I’m Going to See Who’s Following Me.
Adventure: It’s the feeling of driving out of a place you’ve never been to before, towards a destination you haven’t decided on yet. It’s having no one to see and no particular time to be wherever it is your going – you’re just down for whatever. That’s the feeling, and it’s good. Intoxicatingly good… especially when you’re alone.
I’m waiting for just the right time to pull off the highway and take a photo of the setting sun. Unlike every other day when I’m just living my life and not paying attention, today I’m actually seeing it set.
I’m remembering for the first time in a long while that a sunset isn’t just this thing that lasts for that thirty minutes sometime between getting home from work and going to bed. It takes hours.
It’s slow and magnificent, and for all I know at this moment I’m the only soul in its glow.
The beauty of the adventure feeling is that once you’ve got it, just about any little thing can amplify it – the warmth of the desert air rushing through the window, a handsome stranger at the gas station, the unknown.
The funny thing about adventure is how quickly that feeling, which is so thrilling by day, can become so terrifying at night.
The trouble begins with a text message.
It’s Willis – don’t come, too sick for visitors.
If you look at a map of America and put your finger right in the middle of the biggest desert you can see, that’s where I am – halfway between Moab, Utah and the California border. I’m past the infamous “No Services for 88 Miles” sign, but I can’t really remember by how much.
Disappointed, I flick on my outrageously overpriced mobile data (50 cents/MB) and turn on my GPS.
I turn off of Route 50 – the highway a 1986 Life Magazine article dubs “America’s Loneliest Road” – and onto Highway 93 – a narrower, more deserted service road.
Somehow the golden afternoon has transitioned into black and I’ve missed the photo.
As the moon rises over the saltbush and dust I realize that I can’t actually remember the last time someone passed me.
There are no cars. No lights. No power poles. No farms.
There’s no GPS. No phone signal.
The radio is static.
It’s just straight desert.
There’s no reason for anyone to be here, and the only indication that someone’s even passed through is the moon’s indifferent glimmer on the fresh jackrabbit blood mingled with that of the coyotes venturing out to pick carcass smears.
“Dear God, if I am going to hit one of these please just let it die quick…”
A thud around my front left tyre interrupts my prayer.
After the first one, they just keep coming. Hopping out in front of me, turning their dumb gaze my way, and promptly getting ploughed down.
I can’t believe how much blood one rabbit has.
I’ve never run over an animal before and at first, I’m startled. But my indifference grows after every one.
Besides, it’s the deer I keep seeing that really trip me out. Just two days ago I saw one’s body lying right in the middle of the fast lane. I only saw it as I passed – if I’d have been one lane over I would have been fucked.
And tonight I’ve already spotted two peeping out from the ditches by the road. All cute and deadly-like.
Then there are the cows. Cows? Yes! Fucking cows!
Why? Because apparently, Nevada doesn’t have fences – signs warning you that at any time a cow could just, like, be on the road, seem to be good enough for the folks living in these parts.
I’m two hours into the new route and sleep deprivation, my personal additions to the highway road kill, and the static on the radio are brewing an unsettled feeling in my stomach.
It occurs to me that I’m more alone than I’ve ever been in my life.
And what a place to be. Forget California – Nevada is the fucking Wild West.
It’s a “take it as far as you think you can” kind of place. Fireworks? Legal. Gambling? Legal. Prostitution? Legal. Cops? Nowhere.
The speed limit is high, the roads are narrow, and the potential for failure is insane.
Who knows what goes on around here at night.
The moon has fully risen and I pass a lone motorcycle abandoned beside the road.
Whose is that? Where are they? And what the fuck are they doing out here?
Ever the optimist, I tell myself that maybe its owner is a biologist studying the desert’s nocturnal life – there’s enough of it around. Or perhaps they are a wigged-out alien hunter on a mission – I’m not that far off of Area 51.
Still mulling over reasonable explanations, I spot a single bright light trailing behind me in the distance. It dips in and out of view with the hills, but it doesn’t take long to see that it’s crawling closer to me.
Freaking out over the potential for livestock on the road, but wary of aggravating whoever’s behind me, I reluctantly push the gas up to 80 miles an hour. If that motorbike wants to overtake me at five miles over the speed limit that’s their prerogative.
I just want to be alone again. There’s something about this road that makes having company put me on edge.
What was that motorbike’s owner doing out in the dirt?
Before I can come up with any reasonable or calming explanation my car’s interior lights up.
They’re directly behind me.
I glance in my rearview mirror again. The dim yellow of a broken headlight is travelling beside the powerful beam I first saw.
That’s not a biker… and I don’t think they’re trying to overtake me.
I ramp up my speed to 85.
Within a minute the mystery car is right behind me again, this time almost touching the back of my car.
I bring it up to 90.
They match me and then some.
They’re still there.
Holy shit. They’re trying to run me off of the road.
I picture a meaty old greaseball at the wheel of a rusted out pickup truck… tattered red flannelette… dirty jeans… the glint of my lights shining into his dark, depraved eyes.
I can’t help myself.
This is getting weird, and if horror movies have told me anything it’s that, no matter what happens, I must not stop this car.
Don’t stop for anything. Just. Don’t. Stop
I check my gas – 53 miles till I’m out, and it’s 41 miles until the next town. If I drop down to 80 I’ll only make it the next 38.
The pickup is inching closer. At first, its lone headlight illuminated my dash, but bit by bit its beam has crept forward and now it engulfs the front seat, the gear stick and the glove compartment.
What if his car can go faster than mine? What if I hit a deer? What if he swerves out beside me, then goes in for the kill, ramming me off of the road and out into the desert?
How much longer until we make contact?
There’s no phone reception out here. I bet he knows it.
In the darkness ahead I spot two warbling lights cutting through the night.
If it’s a car they can’t be more than 6 miles off.
My pursuer is unphased. He’s still advancing and I decide that when they pass and their headlights shine behind me I’m going to see who’s following me.
It’s two cars, but they keep disappearing behind what must be hills ahead.
They better not turn off.
And I pray to God they get here soon.
By the time they re-emerge, up onto the narrow straight we’re on, I’m pushing 105 and I’m so terrified that I can’t even tell if they’re in the right lane, or if they’re driving towards me head on.
What if they’re in on it together? There’s nothing I can do now.
Soon they’re so close that they have to pass. There are no turn offs and the dry road is lined with ditches you’d be insane to try to pull onto.
For an instant I break eye contact with the rearview mirror and move my gaze to the left of my vehicle, waiting for the right time to look back.
They’re here. White car, black car.
Their headlights shine into my car and my eyes dart back to the rearview mirror. It’s time to meet my pursuer.
Behind me, the road lights up and my blood runs cold.
There’s nothing there. Nothing but dust, rabbit guts and bitumen.
The car is gone.
Two weeks later I Googled this highway. A lot of people disappear between that last gas station and the next one 88 miles down the road. Sometimes they find their cars, seemingly untouched – with no signs of struggle – just abandoned in a ditch or on a highway off-ramp. They never find the people though.
Did your cortisol rise when you read this? Did your dopamine/serotonin/oxytocin begin to flow freely?
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