Updated: Aug 8, 2022
I flew down the highway on what could possibly have been classified as the perfect day. True blue skies, dotted cloud puffs, mellow sunshine and wisps of cool air cutting the warmth with moments of refreshment. I’d traveled the curved openness of the 215 many times during my Vegas life. For jobs, friends, lovers and my most favorite thing of all—hikes.
I pulled off onto Charleston, the six-lane road that siphoned into two and wriggled its way into the breathtaking formations of Calico Basin. The snack-sized bowl nestled less than 60 homes, all unique characters. You’d glimpse a touch of every lifestyle type, ranch houses with horses, mansions with full basketball courts and terra cotta adobes that branded southwestern living. I loved peering into the horse stables as I meandered the Camry back toward the trails. I’d pass a little farm with a roadside sign, Fresh Eggs $5/dozen, always intending to take up the offer and never actually doing it.
You could scramble up the stacked sandstones of Calico and cross over the invisible line that marked Red Rock Canyon. When I stopped buying a yearly pass to the National Conservation Area, I discovered the endless trails of Calico to which admission was free. If you hooked a right, past the touristy hot spot of the basin and continued down the road, you’d find a dirt lot surrounded by an expansive sprawl of canyon, spiraling rock labyrinth and gigantic boulders tattooed with ancient artwork and psychedelic lichens. Free climbers frequented the trails, strapped with thick rectangular pads the height of their bodies. The pads made a bed when camping overnight and a cushioned landing when tired arms lost their monkey grip on the stubborn rock.
I’d adventured Calico through many fast and hard seasons of my young life. Many times unsatisfied with my present, worried about my future and desperately seeking solace. Crawling over the gritty rocks and breathing air void of city buildup, I found more of myself in the desert than in anything else I muscled away at, trying to make it. In the openness, I sensed a bigger play for my life than the small toil I’d set to default.
In summer, Calico was like a boiling pot, heat squiggling up in waves of desert oasis. On those blistering days, I’d pack eight liters of water and be so squeezed by the end of the hike, it was all I could do to drive home, shower and pass out. The sheer exhaustion wiped my overactive mind, repairing me from deeply ingrained stress, so I could start again.
Maybe every trip to Calico was divine intervention to shed my workaholism and take it easier. After years of breaking myself down with hard hustle, not only did I resent the success I chased, I no longer felt like any of it mattered. What good was “making it” if I sacrificed my entire life, while scraping away its joy? A trail at a time, I infused nature’s undeniable flow into my operating system, giving myself permission to lighten my load and create only what I adored.
Two months before this special trip to the basin, I had yet another soul-stop of a business breakdown. I realized my grind wasn’t working and everything had to change. So I cold-turkeyed social media, stopped all production on my YouTube channel, blog and anything else I created for my business. I mapped out my first book after a glorious shower. Ya know the kind where the water temp is just right and ideas flush through crystal clear? Then I started writing. I deconstructed a dysfunctional business to begin living a dream.
As I released the old biz model and teamed up with intuition, I toppled through cycles that resembled a breakup. First on scene was separation anxiety, followed by loneliness and self-doubt. Then, the rebound that you know isn’t what you really want, but you indulge because it feels good . . . temporarily. I sweated out Instagram withdrawals by binge watching Orphan Black until inspired action slapped me so hard, I couldn’t sit still in my skin anymore. In every shade of breakup, something goes away, and you remain. So I made a secret promise to the little dreamer inside to stick with myself, even through intense periods of disappointment, procrastination and the good ol’ fashioned blues.
Now it was full blown spring, a time of magic in Calico. Dogs lazed for longer days in the sun. Shirts came off, tucked inside waistlines like oversized bandanas. The wise city slickers soaked up every second of the serene spring days that sprouted elusively in between outrageous windstorms. Yet as close as the hiking meccas of Red Rock Canyon and Calico Basin were to the city, the number of trekkers was zilch compared to the bursting Vegas population. A speechless commentary on priorities in a 24/7 gambling town.
Low-grade melancholy stirred in my core as I rolled down my window, heart breaking open into the sunshine. This would be my last hike in Vegas. I glanced left to be comforted by a cosmic sign I always translated as "You’re on the right path." A dreamcatcher dangled on the dash of a white astro van with Kentucky plates. All I could see of the passengers was a woman’s bent leg hoisted up on the front seat. I imagined her with long hippie hair, seat halfway reclined in the laid-back posture of joy riding.
