Saturday, January 23, 2016

Day 142: Joshua Tree, A Time to Climb

I woke up at 10 to 9. Tyler had told me he wanted to leave at 9am. I was only half into the idea of climbing, being quite out of shape at this point, but decided I should go, mainly on the grounds that I had nothing better to do. Also, once in a lifetime opportunities and all.

I hurried over to Hidden Valley and found Tyler by his red tent. Campsite numbers and tent colors are the address of National Parks, I think. After about an hour, we were off.

Our original plan was to do a 5.6. Climbs are rated on a scale from 5.0 for super easy to 5.teens a, b and c's for super hard. Since I'm out of shape, a 5.6 was doable for me but not too boring for Tyler. Unfortunately, all the 5.6's were taken on Lost Horse. So were the 5.7's and 5.8's. "How do you feel about a 5.9?" he inquired.

the rock face we were about to climb, the two little spots
at the top right are people where we were going to end up as well.

"Well, I guess we'll see," I said, not wanting to waste the trip and effort and also not wanting to disappoint Tyler. I might be his only chance to climb during this trip.

Setting up, there were two men in front of us: A white dude in his 50s and an Asian guy in his early 30s. We figured we'd just follow them, but they were moving slow and just sitting at pitch one (which was only about 60 feet up). Tyler suggested we just leave, but my face apparently showed my disappointment (I was in this now) and he watched them another minute. They had apparently made mistake number three and Tyler got irritated. He decided we were going around them, asked if I could scramble up the wall quick (it looked simple, so I said yes) and then he asked the Asian guy if we could jump in. They said sure and that they would eat lunch at the first pitch, which happened to be a nice little ledge.
the men on the first pitch from the 'ground' belay.

First, I forgot how to tie my knot, so that was embarrassing. Tyler didn't seem too phased though. Then, as a stupid oversight, I clipped my ATC (belay device for his rope) on backwards. He still seemed to trust me. He went on his way. Soon after, he called down that he was finished, but that he forgot his belay device - we were both screwing the pooch. "I think I'll be fine," I called out. Honestly, the climb looked simple.

I scrambled up the rocks pretty quickly; I had to. My muscles were out of shape and clinging too long would have severely fatigued me. I passed the two men eating lunch and soon reached Tyler, who seemed pleased with my performance. That is, until he said, "Okay, time for the next pitch."
"What?!" I said, feeling as though I  barely made it to the first one, which was technically the second pitch (about 150 feet up), "I thought we were done." I don't know why I thought that, he clearly explained earlier that it was a multi-pitch trad climb.

And here is where we have a ten minute conversation, while I'm 'standing' on a 12" wide by 6" deep 'ledge,' in which I express my concern that I don't think I can do the rest and he insists that I am good enough and can totally make it the next 200 feet. (It was more like 250.)

"Thanks, but I don't want to get stuck. What if I get stuck and I have to be rescued?" I inquired, seriously.

"You got this," he said. And that's all it took. Someone believing in me. (And me not wanting to let them down.)

"Okay, let's go."

"Climbing," was his return, as he had spent the whole conversation setting us back up for his lead and my belay from Fort Teeny Ledge.

"Climb on," and he was off. First below me to traverse, then on the other side of a rock where I lost visual contact.

About 30 minutes later, I thought I heard him say something. The Asian guy was now beside me - having taken over my original tiny ledge while I had shifted over on Tyler's teeny ledge - said he couldn't tell. "Well, I'm not climbing without a belay for sure."

I yelled. Nothing. Again, still nothing. I tugged on the rope. It tightened. He was ready to "keep it tight" as I had requested before he left.

I dropped down to my traverse. It was awkward with inch foot holds and clumsy hands. Then it was over to the crack that had disrupted visual contact, of which he said, "this part is awkward, but it's not hard, it's just about balance" when I had noticed the rope pause to figure out how to climb it. I got about halfway up the awkward crack and then I fell.

I got my holds again, tried, and then I fell again. And again. I began to wonder how I was going to do this and also getting really scared. I tried again and fell so hard I lost hold of the crack and since I had requested he hold me "tight," when I swung over to the flat rock in line with the rope (but not the crack), I could no longer reach the crack and the flat rock was completely flat; no holds. In short, I was stuck...hanging.

I called over to the two men, both now together on the second pitch, "I think I might be stuck." I tried to swing over to the crack. Nothing. I tried again. Nope. They began to discuss their rescue mission and the white guy said he would come over and switch ropes so that I could repel down and he could continue to collect the cams (the bit of gear shoved into rock cracks to anchor while the lead climbs up, in case he/she falls) Tyler had set for himself and was up to me to retrieve. This added an additional difficulty to my climb as well - and was the first time I had done it to boot!

