We wake up to silence. A silence that is so final and absolute it is deafening. No noise can break the endless death of sound that is the desert. I make a few tentative noises and they are immediately swallowed by this vast and hungry land.
We make breakfast but the frail clanking of our pans is helpless against the raw emptiness that surrounds us. As the sun rises the cold earth warms. Like reptiles we soak up the sun until we are heated enough to move about.
The desert around us is like a garden. Exotic shrubs and cactus sit handsomely in the neat sandy earth. The Joshua trees seem frozen mid dance. The romance and beauty of this hostile place is intoxicating.
I am eager to set off. After breakfast I fill the tank from our reserves, pack a lunch of apples and nuts and fill my water pack. I bring my phone for pictures, there are no cell towers out here. I should not ride alone for a million reasons but Samantha is looking forward to a day of reading, writing and lounging. After months on a motorcycle she wants a day off. That makes sense. I have a different idea. After months on a motorcycle I am eager to try new skills. I am looking forward to taking the weights off the end of my bat and swinging. I have stripped the bike of luggage and there are endless trails into a new and foreign land all around us.
On the trail I immediately feel alone. It feels odd to ride without Samantha. With each fork I plunge deeper into a bottomless desert. The GPS is an amazing tool but also removes some of the adventure. But it is also a great help. Incredibly it has every little single track on it, along with the topography. I look for trails with the most turns per mile and begin a day of desert romping. The terrain varies with elevation. Higher up it is rocky but down in the valleys a firm pliable sand creates smooth and fast single track. I follow washes through valleys and up into rocky mountain gulches until their end. I discover the countless failed attempts of humans to live out here. Buses, R.V.’s abandoned cabins. Most seem to have ended in some sort of cataclysmic fire. The jettisoned machinery of mines and then the actual mines litter the desert. Some that look like they may have been excavated with a shovel, others with more sophisticated and now rusting machinery. All around are the scars of men attacking the earth in hopes of riches. And every one of them failed. No where is the intent of man to exploit this world more obvious or more hopeless than here.
I follow a trail out the side of the mountain until it suddenly ends. I find myself clinging to the side of a steep slope a thousand feet above an endless, empty valley. I get off the motorcycle and carefully work the bike around. On a heavier machine I would be in serious trouble.
I spin back down the mountain singing the praises of the WR 250. Reliable enough to bring me across the country, versatile enough to take me by highway from the California Coast and now unladen and set free in the desert it is a plush and powerful dirt bike. It has patiently waited for my skills to improve and rarely punished me for my imperfect abilities. But now, months after setting out, it rewards me handsomely for my new skills. I am completely at home on the bike. Shifting, braking, weight shifts, everything is effortless and without thought. The bike and I have melded into one bionic being. We blast across the desert. I throw the bike around with ease and hopefully a little grace. I went from almost tipping over in a dirt parking lot in Florida to bounding through desert washes the rear wheel unhooked, front wheel tracking steadily and my feet firmly on the pegs. I feel dialed in. And yet I hold back. I am in the middle of an unknown and indifferent place. I am a long crawl from anywhere, there is no phone reception and I am doing something inherently dangerous. So as dialed as I feel I click it back a notch. To be sure I make it back to our cozy camp fire at dusk and don’t leave Samantha to wander the desert in search of me into the dark hours.
I finally pass by the camp site to find Samantha with the tent doors wide open and a kind of nest inside. She has pillows and mattresses and sleeping bags. In the middle is the girl surrounded by books and journals, deep into some fictitious world of imagination. A quick kiss and I am back at it. Exploring the trail I didn’t get to complete the night before.
As the sun sets I make one final blast down the road towards the highway. Not a car within a hundred miles I open up the throttle. Unloaded and wide open I make 75 miles per hour, then I tuck and go a solid 80. It is not a street bike by any stretch but 80 feels very fast on the little dirt bike, knobbies screaming on the pavement. I pull into the store by the freeway. I grab bottles of water, cold beer, a bottle of whisky and sweet and spicy surprises for Samantha.
The way back to camp is longer than the way out. The sun is almost down and the air is bitingly cold. Tomorrow we will be in Las Vegas, the day after that on a plane tumbling back into the world of technology, civilization, jobs and responsibilities, news, politics and responsibilities, back to our other life. But it’s been so long I’m not sure which is real anymore. There’s a part of me that wants to make this our life, our only life. The only thing we need to make that happen is gas money.
Back at camp we make another roaring fire. We toast to our last night with fine Tennessee whisky and chase it down with cold beer. Tonight more than any other night is good. We are full of the sweet taste of accomplishment, of good luck and fortune, of adventures accomplished. We think back to the hundreds of good people we’ve met and the thousands of amazing places we’ve seen in this great American landscape. Tomorrow we will enter the boulevards of billboards and flashing neon that is Las Vegas. What an odd reentry into an odd world.