Final Countdown Story: Rogersville, TN

I wake up to thunder. Directly overhead. Not the sharp, crackling kind, but rather a nonstop grumble that makes it impossible to count Mississippis after orange strobes flash inside my tent like paparazzi. Last night I strategically set up camp under the canopy of a tall tree, but the rain is falling like hammers and I’m taking a beating anyhow. I know the cloudburst won’t last, so I wait it out while lying atop the fleecy owl blanket I scored at Walmart—my arms and legs crossed to fight the chill—and think about the trip’s rainy days. There haven’t been many. I’ve been fortunate in so many ways.

At lunch I sit on the roadside pressed tightly against Little Buddy, doing anything I can to steal a sliver of his boxy shade. I stuff my face with the usual: Tortillas swathed with a thick layer of Skippy, a single serve pouch of tuna, and a can of Chef Boyardee raviolis. A driver stops and gets out of her car. She hollers something I can’t hear and I give her a thumbs up. She approaches.

“You alright over there?” she says.

I nod. My mouth stuffed full.

“Sir, are you really OK?” she asks again. “Do you have enough to drink? It sure is hot out here.”

I wipe my mouth with the back of my sleeve. Then pipe up and tell her yes, I’m all good. She stands with her hands on her hips.

“You promise?” she says, which makes me laugh.

“Yes ma’am, I promise,” I say.

She assures me that if I’m not careful, this heat’ll get me. I want to tell her I know. I want to tell her I’m no stranger to dehydration and bad choices and risky behavior and pushing limits. I want to tell her I’m fine and she can go on now and that I’m just trying to hurry up and eat my lunch before the real heat of the day kicks in. But I say none of that. I just say thank you. And I don’t just say it, I mean it.

The woman wishes me well and drives off. With a filling belly I watch clouds pass like cities aloft. They move quickly, tailing behind the morning storm.

I think about home. More of a feeling than a place. And wonder where I’ll be when all this wind finally stops blowing. Or maybe it won’t—which’ll be just fine by me.

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