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Journal 2
13 MILES SOUTH OF HELL,
AND NO WATER
February 4 Day 13 The desert south of Hell to Wiley’s Well

Today: 28 Cumulative: 255

Today my teeth hurt. I know right away when I sit up in my tent that I am in the desert and that I am out of water, I have been grinding my teeth in my sleep. If they don’t come today I will have to find a way out besides the Bradshaw Trail, some way to get to the Interstate. I figure I am near Augustine’s Pass, and the quickest way out is over the Mule Mountains, to a town on Interstate 10 called Hell. I am 13 miles south of Hell with no water. This is not a joke. The mountains would be harder walking, I will look for the wells on my map and hope for someone to pass by. No one drove by yesterday, and the chances for today are not good, it is a weekday and I am 45 miles from where the Bradshaw meets the Palo Verde Valley.

My maps show 5 wells in the first 10 miles today, one of them must have water. Last night I started to hear engines at sundown, hallucinating my rescue car. I would stop and listen, no car, silence. Today I hear it again, the way the wind blows through the powerlines makes a faint hum like a distant engine. I stop again, nothing. I keep hoping, keep stopping. I am still walking in deep sand. The first wells are unnamed seeps, I cannot find them, no extra vegetation in the area, they must be dry. The next well is named and should be easy to find. Chuckwalla Spring, 1 mile off the road. In the distance I see a huge palm tree, the only one in the 30 miles I have walked. It is not a hallucination, but it is a cruel joke. Upon reaching the Palm I see that it has grown up through the well, there is no well any more, just a palm tree and very dry earth, I scrape into the ground a foot or so, still just dry dirt, no hint of moisture, it is all inside the tree. I contemplate trying to cut into it, to suck on a piece of the water soaked core, but the palm is sharp, it is cutting me, and it is very hard to get near the trunk. For an hour’s work I could get the equivalent of 1 8 cup of water. Maybe the next well will have water.

Already I have added 3 miles to this day looking for wells, and the next one will add 2 more. Indian well is just before the next crossroads. There are hundreds of rock cairns along the road, hundreds of dirt paths that may lead to these places, by the map I make a guess and hope to see more palms. I see nothing. I keep walking, Indian well is my last chance. Beyond where it is supposed to be I see a windmill in the distance, a sure sign of a water tank! But as I approach I see that the drive shaft is not connected to a pump, it just turns in space, bent, useless. The tank is dry. There is a narrow ladder down to the water line, just enough room for a small body, but the bricks in the shaft are crumbling and I am not willing to risk climbing 50 feet under the desert only to get stuck, unable to move my arms. 6:00 news; man walking across America stuck in well. I drop a stone, I can hear the water.

Near the windmill is a staircase going down into the ground, it is full of water. Salvation! Then I see the dead bees and the dead bats and other parts of small dead animals floating on the surface. I have Iodine tablets but I’m not sure what kind of diseases dead bats will give me. I will keep walking, maybe I will cut open a yucca or a small palm, maybe I will dig some more. This is like the ultimate Eagle Scout graduation test, some would maybe even say it is too easy for an Eagle Scout. You are 13 miles south of Hell with no water. You are already dehydrated. You have a knife, 2 snickers bars, and fields of yucca. You also have one roll of duct tape, a roman candle, and the Gamo PT-80. Find a way to make it 45 more miles to the first canal, outside of Ripley, California and the rest of your troop. In this section of the Eagle Scout test manual there is a large yellow box at the bottom of the page: DO NOT EAT THIS PLANT, it is poisonous. There is a drawing of a cactus or a Yucca. I am afraid to start cutting open plants because I know I will eat the one in that yellow box. I could cut up some Palo Verde trees and weave the branches into wings. Stop it Aaron, that’s the heat talking, you’re crazy. We begin to argue with ourself.,

I am in a state of mind to think about good titles for the day though. One that keeps coming up is Punching Larry Diaz (but that is unfair, he has been very kind to me, maybe he got stuck, maybe he made a call today and someone is on their way), another is Oh, the Horror, and another; Hi, Mom, It’s me, please come pick me up. Up the road there is an abandoned house, broken apart, its wood used for fires. 2 cars and a van have been burned out, the van lays on its side. Piles of burned tires, and a refrigerator riddled with bullet holes. Maybe there will be a 10 year old beer inside. I am desperate. When I open the refrigerator there is something quite different than a 10 year old beer. A Playboy centerfold, all three pages in full glory, spread out and held in place by an old hammer head and a bottle. Hello Penny Baker, Miss January, 1989. A shrine for the arsonists who burned these cars, or a shrine for weary travellers? I close the lid, leaving Penny the way I found her, she has inspired me, and I hope that she will inspire the next fool who runs out of water and is looking for old beer.