I pulled onto the Calico offshoot and parked the car about a half-mile before the basin. Other cars twinkled like dimes along the strip of dirt and rock compacted from pit stop traffic. I swapped my flip-flops for Nike sneaks and headed up a mild slope of the trail that looked pencil thin from the roadside and widened to about a foot. I breathed in deep, my lungs expanding with dry air that always felt clean in the expansive desert.
Peering over my shoulder at the top of the first hill, I caught a jogger warming up his first steps on the trail. Twirling around, my eyes shot all the way to the line of Charleston Boulevard that brought me here. The desert in between was wildly alive with flowers—cactus exploding bright magenta feathers, clusters of yellow daisies, royal blue petals popping out of dense branch mazes and lavender asters the lightest shade of heaven. Barrel cactus decorated the rolling hills, short grass filled in hillsides like mini fields of wheat and prickly palm Joshua Trees twisted every which way, like Dr. Seuss characters with funky hairdos. Clearly the work of divine landscapers, perfectly spaced and brilliantly diverse.
I strolled along, peacefully energetic, high on the day, until my eyes laser-beamed to a familiar round shape in the dirt. A crusty penny, the star of a game I created to welcome more money into my life. One cent was equivalent to $1000. I quickly became an old pro at finding thousands scattered on my daily walks and grocery store runs—but this was a place I never anticipated finding coin!
I probably looked like a five-year-old to the jogger who passed from behind while I pinched my penny up to the sun, ogling it like a raw diamond. His “hello” was kind, hair long, scraggly and heavy with sweat, under a red and white trucker hat. I watched his smooth tan calves trading weight down the trail, every muscle visibly working to tread lightly over the crumbly ground. I followed the staggered stamps of his running shoes, still bubbling over my big score.
A woman up ahead casually closed distance. She was decked from head to toe with a beekeeper-esque hat, Audrey Hepburn shades, long sleeves and polyester pants. Even her teacup black dog had a green and white striped sweater, its tongue hangin’ low and workin’ overtime in steady pant. As our paths intersected, she softly motioned her hand to the side of the trail to which she stepped, and the pup moved aside, too, in telepathic agreement. As it gazed up at me, squinty-eyed and adorable, I commented on its cuteness. The woman made a sound communicating slight amusement with a hint of delicate laughter, but didn’t speak, and I admired her confidence to nix small talk and go our ways. I’d instantly dubbed the duo’s clothing choice strange being it 82 degrees, yet these days, I took my judgements about as seriously as my hair. After all, she could’ve easily pegged me vagabond, strolling up with mixed magenta-gray galaxy patterned shorts (jaggedly cut from capris just before the hike), stain-blotted tank top and natural dreadlocks that looked like severe bed head.
The Las Vegas Strip stretched into view through a dip of rolling hills and I was alone again on the footpath. Merely miniatures on a horizon, I covered the spread of world-renowned hotel casinos in record time and curved into a snake bed of writhing trails. I thought of all the routes I could explore—up the peak shaped like an eagle beak, around the hill ripe with Joshua Trees or down around the base that connected back to the beginning trail from the opposite direction. I could follow the electric lines down the rocky bed that caught flash floods in summer. The layers of soft golden dirt coating the rocks were printed with tire tracks from maintenance trucks that kept civilization steady in this sandy outskirt.
But there was more world to see than the hills around Calico. It was time to fly with no answers, simply faith-laced dreams that held the promise of adventure. So I stayed the path and said goodbye to a piece of Vegas that meant the most. The open space where my spirit played with possibility and fear dissipated into knowing. At every stage, growing meant embracing the unknown, and now was my time for mental blindfold.
A few weeks prior, I felt an urge to sell my car. It was one of the last men standing when it came to practical possessions I highly valued. I was closer than ever to publishing my first book, leaving Vegas and being seen in big ways. Yet here I was, driving around with a trunk we hadn’t been able to open for months and the tense worry of financial tightness. I vacillated about selling Jan, who I’d nicknamed for her role as the reliable ship that safely sailed me through my tumultuous twenties.
Would I be giving up my freedom, or owning freedom of another kind?
Answers were delivered in glints of mini miracles that kept me on the carousel. A hummingbird hovering on my patio. Personalized license plates that seemed made for me. Dreamcatchers on dashes. A penny on the trail. Now all I could do, was follow the signs.
Signs weave a path of joy wherever we go, it’s just a matter of being tuned into their frequency.