By the time I hit my (secret) back road, which actually saves you no time during the drive, I had the windows down and the music cranked up so loud the farmers in the alfalfa fields turned their heads looking for strangers. Instantly, I was brought back to childhood as I passed the homemade “Rez Fireworks Turn Now” sign.
A few more miles ahead was Nevada’s hidden gem, Walker Lake, which Nevadans tell me is salty, gross and covered in spiders. All of those things are true, yet if you want to have an entire 20-mile lake to yourself you will find no better destination.
Seeing the lake completely empty reminded me of baby pictures my mom has locked away of me slinging mud at the camera as my Huggies filled with lake water. Sure, every once in a while I would sport a golf ball-sized spider bite, but that was the sacrifice needed to learn how to ski and wakeboard.
From the lake it was only another 90 minutes to get to good ole Tonopah where I was promptly greeted by my aged yellow labrador, who became protective when she saw a stranger pull into my family domain. As expected, my father was hard at work under the hood of a family vehicle.
It took about 15 minutes before my mom began making me a heaping plate of food that tastes nothing like what the chef at my apartment makes, rendering me helpless to maintain a low-calorie diet for two days. Time for some exercise — for the dog, that is.
Because all the family trucks are too high for her to jump into the bed, the dog walks up her custom-carpeted ramp made by Valenzuela industries. Her ears flap in the wind as I pull off the pavement to our favorite dirt road and she takes off as soon as I get the tailgate down.
Cruising in the middle of nowhere feels more genuine than it used to. The desert freedom feels more open now; the silence is more tranquil than I remember and for some reason I cannot remember why I left this beautiful place.
Coasting back into town where I exchange friendly waves with Nye County police officers, an old friend of my father’s and the new neighbors who recently moved in, I realize I left because it was the next step in my life. I needed to find a career that made me happy so I could come home and be proud to say I had the guts to move away and risk coming back a failure.
It’s funny how a trip home to service my truck became anything but a day underneath the chassis. My family and close friends talk about some of the stories I have written, addressing them by name and saying they enjoyed them. I have found my starting point in life in a new city I consider to be small town-esque.
Eventually, I will be able to consider myself one of the people who leaves home, finishes college, finds a career and brings it home to help the Tonopah community prosper. Those who are doing it now, and those who did it in the past, are all famous Tonopahans. But, as Miranda Lambert says, everybody dies famous in a small town.
Garrett Valenzela is a reporter at the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.