More miles. More volcanoes. I have been passing more and more mosaics, and now I see their makers, small volcanoes all around me, all the way to the Colorado River. Still no water, not stumbling yet, but it is only a matter of time. Then to my left I see the reflection of a mobile home, one mile off the road. If no one is home I will break in to look for water, I have no other choice, If I don’t I will die. But at the trailer, a sign, “Please do not damage this trailer, there is nothing of value inside, no food and no water.” I am not the first to run out of water here, and I don’t have the heart to break in. I check all the containers under the mobile home, and under the wooden deck they have built around it, an old canteen; empty, 2 large blue water containers; empty, and 5 empty gas containers. Damnit.

Over the next hill though there is one more chance, another larger mobile home, and two large trucks, someone must be here. A generator is running. Holy wellsprings of life Batman, water is near! When I knock on the door a small window opens high above me and to the right. I explain that I ran out of water and need enough to get to Palo Verde or Ripley. “That’s 35 miles. Lots of people die out here. 5 died just this year tryin to walk this last bit without water, you’re lucky I’m here, you’d be dead too.” She hands the water to me, but when I go to shake her hand she pulls it back, “I don’t trust people out here.” Probably wise. Jan is her name, lets me rest in the shade, and gets me an apple. She’s not much for talking, but I ask her one question, “If I am on a search for wisdom, what wisdom do you have to give?” “Don’t go into the desert without water.” She shuts the window to punctuate the remark. I almost start to make an excuse, “But this guy…” and then I realize that she’s right. Don’t go into the desert without water. In fron tof Jan’s house, in the volcanic field, there is a white cement cat, two white rabbits, and the bleached white shell of a tortoise that she found out here. This is a strange place to park a home, 35 miles from the nearest town and the nearest water, on a volcanic field. In the middle of The Last Supper. I tread lightly as I walk away through the field of perfect stones. This is Holy Land. New stones in the mosaic; orange agate, rose crystal, geodes, and shiny black triangles like pottery shards. I have enough water, now it is just a long walk again. Sand and gravel and sunburn.

The power lines are still singing but I am not looking for a car now. Left in the desert with no water. What could have happened? The road continues to be rough. I stop often now, hoping that when I start again I will feel better, but I don’t. My back. When the stars come they are some comfort. I fall asleep twice while staring at the stars. Dream of a bar called heaven. The Talking Heads say that in heaven the band plays your favorite song, they play it one more time, they play it all night long. I see the bar, it is the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (with a subtitle of Heaven, because it already has such a good name, and one that says heaven just as well), my favorite bar in Santa Fe, but this one has room for dancing. All the people that really don’t like me much are there, the people that hurt me, the people that want to hurt me, the coke addict, the school teacher in my home town who thinks I should be put to sleep because I have a big ego, a guy named Dave who says I’m a sell out, an uncle in Wyoming who thinks I’m a bum, the neighbor in New Mexico who beat me with a piece of firewood for yelling at his dogs. We can’t remember what it was all about, we just know the band sounds great and they keep playing out favorite song, we never get tired of it and everyone buys each other beers.

Blurry eyes stare to stars. Trudging through the sand again, I start to feel sick from the prolonged pain in my heels and my back. These are hell miles on a sunken road, gravel and sand, the worst walking conditions that I could imagine besides a flash flood, which I am sure will happen at some point as well. I have seen the road to Hell, I saw it this morning, it is uphill, but it is much smoother. Soon I start to stumble, I am stopping more often. If don’t stop I will end up falling. Then another hum. A trailer with lights on, a campground of sorts. I am desperate enough to knock on the door. I’m dehydrated again, my stomach is empty from eating too many power gels, and my muscles are cramping up. Jose steps out with a flashlight in my face. After seeing that I am not a bearded maniac with a machette he invites me in.

Jose and Christiane are Spanish and French, they immigrated to the US in the 1950’s. Jose is drilling me with questions about my purpose, about my life, about my travels in the former Soviet Republics. Another man from the campground is with us, Phil. Phil asks how long I have known these “Stalinists,” his tone tells me that he does not trust me. Phil thinks I’m a “red.” I don’t care what Phil thinks, his teeth are sideways. And I am too tired to answer anymore questions. After my new grandparents have fed me, and I finish my ice cream, and I have answered all of Jose’s questions they take me out and hold a flashlight while I set up my tent, I have a headlamp, but they insist. “Tomorrow you can ask the questions. Join us for breakfast.” I wanted to quit today, then I met Jose and Christiane. At my lowest point someone always gives me a reason to keep walking....