cookies I leave out), I experienced a new happiness.

I’d imagine everybody has their own road out of Comfort Town. My decision to go was an easy one. There aren’t any children, pets, or a wife to consider. I have a sickly bamboo plant, but I think I’ve been overwatering it, so my absence may be a blessing for Mr. Bamboo. I just decided to go and I went.

Most people can’t do that. Most people don’t even consider it. But I wonder if people still have their dreams? Have the jobs, children, and obligations made dreaming a luxury they’ve decided they can’t afford?

I hope not. Dreaming is not a frivolous activity. Some years ago I affixed an idea in my brain and when I needed a break from life I’d go there and look around. Even spending fifteen minutes imagining what it might be like to live on the road was usually enough to recharge my batteries and give me the energy to write another chapter or binge-watch three seasons of Archer.Day 15 Three

The thing about those decadent little dreams is that if you visit them now and again they have a funny way of becoming your life. I’m not the first person to follow a crazy idea they’ve been hiding away from everyone and to just go for it. I’ve not read too many stories about regret in making that choice. Of course, people who follow their dreams and are crushed like a small piece of fruit beneath a steel toed boot, may not be inclined to discuss it. I need more data.

I spent a day driving 120 miles just to end up back where I started. A trip without point or purpose but with so much value it will stick with me forever.

Note: This entire post is best if read while listening to The Beatles “Long and Winding Road”. But that’s my sound track; I’m sure yours would be different.

Day 14: Sunset from a Ghost Town

blue map of TexasSunday was another beautiful day on the bus but it was time to do some exploring. I’m staying at Tin Valley Retro Rentals which is near the Terlingua Ranch Lodge. The lodge is about thirty miles from the ghost town of Terlingua.

History is fascinating, so visiting a town entirely inhabited by the lost souls of the dearly departed was a draw for me. It turns out they don’t have any ghosts in residence, but the old buildings were nice and the walking map, which I picked up for a suggested donation of $1.00, gave me a bit of history as I walked around.     Day 14 Terlingua Ghost Town II

Up the path, after the mine, I made it to an old hotel where the second floor was partially gone. Three Harleys were parked outside and a gentleman from a couch out front got up to greet me. He invited me over.

The couch and two other chairs looked out over the most amazing view of the Chisos Mountains. It was the sort of people meeting I’d always dreamed about when building the idea of The Vagabond Novelist.

Robert, the man who invited me over, had a great red beard and could really tell a story. It was his third stay at the hotel, which has only two rooms (and need to be booked a year in advance). It was James and Glen’s first trip down.Day 14 James Robert and Glen

We spent about an hour looking out over the desert, telling stories, and talking about our dreams for the future. Robert was great at telling me all about Big Bend National Park. It sounded so great, in fact, that I decided to extend my stay at the bus. I had much more to see.

I thanked them for letting me sit with them a while and went on the rest of the tour through town. It didn’t take long and I ended up back where I’d come in. Robert had recommended the Starlight Theatre, so named because a storm blew off the theatre’s roof at one point and they just went with it. I love that.Day 14 Starlight Theatre I

Now, the theatre is a restaurant. It’s a thing in Terlingua for people to gather there every night and watch the amazing sunset as it lights up the mountains in Big Bend National Park, about thirty miles away (but it seems like two). I had to wait a little bit but with a view like that I didn’t mind at all.

The prices at the Starlight Theatre seemed a little pricy until I tasted the food. My dinner (pictured) was delicious and Bob, my server, was nice. Day 14 Starlight Theatre IIAll the tables at the Starlight have different art on them that tell a unique story. It was packed and all the servers really had to keep hopping.

The Vagabond Novelist gives The Starlight Theatre a 32 out of 37.

At the end of the day I had done some exploring and realized that the Terlingua/Big Bend National Park has a lot to offer. I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings.

It was a perfect Vagabond day.

Days 11-13: Desert Time

blue map of TexasThe Vagabond Novelist, in addition to speaking in the third person, has been going full steam for a long time. It started a couple of weeks before Day 1 when he was excited to get to Tin Valley Retro Rentals and spend some time in a school bus.

Okay, I really don’t like third person that much, but I do like saying The Vagabond Novelist. It makes me happy. I digress.

The plan for Day 11 (and the following days) was to decompress and do laundry. It’s hard to decompress with a looming underwear crisis on one’s mind.

I’ve been learning that I like tea. This is a new development that started at the end of March. The laundry place in Alpine was attached to a coffee shop, so after I got the clothes in the washer, I went for a chai latte — my first.