I heard the white guy coming over. He was on the traverse when I decided to try the crack one more time, despite having four falls under - or rather in - my belt. "Come on, asshole. You can do this," I told myself and I meant it. I have no idea how, but I got over that crack as the white dude came from around the corner of the traverse and began to cheer for me.

I don't remember much of the climb. I just kept telling myself I could do it. And that going down wasn't an option - because it actually wasn't past that crack. The two men behind us weren't around anymore and Tyler couldn't see or hear me. All he knew was the information from his top rope: Is she moving, still, or falling.

I noticed my fingers bleeding. I didn't care. I knew I was 300 feet up. I didn't care. I knew my toes were cramped into my Sportivas for over an hour now. I didn't care. All I cared about was finding the next foot hold; hand hold - getting to that big jug up there or that sexy looking resting spot (which was basically just a piece of rock I could lean into for a moment). All I wanted to do was get to the top! I conquered where I had myself convinced I needed rescued. I wasn't not going to do this.
Soon, I could see the top. "Tyler?!" I called out wondering if he could hear me.

"Hey!" he said, "You're almost there."

"Sorry about your balls," I said with a nervous laugh, referring to the pressure of his harness during my falls.

"You got this!" he said. Clearly, he didn't hear me.

My memory is blank to the individual movements. Someone else was climbing the Dappled Mare. Because I have little to no recollection of climbing aside from knowing I did it, bleeding fingers, and interactions with other humans. Like these things created a lapse in whatever system in my body had taken over when I told myself, "You can do this." Then, about 20-some feet from the top, I met another crack.

I could see Tyler. I could talk to him now. But he couldn't remember how he got up it. It was the last true difficult part standing between me and the sweet release of taking off my climbing shoes and not clinging to a rock face. I looked about four feet to my right, which seemed to offer a better crack to climb. I decided to traverse to it. At first I considered just using Tyler and swinging over but I felt bad about his crotch, so I went with a traverse, which, thanks to a bit of rock jetting out between the crack I was on and the new one some feet to the right, was more of a spider wall hug. I must have looked ridiculous from below, giving a big bear hug to a wall of rock 300 feet in the air.

Just as I arrived at the new crack, with a little ledge (about five inches wide, by three inches deep), my harness double-back came out. (Every climber double checks and their partners check their double-back before climbing - the belt part of your harness - because if your double-back isn't done, your harness can easily slip off.) I knew this because suddenly my harness was very, very loose.

"MY DOUBLE BACK CAME OUT," I exclaimed in a panic.

"You're doing fine. You're almost here," he said. I'm not sure he heard anything I said while climbing.
"NO! My double back came out!" I said louder. Panic washed over his face as he clearly heard me this time and suddenly, an incredible calm washed over me. "Hold on," I called to him, as I went to work putting my loop back through again with one hand, while holding onto a bit of rock 300 feet from the ground - and a garden of boulders below - with the other. I was completely aware that if I fell at this moment, I would likely die because my harness would easily pull off and I would fall the 300 feet onto rocks. In retrospect, I should have been in a full-on panic. 

A few minutes later, I got it looped back (barely) and felt okay with continuing my climb, but also well aware that a fall at this point could prove to be entirely catastrophic, as I wasn't able to do a particularly secure double back with one hand while balancing on an incredibly small ledge.

A few minutes - and no falls - later, I was at the top. Tyler and I high-fived. And I felt great. We admired the view, chatted about life, had some snacks we had put in our packs and rehydrated before our hike back down. 

We also managed to get to his car at 3pm, exactly when he had intended (he had an appointment to keep). He told me to stop by Sunday and meet his son. I told him I'd try. I headed back to my camp and out of nowhere came this overwhelming sense, like I suddenly just realized what I had done; what it means.

I feel changed. I feel like I can do anything. (I feel like J can suck it!) I feel empowered and emboldened and imperfect and recharged. I feel changed. In what way, I don't yet know. But this trip has changed me. I feel amazing in a way I can't quite explain; I feel like I can do anything as long as I believe that I can. I am changed. I wish I could bottle this feeling and smell it again anytime I feel down or self-doubting. I did something I was certain for a moment that I absolutely couldn't do - and its brilliance is indescribable. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Day 140: Joshua Tree, Day 3: My Face on a Milk Jug, Dirtbag

I woke up, now Thursday, and seeing as though I planned to leave Joshua Tree on Sunday, it was time to drive out of the park and into "town" for cell reception, as the park has exactly "NO SERVICE," and see about those new tires.

Since I left, I've always had this inclination to pick up hitchhikers in parks - not the general hobo, scary ones, but park people - just regular traveler nomads. Parks seem to have a different air about them than the general world; safer, cleaner, more trustworthy. Or maybe that's the world in general, but we're too busy being scared by mainstream media and 24 hour news sources. Unfortunately for me (or fortunately, perhaps) my car doesn't have room for another human unless you "curl up into a ball," as I put it, in the front seat and good luck finding room to put any belongings you may have with you. Needless to say, I had not acted on my inclination to help out a fellow traveler.

