Journal 2
Day 11 - Feb 2 • North Shore to Red Cloud Mine Rd.
Today: 28 Cumulative: 198

Today my hot air balloon career comes to an end, someone else will have to captain the great silver balloon in my absence. Today, the Bradshaw Trail, the biggest, baddest badlands, the longest dirt road, and hopefully a vision in the desert. Cosmo has filled out a bit in our days of rest and is ready for the trail, her feet are protected from the gravel by little black boots. Rolling out of the Diaz house at sunrise, a generous house, “if you need any help, someone to pick up the dog,” much abliged, we make our way to the canal road and head south-east. The day is rough right from the start. 8 miles of wash board road, and the temperature is rising quickly. I will pull the cart until the road smoothes out. On the sides of the canal there are steep embankments, and I am paranoid about robbers. Like a stagecoach in a western we move slowly over rocky roads eyeing the tops of hills. There is a slab city near by, squatters in the desert, know for robbing passers by. This place is more frightening than Mecca, no witnesses. The cowboy hat is appropriate today. I wear it because the cowboy is America’s greatest myth, the American hero, a life romanticized, full of drama. Enter soundtrack: a whistle in the air, face off at high noon. The sun is blinding me. There is no gun fight today, only sunburn and banging and shaking like someone is hitting my cart with a baseball bat, the noise is maddening. Cosmo is happy not to be pulling in this heat.

A four-wheeler passes us, “Does the road get any better?” “Nope, gets worse.” I can tell by the way they are looking at me that they think I am a fool. And I would agree. “That’s a long dirt road there friend, you be careful.” I tip my cowboy hat, it’s too late to turn back. At the Bradshaw Trail head the road disappears, replaced by deep gravel. It has to get better, it’s on a highway map! I am still pulling. The temperature is still rising. One mile goes by, with the breaks for water and shade it takes 45 minutes. We take a nap on rocky ground in the shade of a Palo Verde tree. Half in dream I hallucinate bands of color between the tree branches, a dense fog, the sun shines through it like a prism, rainbow cobwebs, a blinding light taking it all until there is no color or line, beyond the symbols I know. A tour through the heavens of inner space, but they won’t give me the words to tell you.

When I return it is a slow reversal, and I am disoriented, Where am I? Am I asleep on a couch five years ago? Dreaming of a great adventure to come, maybe a walk across the America. But when it all comes into focus I am here, in the desert, many hard miles to go, it is underway, like I stepped into a time machine. Five years goes so fast.

Two more miles into the trail and the road stays rocky, at this pace it will take 8 or 9 days. The four wheelers come back around to check on me. I realize that this arrangement is not going to work, so I send a message to Larry. Stranded 3 miles up Bradshaw Trail. Road too rough, please help. I am a very naïve explorer, unprepared, a Romanic fool, the kind that die in the desert all the time. But I am an exception, I don’t believe in death. Momentum. Larry and Amy find us just before sundown, we are lucky to have this option. The decision is made to abandon the cart and go as minimal as possible, they think I should leave Cosmo, insisting the coyotes would get her, even with the Gamo PT-80 protecting us. I hesitate, 4 days alone. But it is in Cosmo’s best interest, she can rest and put on more pounds, her pads will get tougher and she will have more energy. She has never been away from me for more than 12 hours, but she is tired and does not resist. Thank you Larry and Amy. “We’ll see you tomorrow, and we’ll bring water.”, It’s a good thing, as I only have water for 40 miles and the trail is 90.

