The desert is not for everyone. It’s hot, mostly treeless and barren. It’s a lonely place with little soil, less shade and even less water. But I guess that’s the point. As Edward Abbey was fond of pointing out it’s full of things that bite, sting and prick. Everything out here seems to be covered in spines and if that isn’t enough to dissuade you the desert can very easily kill you. There are few landmarks. Temperatures soar during the day and plummet at night. It is very easy to become lost, dehydrated, tortured by all manner of insects, scorpions and snakes and then subjected to freezing nights and sweltering days until you simply die.
So with that in mind Samantha and I were eager to point our bikes deep into the Mojave desert. The highway was an endless, dead straight strip of pavement. It rolled up and down as it traversed valleys but stayed straight as an arrow, pointed directly to Vegas.
We exited the highway by a sign that said something like, “Avoid overheating turn off air conditioner next 80 miles.” Apparently it was so hot that using the A/C was beyond most cars ability. Luckily it was late into the fall and the desert was cool and less deadly than in summer. We felt like explorers on another planet, not sure of what dangers lay in wait. The landscape seemed adapted to furnace like conditions that could turn on at any minute and roast our moist, frail skin.
The road led on, past creosote bushes and cactus and then past Joshua Trees. The Joshua tree, for those who have not had the pleasure of seeing one in person, is short for a tree but what it lacks in height it makes up for in character. It has several thick limbs that fork towards a bushy inflorescence of spiked leaves. Leaves is a generous term because a true leaf, soft and pliable, is a liability in a place where the steady sun and dry air would fry a proper leaf in hours. And so in the desert leaves tend to be small, stingy things or hard and spiked to keep off leaf eaters and preserve moisture. There is not a decent leaf in the entire Mojave with which to wipe one’s butt.
As we head away from the highway there is a sign warning of tortoises crossing the road. It brings to mind the beginning of an Edward Abbey story in which a tortoise has some kind of interaction with a bull dozer, whether he’s crushed or nearly crushed I don’t recall but I slow down regardless. The road isn’t so much cut through the desert but laid on top of it. A cheap piece of blacktop that undulates just as much as the earth does. And down in the dips we see mirages of rippling water that disappear before we can lift our feet.
We pull off on a sandy road next to a three story pile of rocks. We follow the road over rock slabs and then down into soft sand. Eventually we come to a campsite. Another pile of rocks protects our backs from approaching enemies. A wide flat clearing in front is perfect for our bikes and gear and a fire ring invites us to dinner. We pitch the tent, collect fire wood and unpack the kitchen. We inflate our camp mattresses and fold them into the chair frames and decide to stay for at least two nights. We realize we have rarely stayed at any campground for two nights. It has benefits. I decide to strip my bike completely and go for a ride in the morning unencumbered. We immediately feel the leisure of not unpacking just to re-pack in the morning. We also have to carefully assess our food and water stores. They are always limited by the lack of space on our bikes.
It is still light out and the WR 250R is looking very inviting stripped of it’s luggage. I decide to go out for a quick exploratory ride. There are some who would say leaving a beautiful girl alone in the desert just before dusk with no phone reception is irresponsible. To them I say this. There are certainly hazards in the desert, one might come across a scorpion or poisonous snake or even unwittingly corner a mountain lion. But these all pale in comparison to the unlucky fool who gets too close to Samantha with her knife, bear spray and her superhuman strength (see picture).
I pop out on the road and head south until I spot a trail. It’s a double track and does not disappoint. The sand is pliable, but not deep and offers predictable grip. The trusty Dunlops dig in and I am off. Not only does the road veer right and left but also offers lots of rises to sail over the top of before plunging into the belly of the next whoop. The trail is silky smooth and I bounce from the right single track to the left. It’s some of the best riding I’ve done and by this point I’ve done lots. The landscape in the setting sun is otherworldly. Joshua trees stand around watching me, huge rock piles dot the landscape and an impressive variety of cactus hang out into the trail to keep me alert. It looks as though I could circumnavigate a small mountain on this trail but I’m running out of daylight and the temperature is dropping.
Back at camp I start a roaring fire with a little gasoline from our spare tanks and watch twinkling suns appear in the dark blue sky. This day is over, we are finally here. The great southern desert of America, the Mojave. Their is a romance and a magic to this place that seeps into the bones. The air is so fresh you can eat it. The ground is pure, clean sand and buried underneath are the dreams of a thousand failed prospectors. Diamonds and oil lurk deep below our bedded heads as we sing along to coyotes on this second to last night of our journey to nowhere.