However, since my car was halfway emptied, I had some space. So when I passed a kid in his early 20s, just outside the Hidden Valley campsite (the one I planned to use, but it was full - later I would discover this was the 'rock climbers haven' and also that it's prime climbing season here at JT), I realized I had some space in the car for him if I shuffled some stuff and he sat in the trunk. So I reversed and picked him up. Had I known what was about to happen, I probably wouldn't have stopped.

His name was Reid. I had been biking the west coast for the past eight months and last night a packrat stole his glasses while he slept in a pseudo-cave located in Hidden Valley called the Persian Room. He needed to go to town to make an appointment with an optometrist for new glasses (and couldn't bike down because he couldn't see). I was heading down to shower, make a call to Wal-Mart to make sure they had time for my tires today and, ideally, get some new rubber on The Steed.
All of this was discussed while we drove 14 miles to the North Gate in Joshua Tree. When I arrived, the Ranger asked me if I was Heidi. "No," I replied, preoccupied with looking for my Federal Park Pass to show her.

"Oh," she said, explaining her question, "There is a mom looking for her daughter who drives a black Mazda3 hatchback."

Shit, I thought immediately, please don't say you just got my name wrong and it is my mom looking for me. Now half flustered - and with Reid in the back thinking she asked if someone was hiding - I'm still looking for my wallet (which ended up being on my lap under my purse as I had anticipated the need for it at the gate, but then forgot) - she came back after checking the name and asked my correct name. "Yessssss," I said, half embarrassed, half dreading the familial backlash, "that's me."

"Well," she giggled a bit, "Call your mother. She called the Police who told her to call us and she thinks you're missing." She then announced to the other woman in the kiosk that she had found me. And then proceeded to radio the entire park ranger system.

And that's how I found out I was a missing persons. As soon as I had service again, I called my mother and got her voicemail: Hi mom. It's me. I'm not missing. Just like Yellowstone, the Federal Parks do not have service.  Please stop panicking. I'm fine. And then I texted her. I then called my father, who pulled the guilt train into the station telling me that my mother was worried sick and it wasn't okay what I did. That I'm 32 and I should know better.

What exactly did I do?!, I wondered. It didn't even occur to me that posting a photo saying that I was waiting for AAA to help me and then entering a park for 24 hours would prompt my mother to go into a frenzy and report me missing to the Yucca Valley Police and, in turn, to the Joshua Tree National Park Rangers. I had (wrongly) assumed that by now people could see that what I was doing was no more dangerous than driving to work or going out for a drink in DC (as I had done for the past decade). A while later, my mom texted me back: She thought I had been eaten by wolves. WOLVES! Suffice to say the amount of logic in her theory lies in how many wolves inhabit Joshua Tree, which is zero. Coyotes only - and I'd only seen the one, which seemed friendly and skittish and patrolled the campsite looking for treats. (I have named him or her Sunshine.)

From this, my mother decided: 1. I need to quit traveling to calm her worries and 2. I needed to call her every day. Their guilt was working; it ate into me for the better part of my day until I realized that I cannot be held responsible for managing someone else's anxiety; I can't not live my life to the fullest because of someone's propensity to worry. I understand that the concern comes from a place of love,  but I cannot live my life to the fullest being bound by the fear and frustrations of others. I am not afraid; I have learned to trust the unknown.

Once all of that was cleared up and I was no longer a Missing Persons, I called Wal-Mart who informed me that they had to special order the tires and the soonest they would be in would be Monday. Monday! Begrudgingly, I had him order the tires (what choice did I have). I took a  shower in the 'bath house" connected to the Cactus Corner general store at the bottom of the hill from the park entrance. I paid $7 dollars and Reid patiently waited while I had a proper shower for the first time in days. Afterward, Reid and I went to Wal-Mart anyway for supplies - especially since I now had to get enough to last me through the weekend and there was no running water in the park and I had to severely limit my driving on the donut tire.

After stocking up, we came back and stopped at the Cactus Corner again in to use the outlets on their porch to charge our electronics before heading back into the park for sunset. (JT has the most AMAZING sunsets and stargazing.) Seated there was a guy, my age, who introduced himself as Tyler. Tyler was a commercial fisherman, working for himself but looking to live in the area - as LA is too expensive and he is an avid climber. I told Tyler - and then Reid joined in too to mention that - I climb and was in need of a partner if he had the gear. Tyler told me to come down to Hidden Valley site 8 at 8:30am and look for the red tent, if I felt like climbing.

