Actually, however, it is at least two stories entwined. One is about the trip when he was a young man. The second is about the older man that the young man has become as he looks back on that trip. The result is greater than the sum of its parts.
Egenes tells the story in first person, though from perspectives of different times in his life, including excerpts from his log book (diary).
The first logbook entry he cites:
“First night on the trail. Made it to an old one room schoolhouse that isn’t used anymore. We’re camped behind it, off the road and out of sight.”
He elaborates from that simple start:
“The third of April, 1974, our first night on the trail. Gizmo and I are camped behind an old one-room schoolhouse, a dilapidated wood frame building with a severely pitched wood shingle roof that no longer keeps the rain out. A derelict bell tower clings to the roof's ridgeline at a slight tilt, fighting a losing battle with the elements…”
And then he looks back at the ride many years later:
“When it comes to following a dream sometimes you get lucky, but most times you make your own luck. I was certainly young and stupid when I dragged Gizmo out of an innocent adolescence and onto that long trail across the North American continent. I don’t think of myself as a wise person, but I know I’m wiser today than I was back then. I think I’m a bit wiser than I was yesterday. I hope that tomorrow I’m wiser still.”
Perhaps the most poignant observations to me, perhaps because they are close to my heart, are about that which we have lost:
“Today, after all these years, I look back upon the wildness of the great Mojave Desert that Gizmo and I experienced and realize that it is all gone now, destroyed by the pressures of the expanding urban population and landscape. The same is true for much of the rest of the great southwestern deserts in the United States, which exist in the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and small parts of Colorado and Texas. There are some places you still can’t drive to in your comfortable sports utility vehicle, but those that aren’t on Indian reservations or protected lands have pretty much disappeared. Things were different in 1974.”
“In 1974, riding a horse across the continent was both a reason for, and a method of, disconnecting from society at large. It was a physical disconnection for Gizmo and me. I wanted to divorce myself from my culture on purpose. Today’s digital ecosystem doesn’t allow for that. Smart phones and internet connections insure that a traveler today is always connected—daily, hourly, and minute by minute—to friends, family, and anyone who subscribes to their social network pages and feeds. It doesn't matter if the horse and rider don’t have a smart gadget and an internet connection. Passersby will certainly have them and make sure the pair are always connected by posting pictures of them and commenting on social media…”
In my case, I suppose a part of me still yearns for that imagined trip in which I cross country on a grand adventure. Am I too old? Maybe. Maybe not. But perhaps the world has changed too much?
“Attempting a long ride today would still be a long and difficult process, but being truly alone is no longer possible. Forget about privacy and seclusion. Technology has left its footprints on our reasons for following our dreams and has even altered the dreams themselves. We no longer have a say over that part of it. One can be alone, but one can no longer be in the wilderness… You could still get away with stuff in 1974. Not as much as you could have twenty years earlier, but still, lots of things slipped under the radar of the powers that be. You could drive a car without registering or insuring it (though you might get caught if a cop pulled you over for something). You could still sneak into a movie theater. You could still hitchhike most places. Sometimes I feel as though Gizmo and I got away with making the ride… The ten-year-old girls who wrote to me after the ride asking for pictures of Gizmo (never of me) are now in their fifties. We've moved on from 1974 and left that sweet, naïve innocence behind. “
Maybe that is a metaphor for all of us. Think about how he almost brings tears to our eyes when he tells about saying good-bye to Gizmo, his friend and partner, when age overtook him:
“I eased his head down as he gently settled to the ground, and I sat there cradling him as he died. I dug his grave and buried him there, on the high desert of northern New Mexico. As I shoveled the earth over him, dark clouds rolled in overhead and it began to snow lightly. But I didn’t see the coming storm as a dark sign or bad omen. The snow fell gently, in big flakes, and by the time I had finished burying him his grave was white. It was a peaceful scene. It felt like he was saying thank you.”