Both my author buddy Honorée and my assistant Laurie like tea a bunch. I’ve been consulting with them on the subject and have learned that the types of teas vary wildly. Exploring tea while I explore the world has a certain symmetry to it that I like. The chai latte was delicious and I’m adding it to my growing list of favorites.

  1. Chai latte
  2. Earl Grey

I haven’t tried many yet.EastTxRockHike

It was a little after noon when I started heading south. The road has always had its own siren call to me since reading Kerouac’s On The Road. Highway 118 south to Terlingua, Texas was melodic in its beauty.

My mind tried to make a list of things I wanted to do once I got to the bus. It was shorter than the tea list by two. I just couldn’t imagine doing anything once I got there. An ancient voice steeped in literary hyperbole persuaded me it would be too beautiful to do anything but sit and enjoy.

That’s what I did for three days.


New Survival Toys, Now with BACON!

I sat. When I got hungry, I ate, but I didn’t get hungry that often.

The desert is sparse and full at the same time. A sweeping glance gives the impression of nothingness. A closer look shows how wrong first impressions can be.

One doesn’t even need to look. Close your eyes in the evening, with the stars blazing across the sky, and listen. Off in the distance a wind is rolling through like a giant tumble weed. You hear it go past and listen as it heads up into the distant mountains. The rapid flutter of bat wings zip around overhead as they gobble up insects. Road runners chatter among themselves. And the coyotes sing the songs of their people. There are squawks, chirps, and howls throughout the night. It’s lovely.

When there isn’t anyone to talk with one doesn’t talk. I was awake for nearly twelve hours and realized I hadn’t said a word all day. If you know me, that’s a strange thing. I’m chatty.Day 11 - 13 The Bus

As I looked up at the mountain behind the bus, my only thought was this is nearly perfect. It would be nice to have a vagabond girlfriend to share it with, but I wasn’t complaining.

A figure appeared to my right. A furry butterscotch cat was looking at me as if to say, “The universe said you wanted someone to chat with?” or perhaps, “I’m here to make you do my bidding.”

DesertCatIt wasn’t long before I was doing both.

I would pet for a while. The cat would purr. Something interesting would grab his attention and he would hop down and investigate. A short while later he’d be back for more chin scratches.

When I finally went to bed, the cat was off doing cat things. I got settled in and heard a squeak at the bus door. I opened it and butterscotch cat scrambled up the stairs and made straight for the bed. There would be another forty-five minutes of playtime before he hopped down and curled up on the floor.

When morning arrived he let me capture a couple photos of him and he was off.

In the twenty-four hours since I’d left Alpine, three days had passed. That’s life in the desert.

Day 10: Adrenaline-Fueled Shopping

blue map of TexasThe journey through the high plains is a search. A quest for understanding about what it is that draws people to the desert. One only needs to see the beauty at sunrise or sunset to feel the pull, but that doesn’t explain the real attraction. Being “pretty” doesn’t suffice.

I’ve been trying to listen to the universe for clues. If an idea pops into my head, I ask why. There might be a reason and it may be important. Yesterday, I wondered if I should get a cooler. It was a simple enough idea since I was going to be living on a school bus for four days.

That thought rambled around my head for a while until around eleven o’clock when I busted out the Universe’s answer service (Google) and started to investigate. I had no idea what sort of rabbit hole I was going down.

Fort Davis, Texas is about thirty minutes from Alpine. The population is 1201, elevation is 4892 feet, and they have a historical landmark, which not surprisingly is… a fort.

This is NOT their story. (Actually, I’ll talk about Fort Davis later.)

Fort Davis Outfitters Feed and General Store was my destination. I wanted a cooler and a whole lotta other stuff. I didn’t know exactly what stuff but I knew I wanted it.

I’m not a huge fan of shopping but on this day I was a force to be reckoned with. The Vagabond Novelist made it clear that he wasn’t afraid to wildly impulse-buy or talk in the third person. Once these ground rules were established, we unleashed the dogs of commerce.

Day 10 ShoppingI wish I hadn’t forgotten the name of the woman who helped me but I do remember that she and her husband own the place. He was helpful too. The coolers were on the top shelf and both his wife and I were suffering from short.

Once the cooler was identified and brought to the counter, I went nuts. There was a really cool flashlight that I couldn’t imagine living without. We put it on the counter. “What about a stove?” I asked.

There were several choices and I bought the one that I thought looked nice. A little quad-pod thingy for setting hot things on was next and then some propane. A combo knife-and-spoon pocketknife and spatula were grabbed. They were placed next to the flashlight at the counter.Day 10 Fort Davis V

I noticed another flashlight. It was pretty neat, too. They both had lantern features. When I set them next to each other it seemed they instantly bonded. I had to have them both.