Attention turned to Reid's glasses and I said I could give him my extra pair, but they would be too strong. Turns out, they were almost just right. (Wow. He really couldn't see!) We said goodbye to Tyler and then Reid and I were off, back up the hill - but only after I told my mother I was heading back into no service land, of course.

When I dropped Reid off at 'his' site (which was really a 60 something - as they affectionately call themselves - "dirtbag" named John's site that Reid was bumming space from and sleeping in the Persian Room cave) he offered to introduce me to everyone. I accepted, which turned into me staying for dinner: Tri-tip in John's dutchie with carrots and potatoes. It was absolutely delicious and I couldn't say 'thank you' enough. They were all incredibly welcoming... except Kathleigh.

Kathleigh judged me for having a plastic cup I used to transport ice earlier from the gas station. "Who's is this?" she scorned. I owned up and felt so small. I already felt out of place. Watching all of these older folks around the fire, I felt inferior; like an impostor. These folks with their vans and dutchies and no plastic cups were there real campers, the true travelers and I was just a faker. 'New money," a pretender; that's how I felt, anyway.

Until Kathleigh, a twenty something townie - from whom I got the impression she desperately wanted to prove she belonged and unending about about her 'trailer' - judged me for a plastic cup. I have come to find that there is an odd amount of strange snobbery that sometimes lies in these communities.  In my mind - and gently aloud - I explained my choice to her. And in my mind, realized that she had no room to judge me, as I realized my place in this vagabonding world. I'm in a tent. I've gone over 17,000 miles. My car is my home. I washed my hair in a firepit yesterday. I am a dirtbag! - a self-revelation: These people are my people. And I belong. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Day 139: Joshua Tree, Day 2: Pulled Pork Kisses

I awoke around 9am. It was sunny and warm and bright and gorgeous and everything I'd been missing since the Pacific North West. I spent the day reorganizing my car and moving the larger items (the huge duffles and my bicycles) to my campsite, having read that my spare was meant to bear no more than 565 pounds. This took more hours than I had assumed, and having missed the sun, I decided to take it easy after that. I took a 'bath' in the fire-pit with my collapsible dish bucket and an extra gallon of water I'd picked up at Wal-Mart. Normally, I wouldn't use purchased water for a cleanse, but it had been a couple of days and I couldn't use the showers in town I had found because I needed to minimize use of my tires until they got fixed and it was obvious I wasn't making it back into town until tomorrow.

Near dusk, the group next to me returned from their day of climbing. (I was previously unaware that Joshua Tree is a climbing mecca.) It was an older gentleman, his daughter and - what I first assumed was - his son. This is what I surmised from eavesdropping on their conversation earlier in the day. By the time they returned, I had shuffled everything from my car to my tent (my bike tethered to the grill), and the older man in his mid to late 50s, commented on how organized I was. He talked and talked, mainly about himself and kept bringing up the fact that  he lived in Whistler like I should care, until the sun had set into an unbelievable hue of red, excusing myself to take photos. 

He then followed me and offered to take a photo in front of the sunset. I relented. He then invited me to partake in their fire. I had wood; I didn't need it, but briefly considered it based on the fact that I had enough wood for about 2 hours of fire at $5 a bundle and lots of decisions are made based on money.

I decided against hanging out with them. Instead, I made my dinner with what I had in my car: chicken tacos with tomato, feta and avocado on corn tortillas. Not bad, I thought. (In fact, they were delicious.) Then a van came by and asked if the site nestled behind theirs was open. They said it wasn't and I thought this was wrong; it's the second time I'd heard them say it was occupied. So I walked over to camp three - which meant I walked through their camp - to prove a point.

From there, Ian sucked me into his vortex of narcissistic story tellings (and oft mentioned Whistler dwelling). I could tell this was the case when he went into a diatribe about the time he was detained in Barcelona and his daughter, Zoey, nudged her boyfriend and announced "You should actually listen to this one." This man talks so much that the boyfriend doesn't even feign interest anymore and the daughter openly announced she stopped listening years ago. A story that could have easily been 5 minutes was stretched out for 20 and I was trying to think of a way to escape.

To change the subject, I commented that they were making a 'fancy' dinner. They weren't. It was spaghetti with "roasted" vegetables. Ian chimed in, "Well, he's been on the road now for five years!"

 They boyfriend, in an incredibly cocky tone announced, "Yea, after 5 years, you get good at it." Like one day, 4.5 years down the line, I could hope to boil noodles and foil-steam vegetables too.

In my mind, I rolled my eyes. In reality I feigned interest. It took everything in me not to say, "bitch I just had chicken tacos with fresh veggies and feta. Maybe one day you can graduate from noodles." In reality, I said nothing.

