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Carlsbad, New Mexico

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

While driving along a backcountry road on my way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico, I spy a figure of a man, a hitchhiking cowboy in the distance. Aside from his outstretched arm and his thumbs-up gesture, as I approach I notice he's wearing a blue denim coat, cowboy boots, and a pitch black cowboy hat; truly this is a cowboy. No more than 5 minutes ago it started to rain, and with the outside temperature hovering around the upper 40s, today is certainly a poor day to be out for a walk. Simultaneously feeling pity for his situation and stabbing pangs of guilt as I entertain thoughts of passing him by, I pull over and offer him a ride.

I open the door and into the van he spills, and as he does so, I'm a little disappointed to discover he doesn't haul in with him a dusty old horse saddle; my needing such equipment to complete my mental impression of what a cowboy is really all about. Once seated, he turns to face me and I'm immediately thanked, for his expression is filled from brow to chin with heart-felt gratitude.

While not in the habit of picking up hitchhikers, I feel happy now, for I've made the right decision to help out a cowboy who is a little short on his luck. We exchange quick introductions and soon enough I learn my rough and tumble passenger goes by the name of Loren. Our conversation starts out pleasantly enough, Loren tells me why he is hitchhiking today, his van is out of commission and he's on his way into Carlsbad, New Mexico to pickup a rebuilt carburator to replace his old, worn-out one.

Realizing I'll have to go out of my way to drive him to Carlsbad, I tell him I'm on my way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but, seeing that it's raining, I'll be more than happy to take him all the way into town myself. I don't mind, really, because he appears to be an interesting character and I don't mind his company one bit. So, on we go, and during our drive to town I learn a bit about Loren.

It's funny how some people will divulge all sorts of things about themselves, even personal things, to complete strangers. Well, I guess Loren just wants someone to talk to, perhaps just a short-term friend is what he needs now, and has found that person in me.

I must admit, my first impression of Loren tells me he's experienced a variety of bumps, potholes, twists, and turns in the road of life. On the surface he looks like a rough enough character, but, a little more conversation upturns a good-hearted friendliness that betrays his gruff, coarse exterior.

Loren admits he's mighty thankful for the lift, for he's suffering badly from chronic back pain caused by a serious injury received years ago riding broncs in the rodeo. In addition to riding bulls, Loren and his brother used to pair rope as well. That's the sport of two horse mounted cowboys subduing a calf. Both cowboys first rope the café from horseback, then one dismounts, tackles the calf, then ropes all legs together as a means of securing their bovine prey.

Financially subsisting off a governmental disability pension due to his chronic back pain, Loren lives on a 35-acre ranch he inherited from his long departed mother. Not being in a healthful position to perform farm labor, he leases out his acreage to a neighboring farmer for grazing. He lives at his ranch alone, but, he hasn't always been alone. At one time he had a family, a wife and three daughters, who now all live in Portland, Oregon, my hometown. Small world, eh?

In his early years, he tells me, he used to be a brawler like his daddy. Nothing serious, mind you, just problems with fighting and such. When I mention my travel website and my desire to profile him as one of the folks I've met during my travels, he is more than game, and suggests I even look up his criminal record if I have a desire to. His proposal I decline, telling him I only deal in first names, and I wish only to write about what I learn from the person as I travel with them.

Curious about where Loren has traveled in his lifetime, he tells me during his rodeo heydays he traveled extensively west of the Mississippi. As for future travels, he'd like to see Alaska, and perhaps Australia as well. Upon further reflection, he sadly admits he's getting too old and is now too attached to the ranch to be away for too long, so, a trip to Australia is probably out of the question.

Soon enough our conversation comes to an end, I've reached Carlsbad, New Mexico and the gas station that will sell him the carburator that'll get him back in the driver's seat again. I bid him farewell and wish him good luck, in fixing the van, in dealing with his back pain, and in pursuit of his future travel plans. I tell him Portland, Oregon is a nice place to visit, so, perhaps he could take a trip there to see the sights as well as his family? Just a suggestion, I tell him. He then smiles at me, and as he steps out of the van, he tells me he'll certainly think about it.

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