Love in the Desert
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Love in the Desert
Before jumping into my recent trip to the desert, I just wanted to say a big Thank You to all my paying subscribers! More and more of you are starting to pay, and this fills me with relief and gratitude. As I’ve said before, my greatest ambition in life—arguably since I was a child writing amateur poems—has always been to be able to write creatively fulltime. Not journalism. Not freelance tech or sports writing. But serious creative writing: Essays, memoirs, fiction. I’m not there yet, but thanks to all of you I have broken the $1,000/year mark. It’s not much…yet. But it’s growing. If you aren’t paying, please consider doing so. You’re supporting my writing and the writing lifestyle, which is my dream. If you’re a free subscriber: Thank you as well!!! You can still read plenty of posts, but some you won’t have access to. Many of my posts have a paywall which allows you to do a one week free trial before being billed.
Love in the Desert
The desert. That seemingly far-flung (if only metaphorically), romantic, terrifying mirage of sparse nature we love, we crave, we so easily forget. Britney and I have wanted desperately to take a trip. Somewhere. Anywhere. I’m still well overdo for some international travel. Covid and my father’s stage four cancer put the boot on that one, not to mention my staggering credit card debt (now nearly paid off finally). My last international adventure was three weeks in Mexico City, in late fall of 2018. Pre-Covid. In The Before Times.
The trip we planned was for my 40th birthday, which you’ve all been hearing me prattle on about endlessly (and surely annoyingly by now). We first booked a trip 11 hours up north in the Northern California redwoods, close to Highway 199. (A highway I used to hitchhike frequently in my early to mid-twenties, when I was wild, drunk and wide-eyed.) Our Air BnB was more or less a pseudo-contemporary hippie commune. Long story. Not exactly my thing but Britney booked it and as long as I was with her I knew I’d enjoy myself. Plus: The redwoods. You can’t lose with the redwoods.
But, alas, we only had four days, three nights. We realized a couple weeks after booking that it was simply too far of a drive for such a short trip, not to mention the unknown approaching weather, given that it’d be late December/early January.
And so we decided instead on the desert. Joshua Tree.
It’s strange, really. In all my years of hitchhiking and backpacking, being alone and rugged in the mountains and driving across the Mojave and taking trains all over the nation, I’d somehow managed, bizarrely, to never go to Joshua Tree, surely one of the most popular, most talked-about, most commonly-visited national parks in America. Given that I’d been born, raised, and lived almost all of my life in California, it made this omission even odder. Yet here it was.
It was an easy choice. We were able to get all the money back from the previous spot. Britney booked us a little room in a cabin in a town called Newbury Springs, off I-40, about two hours northwest of Joshua Tree for my birthday, aka New Year’s Eve, aka December 31st. Then we had a campsite just outside of the park. We’d hike, drive, make a camp fire, be freezing, get warm together. We’d checked the weather ahead of time and it looked mild: In the mid-high 30s on the low end at night, and in the 60s during the day. Not bad.
This was our first time traveling together. We’ve been dating for a little over four months. Brutally in love, yes. But still. I was a little nervous. Not because I expected anything to go badly, but because you just never know. Direct lived experience is the only way to really know if something works or not.
The drive was fun. About 4.5 hours. We started at Britney’s house, roughly an hour north of Santa Barbara. We took Highway 101 to 126 through Fillmore, and then dipped south a minute on I-5 (which runs like a north-south vein up and down California) and in Santa Clarita we caught the 14 North. Fourteen led us east along the 138, aka the Pearblossom Highway, aka Highway 18 as well. Eventually we hooked up with the 15 North and at Victorville and then at Barstow we caught the 247 South. (We took the “scenic route.”) Highway 247 took us south through Johnson Valley and Landers before spitting us out at Yucca Valley, aka Highway 62, aka Twenty-Nine Palms. We were right on the edge of Joshua Tree, surrounded by Big Bear and Palm Springs to our west, Mojave National Preserve to our north, the Salton Sea to our south, and the Colorado River due east. But the first night we stayed in Newbury Springs, east of Barstow.
The drive had been good. Rain on and off, mostly light. Some harder for periods. I drove the first leg. We switched at Victorville. Thankfully, Highway 138/18 had kept us north of Los Angeles. We’d gotten a late start, around 4pm, so most of the drive ended up being at night. (Long story.) There’d been light to medium traffic on and off. Not too bad. One likely car wreck on 138, though, despite slowed vehicles and about half a dozen police cars, we saw no accident. Perhaps we’d missed the carnage. I couldn’t help thinking of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Britney mentioned it, too. We discussed the movie and the book. (“There’s nothing worse than a man in the depths of an ether binge,” Johnny Depp, as HST says in the flick.) Good ole Hunter Thompson. He had been one of my early writing heroes. (What red-blooded American male writer doesn’t love HST?) It also reminded me of endless drives up and down along I-5 over the decades, going back and forth between Southern and Northern California.
It made me think of the drives I’d once made between Irvine and the ocean at a writers’ conference I once taught at years ago. That flat, cacti-ridden, empty landscape. Barren. Isolated. Desolate. Also of course of my hometown, Ojai, which has a lush mix of green mountains and desert landscapes.
By the time we got to the room it was cold and profoundly windy. We tapped in the Air BnB key code and brought all our supplies into the room. We showered, made hot tea, read (I’m still plowing through Dostoevsky’s prison memoir, Notes on the House of the Dead), and listened to the dust-filled, rabid wind as sand tinkled incessantly against the windows and the door, and as things outside fell down and were literally dragged by the force of the air. I couldn’t help think of “The Wizard of Oz.” Our whole tiny room seemed to rumble and rush and thrum and rattle with noise and feeling and wind and terror. I loved it.
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