Zoey and the boyfriend, being in their early 20s, thought that they knew everything. This, entirely based on places they had been, but not really anything that they had done (or overcome). Tinder has taught me that anyone who lists all of the places they have been, have little else to offer in terms of interest or personality. They also had the combined personality and appeal of a pineapple. (And I despise pineapple.) As I sat there, listening to Ian talk at people, it became increasingly obvious that both Zoey and the boyfriend had their travels funded for them by their parents; having grown up in privilege and deciding to 'strike free', which when you think about it is incredibly ironic and paradoxical, but I digress.

Soon after they finished eating, Zoey and the boyfriend announced they were going on a walk. I found this to be odd; it was like one of those moments  in a movie when people think two strangers are getting along and they want to give them 'alone time.' Naturally, I tossed aside this notion and figured they were just as tired as I was becoming of listening to Ian's 'stories. and wanted to leave. Once they left Ian, surprisingly, began to ask me a few questions about myself, which I answered.

As much as I wanted to go lay in my own tent, I thought it would be impolite to excuse myself. (I am the worst depart-er; I always leave late because I can't figure out a good, polite exit strategy.) We talked for about another hour; he asked what I wanted out of life; why I was traveling; if I planned to marry, have kids; what would the wedding be like? This, in particular, seemed like an odd line of questioning, but he struck me as effeminate at first anyway, so I played along.

I told him the kind of low-key wedding I wanted: backyard, kegs, BBQ. "And a s'more's bar!" I added, excited for my own personal revelation of this genius.

"Would we have different kinds of chocolate?!" Ian inquired.

Taken aback, assuming he was using 'we' in the royal sense, I carried on, "No, I think just milk chocolate. Maybe dark."

"I was thinking white," he responded.

"No, no white."

"And what about the BBQ. What kind of meat. Pulled pork?!"

"Oh yes. Absolutely pulled pork," I said, my eyes salivating.

"You like pulled pork?!"

"I love it," I said. Like, duh, who doesn't. Even a friend got married this past summer; two Jews, and the only protein they had was pulled pork. I told him this as well.

"Me too!" he exclaimed, in a forced excitement and then got up off of his log and leaned over towards the rock I was sitting on to his left.

 I leaned right. He stood up a bit more to get further towards me. I leaned right again until I was parallel with the ground, put of my right hand in defense and queried, "What are you doing?"

"I was excited about the pulled pork. I wanted to give you a pulled pork kiss," he said matter-of-factly... and as if that were a thing.

"Um," I said taken aback and incredibly uncomfortable, "I'm going to pass on the pulled pork kissing."

I stayed for a few more minutes, trying to move past this really uncomfortable moment and wondering go myself: "Did he just spend this whole time thinking he was going to win me over?" He is almost twice my age, completely gray and about half an inch taller than me. "ON WHAT PLANET!?" I wanted to exclaim. Instead, I announced that I was going to turn in, didn't say another word.

I slept with my stun gun close to me that night. And, when I saw the three of them in the morning, didn't so much as make eye contact. He didn't either. And then he left to go back to Whistler. And Zoey and her boyfriend went back to living in a cave. Good.

A quick note to men in their 50s: Don't try to make out with women young enough to be your child - especially over a love of pulled pork. That's strange.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Day 138: Joshua Tree, Day 1: A Spare in the Trunk

Driving back from Applebee's, I turned up the hill around 12:30a - having made a quick stop at the Wal-Mart to wash my face and brush my teeth with water that wasn't glacially cold - and about two miles from the park entrance I heard a loud noise and then my car began to ding at me. "Fuck," I thought. I pulled over, got out and assessed which of my tires that I was warned wouldn't make it another 5,000 miles (I was currently at 6,900 miles) died. It was the back passenger one.

My mother had given me a can of Fix-a-Flat that I stored in the little hideaway compartment below my truck and above my spare. (This meant I had to take everything out of the back first.) So with half of my life sitting on the side of the road in Joshua Tree, following directions, I shook the shit out of that can in a hopeful - and cold - fervor, attached it to the tire and let it do it's thing. I had used Fix-a-Flat years before, with success but the sound coming out of this situation was different than I recalled. I bent my head around the tire to realize all of the white foam was coming out the backside. Fuck.

Step 2: Try to put on the spare. I had never done this before - despite having assisted my dad in replacing a gas tank and changing my oil as a teenager, as well having grown up with him owning detail and used car garages. The past two flats I had the assistance of my CEO and housemates for, but I made sure to take note of their steps in the process. "I got this," I concluded with my half frozen fingers. I pulled all of the items out of my trunk for the spare, and my jack and manual from the side compartment. Following the manual, I attempted to loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the car. I got one loose. ONE. I really tried too; I used my hands, then my feet, then I tried my tent mallet. They were not moving. The independent spirit I have built along this journey gave way to the knowledgeable spirit that has also developed, knowing when it's time to ask for help. I called AAA.

