How my cat Became a man & I lost Myself on America’s Loneliest Road
There are moments in life that seem to pass by undetected like a single frame in a movie. There are also moments that seem boundless and completely present, containing within them, all aspects of the story.
So much of our lives are paralleled by hazy recollections and even more clunky, inaccurate expectations of the future. The immense reality of billions of galaxies across an immense universe, pleasure, suffering, electrons, all present, all right now, seems to be hastily abandoned, a forgone reality, replaced by near-sighted, granular fantasies of pasts and futures that are nowhere to be found, here and now.
But sometimes we find those moments, totally present and precisely when we most need them.
As we drove through the heart of Nevada on “the Loneliest Road in America”, Highway 50, I realized that I hadn’t just always wanted to drive that drive. I realized my moment.
For once, for the first time in my life, I was exactly where I wanted to be. I felt like I was at home for the first time. Maybe that moment would grow old, eventually, but I don’t know. There was nothing beyond this moment. Just an abyss of the unknown at the end of this trip and somehow, knowing that, made those moments in that vast space, feel truly boundless.
I couldn’t help, but contemplate what life would be like when I returned home to Washington.
And at home, in Washington, is where this story begins.
A few weeks ago…
The pandemic hurt everyone and the company I’ve been working for was no exception. The day finally came when the inevitable happened; the owner brought me into his office and informed me that he wouldn’t be able to make payroll, next week.
This was a small manufacturing startup. The bulk of the work we were doing was aerospace and as you can probably imagine, 2020 did not bode well for that sector. Early in the year, we began branching out and building relationships with new customers in a diverse spectrum of industries. Particularly those unaffected. For a time, it seemed as though we were actually going to really come out on top once this situation passed.
Always a bit optimistic and an enthusiast when it comes to life changes, there did seem to be a silver lining to this dramatic, albeit not all that surprising, turn of events. My wife and I were long past-due for a vacation and we were very fortunate that I was able to put away a little bit of money. It was supposed to go entirely to a new roof and other stuff we need to do to the house and this was all part of our plan to have our first child, next year, it was a whole big plan I’d been working towards for years. But for now, it just means we don’t have to panic about money (we will be panicking later when the roof starts leaking).
Eventually, I could start collecting unemployment which would help us tremendously while I look for work in a presently dead industry. The fundamentals seem to indicate that the industry will never be the same here in Washington, however.
Well, we decided to go on a trip and bring our six month old cat. His name is Cosmo. No plans, just drive to Boise and figure it out from there.
I never imagined this trip would become something of a pivot point in my life and a coming of age story for our little Cosmo (aka Costco, Cosmonaut, Cosmosaurus, Corona, etc).
It’s November 24th, 2020. At 5am, my alarm goes off and my wife and I begin loading up the last minute details into the car.
Even with the high speeds of a fine, German automobile being piloted by an expert driver, the few stops we are inevitably going to make, will mean Boise is a good eight and a half hours away and I can’t see so good at night, these days. So, I want to arrive with plenty of day light.
Funny story: I always thought that Eastern Washington was quite unique. I used to work in Oregon and California a lot and I would tell people “yea, a lot of people don’t realize that like, half of Washington is basically desert”
What I have just come to realize:
Well, the car is all packed up and the back is basically setup as a little cat area. I’ve secured a litter box inside the trunk, so that we can lay a back seat down and Cosmo can access it.
So, I toss Cosmo into the back, back out of the garage, out of the drive way and just as we are about to head out of the neighborhood, I enthusiastically stall the car.
Fired her back up and off we went into the dark. I hate driving in the dark, but at least it’ll be familiar areas until sun rise.
The drive through Washington was relatively uneventful. We’d be taking highway 12, South of Mt. Rainier. One of my favorite roads to drive.
Once we got East of the mountains, we jumped on highway 82 just passed Naches and cruised on into Eastern Oregon where I was met with some of the longest straight roads I’ve ever seen, as well as the most dense fog I have ever seen.
The thoughts kept creeping into my mental foreground; what am I going to do when we get back home? What is my plan? And I would think about my boss and what was going to happen with him and his investment he’d put absolutely everything into, his life savings.
But I figured to hell with it. In this moment, I am feeling a sense of freedom I’d long forgotten. I’m a good person, a good husband and I’ve no guilt holding me back. I deserve this. My wife and I deserve this.
As if we time-traveled, we were beginning to see signs for Boise and sure enough, there’s the sign:
“Welcome to Idaho”
Due to our feline situation, we’d booked two nights at a hotel in Boise that was pet friendly and also included a small kitchen since we would be cooking our own food on this trip.
Boise was honestly a bit of a let down, at first. When I listen to the Joe Rogan podcast, so many times, I swear I’ve heard Boise mentioned when people list upcoming dates. Either Joe or his guests. I guess I figured it was a bigger city.
