The last state I conquered in my somewhat Quixotic quest to perform my Odyssey in all fifty was Kansas in November.
At the time I wrote about the pace at which I’ve been able to add new states and how it has slowed the last few years, complicated additionally by Covid. With only seven states remaining, I came into this year thinking it was realistic to get two more in 2022 and I wrapped up my successful spring touring season by visiting and performing in a place I’ve never been (performing or otherwise): New Mexico.
Most of what I know about the state comes from watching the Albuquerque-based Breaking Bad and hearing people rave about Santa Fe and my itinerary took me to both of these cities.
A slightly delayed flight meant I had to hustle to pick up my rental car at the Albuquerque airport and drive the hour to Santa Fe so I could attend to some Zoom meetings. As I flew down I-25, the city gave way to desert and on my left I could see smoke from brush fires one county over.
I made it to Santa Fe and got settled in an amazing guest house which stood off a quarter mile from the picturesque campus of St. John’s College at which I’d perform the next day. I went into downtown Santa Fe for dinner and afterwards walked the quiet Monday night streets as smoke from the fires tinted the sunset an eerie red and left my throat raw.
The next morning I took a run into town (2.5 great miles downhill) and back (2.5 terrible miles uphill). Over on the St. John’s campus, I wandered the spring afternoon sun. The wind had shifted overnight and the skies were crystal clear blue. I sat on the grass and listened as students conducted a Homerathon, a 3 hour long reading out-loud of select books of the Odyssey. I took a turn reading a hundred lines at the end of book 10, the Elpenor episode.
After cleaning up at my guest house, I walked back to campus for the show. The light at dusk was amazing. It felt otherworldly, a ghostly combination of the mountains, the color palette of the landscape, and the elevation.
The show was in the school’s Great Hall. All the students read the Odyssey as part of their Great Books-heavy curriculum and there is a welcome environment of non-elite intellectualism that permeates the whole campus.
I sang without amplification into the acoustically sound space, my voice feeling its way around the elevation, smoke, and aridity of the climate into an impassioned performance of which I was very proud. 345 shows and 44 states in, I’m still getting better.
The discussion was incredible. Informed and pointed questions, students unafraid to challenge me and my conceits. All in all a great night.
The next morning, I did the reverse of my first run: I ran uphill (2.5 terrible miles) and back down (2.5 great miles). It was really more like 1 horrific mile (300 feet of elevation gain), 3 tolerable miles (rolling elevation along a beautiful ridge) and 1 amazing mile (300 feet of elevation loss). According to my watch, I reached almost 7700 feet above sea level, undoubtedly the highest elevation at which I’ve ever run. The view from the top made the pain worthwhile (I told myself).
I said a sad goodbye to my little outpost in the high desert and headed back towards Albuquerque.
This direction I wasn’t as rushed and paid more attention to the terrain, the strangeness and the beauty, completely foreign to a midwesterner. Just like that I was on my flight back to Chicago, though with the strong possibility of a return in the not too distant future.
So what’s next? Six states remain: Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Maryland. I have leads in all six, one seems all but certain for the fall but of course nothing is certain…
I return to a point I considered after I added Kansas: why? Why this ultimately arbitrary goal of performing the Odyssey in all 50 states?
Well, just like the question of why I wrote my Odyssey to begin with, I'm not sure and I don't care. Maybe I'll learn why once I reach the goal.
Or maybe not. And that's fine too. On to the next state...