“You know Shane,” My mom says, “There’s still about an hour to go until we get to Shelter Cove, your gas tank is below the halfway mark, we really don’t want to impose on your generosity any longer.” Her voice is pleading, almost begging him to be sensible. After all, what sane person would drive three women six cumulative hours out of his way in exchange for a full tank of gas? At this, Shane looks slowly over at my mom, his sunglasses sliding down his sunburnt nose. My mom adds, “It’s still an hour, which makes it another two hours out of your way from here.”
“So?” Shane says definitively, pushing his sunglasses up his nose and turning his gaze back to the road, effectively ending the conversation with his flippant answer.
We all look at each other and then at Sara’s phone, which is slowly ticking away, mile after mile, minute after minute. We suppose that we’ll just have to clench our teeth a bit longer. It’s only an hour, I think. Twenty minutes pass and Shane has now taken to honking fervently at passing cars and throwing up some sort of hand signals, to which most people just stare uncomprehendingly. One confused driver returned the hand signal, a look of uncertainty written on his face.
“Hey can you turn the radio down?” Shane asks my mom. “I’m driving.” He says this while drumming on his horn, his attention more focused on getting the notice of other drivers than on the feat of driving. “Holy shit, is he serious?” He exclaims suddenly, pulling off of the highway for a third time and flipping around to head in the opposite direction.
“What now?” My mom asks, exasperated.
“I saw my cousin back there again,” Shane says. “I’ve got to say hi or he will be so mad.”
We wheel around into the parking lot of an empty restaurant, making a winding loop around the cracked concrete. Shane is looking inside empty cars, fruitlessly searching for his elusive cousin. He pulls into a spot and just sits in his seat, silent.
“Hey Shane, can we go to the bathroom?” My sister asks.
“Hell yeah!” Shane says, resuming his happy-go-lucky demeanor, seemingly shaking away the dire silence that had overcome his disposition so quickly.
My sister and mom leave me alone with Shane. I step out of the truck and stretch my legs. Shane follows me, standing beside his beat-up truck with me, looking across the flat expanse of dirt and stretching out.
“You know,” Shane says, “I used to date this girl when I was younger who lived around here. I loved her a lot.”
“Really?” I ask interestedly, trying to turn back the clock on Shane’s life, before the drugs, the sun, the labor turned his shyly handsome features into the hardened and scratched leather surface that it was now. I replaced the gaps in his smile with white teeth, filled in the dark wrinkles with twenty years of daily moisturising, detoxified the widened pupils, erased the cloudy film that seemed to hover over his eyes, heavy and disorienting, shaved the prickly stubble that haunted his sunken cheeks, fed the bony skeleton of a body that girls in the nineties would have envied, replaced the ripped jeans and too-short tee shirt with fitted chinos and a quilted sweater. The phantom of the Shane who had walked a different path was undeniably handsome, his easy smile and hearty laugh was indicative of his confidence instead of a result of his drug-addled mind.
“Yeah,” Shane replies. “Her dad owned Crater Lake.”
I just nod as the phantom disappears, giving way to this man who stands in front of me, stretching his arms over his head as one would when they’ve just woken up. His arms lift his shirt and I see a snaking path of well-defined ribs, a happy trail that is framed by bony hips, the light jeans threatening to fall off after a couple more days of light eating.
I’m saved of needing to reply as my mom and sister come around the corner of the restaurant. We all pile into the car again, now only forty minutes away from our destination.
“Hold on,” Shane says. “I gotta go do something.”
And with that, he left us alone in his car and went into the back door of the restaurant.
“Mom, I think we should get out here and hitchhike to Shelter Cove,” I say.
“We only have forty minutes left,” My mom says. “We’ve stuck it out this far, we can do forty more minutes.”
“Yeah, if we don’t die first from some accident!” I counter. “We’re lucky to be alive right now, to be honest. He drives so badly, he’s high, he tailgates. He might not mean to, but he could very well kill us in this next forty minutes.”
“Look,” My mom says. “We have a ride. If we try to hitchhike, we could be sticking our thumbs out for much longer than forty minutes. Forty more minutes of stress and then it will all be over. Just forty more minutes.”
It was all or none. If my mom wanted to stay, we all had to. Shane stumbles out of the restaurant door, practically falling down the concrete stairs that lead him back to the car. We stop talking and look at Shane. His eyes are wide open, his motions are jerky, he seems to have developed a tic in his neck, every ten seconds his shoulder rises in a spasm. He climbs into the car.
“Hey girls, you want some speed?” He offers kindly.
My mom and I shake our heads and say in unison, “No.”
Sara folds her hands in her lap and says back politely, “No, but thank you so much for the offer.”
“Suit yourself,” He says, whipping the truck into gear and squealing out of the parking lot and back onto the highway.
After about fifteen minutes, we turn off of the 97 and onto Highway 58. Almost immediately after turning off, Shane comes to a screeching halt in the middle of the highway, the woman driving behind us has to wildly swerve to avoid rear-ending us. She honks angrily at us and Shane honks back, shouting “Fucking bitch!” at the disappearing car.
“My gas is getting low,” Shane says, “I think I’m going to go home.”
He pulls over to the side of the road and we all get out. I’m a mix of feeling relieved and nervous – we do still have to find a ride to Shelter Cove, about thirty miles away. But getting out of Shane’s car brought with it a huge rush of thankfulness, excitement and relief. I climb into the back of his truck and lower down our packs.
“Hey,” Shane says, beckoning me over to him. “You got a bag or something?”
I dig in my pack and fish out a brown paper lunch bag. He turns on his heel and searches his truck for something. My nerves mount again as I wonder what he could possibly be getting. He returns with a fistful of weed and, motioning to my paper bag, stuffs it with two more handfuls. I’m shocked but I manage to get out a confused but heartfelt thank you and he nods as though he’s done his duty. I lower my pack to the ground and jump out of the truck, going to stand with Sara and my mom on the side of the highway. Shane walks over to us. I wonder how we’ll depart. Will it be a wave? A handshake? A salute?
Shane throws his arms around the three of us, mumbling a very emotional, “Love you girls,” into my neck, where his face is buried. When he pulls away, I can see tears gathering in his cloudy eyes.
“We love you too, Shane,” My mom says, handing him forty more dollars. “Thank you for driving us this far.”
“It was no problem,” He says, taking the money and stashing it in his back pocket. He waves goodbye, gets in the cab and speeds away. We watch his car drive off into the horizon, the sun falling lower in the pale blue sky. And with our packs clipped and tightened, our boots relaced and our hair pulled back, we walk in a straight line, pounding out our familiar beat with the soles of our boots and the dust of the road. My heart is full and pumping. It is stretched to capacity with an unfamiliar combination of fear, adventure, passion, courage, anxiety, determination.
I extend my hand and stick my thumb out bravely to the highway, the PCT, the world.