Being in the middle of nowhere, and dispatching to a Pennsylvania center based on my phone number, it took a while for them to get to me. While I waited, I documented my troubles on facebook - which surprised me since I was in a really spotty service area and about to lose service altogether. I was thankful, however, that my tire blew where it did and not a few miles more. Because a few miles more meant that I didn't have service to call AAA. And at 1am, no one was around. In short, I would have been screwed. Cold...and screwed (having set up my tent with sleep pad and warm bag waiting for me inside the park.)

About an hour later, the tow truck came. I told him my short story, which, to him, read as: Feeble Female Can't Loosen Simple Metal Screw. Meanwhile, it was so cold, I had dug out my Magic Coat.
He looked at me in my out of place 70s coat, fur lined hood up and all, then looked at all of my belongings strewn about, including a bag of bicycle, two 'dead hooker bags', and my spare and tools, including the manual.

"What on earth of your doing with a sledgehammer?!" he exclaimed in a giggle.

"It's a tent mallet. I was trying to knock the lugnuts loose," I explained as he bent down to put his jack under the car.

"You got your manual out," he laughed. He was starting to get on my nerves, but assuming that I had aroused him out of a nice, warm slumber for this and he was helping me, I bit my tongue. He began to go to work. It took him about five minutes to do what I had struggled with for over a half an hour.

He stuck around to talk with me and smoke a cigarette as he watched in amusement while I piled everything back in my car, now including a 17" wheel with a busted tire attached. He announced that he didn't think I was going to fit everything back in there, while he puffed. Obviously, he was of no help when I was hoisting my 100 pound duffle bags back into the car. While I did this, I asked him about tire places in Yucca Valley. "You-ca?!," he laughed, apparently making fun of my pronunciation, "It's Yuck-ca."

"I don't know. I'm not from around here," I replied, now irritated by the 2am taunting.

He looked me up and down, in my - in the current situation - ridiculous, Magic Coat, let out another puff of smoke and guffed, "Well that's obvious." I then inquired and learned my tire shop choices were limited and decided to go with Wal-Mart, begrudgingly, because it appeared to be the only chain. This means the only place in town I could return to anywhere if something went wrong with their work in my migrating miles.

A few minutes later, with all of my stuff packed in incredible disorganization - minus my 2nd folding chair that I had been driving around and had been annoying me every time I had to move it to make my trunk into a bed. I donated my nearly unused chair to the tow truck guy and considered it my 'tip'. Then, I was heading back up the hill into the park...slowly. I was very anxious about the prospect of my left bald tire, having now seen just what the guy in Reno was talking about - also blowing up, but this time with no phone or spare for assistance. Around 3am, I finally ambled into the tent I had set up 10 hours prior - although now it was about 30 degrees colder, temps hovering around freezing - and fell asleep. I would deal with having to replace two tires tomorrow - err today.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Day 137: Arriving in Yucca Valley

I drove from Banning to Joshua Tree, but I didn't have a plan. As much as I was interested in continuing my fancy and free hotel phase, I was feeling better and my budget was... is shrinking. The one Wal-Mart for miles happened to be in Yucca Valley - the town over from Joshua Tree (about 15 miles from the park entrance) so I stopped there for the night. This was my camp for the evening, after a stop at the local Dollar Tree and 99 Cent stores. Also, I popped into the Marshall's across from the Wal-Mart after I'd picked out my spot (it was only about 6p, so sitting in my car already for the next 15 hours would be ridiculous) - I was looking to see if they had any cute tea infusers for cheap (I had seen some adorable ones in Idyllwile that were more than $10; over my budget) and stumbled across a nice pair of black heels on clearance. Before leaving for my trip, I had written into my mental plan to purchase a pair of black work pumps for interviews - of course the chick who left behind 200 pairs f shoes to travel the states would write buying a pair of shoes into her plan. (To be fair, all of my black heels had died out before I left; so I chucked them and set aside $40 for new ones once interview time came because I didn't have the space in my car for a pair of shoes that was superfluous and unnecessary until the very end of the journey.) As soon as I slipped them on and looked in the mirror, it occurred to me just how much I have missed wearing heels. And what a strange, unexpected thing to miss. 

After that, it was around 8pm and I decided to try to get some "work" done at the Starbucks. This meant tending to my blog and trying, again, to apply for Medicaid. Oddly, the thing that is pressing a deadline for me to stop traveling isn't money, as I had expected, but running out of short term health insurance. And applying for Medicaid in either DC (my recent address) or PA (my 'permanent' address) proves to be impossible.

