Face the Dawn

Matt is walking home from San Francisco

Rally in the Valley

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Rally in the ValleyDays 52-57, Death Valley National Park
Furnace Creek to Tecopa Springs, 3*0+20+21.7+19.1 miles
total miles traveled: 657.2

Lori arrived in Death Valley the day after I did and we had two enjoyable days at Furnace Creek. She’d never been to Death Valley before, so we did some touristy stuff, driving the Artist Drive Loop and down to Badwater Basin, taking a moonlit walk in the sand dunes, and just being together. Around this time I decided to think very carefully about any project that involved me being away from her for more than 16 days — I had not seen her in almost a month. We had a fine dinner at the Furnace Creek Inn and soaked in the hot springs pool. Then cousin M!ke arrived.

M!ke was taking time from work to be my support team for the trip through the Greenwater Valley and over the Kingston Range into the Mojave Desert. M!ke and I have climbed three 14ers together starting in 1998 with an trip to Mt. Shasta that spawned some stories that are still fun to tell. We both love getting outside and we have a great amount of fun together. M!ke is more than a decade younger and several acre-feet more daring and fit than I am, so he is a great guy to have around if you’re going outside — he is also a whizbang chef (outdoors gourmet meals a speciality), so I was lucky to have almost six days with him. It would have been more fun if Lori and Chandra (M!ke’s wife) had been there, but they were busy earning money for the next adventure … For an account of M!ke and Chandra’s 3000-miles bike trip from San Francisco to Madison, WI, see the older entries on their blog — the newer ones detail M!ke’s trip to New Zealand, where he is doing some mountain biking and will be joined by Chandra in a few days.

JC Penney poseWe started off with a car shuttle and a short hike up to Zabriskie Point, where Lori left for Prescott and I continued up CA190 headed for the road to Dante’s View. M!ke’s strategy was to drive ahead 3-5 miles and walk back to meet me. That way I could walk with a light pack and still change footwear every so often and he would get some walking in. We camped down Furnace Creek Wash Road that night after catching the Sunset at Dante's View 1sunset at Dante’s View — a high point that looks almost straight down onto Badwater Basin. After dinner M!ke took me back to where I stopped and I had a magical and spooky walk in the full moon light to the pavement’s end, where the tourist traffic branches off towards Dante’s View.

In the morning, M!ke made me my first dose of the “Belly Pleaser” — a mango/coconut/rice concoction that is just about the perfect breakfast for a 20-mile day, then took me back a few miles to the head of Furnace Creek Wash Road, and we began our journey down the Greenwater Valley, me walking steadily and gratefully with a light pack, and M!ke doing his stop-and-go drive-and-walk pattern.

Moon over Greenwater ValleyThe Greenwater Valley is just east of the floor of Death Valley proper and some 2000-ft higher. It is classic high desert — there is very little out there but barren mountains to the east and west and miles and miles of creosote bush. It is also one of the quietest places I have ever been. In our forty mile, two-day trip down the valley, we saw three cars, and mostly traveled through a monumental stillness.

I saw the first car close to the start of the day. Seeing a white SUV coming towards me, I assumed it was M!ke coming back earlier than expected and crossed the road to be on the driver’s side of the car as it approached. It turned out to be a French couple who were going to Bakersfield of all places. They offered me some water, which I accepted, and we talked for a while before moving off in opposite directions.

Chandra had just given M!ke a video camera, and there are many short videos of this part of the walk, which I hope to get on the web soon. Some of them are landscape shots intended to show just how small Matt is, a tiny speck moving through the valley. Some are downright goofy dialogs and pictures of me doing unusual things with my walking stick.

Near the end of the day, I came to the fourth cache since Furnace Creek and found the Newman-Os I had been hoping for — M!ke is a huge fan of Newman-Os. I decided that opening a cache is a little like throwing the I Ching and made up my own hexagram:

Cookies under the earth
The image of hidden riches.
Good fortune, no blame.
The superior man checks his caches
and makes good use of what he finds there.

