Sunday, 17 August 2014

On the road: Day 7, Joshua Tree -> Death Valley -> Yosemite

Monday 2nd June

When I finally awoke this morning to the sight of the sun rising over the rocks and the familiar sound of my alarm, the relief that I had made it through the night was immense. 

All night I had been plagued by fearful dreams of the lone man in his car. As it was so hot we had left the outer layers off our tents and so I lay there staring at the stars through the meshing, uncomfortably aware that as beautiful as my view was, this also meant I could be watched sleeping. I continuously sat up to squint through the star-dappled darkness as his truck and check he hadn't suddenly turned his lights or any other sign that he was awake and thought us sleeping. I lay there feeling intensely vulnerable with an overpowering urge to text my parents and let them know I fear I may be shot/abducted/crushed by his potted green plant he carried around with him… but what use would that do? Besides, I had no phone signal. I taught S the trick of using a bobble to lock your tent and kept my rape alarm and pen knife close, then just lay there and hoped. In the middle of the night I kept sitting up and the silhouette of a Joshua tree looked just light a looming figure leaning towards me and every time I saw that same static figure of darkness I still got a fright.

Once I looked up and saw Svenja still safe and sound in her mesh cage I finally could breathe again and suddenly felt overwhelmingly exhausted. But we knew we had a long day ahead of us.

We ate more raisin bran and ate more apples while climbing up the rocks which were already warm at half six. I volunteered to do the first shift of driving and we waved goodbye to the army of Joshua trees.

Next stop: Death Valley. Our aim was to reach Yosemite by evening as we reserved a campground but couldn’t resist taking a ridiculously convoluted route that would lead us through the ominously named Death Valley. After a couple of hours of driving my restless night caught up with me and, even though we stopped at a little gas station and consumed disgusting amounts of caffeine in the form of Coke and coffee, I gave up and swapped with S. I had been totally zoning out and kept thinking about that Sandra Bullock film, Premonition, and how by trying to prevent her husband’s death she caused it, and I kept glancing at the big trucks crossing past me and my eyes felt heavy and I knew that if I crashed the car because I’d been thinking about Sandra Bullock of all people I’d never forgive myself.

Svenja was driving for only about an hour when we passed him. Our first hitchhiker. After 20 metres of bad driving as she slowed/swerved and we did a whole ‘Should we pick him up?’ ‘no’ ‘why not?’ ‘I don’t know… yeh ok!?’ we skidded onto the gravel and looked in our mirrors to see a tall, young guy with a pierced ear, crazy hair and a walking stick approaching us. Svenja jumped out to clear the back seats and I sat there wondering if we’d just escaped one dangerous stranger only to invite another one in our car.

Beb was Spanish and had just been studying a year of his masters degree in Geology in Michigan before setting off with nothing but his camping gear for a month. He said he’d been waiting four hours for someone to pick him up and laughed ‘I’d started talking to the flies’ which sounds ten times more insane in a Borat-style Spanish accent. He told us about his adventures travelling and some scary hitchhiking anecdotes of an old man who picked him up then let him stay at his house then took him out for dining and wining before politely proposing Beb showed him his penis. To which Beb said no, he did however still stay in this man’s house, in the middle of nowhere.

As we approached Death Valley the small towns became even more absurd, consisting of real western style saloons and sheriff offices and a wooden shack of a ‘General Store’. Things really were dead in Death Valley.

We watched the outdoor temperature creep up to an obscene 114 degrees Fahrenheit and I stuck my arm out the window and the air was thick with dust and heat.

I pulled in at a view point swarming with a coach of French and Chinese tourists, but the view was spectacular and dramatic enough to bear the crowds. Layers of rock and sand intersected each other in all jaunty angles creating mesmerizing patterns of colour. The hot, wild wind whistled our hair and we took advantage of our hitchhiker by finally getting a photo of the both of us. We then slyly had a whispered meeting about how far we were willing to drive him, as when he heard our ambitious mission to reach Yosemite he seemed very interesting in sticking along. But he did have a national parks membership card, which had already got our car into Death Valley for free and could save us another $20 at Yosemite…
We ate another lunch of cheese sandwiches and apples, but this time adding a course of undrained, tinned tuna that we shared out the can with our trusty, unclean spoons.