In case you didn't know, Applesbee's offers $2 well drinks for happy hour. You're welcome. 
I borrowed wifi, sucked up a couple of drinks and made "friends" with locals. Yucca Valley is the kind of fancy place where not many people are not white and having not showered in 30 hours makes you fit right in. That's not a judgement, it's just a description. After talking some really manly blue collar men into some mudslides - mostly because I couldn't afford my own but was willing to ogle - they left after a bit and an older gentleman - who interjected into my interjections into the mudslide crew's convos - slide over, slide over and bought me a drink. He was 60 something, nice and looked just like John Cleese. John Cleese asked if I wanted a scotch; he asked what I was doing, we chatted and traded digits as he was a bored local and soon after the bar was closing and we parted ways.

The following morning, after a quick bath in the back restrooms of WalMart, I took a call from Nah and was on my way around noon. I wasn't in much of a hurry since I planned to have a few days in JTNP, so I stopped at the visitor's center and a store called Cactus Central Store (I think) across the street about 8 miles outside of the park. I noticed that the store had pay showers for $4. This is good information to know; it has been about 27 hours since my last shower (and car sleeping - for whatever reason.- makes me feel particularly greasy). 

I headed up to the park, took my -now regular - park sign selfies, then proceeded to the gate where I was informed that the toilet I was staring at was the last facility with running water in the park. This was going to be interesting. I planned to camp at the first site "Hidden Valley" but it was full. So I headed to the second site, Camp Ryan, and settled into a site that was unoccupied and facing the sunsets. After setting up, I headed back out to use the Wifi at the local Applebees in YuccaValley.

My site.

i'm finally winning winter

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Day 136: SIZZLER! and stuff

I left St. George later than intended, but savoring the last days of hotel stays because holy shit money. On the other hand, I also knew I was driving five hours down boring as balls I-15 in California to meet up with my friend/Seattlehost in Banning – as I had promised when I left last month. I passed through Vegas…again then then made my way back into California – for the third time.

But first! I stopped in San Bernardino. Because, oddly I was early in my arrival – and also not since there is exactly nothing to see off the coast of California – and the Steelers playoff game was on. I haven’t seen any football and I miss it in a nostalgic sort of way. What I wasn’t expecting was becoming some sort of mini-celebrity simply because I am from Cali.

I walked into Buffalo Wild Wings off of the highway and towards the bar. Another perk of solo travel is that it’s much, much easier to find a place to sit in a crowded place for one v. multiples. I nestled myself in between two middle aged men and quickly the bantered between themselves about if I was a Steelers fan or not, and if not perhaps I wouldn’t be allowed to sit there. Half in jest – but as a Steelers fan myself – probably half not in jest. Quickly they spotted my Steelers keychain on the bar and decided I was okay.

We started to chat. I explained that I was from Pittsburgh; showed my Pitt class ring and we watched the game. I had two glasses of cider and unfortunately watched the Broncos beat the Steelers. Afterwards, I schooled another middle-aged man about how not to be a sore winner – he apologized to the three of us. The gist: “We want to root for your team, but not if you’re being a dick about it.” “Sorry.” My new friend to the right left me his number and said that if I decided to settle in the area, to give him a call.

Then I was on my way to Banning. I was still a bit early so settled into a Starbucks down the road from my friend’s hotel to connect, have a coffee and write a little. Dave, my friend, showed up a bit later and we then went to dinner a Sizzler. Which, up until this point, I had always assumed was a fake establishment people made fun of on television. BUT IT’S NOT. It’s magical and an oasis for a vagabond.

If you from SW PA, think Hoss’s – on steroids. You order an entrée. And then there is a self-serve food bar. Unlike Hoss’s that offered a salad bar and self-serve soft serve, Sizzler has a fucking taco bar and pasta bar and salad bar and self-serve soft serve and desert part. HEAVEN. I wish I hadn’t shrunk my stomach startingin the Dakotas.

I ATE ALL OF THE FOOD. And asked for a box for my entrée. This would be dinner tomorrow.
so good looking. lol. quite fittingly, my shirt says "namaste single"

After dinner we headed to Palm Springs. Out of curiosity and something to do. We went to a bar; we chatted and had a drink We walked around the ‘town.’ Palm Springs makes me think of those women that put on all of their costume jewelry, miss their actual lips when lining them, and have shirts that will blind you if the sun hits them the wrong way. It was a mix of tacky and over entitled. There was a man at the bar who clearly thought he was someone; he looked like and 80s has been.

Like that time I saw Eddie Money in concert at a rib fest in Pittsburgh and he mostly just talked about all of his stints in rehab – except not Eddie Money. He still wore a balls ton of eyeliner and bleached his hair. And maybe like he was the drummer, not the lead singer.

The following day, Dave and I woke up and drove up to Idyllwild. Which was like a 2.5 hour drive exactly north – and not like directionally north, like we’re driving into space north…because, technically it Is southeast. But I’m pretty sure we were halfway to the moon – and the temperature change proved this hypothesis.