A sleeping bag decision took less than thirty seconds.

Because I am prone to hugging all cats, and apparently mountain lions prefer not to be hugged, it was suggested that I pick up a Klaxon air horn to let them know they should leave before I try to aggressively snuggle with them. It’s called respecting nature.

At this point the shopping became a blur and I might have blacked out from all the fun I was having. In the end, we just piled everything into the cooler. I paid my bill and was on my way.

As I said, I’m not a shopper, but buying camping gear has as similar a rush as going on a woodworking tool-buying spree. On a scale of 1 to 37, I have to give them a solid 35. Note: I don’t think they have a website, so to experience the same shopping bliss as I did (when in the area), Google them or refer to Facebook (

AlpineTxHikeFull of impulse-purchase adrenaline, I went off to figure out if there was a Fort in Fort Davis. There is and it is fantastic. I walked all over the grounds looking at placards and enjoying the sunshine. History has always intrigued me and it was easy to imagine the life lived at this fort in the Old West days. I’m not really sure what years those might be, as I didn’t write it down and I can’t be bothered to look it up, but it was probably at least four or five years ago.

My favorite part was the hike up into the mountains. The view was lovely and there were lots of things to photograph. Also, I had cell service, so I went on the walk while chatting with my author buddy.

The Vagabond Novelist gives Fort Davis a 30 out of 37, and thinks it’s definitely worth a few hours of exploration. I do recommend bringing a bottle of water though, as things are more spread out than you might imagine.

Tomorrow, I head down to Terlingua to live on a school bus at Tin Valley Retro Rentals.

Day 9: My Horse Would Have a Name

I headed to West Texas on I-10 at 80 miles per hour (the posted limit). The skies faded from grey to ominous the further west Sasha (my car) and I went. Sasha likes stretching her legs. She might have crept up to 85 from time to time. I could hardly blame her.

The road was long and straight.

It’s a perfect stretch for letting the creative juices start to percolate.

I’ve never spent time in the desert. My plans are a couple of days in Alpine and then south to Terlingua, Texas. What is the draw of the desert? Why do some people love it while others can’t wait to get out?

From San Antonio to Alpine the scenery changed as I started to climb into the mountains. It was beautiful. The jukebox in my head kept singing, “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain.”

This naturally led me to a lengthy consideration of the type of horse I might ride through the desert. I don’t know much about our furry equine friends, so I settled on an Arabian. My sister had one named Elroy.

I can’t say I settled on a name for my horse, but I can tell you he would have one before we began our desert trip. It seems rude not to.Day 9 en route to Alpine from San Antonio

The trip was 378 miles and Google Maps said it would take 5 hours and 11 minutes. This is a perfect distance for clearing one’s mind.

My author buddy had told me that getting to Terlingua would probably be a much needed break for me because I’d been going pretty hard with the book business for weeks on end.

The desert also had an issue with connectivity. There were stretches where my phone read “no service”. It was sort of like being in the car. One can’t (or shouldn’t) text while driving, and checking FB is a bad idea, so I don’t do these things. When I’m home I feel compelled to constantly check.

I wondered what it would be like to be unconnected. Would I have withdrawals? There was only one way to find out and I was on the road to that answer.

AlpineTexas1When I arrived in Alpine I didn’t have a room. My AirBnB place didn’t start until 3:00 the next day. I had reserved two nights followed by four on a school bus at Tin Valley Retro Rentals in Terlingua. It was a little gap in planning that I didn’t figure would be such a big deal.

The first place I pulled into in Alpine had a suspiciously full parking lot. Sure enough, when I inquired at the desk, they were booked. He suggested a place across town.

Mentally, I began preparing for a night in Sasha. It turned out to be a nonissue. I found lodging and ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut.

The road affords one an incredible opportunity to meet interesting people. Tonight, she delivered my pizza.

Danazsha arrived at my door, and I invited her in so I could sign the credit card receipt. I asked her if she had grown up in Alpine. She was from the south side of Chicago.

Alpine is nothing like Chicago.

I asked her what brought her to Texas. She intends to start her own ranch. Now that’s a cool dream. I found out that she’s 19 years old so I guessed she was a freshman.



Nope, I was wrong.

Danazsha graduated early from high school and was a junior.

My time with this amazing young person was less than five minutes but I’ll not forget her anytime soon. She has the focus and dive that it took me over forty years to find. She knows what she wants and was delivering pizzas to make it happen.

It was a wonderful travel day. Tomorrow, I find out what’s interesting in Alpine.

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