The walk in from Picacho Peak was really not bad at all. It was a little disturbing to see all the damage and destruction to so many homes…but what was I expecting?
I did run into one large family as I was walking through the second neighborhood I was transiting. They stopped to look at me, the kids ran behind the adults, two men held up shotguns at me. I just kept my cool, held up my hands, nodded, and kept walking. They kept their guns pointed at me the whole time but I just kept walking. I think they were just protecting their family and wanted no part of trouble. I think it is very important to know the difference between actual threats and decent folks trying to do the right thing. That is where Situational Awareness is of paramount importance.
Crawling through the culvert under the Interstate was 100% crazy!!! It just freaked me out so much it wasn’t even funny. I got out my headlamp, which still had fresh batteries in it from the Tanners, turned on the red lens, and headed in. I had to sling my AR over my back and had to keep my hands free because I was crawling. Luckily there have been no rains so there wasn’t any water. But…
Just over halfway through I started to get a little claustrophobic. I stopped, took some really deep breaths, and talked myself into being closer to the end than the beginning. I crawled ten more feet and heard the rattle…a freaking rattle. You gotta be kidding me! I couldn’t see anything –naturally– so I took a chance and turned on the white light. About fifteen feet in front of me was this three-foot long rattle snake all curled up. He wasn’t happy to see me…I wasn’t thrilled to see him either. I couldn’t turn around and head back. So I did the only thing I felt prudent…I started to throw small rocks and handfuls of sand at it. Smart…right?
Evidently I really know how to make a rattle snake mad! It seemed as if that thing was going to rattle his whole tail off, even struck out once at me, though he never even came close. I thought for a micro-second that I would just go ahead and shoot him. You know take a chance on someone not hearing the gunshot under the interstate. Then I remembered I was in a small culvert, underground, and that would make a really great acoustic chamber. Fortunately the two-second thought process convinced me to keep my hearing and devise an alternative. I kept throwing rocks and sand at him. He finally cussed at me and kept crawling about fifteen foot in front of me until we both exited the culvert.
That was a long crawl!
It was funny, when I exited the culvert I was more happy to be done with the snake than having crawled through the culvert. I never did see where he went. I didn’t care though, he was through with me, that’s all I cared about.
But, I kept worrying I would crawl out of this culvert and be in the middle of a prison camp with the guards staring at me like I am the biggest idiot in the world to break into a prison camp. Strange how in tense situations your mind can play with you.
Lucky me, it was just the edge of the interstate with no one in sight. I headed straight for the side of the road behind some mesquite bushes. There isn’t much to hide behind around here…it is rough desert with rocks, cactus, and very few bushes outside of arroyos. I headed for Sand Hill Arroyo…my path home.
I was on my turf now, I knew exactly where I was and how I would get home. All that was left with any challenge to it was crossing Del Rey Road. I hit the low point of the arroyo where the road crosses and scampered across with no problems. I was almost getting use to this kind of travel now…but I’m certainly no expert.
The arroyo behind our house is about 100 yards wide most of the way, sometimes wider. I knew the paths, the problems, and the right way to walk it. What I wasn’t expecting were all the changes in the weeks since the world fell apart.
About one in six homes was burned down to some degree. About half of the remaining houses had some kind of tents, homemade or store bought, set up in the back yard. Most homes had some kind of smoke smell coming from their backyards. The arroyo was stripped of every conceivable piece of firewood…down to the last little pencil sized twig. The arroyo was also full of tracks made from boots, shoes, sandals, bare feet, everything. That was comforting for about two seconds. Then I realized that meant people were around. So far, people hadn’t exactly brought me a lot of comfort with a rare exception or two. I kept moving.
Ah, I hadn’t exactly thought this through. Yes, the arroyo gave me a good amount of cover. Yes, it hid my movements. Yes, it gave me several ways to exit in a hurry. But, there is one huge drawback…getting into my backyard. Yeah, you read that right. Why? Because I have this really wide, really dense, really ugly, large patch of different kinds of cactus behind my house on the arroyo side of the wall. I planted it to keep out would be criminals. And now it would keep me out. Great thought process…NOT!
I backtracked maybe a hundred yards to a spillway that provided access from the street to the arroyo for run-off water. I decided once again to just walk like I owned the place. But, this time I wanted all my tactical gear and weapons to be seen. I wanted it to be a statement to anyone who saw me and thought they might stop me. I wanted them to see that I was not someone to screw with. I didn’t want to be screwed with…I was home.
