We broke camp in Colorado long before sunrise to get a head start on our trail into New Mexico. The team was feeling restless for the road, so we tried to utilize the energy it provided the best we could. We had heard reports of sweat lodges and hot springs scattered around our intended destination. The rejuvenating spirits that they may provide were a welcomed daydream because we can’t maintain our grueling pace to New York on grit alone. If nothing else, it would supply the team with a hot bath. The odor in the Black Boar had become a Trouble all its own, and was beginning to compromise the amount of time people would speak with us. We crossed the New Mexico border just before dawn, and our search for Trouble off the grid had officially begun. According to our research The Mesa was just the place to find it.
Crossing the bridge over the Rio Grande was like entering another world. The beauty of the area instilled a sense of serenity, but deep down we were filled with an eagerness to find out what lay beneath the surface. Our directions instructed us to turn by a big sign that read LOVE. Steering the Black Boar in that direction felt like a bit of a contradiction. We weren’t looking for love in the desert, although most of the team were antsy in more ways than one.
We began to spot small settlements and dwellings scattered across the landscape. Our party spotted a figure near one of structures so we navigated in that direction. The intention was to find out what Trouble was like for the people living on The Mesa and off the grid. This is when we met a man by the name of Eric, who gave us a taste of what the lifestyle entailed.
Eric has been living here on The Mesa and off the grid for the past 15 years. To say that he lives a modest lifestyle would be an understatement. When asked about Trouble, he had a different take on it than the others we had met on the expedition up to this point. Living off the grid was a simple life by definition, but one that provided a different set of challenges than most folks are accustomed to. Work is never really finished because there is always something that can be done. There is always something to build, fix, and improve. Always something else that needs preparation for the days ahead. He explained how working with your hands wasn’t just a regular activity, but a requirement. This was evident from the moment we pulled up and saw him using a double-handled saw to strip the bark from aspen tree branches. This was a man who could appreciate a good tool. Not only because they help to ensure your livelihood, but to solve regular run-ins with Trouble. When we asked him about a memorable time he had with Trouble, he certainly had a tale to tell.
According to Eric, a serious Trouble had affected everyone on The Mesa when their supply of propane had been cut off in the middle of a harsh cold. That winter Dallas was hosting the Superbowl at their new stadium, and the influx of people to the city caused an abrupt increase in demand of propane as a heat source. This caused their local supply of the fuel to be averted to the Dallas area, leaving no one on The Mesa with gas for several weeks when the temperatures were dropping below zero degrees. Old man winter had little compassion for their circumstance, and evidently a sick sense of humor. Everyone became entirely dependent on firewood for heating and cooking, a commodity that Eric himself was a principal supplier of. He needed to yield more wood than ever before to keep his neighbors and himself safe from the freezing temperatures. Bartering goods and trading labor is a fact of life when living off the grid, but the sudden urgency to locate and split more wood than ever before made Trouble a life threatening situation for everyone right in their own backyard.
Eric told us of these hardships on The Mesa in a straightforward and stoic manner. He explained that he believes his higher purpose in life is to look out for the well-being of others. A mindset that he credits to the spirituality living off the grid provides, and the fact that his mama had raised him right. You need the desire to be independent to appreciate living without the little things, but you also can’t be afraid to ask neighbors and strangers alike for help. When you think of Trouble this way it seems a little less threatening even though it’s constantly on the back of your mind. This attitude fit in perfectly with what we are accomplishing on our American Expedition. We are deliberately searching for Trouble, but we can always put one foot in front of the other because we know how to solve it.
Eric lead us around the property and we asked him to give us a wood splitting demonstration. This is when he showed us an axe he had busted just days prior, and his new axe which didn’t look like it stood much of a chance either. We grabbed the Gerber splitting axe we had locked to the Black Boar and fought back our giddy smiles as we put it in his hand for a test drive. In one fell swoop the log erupted and he was showing a smile of his own. We gifted him his tool of choice, and were pleased to tell him about the lifetime guarantee it carried with it. For a man who goes through a lot of tools, this would literally be the last axe he would ever need in his collection.
We hesitated at first to part with our axe this early in the trip, but a bigger part of us felt like it was fate considering his tale of Trouble and line of work. We climbed back inside the belly of the Black Boar and continued the expedition heading in the direction he had recommended.
If our families ask about us tell them not to worry.