Thursday, December 5, 2013

Death Valley and Displacement

Death Valley

After three rainy days in Las Vegas, the last of which caused a record 90 traffic accidents, the sun finally made it’s much anticipated return and we said goodbye to our host, Michael and his dad. Since my rear Dunlop tire was looking a little worse for the wear (after 5,000ish miles) we stopped at the Motorcycle Tire Center, picked up a new Shinko Explorer 705 and figured we’d take them up on the free change service, since we were eager to get on the road. 

Having made a couple of other stops along the way out of town (Sephora being one of them - a girl on the road needs her dry shampoo, after all), the sun was already on it’s way down. By the time we entered Death Valley, it was very dark, (no moon, nothing) so we headed straight for the free campground, selected one of the last available sites and set up camp on the rocky terrain. It was rather windy, but fortunately not too cold, given that we were only at 2,000ft above sea level. We had a simple dinner of rice and Thai curry soup; 5 1/2 months in we have gotten pretty lazy, forgoing our plastic bowls and eating straight out of the Uncle Ben’s plastic packages that we’ve boiled the rice in. Sorry Mom. We stayed outside for a while to star gaze, reveling in the majestic outdoors. 
Death Valley
We woke the next morning, applauding the sun’s repeat performance as it kissed the snow-dusted mountaintops that surrounded our campsite. The “plan” was to get on the road early and make a good bit of distance, until a few of our fellow campers came by, asking about the bikes and our travels. Since they’d traveled through the area before, we took our time and tried to absorb as much travel advice as they could offer. One woman, from my parents generation (i.e., former hippy - this is meant with utmost respect), was trying to convince us to travel to a desert oasis she and her
Getting travel advice from local experts
husband were married at and now spend Thanksgiving at every year… There are palm trees, grassy lawns, natural hot springs and the best Turkey Day potluck you’ve ever had. And it was free. It must be too good to be true. Though this possibility sounded rather nice (who doesn’t like the sound of a desert oasis?), all of the three somewhat
treacherous dirt tracks leading to this spot had recently been closed due to snowfall. This lovely woman kept trying to tell us that we should at least try to get there and if the road was too bad, we could always turn back, but it was NOT to be missed. Fortunately for us, her husband helped make our decision an easy one when he approached and was like “oh yea, it’s the best place EVER - it’s even clothing-optional!!!” He went on to tell us, “we soaked in the tub naked, got out and got married naked, and then got back in the tub naked. But don’t worry, they clean the tubs every day.” Too good to be true, indeed. HA!

At 10am, we rode off with recommended roads, campsites, hot springs (clothing required) and even a hand-drawn, noted and illustrated map. 

The road through Death Valley kept climbing up through the mountains, and as we rose it got colder and colder and prettier and prettier as snow covered more and more of our surrounds. When we reached the peak, the view before us opened to an expansive valley of brown and grey, with sweeping areas covered in red grass, here and there. The road wound around and down until we rode along the flats for a bit, before ascending once again up it’s winding path. At the top, there was a sign for a lookout, and to the right of where all of the tourists in caravans and cars had parked, was a fun looking dirt track… Yes, please… 
Death Valley
We rode up along this track, giving attention to the fair amount of loose gravel, some reasonably large potholes and mini-boulders but we both gasped when we
came over a small hill and took in the incredible view of the valley we had just ridden through and the mountains we had camped on the other side of the night before. 

From Death Valley we headed North in the direction of Bishop, anticipating that we would ride on for a few hours after our McDonald’s wifi-stop. However, once Roel saw the weather report saying that it would be well-below freezing overnight, we decided to try to stay near Bishop rather than taking our chances with black ice on the road. Another McDonald’s wifi-user overheard our dilemma of where to find the warmest free place to camp and approached us with an awesome offer… he was in town visiting his in-laws, but also to work on a buddy’s recently purchased home that he would be renovating. Since the house wasn’t being used, we were welcome to stay there for the evening. Seriously, we meet the best people at McDonald’s.

We followed Brian to a simple home just a few blocks from the main street. He showed us in, turned on the hot water heater and the kerosine stove, and told us to make ourselves at home. We were on top of the world - only minutes before, we were worried about finding a place to stay reasonably warm overnight as the temperature was going to drop drastically. Our meal was going to be a very basic one and our bath was hopefully going to take place in a hot spring in the morning (which it still might, but you can’t get your head wet in hot springs, usually, due to bacteria). Completely elated, we followed Brian on a tour through the home… As the house was just purchased and the owner lives in LA full-time, there was hardly any furniture and minimal appliances, etc. But there were a couple of bowls of cat food in the utility room, which we found a bit odd. 

Brian gave us his contact information for when we get into the LA area and bid us a good night and safe travels. Before leaving he mentioned that we might see the previous owner walking through the carport and into the utility room… Apparently the house had been a foreclosure sale, but the previous owner’s cats still lived in the backyard and so she still comes to feed them here. Oh. 

I ignored a waved of mixed emotions, and focused on my excitement to stock up on supplies with which to make a healthy, fresh meal. However, at the local supermarket, we did laps around the aisles, over and over again. We had been so excited to have a kitchen to prepare dinner in, but once we got to the supermarket, were were at a total loss as per what to make. Nothing appealed to either of us. And every meal idea we came up with was something we could easily prepare on the road, so we scrapped it. We eventually settled on my chili recipe, which would also be possible to prepare on the road but takes a long time to cook…. so chili it was. 

Returning to the house, we both noticed the safety railing on the outside, making it easier for an elderly person to mount the steps. As we sat eating our dinner later, our mood deflated significantly, the previously mixed emotions, settling on somber. Though we were extremely grateful to be here in this cozy little house, we were only here because some elderly woman, who loves animals, was unable to make her mortgage payments. And who knows where she is now, other than near enough to return frequently to feed her cats. We wondered what happened that caused her to lose her home. Did she raise a family here? Was she widowed? Did she lose her job? It’s particularly affronting when your good fortune is a direct result of someone else’s misfortune. I hope that wherever she is, she is warm and safe tonight. I am certainly grateful to be so blessed. 

Postscript: The following morning, as we were letting the bikes warm up in the driveway of the little house, an early 80s model Oldsmobile pulled up next to the house. A thin elderly woman, with perfectly curled white hair, in a pink sweatshirt and faded jeans stepped out of the car. She asked if we were friends of Bret (the new owner of the house). When I replied that we were actually acquaintances of Brian, Bret’s friend who would be doing some work on the house, her eyes filled with tears. Shoot. With a shaky voice, she asked what work was going to be done. I tried to get her mind off of her home being remodeled and asked if she needed help feeding the cats. Her reply was that she had already done it, but had gone through the neighbors yard. I assumed she was trying to keep it a secret that she was entering the house to feed the cats and suggested that she just come in the front. No, she enters through the neighbors yard because as often as she comes to care for her 18 year old cats, she comes to check on the 97 year old man who used to be her neighbor and who “doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore.” My heart felt flattened. I couldn’t seem to get enough air into my lungs. My stomach felt hollow. And as I failed to find something comforting to say, she let out a shuddery sigh, wiped at her face with the back of her hand and said “I just need to get over this.” Moments later, my helmet cheek pads were soaking wet. 

1 comment:

  1. So sad. At least it sounds like the previous owner is OK...

    On a brighter note.... amazing writing! Seriously. Really great!