Yeah, there is a time for low-profile, then there are times to send a clear signal. This was “signal sending” time and I was going to send a strong one, a clear one, no confusion here…leave me alone!
It was all for nothing…no one was on the street, in their yards, in their garages, nowhere. I wasted all that alpha-male testosterone for nothing. And dang…at my age there is only so much of that left in the storage room, you don’t want to waste any of it.
The sun was just starting to really pop over the Organ Mountains but it was still early. This time of year the sun would be coming up like this about 6am. I wasn’t about to just walk to the door and knock…again, might be a death sentence. I would wait until I could hear or see Lisa moving around. So I just sat down on the wall between Jim’s house and mine and drank some water. But that made me hungry. I got out my last pack of Mountain House granola with milk powder and freeze dried blueberries and started eating.
Just as I was finishing up, “Move and you are dead!”
“Jim, you couldn’t hit me from that distance if you had too, not even if someone else was holding the gun for you, not even if…well, you get my point,” I was giving Jim a ration of crap, I had missed him.
“Too bad you aren’t worth wasting a bullet on. When you are done eating come in, we need to talk.”
I didn’t like the sound of that, I inhaled the last of the granola as I followed Jim into his house. No one was up yet, so we talked for about thirty minutes. I am glad we talked before I walked in my house…or even up to the door. He filled me in on a lot of what had been happening. I didn’t like what I heard.
I gave him a five-minute overview of my adventure, he was willing to wait and hear more in the coming days. But, he also added that he didn’t know if we had many more days left to wait. I hated the sound of that. He picked up the phone and gave the crank a couple of spins, then spun it again. Yes, the phone. No, not a cell phone or even a house phone. He had this Vietnam War looking phone inside a green smelly canvas bag sitting on a table in his kitchen under some towels.
While I was trying to figure the whole phone thing out he started speaking, “Lisa, good morning. You awake, I mean really awake?”
I could hear some mumbling, faint, weak on the other end of the phone. Jim looked up at me smiled while pointing to the phone with a thumbs up. “Lisa, someone is standing in my kitchen that would like to see you.”
I could hear the screaming through the phone and trough the walls.
“I think she dropped the phone. You better brace yourself,” Jim was opening the back door.
Lisa never slowed down, she ran straight into me, I was not expecting that. We ended up on the floor. About that time Jim’s wife comes around the corner into the kitchen and told us to get a room then walked over to fix herself a cup of hot chocolate.
I was finally able to get to my feet and Lisa slaps me across the face so hard that I still have the mark. “What the heck?” was all I could get out of my mouth. Jim’s oldest kid had just walked into the kitchen and laughed, “Glad to see you two missed each other soooooo much.”
“Why did you slap me?”
“You’ve been gone so long. That wasn’t fair, I’ve been worried sick. You shouldn’t have made me worry so much!” barely taking a breath, “Now, come home right now so I can fix you breakfast, you are so skinny you look like some refugee.” Strange…I was a refuge.
She was already headed out the door, “Tom, looks as if you are in a whole lot of trouble. Welcome home!” Jim was being his normal wise guy self.
His wife, not to be outdone, “Yeah, welcome home stud…looks like she really missed you. Maybe she can slap you again a time or two before the eggs get cold. I would love to see that video.”
As I walked out Jim’s backdoor I noticed the whole in the wall. Actually, better described as a break in the wall. The local quarry rock that made up the wall had been removed in a spot about 5′ side so people could easily pass between the two backyards. They’ve been busy.
Even though Jim had told me about it, I still wasn’t expecting it. Matt was standing there in my kitchen in his tactical vest, AR slung, and downing some hot chocolate. He walked over, bro-hugged me, and then slapped me in the face.
“I heard it all the way over here and I can see the marks on your cheek. Just wanted to let you know I missed you too. He headed right past me into the back yard with a muffin or something in the same hand as his hot chocolate. “I will let you two catch up. Come talk to me when you are done eating, you need to put on 10 pounds. You look like crap.”
And that was my grand welcome home!
Oh, the breakfast was good, real good. Man, the little things in life become big things when life becomes simple again. I didn’t say uncomplicated. Life wasn’t uncomplicated. Little did I know at the time just how complicated and unsimple it was going to get.
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