I'm driving down a backcountry road, somewhere off the map and unfamiliar. New terrain. Nothing especially striking about the landscape, though occasionally I'm surprised by a pretty vista. But I'm whizzing along, no time to stop, so these sights are just what I glimpse in passing. The main thing is the road. Staying on the road.

I'm alone, of course. Everything I need in a sturdy suitcase, perched on the backseat. I can see it out of the corner of my eye, and it reassures me. Everything I need is here.

Suddenly, something feels off. Alignment? Suspension? I can't tell exactly, I don't know mechanics that well. I only know the drive isn't as smooth as it was a few miles back. I'm tempted to push it, to gun for the next milestone, but experience has taught me that can spell disaster. I have to stop. I have to see what's wrong.

So I pull over and spend some time kidding myself I can figure out the problem. I circle the car. Inspect the tires. Peer under the hood. I walk several yards away to scrutinize from a distance, as if a bit of perspective might reveal the issue. But whatever it is, it sits deep inside my car, secret and silent and out of reach.

I drive on. It isn't safe to stay in the dead, dark of night, in a strange place. Because out of nowhere it is dark, and cold. Shivering, I remember my suitcase. Everything I need.

But then it's worse. The car is shaking so badly I can't trust it anymore. In what feels like it could be the last decision I'll ever make, I stop again. Make the same rounds. Tires. Hood. This time with a heavy dose of self-recrimination. If only I'd learned more about the car. If only I'd taught myself how to fix it. If only I'd taken another road.

I want to believe that someone will come along and help. But I'm so far from the main highway that it's doubtful. My isolation feels like a punishment for too many crimes to face here alone, in the quiet. With only stars for company and moonlight as witness.

It's time to find out how well I packed.