But the hotel room was great. I put Cosmonaut, who rides in a backpack when we are walking around, onto the bed. He immediately recognized it was a bed and after a moment of staying safe in his backpack, assumed the “underneath the bed” position for a few minutes until he could gauge the severity of his situation.
It wasn’t long before Cosmo was casually walking around with his big, fluffy tail up in the air, rubbing on our ankles and each and every corner. He promptly made himself right at home.
A bit of back-story on little Costco: He’s a Persian/Rag Doll mix and at the time of writing this, he’s about six months old.
I’ve been using his scent in combination with items such as those cheap, cardboard scratching pads and a little play pen as well as a blanket and some toys, all of which he frequently interacts with, to mold a cat that is more attached to these items with his scent than any particular territory or location. He’s a decentralized, modular cat.
We were also quick to get him used to wearing a harness and being on a leash. The leash has some boundaries. You can’t exactly pull him along, yet.
So, before taking him on this trip, we already had a process and he was fairly well adjusted to traveling.
He also has the biggest, fluffiest tail I’ve ever seen relative to a cat’s body and he is very full of expression. His rag doll side is very prominent. He really does go limp when you hold him. It’s actually very funny because his grumpus Persian side seems to conflict. It’s like he often doesn’t like going limp, but it’s just what he does. He was definitely a persistent, entertaining focal point of the trip and upon arriving home, there was no doubt that he would be a new, wiser, more mature cat.
Oh, and by the way, Cosmonator has been experiencing some diarrhea. It’ll be relevant, later, but oh my god, I had no idea what my wife was having to go through until she called me upstairs, one day (where the litter box is) and the smell hit me. That poor little cat was purging the depths of hell, I mean, DESTROYING the upstairs with a stench I’ve never experienced and to make matters worse, he’s really not good at not getting it in his fur. Anyway, it comes up later. It’s absolutely brutal.
So, we stayed in Boise for two nights to give us time to figure out what our next move was and to allow Cosmo to adjust to being in hotel rooms. So far, it seems his diet change has improved his “situation”.
While I was a bit disappointed in Boise not being a particularly big city and of course, the ongoing pandemic meant there was no night-life to speak of and this would of course be the case in each of the cities we visited, I did discover some brilliant roads over the hills. Awesome for driving if that’s something you’re into. I also hear there are world-class mountain biking trails.
As per what would become our routine, we awoke on our second and final morning in Boise, just before sunrise to load the car and hit the road as it was getting light out.
The highway was icy as hell for a good 100 miles and at one point, early on, we were both very curious as to what this glowing shape was that was getting bigger and brighter through the fog as we drove closer to it.
Interestingly, it ended up being a whole star. The sun.
There were some sketchy points, hitting frost/ice over bridges at speed, but I kept it together. I’m not sure my wife or Cosmo even noticed. Surely, they would have inquired as to my sweating bullets had they glanced over at me. Well, my wife might have. Probably not Cosmo since he’s actually a cat.
There were certainly some beautiful sights to behold and as would seem to be the theme of this trip, they only got better.
Driving at high speeds across a huge, open landscape can have some bizarre effects on your sense of scale. Is that a huge mountain, really far away or just a bit of a hill?
And it makes you think.
We spend so much of our time consumed by fantasies of what could be, but never is. Those granular, low-resolution fantasies of pasts and futures. Nobody can ever even agree on the past beyond vague details and predicting the future… Ha ha, well, people have been claiming to do that for more than a few years.
And point to the past or future. Where is it? Show me some evidence, some object that exhibits the quality of being past or future. In pursuing some evidence, we only find present information and our causal extrapolation of that information with which we manifest alternate realities which, in our minds, parallel the present reality from which we are escaping for one reason or another.
But it’s what we do. It’s how we are programmed.
I guess, with all of this increasingly open space and beauty to take in, I’m being forced into this moment and I’ve no bandwidth left to imagine possible realities. Rather, I’m forced to experience this boundless present moment and confront the entirety of the unknown that occupies everything outside of this. And I guess I’m accepting it.
“Welcome to Utah”
“Welcome to epic geography” is more like it. Next stop: Salt Lake City.
Now THIS is a city!
We would be staying for one night and while I deeply desired to head down and over to Moab and visit Arches national park, doing so would add two extra nights just to get there and back out of Utah. Given our circumstance, I decided I had to cut that out of this which I was beginning to see would be our last freedom for sometime. Possibly a long time.
Anyway, we unloaded Cosmosaurus:
…And went off into the city.
Salt Lake City is an interesting place. In the hills, mere minutes from down town, you’ll find multi-million dollar homes with stunning views, while the city center is cradled by ascending steps of streets with mostly well-maintained, modest, affordable homes. Well, when I checked on Zillow, the prices I saw were equivalent to something much more suburban or even rural in Washington state.
