“That sidewinder almost got me!” said Rod as he emerged from darkness at the top of a sand wash. KC and I were waiting at the road intersection at the top of the wash, contemplating the newfangled casino lights flickering in the distance. Apparently we’d taken a slightly different route to the road and avoided the hostile snake.
An hour earlier, I’d just rolled into town, unloaded my bike and stuffed a sub sandwich into my pack. Sunset came like a light switch, and we were in the desert, amongst sidewinders, tarantulas, and other critters.
29 Palms is a desert town just outside Joshua Tree National Park, perhaps most commonly known for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center located there. It reminds me a lot of Alamogordo, NM, where I was stationed in the USAF at Holloman AFB a couple decades ago. You can get a decent haircut there, for cheap. (I need one and regret I didn’t make the time). A small city with small city charms and everything else that might go with it. The dynamics are too complicated for me to fully understand, much less describe here, so I’ll just say I like this little town, and everybody I’ve met from there so far.
This past Thursday, I sent KC the following text message:
“Hey man, do you have any time or interest in having a mountain man come down your way this weekend?”
KC explained that he was planning to attend the memorial service for Chris “Monkey” Vasquez, the venerable race mechanic, but that he’d make a quick turn of it so we could get out for a bikepack.
“Come out and we’ll go sleep in the dirt” he replied.
The ride out from KC’s house was fairly simple. A couple blocks of pavement to an unremarkable steel gate. Around the gate, up the sand wash… to more sand washes, washboard roads, and the like. My kind of party.
I enjoyed watching the sun go down, but opted not to turn my light on, because I rather enjoy “riding by braille.” There’s something about riding sand that really speaks to me. It’s the steering with the hips, or the slower cadence, the focus maybe… I love riding sand. And I love riding sand in the dark. Maybe that’s been conditioned into me after so many years of riding Fish Creek Wash in the Stagecoach 400.
In the dark, lights off, riding up that washboard road, I had the first glimpse of what I was after, the groove. I couldn’t see the ground well, but I could bend and weave with it. I Turned on my bluetooth speaker and listened to some “space dust music,” as we later dubbed it. I felt my cadence, my breath.
I became present, there in the desert with the howls of coyotes, the rhythm of the wind, and the scent of creosote bush in the air.
The camp spot is a nondescript patch of dirt in the desert, with a small fire ring and enough flat-ish space to sleep a number of people. I immediately gravitated to the most obvious, flat spot with a yucca serving as a natural block from the prevailing wind and potential shade from the moonlight.
“Oh, hey man, that’s Ninja’s spot.”
Not one to cross a ninja, I moved along and found new spot. Some time later, 2 more riders came in. Jeramiah (Ninja) and Ed made themselves at home with KC, Paul, Rod, and myself. We cracked beers, unwrapped sandwiches, and settled in for a pleasant evening.
A Night In The Dirt- A Night In My Head
I related the following to a friend today: Joshua Tree almost always feels cooler than the thermometer would tell you.
To look at my iPhone weather: High 102, Low 72
– but that’s kinda bullshit.
There’s almost always a breeze in that place. The locals will say “it’s not so breezy today” much like I’ll say certain sections of the Stagecoach 400 route are “kind of climby.” It’s perspective.
Last night we enjoyed a mild breeze packing enough of a cooling effect that I felt it necessary to “tuck” the sides of my 40 degree down sleeping quilt under my hips. Not warm, but not chilly.
I watched the moon set over the mountain to our west.
The stars were brilliant. I was glad the moon set early, because sometimes it keeps me awake too late, and outshines the stars. I really liked it.
And most importantly, my own mind: I worked through some shit. A lot of it.
There’s something about sleeping in the dirt. Walking barefoot on rocks. Simply being, in the dirt. “Grounding, or Earthing” might be the word the hippie crowd would use. I won’t discount the theory. Because, heck, I feel it too.
I didn’t sleep a lot of hours, but my mind felt rested in the morning.
Little Baghdad, The Bakery, and Andrea’s Restaurant
“Have a look guys, it looks like there’s somebody driving out at Little Baghdad.” Rod said.
The glint of a vehicle’s windshield in the low morning sunlight reported back to us, some 30 miles away by the look of it. “Little Baghdad” is a mock city built in the desert, used in training for the nearby Marine base. I could barely make out the buildings at this distance, but could see how it came together.
We made coffee, shot the shit, and discussed our ride plans. We decided to take a scenic route of sand washes and singletrack, and make our way back to town for a proper (greasy) breakfast.
We mounted up and rode off. “It’s all downhill from here” back to 29 Palms, we pretty much all said that. Soft sand washes reward a relaxed body, I noted. I rode no-handed a good bit, because why not. “You never know when a chick might be watching,” I thought facetiously.
KC told me a bit about the history of this BLM area just outside Joshua Tree National Park.
“The Bakery” was a cool place to go with a girl, he explained, until some assholes trashed the place. It used to be a good place to go out, smoke some weed, look at the stars, and hang out, he said. They burned down the structure that used to stand there.
I’m happy to say it’s still pretty, even so. Heck, I’d love to take a lady out there somday.
We came into town just in time for an appropriate Sunday breakfast. Natasha, Paul’s bride, joined us. She’s great. A redhead photographer with a heart as big as the desert horizon, I gladly took a hug from her and briefly caught up on my wild, wild life. It’s wild for all of us, I concluded. We just keep on keepin’ on.
Andrea’s restaurant was perfect. We ordered our food, enjoyed our company, and enjoyed genuine service with a smile. We packed up and returned to KC’s house.
I needed a little more time to keep in this desert vibe, so I took a short driving tour through the National Park.
I ended up parked in the shade of a cottonwood tree, just outside the “hippie store” not far from the Yucca Valley park entrance. I went in the store, bought some Nag Champa, a small quartz crystal, and a couple monster finger puppets for my boys, who I’ll see tomorrow.
I enjoy the sound of a good Cottonwood.
I sat in the car, listening to that Cottonwood, and procrastinated the long drive home.
I messaged a friend about it, and concluded that I’d indeed got what I needed from this trip to the desert.
We’re all gonna be alright.