N 32° 40.355 W 116° 04.350
from Local Treasures
Rob and I came to San Diego for his friend Dan’s wedding. They’d met in Missouri, at college. Then Rob slowly proceeded northeast, while Dan headed southwest. Now, they live about as far apart as two friends can if both are still in the continental U.S. It’s been almost twenty years since they graduated, but several of their other college friends also are there—happy to reunite, especially for a wedding.
Dan adores the desert, so we decided to spend our extra day out west geocaching there in his honor. We took the I-8, a massive, beautifully engineered interstate, toward the Jacumba Wilderness Area in the In-Ko-Pah Mountains of Southern California. The cache is in a boulder field near the remains of old U.S. 80, the westernmost portion of the Old Spanish Trail that once linked St. Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, California. The cache owner had written that walking along this stretch of the first transcontinental highway would be like going back in time. “Pretend it’s 1928. The road, the rocks, the concrete culverts and the scenery hasn’t changed in 76 years.”
For me, it wasn’t so much being back in time as simply time, its hugeness and strange elasticity, that the road made present. Every quarter mile, the person who’d laid that portion had pressed his company’s name and the completion date into the concrete. Keeping an eye out for them, trying to feel how long a quarter mile is, I got to thinking about how many quarter miles there are between the East Coast and the West, how long it had taken to connect the Atlantic and Pacific, how long it would have taken early automobiles to make the trip. They had to stop often—not just for gas and water, but for repairs and many sets of new tires. Their efforts seem Herculean, but the alternative had no doubt been harder: in the 1800s, when young folks lit out for the territories, their families and friends knew they were likely saying goodbye for good. Comparatively, this road made it possible for people to travel and reunite with ease.
We walked just four or five miles, round trip. But we were so curious about it all that doing so took from very early morning until after noon. The next day we took a non-stop flight from San Diego to Boston, ocean-to-ocean in 5.5 hours.