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.