That night, after a dinner of pesto Lori made from basil from our garden, M!ke suggested we repair to the rooftop bar with our new friend Jack, so we climbed on top of the car and tried out the new souvenir shot glasses M!ke had bought us at the Furnace Creek store. Jack had quite a bit to say, it turned out, and we three had a jolly time talking and watching the moon come up over the mountains and tracking the movements of the kangaroo rats below as they scuttled around the car looking for a treat. Jack was looking quite low in the morning — pretty close to finished, actually …

The next day as we approached CA178 at the bottom of the valley, M!ke went off towards Shoshone in search of internet access, gasoline, and the beverage whose true name is “cold beer” (pronounced “COL’beer”). I took a short cross-country shortcut, crossed CA178 and caught the road again as it headed east and south towards Tecopa Springs, where we intended to spend the night.

The Dublin HillsApproaching CA127 and the turnoff to Tecopa Springs, we took a rest stop and admired the colorful but badly named Dublin Hills (no shamrocks around here …) and watched a pair of AT-10 Warthog tank-killer planes drift through the valley at low speed. Then M!ke drove into Tecopa to nail down our lodgings and I crossed CA127 and walked toward Tecopa after pausing to read a historical plaque about the now-abandoned railroad stop that was the gateway to the then-booming town of Greenwater up in the valley we had just come from.

A few miles out of Tecopa, an ambulance stopped and the driver, staring intently at me, asked if I was OK. They had gotten a report of someone lying by the side of the road. I told them I was fine and that I hadn’t seen anyone in trouble and they drove off. A mile later, a sheriff’s deputy pulled off the road in front of me and after politely relieving me of my walking stick, began to question me. He had gotten the same report of someone in trouble, and tried hard to make me that person. He asked me the same questions several times. He tried to get me to admit that I had been hitchhiking (while walking against the traffic? Give me a break), which I suppose is illegal. Giving truthful answers to his questions about what I was doing out there did not seem to help my case. He called my information in and then claimed that neither Arizona nor California had any record of me holding a driver’s license in the last ten years. I getting a little exasperated by this time and told him he was welcome to come by our lodgings later in the evening and inspect my ID, which was in the car with M!ke and my gear. He finally gave my stick back and released me, but the whole thing was pretty unpleasant. He seemed to think that I had something to hide or was being perverse in refusing aid when I clearly had been lying by the side of the road earlier in the day. Or something. And that, friends, is the only time on the whole trip that I had a close encounter with the Law. None of the other numerous Highway Patrol, sheriffs, or local police I saw had the slightest interest in me. Busy, I guess.

Passing Grimshaw Lake, I tried and failed to get a good recording of the frogs in the rushes, then walked uphill into town in the twilight and found M!ke and the room that the seriously New Age proprietor had given us cheap. Just as I got there, a fellow came by on a bright red scooter, pulled a U-turn and greeted me with “You look like you’re on a journey”. I agreed and we talked a little He had started on a cross-country walking trip when he was younger, but had given up in the middle of Kansas.

Arriving at our lodgings, we went for a soak in the hot springs baths where someone provided the soundtrack on didgeridoo, then went for a very good dinner at the bistro next door.

There was a fundraiser for the local Fire Department scheduled for the next day with a flea market and barbecue and live music, and we decided to hang around for that and take it easy on the way to the Kingstons.

We were up early enough to get a soak in and do some laundry and get some breakfast before the wingding really got going. We filled up on barbecue — M!ke dug in too, though he’s a pretty strict pescatarian, got some cookies and such, checked out the band and the scene. I saw the same sheriff’s deputy who had grilled me the day before and he didn’t seem to recognize me. No walking stick or bandanna, maybe. The man with the bright red scooter cruised around the parking lot in lazy circles, greeting everyone. The town had never had a fundraiser like this before and there was a real show of support for the firefighters — everyone was there, all the town characters and operators and even the people who usually just want to be left alone.

In the early afternoon we left the sociable hubbub behind and struck out for the Kingstons and the Mojave beyond.

Written by walkingman

December 17th, 2008 at 1:48 am

Posted in Desert

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