DEATH VALLEY, FINALLY!

Check out a few of our pictures of amazing Death Valley: Death Valley

DEAD FLAT IN DEATH VALLEY

JAMES THE FRIENDLY ANTI-SEMITE

Allan–March 8, 2018

My Yelp write-up about James will read “A very competent, extremely helpful, reasonably priced, fast-working tire repair guy.   His shop is like a wonderful blue lake mirage in the middle of the desert, and truly a godsend to those caught “Dead Flat in Death Valley.”  James has an amazing array of used tires and is very friendly on top of it!  I’d give him 5 stars, except he’s clearly an unapologetic racist, anti-Semitic, gun in your face, type guy who equates the sins of “Hanoi Jane” (Fonda) with Hitler’s alleged misdeeds…and has signs and bumper stickers to rub all that in. Humans are such a multi-faceted, complex species.  Even if you don’t need help, be sure to stop by for a fascinating cultural and political lesson about “What’s up with America” in this shop aptly named “Reverts”!

I needed James’ help, was grateful to him, and we became quick buddies.  As I tried to understand this complex character, he talked about his dilemma of having no good health insurance options for him and his family. “I tried Obama-care and that didn’t work, I sure as hell won’t take Medicaid and play their game, and now I’m stuck with shitty, expensive insurance with a $7000 deductible.”  I commiserated about how the government now is trying to fuck with my Medicare and my little bit of Social Security is likely to be under attack soon.

When I joked about whether he cooks breakfast for his customers as well, he smiled and pointed to the little, old “Mel’s Diner” next door and said, “There’s ur spot!”  We parted with a fist bump, a balanced and installed used tire ($35 total), and his advice that I trash the newish, shitty four-ply tires.  I had a fleeting thought of staying in the town of Beatty a while to find out more about what makes the James’ of the world tick in this way.  But this is only the start of our trip through the South.  I went back after he closed for lunch to take this photo of some of his signs and bumper stickers.

The Toilet Paper Chase

One of the major hurdles for Carol is getting used to boondocking in areas few tread upon. Such travel is my passion, and now we’re equipped to do it in Paz (“paws”/“peace”), our camper/truck, whom you’ll meet through some of our pics.  One of the aspects of going to challenging locales is the lack of any toileting standards near Carol’s scale of decent…or any toilets at all.  My favorite story for this day is Carol going to pee in the hole she dug in the wilderness …and me hearing a distant scream. Since it was only one scream and no follow-up cry of “help”, I smiled while working inside the camper and wondered if she got blown over, fell in the hole, or had a close brush with a coyote. When she finally returned, she reported petulantly that a piece of toilet paper had blown away in the wind before she could cover it.  This caused my wilderness respecting, law abiding companion to chase the piece of paper through the desert at top speed (not really that fast if you’ve watched Carol run) with her pants down around her ankles.  Upon her return, she asked:

“Didn’t you hear me scream?”

“Yep”.

“Well what if I was attacked by a coyote?!”

“You’d have screamed ‘help’!!!”

“But what if he’d killed me already?!”

“No use going out into the cold wind then, right?”

[Sorry, no pics of Carol with pants at her knees running after the used toilet paper]

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

 

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DEFYING DESERT DEATH

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, Glass of wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO what a ride! A good friend will come and bail you out of jail…but, a true friend will be sitting next to you saying, Damn…that was fun. (thanks 3). And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steve Jobs

DEFYING DESERT DEATH

Allan (From 1975)

No, I’m not going to tell you about losing our heat and cooking ability in our first night of freezing desert temperatures  (allowing inexperienced attendants to overfilling your propane tank is a “no no”), nor being “Dead Flat Deep in Death Valley” with a blown tire from too much off-roading in the amazing valley canyons (leave your City tires home and use 6, 8 or 10 ply).  This is about my travels through the Sahara Desert as a young, foolish man, apparently testing out his mortality in the 5thyear of a deadly drought (1975).

The immense size of this Death Valley desert area—the largest national park in the U.S., driest (an inch or 2/yr.), lowest in the world (282 feet below sea level), and hottest in the world (134 degrees in 1923) reminds me of that fateful trip that I’d hoped would take me from the very north to the furthest South of the largest continent on the planet.  I was in a small town in northern Algeria contemplating how I was going to traverse the Sahara when two Brits came in to the restaurant that served as my temporary home.

“Ya speak French?!! Why don’t you come along with us and be our guide!”

“Nah. Thanks though…I only speak a very small amount of French and know absolutely nothing about the desert.”

