Gil didn’t worry, did not think. Instead he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as he mentally counted cadence and held his destination in mind.
The road trended roughly southwest, then abruptly cut back in a southeast direction. More than once Gil found himself back tracking to the road, having lost it where another, older road cut through the newer one, the one he was following back to town.
The evening was cool and pleasant, it was the night and early morning hours that were hard to bare as the cloudless skies failed to hold the daytime heat. Gil when from sweating to shivering within hours, still he kept his pace.
Eventually his shadow rejoined him on his right as the moon and the stars gave way to the sun and the coming warmth of morning. Gil knew that soon he’d have to hunt shade and then he could have a bite of canned pears and some water.
Mid-morning, about ten, Gil guessed, it was becoming hot and he decided it was time to find cover. All he could see for some distance was low-lying scrub and creosote bushes.
Because he knew that the roots of the creosote plant poisoned nearby plants as a survival measure guaranteeing the creosote would get the what water came for the sky or ground, Gil decided to select a bush and drape his canvas over it and use it as a form of shade. He’d have to move with the sun, and into the shade to avoid it’s affect.
It wasn’t the most effective technique, because it didn’t allow for a solid period of sleep, but it would keep Gil cooler, than if he laid down with no cover. For the next few hours, he nodded on and off, ate another pear and drank some water, conserving his energy as much as possible.
Soon, the sun was lingering in the west and Gil’s shadow had drifted to his left. Shortly after dark the road angled back towards the west, a sign that told him he was walking in the right direction.
It was the last major shift in the road, though the ruts remained a constant presence, made harder to navigate by a moonless night. The darkness was vast and discomforting due to the stranger noises it offered.
From time to time, he thought he heard the soft foot-fall of a coyote or two as they skirted the brush, keeping an eye on the lone man. To warn them off, and to make himself feel better, Gil whistled a Scottish lullaby he’d learned as a child.
It always made him think of home, a place he’d not seen in a year and a half. As he walked, whistled and listen, he thought of his folks and imagined them comfortably asleep in their bed.
The chill of the night was coming and he discovered another use for the piece of canvas he’d brought along for the journey. Using his pen-knife, Gil slit a space wide enough to fit his head through and after taking his rucksack off, pulled it over his head like a poncho, pulling the rucksack on after.
It wasn’t as warm as a down-filled jacket, but it did cut the cold enough to allow Gil to not feel it’s sting as badly as the night and morning hours before. As he pressed on, Gil continued to count his steps and hold tight to the vision of the town somewhere in the far distance.
Lost in reverie, Gil failed to notice the large drop in the rut ahead as he marched on. Suddenly, he felt himself toppling over and down a rocky embankment, having stumbled into the tire-deep chasm.