Dave had heard of this place and wanted to go. I’m just along for the ride of whatever. Suffice to say we were both disappointed in the area, but the ride up was pretty. It was clearly a tourist town that wasn’t nearly as tourist nor town in the off season. Perhaps it’s poppin’ during Coachella. We had a way less than mediocre lunch that I’m still salty I spent $12 on and then back down the mountain. We had left my car in a strip mall parking lot; so we said our goodbyes there. Perhaps we’ll see each other again when I move to Bellingham,WA – it’s on my list. But that rain, man.

the way back down

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Day 135: A Show of Fate in Zion

I arrived at the entrance of Zion, running into a group of what I'm guessing were young college kids. My method of taking images of myself at the gates (or whereever) is to set my camera up on a tripod, hit the timer and then run like hell to climb to my spot before 10 seconds is up and the seven images I have set it to take finish. The group watched me do this at least four times - check the focus in the camera, click the start, run up to the sign; smile and pose, then hop back down, check the pictures and repeat. After the fourth time they asked if I needed help, but I declined having noticed a short line of two other cars waiting to get their images at the gate.

Afterwards I went to the visitors center to pee and grab a map. I learned that on the off season (yet another perk) visitors could go down a certain stretch of road by car that ordinarily could only be reach by park shuttles. I got my commemorative pin - which are getting way to heavy for my one purse strap now - and then went to check out the campsite. It wasn't full. However, it was cold and I was fully committed to the cold, plus I am supposed to be in Banning tomorrow to meet my friend and that's like a 6 or so hour drive, so I would wait to see what happened and pitch later. I then explored the park; taking pics, driving around the switchbacks and through a tunnel carved through the red rock, down a small path and behind a shrub to pee, and then making lunch out of my trunk as other visitors passed by:

I left, nearing sunset and decided I would get a headstart on heading to California...

Instead, about and hour later, I walked up to the upper emerald pool area back in Zion, to a man with a red backpack and black hat standing, staring up at the rocks, dangling with ice-cycles. It was the kind of scene you see in movies. The sort of serendipitous moment that never happens in the real life, the kind of un-exaggerated scene that I want my True Love story to begin like.

Unfortunately, this wasn't it. But I wasn't supposed to be there, I had left and turned around an hour or so before, having read a comment on facebook (once I had service outside of the park) telling me to hike the emerald pools trail - the only one I had looked at myself and meant to do but passed it on the way out and figured "meh, forget it." After about 15 minutes of internal debate inside my car, I turned around and went back.

I hiked up the trail, passed the chains where it was closed off to the middle and upper pools due to ice, slid (literally, held onto the railings and just slid... weee) down the trail past the ice and hopped off the other chain.

When I finally arrived to the upper pool, I expected to see no one. It was dusk. And I hadn't seen or heard anyone in a while - aside from a couple that passed me going down. We stayed talking by the  upper pool (which at this point, we laughed about being ice and covered in snow - as we were both to we had to do it and now stand, unimpressed watching icicles fall from 3000 feet).

The conversation was great. Oddly, he lives in DC. I seem to keep running into people in DC. I hadn't talked to a sole for longer than 30 seconds all day so it was a welcome relief. Although he kept saying how funny I was and I confessed it was probably just that I haven't held a full conversation since the Brit hit my car a week prior. He asked if I wanted to go to dinner, "Oh but I'm not hitting on you."
"Sure," I said, "but I wouldn't be offended if you were."

I learned his name was Jake. That Jake is a Cancer and 31. I learned that is Mormon. That originally he is from Idaho. Jake doesn't drink, do drugs and is pretty straight laced (obviously). On the walk down, Jake confessed that he came west early to clear is head and think about the relationship he has been in the past two years: He can't decide if she should stay with her. He thought I fell on our hike back down when I did a little jig over this information; it's not that I'm excited he's only sort of happy in a relationship; I just really enjoy talking about interpersonal relationships. I don't know why. It's kind of like how I enjoy putting the pistachio shells back in the bag with the rest of the nuts. We all have our things. It's fine.

I've thought of it before and it occurs to me again, that perhaps I'm in and out of lives on my trip to make a difference in their lives - not anyone in mine. I asked him questions. Gave him the "advice" I could. And then he made me pinky swore that we would be friends. Over dinner, we talked more. About his girlfriend; about life; about choices. Everything, really. About being single and in your thirties; he thinks, logically, he should give her a go because he "gave up" on relationships before, but I don't think that's fair for people to reach a certain age and settle for anything less than spectacular. He asked me what I was looking for in a partner and I could think of was the same old thing: someone that makes me laugh; someone that makes me a better version of myself ... oh, and blue eyes and brown hair.

"Well," he laughed, shaking his head as if his brown hair would move in the wind, "I've got that covered."Dinner ended a couple of hours and many words later. We hugged, implored one another to stay in touch. And in the end, the only advice I can think to give him is: Follow your heart. 

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