Their rig looked well outfitted to me, with 7 Jerry Cans of Gas on top the newish Jeep, and the prospect of a ride not only through the desert but all the way to S. Africa was too appealing to overcome their insistence that I join them.  They hoisted my backpack aboard and off we stupidly went.

The Sahara, like Death Valley, is a combination of mostly wind-scrubbed rock “pavement” and  sand traps in various places that gather in dunes or in secret, unexpected flat spots.  To safely traverse, your vehicle must have the capability and clearance to move through both terrains easily.  My seemingly “happy-go-lucky” brothers had that capability, but the Peugeot-driving idiot they teamed up with along the way did not.  And instead of driving only at night (or early morning/late afternoon) and trying to shelter during the regular 115-degree heat of the day, they did the opposite so they could “see their way”.  Wise locals hitch with the date truck drivers who know the terrain, hide from the sun under their trucks, and know where they are going. Numbskulls pick up ignorant hitchhikers like me, team up with a man trying to make a few bucks in Niger from selling his Peugeot, decide to live by the “moral code” of the desert, and thereby risk all of our lives.

We pass abandoned vehicles as we head blindly through the scrubbed gravel, endless unmarked “highway” in a generally southerly direction.   However, every 50 or 100 miles the Peugeot gets stuck in a sand trap, and we all get out and dig, push a few feet, dig, build traction bridges, eat more sand and quickly melt in the mid-day heat.  Then my “brothers” announce that it’s clear we’ll all die at this rate, yet they can’t leave the man alone (according to the “code”).  Therefore the only solution is for me to stay behind and wait for “help” the next time Mr. Peugeot gets stuck.  Meaning my fate would likely be to get picked clean by hungry vultures, and the car to be taken apart by enterprising nomads some months/years later when discovered, and sold in the Tuareg equivalent of “roadside stands”.

There was no convincing the Brits that there must be some moral code that included not tossing me out in the middle of the Sahara!  I rapidly summoned all my will and poorly developed spiritual connections to give extra speed to the Peugeot to literally fly over the sand traps.

That evening at dusk we watched the headlights of the flying Peugeot in the far distance jump over an apparent cliff and disappear.  As we speed ahead to see what happened to him, we of course plunge over the same “cliff”…and smash into a cliff wall about 20 feet across what appeared to be narrow gulch. After recovering from the shock of our “death plunge”, we realized that the flying vehicles dropped into a modern, recently paved street that I thought must be a hallucination.  No, the pavement is real, and I must have died and been reincarnated in another part of the world.  This must be the Lord’s answer to my fervent pleadings for redemption for all the sins that I and the capitalists have ever committed.

As I check out my body for injuries, see that my companions seem alive, and try to make sense of what just happened, up drives several casually dressed, clean jaunty and friendly French guys in a nice, polished, newish sedan…truly an alternative universe I concluded.

But the truth of the matter turns out that we had accidentally, in a quite timely manner for me, discovered a very well developed French-controlled uranium mining operation in the southern part of the Sahara.  The French guys helped us check out the damage to our Jeep.  The hopelessly bent front axle of the Jeep, smashed up Peugeot, and other human beings amounted to a wonderful boon to my chances of survival.  Amazingly, our saviors quickly removed the bent front axle, took it to their fully equipped machine shop, pressed it back to normal, and replaced it.

I bid the Brits a not-so-fond farewell and waited for a more reliable form of transportation South to Niger to continue my year-long adventure.  And I made myself yet another fervent promise not to take on such risky travel in the future.

“There comes a time when one must risk everything or sit forever with ones dreams.”  Anonymous

 

TRAVELS WITH CAROL

 

“You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you with yourself.” – Ella Maillart

OUR 90 DAY ADVENTURE BEGINS

MARCH 1, 2018

I have pictures (and some writing) saved up from trips to Africa (3 months)/Cuba (2 months)/Other Trips/Travel Stories that I’ve not posted but hope to share in the future.

Now Carol and I are on the road for a few months in our camper/truck, which we named Paz.  Carol and I have another traveling companion…an old buddy of mine named John…Steinbeck that is. Like some friends, you don’t know how much they mean to you until you’ve missed them for a long time…or have lost them forever. This has happened with many people I’ve grown close to quickly, especially while traveling; and with others I’ve known for years but now communicate with seldom. Steinbeck is one of those friends with whom I’ve lost contact in the last couple decades.

Carol and I have developed a habit of reading to each other at night before we sleep, and our first reading adventure on this trip is with Steinbeck and Charley (Travels With Charley) across the U.S. in his truck with a cabin on the back.

