The undulating waves of minerals, it is something I often marvel at. Since the beginning of my exposure to rolling hills and grooved terrain of the mountains I have been awestruck by the fluidity of the form. Mountains look like wrinkled sheets, left unmade. The way the light and shadow strike and partner up in such gargantuan forms is breathtaking. They are like large rocks scattered in a yard, and if that’s the case then I’m like a very small ant, racing along with my gaze cast upwards.
In the desert the rocks are in constant fluid motion. For one they are what they are, and they have an asthetic appeal of movement, but besides that the wind is used as a tool by mother earth to direct the many minerals wherever she pleases. The dessert alters form with the wind. The dessert reshapes itself with the rain. Everything else adapts to the ever changing landscape, and that is the beauty of such a biome.
Little Wing and I found ourselves adapting to the motion of the desert. Death Valley chased us back to West Coast with the threat of rain. I talked to various workers at the oasis that I stayed at and they all had a different take on what would come of the precipitation, or what the forecast even meant for the area. The one that stuck with me though came from the oldest of the people who advised me. Jonathan was his name, and my guess is he was about fifty. He told me that when it rains in the desert the landscape changes. He said that rocks and sand wash out and go wherever they please. He told of people driving in the rain in the desert and having to hide behind their car as the detritus stopped the vehicles and turned them into just another part of the landscape.
I think it was just horror stories.
Even so, being a person who listens to the advice of others, especially when I know nothing of the area, I took off for less dangerous terrain.
All of California is getting rain today, or so the internet tells me. Since I didn’t know exactly what to do with myself after finding out that the desert actually gets rain too (I am quite flabbergasted, to be honest), I decided the coast was as a good a place as any. I’m now sitting at my new hosts place in Oceanside, CA, staring out the window at chirping birds on the feeders, typing and drinking tea. It beats being caught in a mudslide in a place that has the word death right in its title.
The desert was actually quite charming. I found that I had a healthy amount of apprehension about it stemming from my lack of knowledge and experience. There are no swamps or trees there so it was really nothing like anything I’ve known. I was instead going off the knowledge I had attained in books about the Sahara and thirsty cowboys. Movies also came to mind, and visions of Peter O’Toole riding camels served as a type of guide (I was thinking of him before the motorcycle accident, otherwise it is clearly not the best imagery of the great Lawerence of Arabia) while traversing on my own humble steed. I did fell the tiniest bit nervous. So much dry dirt, so many rocks, a lot of heat, it would be one of the worst places I can imagine to break down. Because I haven’t yet spent a lot of time there I find that I still think of it with trepidation. I will have to wander over there again to alleviate, and overcome, this odd hesitation. It is an emotion I am unused to.
Speakingof breaking down, I didnt come up with that idea out of thin air. The first evening that I rode into the outskirts of the valley I was actually met by the reality. It wasn’t my bike that broke down, but a strangers scooter. After an hour and a half of riding through the dark desert I was met by an oasis of light and people, something I had only been dreaming of when riding first on the windy dusty flat roads, and then the winding steep mountainous roads, all in the dark. At one point I became the front of a short procession. It was just Little Wing and a semi, but that was enough to make it feel like a chore. We were going down hill and the only turnoffs were sandy gravel patches which I was unwilling to undertake in the dark, fearing a fishtail off of the hill into the rocky crevices below. I could hear the semi driver putting his foot on the brakes, riding them as I went around the corners at 25 mph. I tried to ignore the thoughts of his brakes going out, and the scene of the eighteen wheeler plummeting down the steep terrain, Little Wing becoming just a hood ornament to be seen later after the dust had settled and the truck was uncovered by the rescue team. I attempted to keep those thoughts as far away as the campsite that was at the end of the ride. The semi must have been thinking the same thing though, because after ten minutes of being lead by the small motorcycle we hit a long enough stretch of straight, flat road and he passed me as I hugged the right side of the road. He immediately picked up speed and I could hear his brakes relax. Needless to say, I was relieved as could be to see the lights of civilization at the end of that trail. Despite the dark blue and black that dominated the sky it was only 6:30, so I was wide awake and pumped on adrenaline. I pulled up to a gas station, and observed that there was also a campsite and bar in this brightly lit bastion of civilization. As I cut the engine and got to uncinching my helmet I observed a man sitting outside of the convenience store at a table. As I watched he got up, and as I hung my helmet he approached. I told him good evening as I got off Little Wing, and then he proceeded to engage me in conversation.