The down town area is filled with beautiful, old architecture including a church with a very Gothic appearance. Very cool city. Unfortunately, we were so enthralled by the buildings and such that neither of us thought to juggle the phone and take pics as we were driving around.
For the most part, we took it easy because tomorrow would be a long drive across Nevada and also a drive I’ve wanted to do for many years.
The next morning, we left Salt Lake City under the cover of darkness, I gunned it through Western Utah, stopping to take pics of the salt flats just as the sun was rising over the horizon.
As soon as we were pulling out of the Salt Flats viewing area, Cosmo went into the trunk to use his litter box. “Good kitty, Comso!”. I slowly accelerated so that he wouldn’t lose his balance.
But the smell hit me almost immediately. It’s intensity overwhelmingly increased at a staggering rate. I’m not sure what the units per second squared would be or how you would quantify something like that. Some olfactory equivalent of exponentially increasing Scoville units.
As soon as i opened the windows despite it being like, 15 degrees, Cosmo came up front and I saw it. His butt/fur had viscous, brown, yellow fecal discharge all up in it and it smelled like hatred.
He was getting it on the seats and on us. I fuckin’ gunned it to the next exit which was fortunately just a sketchy looking gas station and only a few miles away. My poor wife doing her best to contain the situation with wipes and paper towels.
We pulled over and fortunately, my urge to vomit subsided as soon as I exited the car. I opened the rear door and saw the damage.
It was gory. I vomited.
Viscous, brown goo was clumped into the rear change holder behind the console and strung across the rear seats. Bits of kitty litter scattered about.
I can only imagine the poor kitty must have panicked when he smelled that or perhaps the burning sensation triggered his fight or flight mode.
Well, we cleaned the car, filled up the tank and pulled off.
The smell would linger for several hours.
Our next way point would be to turn off of highway 80 and on to 92 which would take us South, all the way down to highway 50 which is also known as “The Loneliest Road in America” or something like that. 50 would take us West, pretty much all the way to Reno.
Heading South on 92 was simply… epic. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, these days. I even used it to describe Utah, but in these moments, I believe I met the authentic expression.
What’s more, beyond this point, we would be driving through very remote areas and fuel consumption became a very real thing. We would be driving hundreds of miles and wouldn’t be passing by anything for hours and it would be hours more of the same, after that.
As the cell service disappeared, there was a very real sense of awe and wonder. Not because there was no service, but because it was obvious why there was no service; we might as well be on Mars, right now. There were no power lines, no buildings, no cars, just a huge, empty stretch of road and glorious scenery.
It’s like my sense of self was giving way to the vastness of this place and my sense of scale was given a hard reset. It was like my consciousness could finally breath.
And so, I put Tool’s Fear Inoculum in the CD player. Being that this drive had hours to go, I was going to take in all the polyrithmic glory I could to match the vastness of this isolation. It was also a little detail I’ve always wanted to add to this experience.
As we continued through the epic heart of Nevada, I realized that I hadn’t just always wanted to drive that drive, but I realized that indeed for once, in as long as I can remember, I was precisely where I wanted to be.
But in that moment, it dawned on me that I no longer had any idea where I was going.
I know that my destination is my house in that, that will be where my GPS eventually guides me, but it seems apparent that “home” is really just a return to routine. Since I am now unemployed, I’m not even sure what that routine will be. My “home” then, is more or less a place holder, an origin point for some unknown future.
We took a moment to stop in the middle of what must have been a 20 minute long stretch of straight road. I needed a smoke after all this.
Also, it was time to retrieve the drugs after crossing the border:
Oh! We found that shoe tree:
The rest of the drive to Reno was beautiful and mostly music-filled. Minimal talking and plenty of contemplation on my part. My wife and Cosmo were fading in and out of consciousness for a lot of it.
I did get pulled over at one point. We had been going triple digits for the most part, but he only got us at like, 13mph over. Clearly looking for signs of sketchiness, the officer asked many questions, evidently looking for inconsistency or for me to trip up my explanations.
Of course, I remembered the scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when Duke explains how to handle an officer in the middle of the desert.
We arrived in Reno. Totally exhausted, I unpacked Cosmo and we kicked our feet up for a bit.
Tomorrow will be the final leg of this trip, but I’m not even entirely sure what that means. I suppose this trip, the driving, the scenery, those have been known constants. What I’m returning to is the unknown and so, it feels like more than just arguing semantics with myself, it genuinely seems that the trip might have only just begun.
There’s a big unknown awaiting me. I can feel that my entire life lay ahead.
In the meantime, Cosmo has had his coming of age adventure and there’s still plenty of road ahead to occupy my little mind. So for now, I’m just going to drive.