The Gamo PT-80 is locked and loaded, tucked into my waist strap in plain view. The safety is off, the sun has set, the coyotes will be coming soon. Colors linger for an hour before the curtain goes up. I always look for Orion’s belt. The trail is peaceful without the banging of the cart. Me and Orion, the Seven Sisters, Pleiades. Behind me the outline of the Orocopia Mountains from the lights of Indio. Ahead there is no light pollution, the Mojave. At 9:00 a light ahead. A slow moving van. For a minute I forget that this road is used to smuggle illegals, brought to Mecca by smugglers called “coyotes.” They are always well armed

I remember as the white passenger van with tinted windows passes by, I wave, the PT-80 is n plain sight. The van drives on slowly for 50 feet and stops, I turn off my headlamp and run into the brush, up the embankment to a protected spot. My backpack is off, my eyes are adjusted to the dark, theirs are not. The PT-80 is in my hand, a ridiculous idea, better to leave the pack and run if anything happens, but still it is there. The van pulls forward a few feet again and stops, forward 10 more and another stop. They are trying to decide something. 3 Mexicans get out and start speaking to each other. I’m not sure what they are saying, I’m not sure they are even coyotes, but I’m not taking a chance. They look around for 5 minutes and go on their way. They would never have caught me, I had the advantage of the dark and this hill. This too is a secret child hood fantasy of all boys.

Back to introspection in the dark. The brightest stars seem to be coming right out of the Chocolate Mountains, the band of the Milky Way is clear and stands on end, like a fountain, birth of the universe. On the very edge of these mountains steep fins meet the road from time to time, between them are long deep canyons into the bombing range. In the entry to one of these canyons I stop to build a fire, I left a layer of clothing behind and I am a little cold. The fire burns hot and fast because the wood is so dry,
everything in this canyon is dead, there is no shortage of fuel. The front of me is too hot, my back is freezing, but it is a rest from hurting feet. I want to fall asleep here but I have only walked 18 mile today, I need to make it to the Red Cloud Mine Road, 10 more miles. As I bury my campfire I can hear the coyotes cry. Somewhere up on the hills behind me, they are close.

30 minute up the road I see the reflection of 2 eyes and then 6 eyes. Another 30 minutes up the road I can hear them on my right running ahead and then across the road, beyond the reach of my leadlamp. They have been following me since the fire went out. Larry gave me a Roman candle, but it is so dry I am afraid to use it. The PT-80 I am not afraid to use. An extra CO2 cartridge is ready in my pocket, so are 3 extra clips with silver tipped pellets, and in my pocket, if it comes down to hand to hand combat, I have the teargas/pepper spray combo that my mother gave me in my Christmas stocking (actually she gave me 2 of them and a pair of glow in the dark boxer shorts which I am also wearing). Thanks Mom.

It sounds like a dozen of them, but I can only see 8 sets of eyes. Another group on my left that I can’t see makes soft whining noises like a dog, a trick they use to lure out their prey. My headlamp is not strong enough to frighten them. They are getting closer, circling around behind me, I can’t tell how close though, maybe 20 feet, maybe closer, I spin around and fire off an entire clip, two of them cry, the others are barking like rabid dogs. A quick reload, 8 more shots, one more hit, they are running. I’m glad Cosmo is not here, they may have been more aggressive. Still walking. A cold night in the desert. More coyotes, but far away. Howling.

At the junction to Red Cloud mine I begin to look for a place to sleep, I am on the Chuckwalla Bench tonight, away from the Chocolate Mountains now. Searching for a camp site I pass by Huge cactus trees, long arms with two or three fingers at the ends. I do not know their name. Then, 40 feet off the road I see the largest of cactus so far. When I come nearer I see that it is white. An Albino. A good omen. When the tent is set up I set out in search of fire wood. After gathering an armful from a wash just 50 feet away I turn around and head back. But I am turned around, I can’t see the giant cactus, my headlamp is too dim, I see 20 others and walk to each of them thinking it is the one. I panic. I know the general direction by the stars, but somehow I walk in circles. Am I right by it or have I walked a hundred yards away? I drop the wood. 30 minutes go by, I am cold and scared, I have no food, no lighter, no gun. The sun will not rise for 6 more hours. I find the road and back track until I see something familiar, a dead bent palm tree. Back into the brush, another familiar object. Finally the tent, almost an hour has gone by. Bad Karma for shooting coyotes. This time I find more landmarks and count my steps. Still, on the way back I almost get lost again.

I miss Cosmo tonight. As the moon rises I sit by my fire, thinking about a woman and glasses of beer.