It turns outhe was a Russian, so he spoke with an accent. His name was Misha and he had immigrated to the U.S. seventeen years ago. When he saw me on the motorcycle he thought I might have the tools on me for a broken down scooter. Now mind you, I know nothing about scooters so I have done a little research go figure out how exactly to explain the problem without sounding uninformed, so bear with me. The drive belt had basically disenegrated within its housing. The drive belt is the equivilant to the chain or belt on a motorcycle, except different because it works on a variator. Motorcycles have clutches and gears. Like in a standard transmission car, one holds the clutch and shifts gears. A scooter has a belt in a variator, making the difference between scooters and motorcycles sort of comparable to a standard transmission vs. an automatic in the four wheeled vehicle world. The scooters variator changes the position of the belt depending on the speed, controlling the back tires movement in relation to the engine. The rider doesn’t have to do shifting, it is automatically determined. At least that is the way most modern day scooters work. At least that’s how Misha’s worked.
The belt was a disenegrated pile of dust laying on the side of the road with his scooter and all his gear. He had a new belt to replace it with, problem was, he didn’t have the right tool to to turn the nut holding the variator in place while simultaneously insuring the circular disc did not spin. Meaning, he was turning and turning his wrench and nothing was loosening. He needed an impact wrench.
I don’t carry those on my bike. I agreed to help him find one though. First I wanted to get the tent off the back of my bike. After figuring out the camping situation I setup my tent as we discussed his different options. Me riding two up with him four miles to the place that the sccoter was safely stowed away was discussed. Borrowing tools from campers also came up. The idea of him getting the bike towed was mentioned. The decided upon action was actually a walk over to the bar and adress a question to the bartender. One radio communication later and we were in contact with some of the workers at the campsite area, and thirty minutes later we were in a truck on our way to fetch scooter. Less than eighteen hours later the scooter would be fixed with the help of these men. During the time in between though Misha and I had a whole evening in which to discuss and get to know each other.
It was a neat experience to go to Death Valley in an effort to experience a bit of nature only to meet another friend. One of the coolest things about the experience was the fact that I finally felt I was given a very small opportunity to pay forward all the kindness I’ve been the recipient of. I didn’t actually do much other than offer my company, but whatever it was, it felt good. Small steps.
Misha’s scooter was fixed and he was off to his home the next day. I filled my afternoon with exploration of the valley. I saw the sand dunes and had a great ride in the desert. That evening I would find out about the rain, meaning I only had one good day of hanging in the desert before being scared away by the elements.
Ah well. I’m now in Oceanside, it is raining out there. I’m glad that I can react to such works of nature with gratitude rather than angst. It was healthy to remove myself from a place where I was dreading the elements, because really, that’s what it is all about. The elements make up the bigger picture. California needs needs rain, and who am I to bitch about it when they get it? Well, I’m not now. I’m safe and dry. I’m not in the path of mudslides or dust storms. I have heat and dry place for Little Wing as I watch the birds frolic in the rain, and the plants on the organic farm that my host owns stretch their limbs to take in the glorious moisture. I’m not complaining.
I will go back to Death Valley soon, and hopefully I will be met with as much life and shared adventure as the first night there. We shall see. For now I’m working on not being intimidated by things I lack knowledge of, and researching them if I do.
Hey all, if you are getting sick of that snow and rain in your area feel free to send it over to California. They’d sure appreciate it I’m certain. I’m off to dip my toes in some puddles.