We set off driving again across the desert and asked Beb questions about how certain land features were formed and when he didn’t know the answers we asked him to make something up. He fitted in well with our driving routine, obediently singing along to Born to be wild and even pointing out when we were driving the wrong way.

I drove for what felt like eternity across sweeping flat desert land and we even saw a couple of sand tornados sweep across the desolate road in front of us. At one point a lonely sign informed us we were 100 feet below sea level and I marvelled at the thought that that meant somewhere in the world there is a massive ship floating 100 feet over our heads.

When we finally started departing the desert I was suddenly faced with driving on winding cliff edges climbing up to crazy altitudes. The sweltering heat, thin air and spectacular drop to the left of me made me feel sick with nerves, but there was no way to go but onwards.

As we got closer to Yosemite we noticed the temperature dropping and suddenly we were no longer surrounded by sand dunes but by snow mounds. We pulled over and played in the snow in our shorts and sunglasses.

The campsite we’d reserved was at the opposite end of Yosemite, but the hour or so drive across this land was just an array of stunning scenery. Gigantic cliffs and mountains with dramatic white waterfalls with lush green meadows and beautiful red trees, everything looks like the glossy, edited version of real life. Every direction you look you spot a winding stream or hidden trail and become filled with wonder at all the possible adventures to be had in this enchanting scenery. The dropping sun shone through the trees which towered over the narrow road and created a canopy of glowing green and red pine needles.

When the time came to drop off our hitchhiker we exchanged some awkward goodbyes and wished him luck as he headed back into the wild.

Our camp is in the middle of a forest and sluggish towers of smoke from all the different tent sites spiral up amongst the pine trees and sunlight. Our fire was blazing in record time tonight and we were giddy from our enormous sense of achievement and the smoke fumes and laughed and joked about dancing round the fire pit. We then proceeded to actually dance around the fire pit. We cooked our favourite (beans) again then spent the night finishing the game of Phasen 10 we had started on Newport beach and after much drama and dispute I eventually won. Of course.

Today has been a bizarre day. From 100 feet below sea level to 10,000 feet above, 114 degrees Fahrenheit to wading in snow, losing one creep then acquiring a hitchhiker, eleven hours and 600 miles later our ‘tedious day of driving' has turned into one I’ll never forget. Plus, I beat S at a German game, going to make sure neither of us ever forget that gem.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

On the road, Day 6: San Diego -> Joshua Tree National Park

Sunday 1st June
Once again we managed to be slow and sleepy on the morning despite our best attempts to be proactive and leave early.

We took advantage of the free breakfast and ate far too much, and then sneakily shoved more in our Tupperware boxes. I then grabbed a load of common food from the hostel cupboards before heading to the bathroom and wrapping as much toilet paper around my arm as I could possibly manage and shoved it all in our bags.

Carrying our massive backpacks, shopping bags and stolen goods we searched for our baby BLG and created a plan of action on how to leave San Diego.

Unfortunately some people have to be fit and healthy and run stupid marathons leading to half the roads being closed, completely scuppering our plans. Come on America, I thought cars came before exercise?!

Becoming almost claustrophobic as we tried to escape the city we just headed for the nearest freeway and winged it from there.

You stay classy, San Diego... now we're into the wild.

We have started to notice that the expected time for every drive we do seems to be two hours less than the actual time. We hit the road then suddenly, Hey we should get some milk, oo stop here I need the loo, oh do you think they will sell memory cards? hey wait we forgot the milk! Oh I need the toilet too now,,,

But even all these mundane little moments in mediocre places are enjoyable because it reminds us how free and independent we are, stopping whenever we like, even just to take a photo of an amusing sign.

Today we also commented on the fantastical names of towns round here, drive up avocado highway with turnoffs to Rainbow Blvd and even passing through a little town called Kickapoo. As we headed further inland the towns became smaller and more bizarre, everything somehow being related back to Christianity.

Getting closer and closer to Joshua Tree National Park it occurred to us we had no means of making fire so we stopped a couple of times to gather our cavewomen essentials.

At one stop I made a fool of myself by trying to open the bathroom door only to find it locked. I waited far too long and started becoming insanely irate, knocking on the door I started to realllly dislike this faceless person hogging the bathroom for so long. Then over came a member of staff who gently pushed the door open. As well as being embarrassed I felt rather peculiar at finding that all my irritation and dislike had been aimed at no one at all, there was just me and an empty room. Peculiar.

