Face the Dawn

Matt is walking home from San Francisco

The Kingstons and the Jolly Biker

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Joshua TreeDays 58-59, South of Death Valley
Tecopa Springs into the Mojave 12.1+20.5 miles
total miles traveled: 689.8

Having made 60 miles in the three days from Death Valley to Tecopa, I needed a break but I also needed to take maximum advantage of M!ke’s support. We resolved this conflict with a hang at the fundraiser in Tecopa, a late start, and a short day. Leaving Tecopa around noon, M!ke went ahead to see about the road over the Kingstons. Lori and I had tried to drive it from the Mojave into Tecopa on a caching expedition, but ended up on a very rough patch of road and turned back. We needed to know if Lori and I were off-route or just plain wimpy or what, and we needed to know if the Patriot could get over the mountains.

I went over a hill and around a couple of curves and soon Tecopa had vanished and I was out in desert on good dirt roads with the mountains growing taller by the minute. M!ke came back with a positive report on the road ahead and we walked together for a few miles. I got a good sound recording of feet on road — first me, then me with walking stick, then me and M!ke together.

We separated again a bit later as M!ke went off in search of the China Ranch Date Farm. When he came back, he had goodies (date-chocolate chip cookies!) and video of the intense road down to the ranch — very steep and winding with the date farm at the bottom looking like a classic Arabian oasis.

Walking the final stretch into our camp on Smith Talc Road, I was passed by a convoy of vans followed by a truck pulling a trailer. There was official lettering on the vans but I only found out what it was when I got to camp. M!ke said it had the look of a geology field trip and he would know. He had a hilarious imitation of the whining students (“no cell reception! no beer!”) and the crotchety prof (“3 hours behind already and we missed the last road-cut”).

This is the WestOur camp was right on the road, but it wasn’t heavily traveled and we planned on an early start the next day. I wanted to get as deep into the Mojave as I could. There were some old mine remnants nearby and people prowling around and shooting, but they packed it in as the sunset flared up and we had the place to ourselves as the colors stretched across the sky and the quiet settled on the land. That sunset wasn’t nearly done with us yet — it only got more intense as it faded and it seemed to last for hours.

We sat up and tried to record the coyotes, then finally turned in.

Winding up towards the pass the next day, I was overtaken by the geology prof, a fair-skinned sunburned guy with a reddish beard. He was retired and not at all crotchety — he approved of my project and we talked for a bit about the Kingstons. Neither of us had been to the top of Kingston Peak, but he knew of a route the Sierra Club had mapped out and mused about trying it one day. The vans full of students came up behind and stopped our conversation.

Clouds over the Kingstons 1An unusual sky was developing over the mountains as I neared the pass. M!ike came down from the summit and reported that there was a spring up there with a thriving bird colony. The geology prof had told him that he had never seen it flowing so strongly. M!ke showed me where Lori and I had driven part way down a washed-out part of the road, which explained why it looked so hairy. Turning back had been a good idea — we could easily have gotten stuck there and getting out would have been a saga. The hunters near the spring watched us come through, then recommenced blazing away at the birds after we passed. Then we were at the top with the Mojave spread out below us and we paused on the doorstep of a new part of the trip for quesadillas. M!ke is a firm believer in a hot lunch, and although so far on the trip I had been a snack-on-the-move-and-a-fast-cold-dinner type, I have to admit that those quesadillas were a powerful argument and I began to come around to M!ke’s point of view.

We explored the mining ruins on the pass, then started down the slow switchbacks into a new desert. The ecosystem changed almost immediately. Fifty feet below the pass the first Joshua trees appeared, and I would have them with me for the next 200 miles. We saw more hunters staged near a water tank and passed a sweet-looking but rundown little homestead under some cottonwoods near another flowing spring. A few miles later we wound out of the mountains and entered the classic rolling terrain of the northern Mojave, thick Joshua tree forest on both sides of the road now.

M!ke went ahead to scout a campsite, and I was cruising along just happy to be in this beautiful place with the temperature fallen into the “perfect” range and the light slanting across the distant mountains setting up for a gorgeous desert sunset.

Then the pickup trucks rolled up behind me, crunching on the gravel road. The lead one stopped next to me, a big white pickup truck with another one like it just behind. The driver was a big man with a big gut and a big smile, shirtless and sporting a feed cap, though I didn’t see what it said. Probably “Harley-Davidson”. Later M!ke said he thought these were the same guys who had been shooting near the water tank and I could easily believe their afternoon fun involved cordite and ethanol. Only the driver spoke to me. I’ll call him the Jolly Biker. The conversation went something like this:

JB: Man, you’re way out in the middle of nowhere
Me (looking around, a little snottily, I’m sorry to say): Yeah, I guess I am
JB: Where you headed?
Me: Actually, I’m walking to Arizona
JB (with the intonation some use to say “Right On” mixed with the tones of “Get out of town” meant as disbelief): Get down
Me (with a sly note of “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet”): I walked here from San Francisco
JB: Get down. You must have a lot of stuff in that pack
Me: Nah, it’s mostly with my cousin up ahead
JB: You good on water?
Me: Yeah, should be fine
JB: Hop in the back, we’ll give you a lift down the road
Me: Thanks, but I’m kinda honor bound to walk the whole way
JB (pause): You’re a bad dude, man

Then he drove away.

Well lift my spirits straight to the heavens and set them free to float gracefully back to earth! No encounter on the whole trip put a smile on my face like that one did. You know, I didn’t do this to become badass or to look badass. I didn’t do it to prove anything at all. It was simply a crazy idea that wouldn’t let go of me and I wanted carry it out while I was still young enough to do it without extreme physical misery. But if the baddest-looking dude in the Mojave wants to tell me I’m a bad dude in front of all his buddies, I’ll take it and use it like a tailwind and turbojets to power me across the last few miles to camp. And I did.

Mojave M!keAnother gourmet camp dinner with M!ke and we settled in right at the turnoff to a popular 4-wheel road that goes through the Kingston Wilderness and meets CA127 to the west. I stayed up reading for a bit and began to hear a largish animal sort of circling our camp. I shined a headlamp around and didn’t see anything, but I kept hearing it. Finally I got up and looked all around. Nothing. Got back in my sleeping bag and heard nothing, slept like a bad dude after a 20+ mile day. We talked about it the next morning over breakfast quesadillas — maybe javelina, but I know what they sound like. Maybe deer, but it sounded too big, if it was a mountain lion I never would have heard it and I don’t know if there are enough deer in the Mojave to support them anyway. It could have been a cow, but then why didn’t I see it?

Written by walkingman

February 3rd, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Desert

One Response to 'The Kingstons and the Jolly Biker'

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  1. You *are* a bad dude cuzzybroh!

    m!ke

    3 Feb 09 at 1:08 pm

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