Guadalupe Mountains

By Evan Breder

IG: @lankybull

We were making our way across Texas from Breckenridge to Odessa when we decided to look for a campsite.  With little to no preparation, we extended our already four-hour drive another three hours to push towards the Guadalupe Mountains; a national park we knew nothing about.

As we drove further into the sunset, the gas tank began getting low. Usually, this is never worrisome, but for the last hour, every exit we passed was just another seemingly endless stretch of empty road that lead to nothing but dried dirt, cactus, and dead trees. I eventually decided we had pushed our luck a bit too far one too many times, so to play it safe we tried our phones which were fighting for enough signal to find the nearest filling station.

When it finally worked, it was telling us to backtrack thirty-four miles into the dark abyss from which we came. As soon as I turned the car around the beep of the gas light turning on was enough to hush our conversation and spike our anxiety. When we were twenty-five miles away, I switched the display on the dashboard to show how many miles worth of gas we had left in our reserves. When I saw the number my heart sank, and I quickly switched the display back before my co-worker, Tom, could see it. We didn’t both have to share that fear.

I continued along the way with nothing more than the sound of small rocks from the road bombarding the underbelly of our car, and my good faith that the universe had better plans for me than dying somewhere in the middle of a Texan desert at the ripe age of twenty-three. I started contemplating what the game plan would be if the accelerator stopped giving me power. How far would I have to pull off? Would we be able to get cell service to call for help, or would I have to hitchhike all the way there to grab a can of gas? My panic was quiet and calm, but a panic nonetheless.

By some strange type of twisted miracle, we made it to the obscure gas station that our GPS lead us to. It was a peculiar automated system I had never seen before. I made it through the majority of the operation, but the last bit of the process was to enter my company information, and I worried that if I entered incorrectly, we might end up stranded in this true American wasteland. As I stood there frozen with indecision, I noticed there was a truck filling up on the far side of the lot.

Instead of risking a guess I decided to walk over, and see if the driver could give me advice. As I came a few feet from his truck, he stepped out into view. The way he held himself, I knew he was sizing me up, and ready for confrontation. I made sure to keep a little distance assuming I may have startled him. At the same moment, I waved and began saying “Hello,” I noticed he had an open switchblade in his right hand. He seemed a bit surprised at my appearance and put the knife back into his jacket pocket. Trying to keep my focus off of the weapon I explained my situation to him, but quickly learned he spoke only bits of broken English.

He wasn’t able to fully answer my questions, but he kept pointing at a different pump before jumping back into his truck and driving off into the unforgiving darkness. I moved our car to the pump he pointed at, but again ran into the same screen that was asking for the “company information.” Surrounded by the cold desert air and the yellow flickering light I took the gamble. I typed in my full name and pressed enter.  The solid block of six seconds it took the machine to spit out an answer was filled with fear, hopelessness, and regret. Then the magic word “approved” forced its way through the dirt on the screen.

As I began pumping the gas and my heart rate started to slow, I couldn’t help but think that this didn’t quite feel like a victory. Perhaps my emotions didn’t matter at that moment. In almost any number of other scenarios where one is set on a course for disaster, and just narrowly avoids catastrophe it would be cause for celebration, but when the pump handle clicked to show the tank was full, I still felt no fireworks.