Desert Adventures / Desert Beauty

March 3, 2018 Some people don’t “get” the desert – flat, barren, dry, monotonous.  The desert takes time to warm up to, for the colors (many, many colors) to sort themselves out, to separate and step forward as the eyes adjust.  Yesterday was our first full day on the road and it didn’t turn out as planned.  But then, we didn’t really have a plan.

We left on Thursday, March 1, about six hours beyond our “early morning departure”, only to run errands in Oakland for about an hour before circling back home for something we had forgotten, just as our tenants were moving in.  By then it was after 4 pm and we drove until we were tired, staying the night in a rest stop, not really that far out of the Bay Area.

Yesterday we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best route to Death Valley, considering snow in the Sierras and our eventual plan to go South to Joshua Tree.  We ended up going South anyway, to avoid closed roads, almost to Bakersfield before cutting East and North towards Death Valley.  And there our desert adventure really began – Just past Ridgecrest, we turned down a graded dirt road to enter Trona Pinnacles, a hauntingly beautiful, stark wonderland surrounded by distant mountains, and cobalt blue cloud-filled skies.  Here, we were warned not to approach a desert tortoise, who may be able to drink water only once in 15 years (and lives to 80, undisturbed).  If he is frightened into releasing his bladder, he will die, as that is where he stores the little bits of water he gets from dry desert plants.  And here also, in the middle of bare, dry desert, we found someone had built us a labyrinth for our morning meditation.  Turns out this is the place they filmed parts of “Holes”, “Planet of the Apes”, “Star Wars” and others.  Part of our “adventure” was not so spectacular – our propane wouldn’t work, so no heat in the windy cold and no cooking the hot soup we had planned, but just take a look at the attached pictures and you will know the day was just perfect.

So today was a repair day – Allan, my hero, worked all day getting the propane fixed back in Ridgecrest, while I sat in MacDonald’s (out of the cold wind – did I mention wind?  It’s blowing like crazy as I write this), but then we did drive a few miles to the Panamint Valley, surrounded by “purple mountains majesty” and other colors as well.  Down another dirt road to spend the night, this time complete with hot soup and a heater to crawl into pajamas by.  Good night!

WE WERE THE ONLY ONES SOME SLEEPING PLACES

AMAZING FORMATION ON WAY TO DEATH VALLEY

APPROACHING TRONA PINNACLES

WE WALKED THIS LABYRINTH WE DISCOVERED NEAR TRONA!

CAROL DOING WILD GOOSE QI GONG SET

CURIOUS SYMMETRY–LABYRINTH TO PINNACLE

TRONA AT SUNSET

The Missionary Couple.

Prior to entering Death Valley, Carol settled into her temporary office at McDonald’s (WiFi and no hassles—what else can you ask for?) for a few hours while I struggled to repair our propane system (runs heat, refer, etc.). She was befuddled when the cleaning lady struck up a conversation with her in Spanish, and asked if we were missionaries. An interesting question, considering I once toyed with the idea of becoming a Rabbi, after my Rabbi strongly insisted I do after my Bar Mitzvah. (I told him perhaps I should…but was destined to replace Maury Wills on the Dodgers, instead–seems I‘ve always had big dreams, eh?).

Turns out, we surmise, the cleaning lady came by her impression logically. When she was cleaning the Men’s room, I approached with a likely look of great disappointment. She asked if I’d like to use it and I responded, “Only if it’s not a bother, Sister.” I’ve taken to addressing most folks as “Brother” or “Sister” since it captures my attitude towards most others best, especially when in my “travel mode”.   When I saw her waiting patiently to complete her cleaning routine, I walked up, smiled and said “Thank you my Sister!” Later when she saw me searching for the salt, she came across the entire restaurant to ask if she could help, and got me some from behind the counter. Most service people are used to being treated poorly or ignored (and being expected to speak English!), so we guess it made an impression. I like “Sister” and “Brother” increasingly, as I feel the spirit more, and remember names less!

Additional info about Ridgecrest from Carol:  as we passed through Ridgecrest, we noted, and dismissed as kind of weird, a sign to the “Wild Donkey Retirement Ranch” (or something like that).  Not having time to check it out, we moved on.  Later in Death Valley, we learned that there is indeed a home for old wild donkeys in Ridgecrest:  prospectors and others brought donkeys into Death Valley as pack animals, but apparently the donkeys had other ideas and started to build families and settle down, becoming wild.  In fact they began to take over the valley and eat up all the food needed by native species, causing serious ecosystem decay.  So, they were “retired” to Ridgecrest.

“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.” – Eudora Welty