As I came outside, eager for a quick getaway, I found S putting stuff in the boot. She slammed it shut and got in the driver's seat and reached in her pocket for the keys. Her cute German accent started firing out "f*ck, f*ck, f*ck" as she realised she'd locked them in the trunk. At first I panicked and then all I could think was 'balls, I'm going to have to show my face in that gas station again to ask for help and look even more stupid!' - which really was not an option.

Keeping oddly calm so's not to stress Svenja out even more, I clambered around the front of the car and actually felt a little leap of lightness in my heart as I pushed a button and heard that beautiful POP as the boot sprung open. Confessing her complete, undying love for me Svenja grabbed the keys and we fled that dreaded place for good.

FINALLY, reaching Joshua Tree we we were so excited to be immersed in nature again. I read in the exhibition at the Museum of Photographic Arts that every designated State Park is made an official state park because there is something unique about it, no two parks are the same.

Joshua Tree is breathtaking. The vast open planes are just full of these tall, spiky trees, all spread out from one another, like a creepy army of silent limbs, all bent at bizarre angles and covered in spikes. Then the mountains just look like massive man-made piles of stone all piled up together. The stones look loose, like rubble, like a child's pile of rocks next to a big hole they're digging. But then they're so monumental, you feel so small and vulnerable.

There is something spectacularly disturbing about the scenery here. The smooth curved rocks that resembles shapes and animals from your morphed dreams, the antisocial trees that stand disturbingly still and giant rubble piles randomly amassing - everything natural here has a creepy, man-made aurora about it. There's almost too much delineation, or spacing, or something...

But then the fact that these natural wonders can make you feel this way is amazing in itself. The scenery just overcomes you.

The heat here is sweltering and after our laughing and cursing as we put our tents up we suddenly became aware of the dense silence here. We sat still, and I don't think I have ever heard so much nothing in my life, until a bird made a funny warbling noise, which was of course followed by our laughter.

Our camp is a cute new home (for one night) already, walled with large, smooth boulders.

However we both simultaneously became disturbed by a lone, old man, continuously circling past in his car even though we were in the middle of nowhere with no one else around, and he eventually pulled up in the pitch right next to us and simply sat in his car. We both  tried to casually watch him, before deciding not to panic too much and to head to the trails.

We had the best afternoon soaking in the golden hours of sunshine from 3 to 7 that make everything gorgeous and glowy. We set off on trails, but were constantly drawn away by alluring rocks and boulders that just had to be climbed.

Not perhaps wearing the best clothing or being as careful as we should have been, we leapt across, squeezed between, scrambled down, push each other up and even tumbled right down the bumbling piles of boulders, bubbling over each other to create the best adult's playground.

We tried to get a photo of our reenactment of The Lion King (Ahhhhhh Svenja) which ended into Svenja tumbling backwards and rolling down a few rocks as she tried to steady the camera. Once I saw she was conscious we laughed hysterically at her epic, slow motion fall, but when we noticed 'real-life' blood coming out her knee we accepted we need to be more careful.

Just before sunset we walked one more trail, discussing rattlesnakes and religion then the meaning of life and all the possible outcomes of one action and our decisions and when will humanity die out.

We arrived back at our tents and noticed the guy still sat in his car next to our site so S suggested we go over and introduce ourselves before dramatically stating "know your enemy".

A brief conversation neither confirmed nor disproved our speculation that he was not to be trusted. So we are keeping our pocket knives at hand.

We took it in turns to guard the fire (which we made all by ourselves!) and watch the sunset, before creatively constructing cooking pots from tinfoil to heat up our beloved meal of baked beans.

Now I'm all wrapped up in my big ACE hoody and leggings, with a layer of Aloe Vera gel underneath to soak into my many cuts and scrapes.

There are so many stars here, I just asked S if she thinks there are more stars in the sky or rocks in the park and she laughed but we really can't work out the answer.

I stopped writing here, but I did not sleep. This man was terrifying. I was trying not to get too panicky or worked up because we felt there was nothing more we could do. This guy was crazy, he got out his car and placed a potted plant down then kept picking it up and moving it to other places before putting it in the passenger seat next to him, like a companion. We were totally stupid and basically accidentally told him that we are foreigners, no one knows where we are, we have no phone signal, hello want to kill us? retrospectively we should have just got in our car and driven to a different camp site. Live and learn. Which only really works if you do live, so stop being so stupid.