DEATH Valley

We pulled in late last night, as is our norm with the short days. Since we crossed the time line in Nevada, and lost an hour with DLST, sunset at 4:30, dark is around 5:15-5:30. Of course, fire restrictions are on high alert, so we pretty much retreat to our van after gazing at the sun fire red clouds and the darkening skies of sunset. On our new schedule, that means we have about 4-5 hours to play/drive, before it’s dark.

We come upon the park at about 4 pm. The parking lot that the NFS calls a “campground” (Sunset) reminded me of parking at a drive-in movie. It was all that was available. No fires, dogs on leash, just our kind of place. Not.

The morning comes super early as well and by 6 am it’s full on light outside. By 7 am the big RVs in the “campground” have turned on their generators. The van is pretty well insulated from sound so it’s just a dull roar. We decided to set out early and explore the other campground above us. We drove through last night and checked it out, but it fills everyday by around 2-3:00 pm.

After some Coffee and a quick breakfast we grab our e-bikes and are off to seek out our new home base. The host told us to go up around 11 am to secure a site, so we grabbed our chairs and a backpack and headed up to the campground to find a spot. After riding around for 20-30 minutes, we found a few empty spots, got together and picked one. #71 Home base.

It ended up being a lazy day. Chris was still recovering from some gastric issues (day 3) so our bike ride was about 3 miles too many. We are desperately in need of showers…going on day 4 tomorrow. We rode around to find the “showers” that showed on the maps but they never materialized. I’m guessing tomorrow will be bath day…

Ya know what sucks about National Parks is that they are so “structured”… ok, strict?… in the year of COVID or *rona, that’s people on people. Everybody and their uncle is out in the parks, wilderness, trails and so forth. We all practice social distancing and depending on the state/county, some will wear masks. We are incredibly paranoid about getting this. Maybe we won’t die but what if we have a month in the hospital? That could literally bankrupt so many families and ding us pretty good.

Social distancing in DEATH Valley… I think I read somewhere that like 1.7 million people come to Death Valley every year… Hmmm that means that from late October to early March, which are tolerable temperatures, over 635,000 a month, 21,000 people a day, entering the park in those 4.5 months, from all over the US, the hotspot of the pandemic.

Now to say this doesn’t weigh heavy on our minds everyday we have to use a gas station, toilet, go grocery shopping? Sometimes I find myself in a pure panic and can just envision the germs invading my nostrils. LOL. Then I’m reminded that we are all dying anyway… so live your life as safe as you can but not in fear. Not buying into any herd mentality mind you. More like impermanence.

Day two. Lazy morning. Coffee outside in the sun. Slight breeze blowing and the sound of new campers driving around looking for a camp spot. The low murmur of people talking to one another. Our van has been quite a hit and we continue to get compliments. It’s a conversation starter for sure. Gandaulf has also touched so many hearts. Kids and adults alike. It’s really hard to draw boundaries when people are kind and interested. I really don’t want to be afraid of people but I am.

The parched landscape of Death Valley whispers solitude and isolation. The multi-colored rocks, sand and salt bring to life thousands of years of history. Scattered along the landscape are brilliant green oasis where the brutal force of tech tonic plates grinding together forcing super heated waters to seep to the surface. From this violent beginning comes life in all its magnificence. In the middle of the hottest, driest place on earth, life in its simplest form can survive.

The color pallet laid out before me in the rocky landscape is soothing to the eye. The earth tone browns, yellows, reds, greens, a whole miriad of colors, blending together. Countless eons of time, layer upon layer, thrust up into the air by forces I can’t even begin to know, but my mind imagines the violent beginnings. Now all that remains are majestic, multicolored mountains, outlined in cobalt blue and wisps of white.

After a day of exploring the depths of the once inland sea -301’ below sea level, we wandered over to the Devils Golf Course. It looks like a frozen river at thaw… huge chunks of salt crack and move. We stood quietly and listened to the metallic ting as the salt moved in the heat. The beauty and starkness boggled my mind and my child just wanted to explore… so we did. Chris one way and I the other.

We drove around and did a few hikes and took lots of pictures. We had lunch on the side of the road and chilled taking in the view. We drove back to the camp site with our jaws dropping view after view.

Nighttime:

The sun sets so early these days. I am grateful that it is so warm outside when it is “pitch black”. The campground looks like a small encampment of like minded people. Fires blazing against the inky blackness. People laugh and there’s music drifting on the warm air. The sky peppered with millions of pin pricks of light. The stars are thick and the milky way shows itself against the absolute darkness. I stare off for untold minutes loosing myself in the vast starlit sky. I am one with the universe. My mind mingles with the infinite wisdom and light… I feel minuscule but incredibly voluminous. I return to our little village, as Gandaulf tugs on his leash trying to relieve himself.

4,000 feet Day 4:

We decided to pull up stakes and head up into the foothills in the Death Valley Wilderness area. The breeze is blowing and it’s 15 degrees cooler. There is an abundance of life and even a solitary big old cottonwood in showy yellow. I just want to hug that big ole cottonwood and listen to its stories. At the mouth of a wash dug deep into the desert floor and that tree. The image is burned into my mind in all its ancient glory.

Our camp is quiet, except for the occasional vehicle going up the narrow canyon. The road said 25’ maximum length… I didn’t see it until I was already committed so I crossed my fingers and carried on. It was one of those scary windy 1 1/2 lanes wide. The turns were tight and 40’ meant hogging all of it through the turns. We arrived at Wild Rose Camp and picked a spot over looking the canyon and trees.

We settled in and set up camp. We kinda messed up and went to a camp with not much to do around it. We made the best of it and explored further up the canyon, minus the trailer. The hills up above the valley floor look like they are covered in velvet. The rolling folds accented by the late afternoon sun were a sight to behold. The fact that anything can eek out a living in this bone dry place is amazing in itself. Quite the contrary, this place is teaming with life from wispy grass like plants, sages, to several varieties of hardy trees. Nature has found a balance of life and death in this DEATH Valley.

Wilderness Travelers: Part Three

Life on the Road 

We are but babes when it comes to living on the road. We left the comforts of a masonry four walled building to the comforts of our van/RV. We gave up only the creature comforts that require you to spend mindless hours staring at something that turns your mind to mush. We still have hot water showers, a toilet, a bed, AC, heat, a stove, running water and a sink, chairs to sit on, an IK, a UTV, hiking poles, fishing gear, decorations in the walls and plenty of cabinet space. What more do we need?

Living on the road requires a little more attention than falling through the routine that is “responsible living.” We both have jobs… I take care of the mechanical breakdowns and fix-it stuff and Chris takes care of organizing and anything financial. We both share in driving, cooking, and clean up. 

Our routine varies, depending on where we camp or the weather. Coffee is of course first on the agenda and we make some of the best! Italian expresso makers, Hydro Flask mugs to keep it piping hot and the finest ground coffee. 

We find the most perfect vantage point, looking over a river or canyon, in the early morning sun to warm up. Then we set up and sit as we listen to the sounds, or lack there of. We talk about the day and what we might do or see. Maybe a day in the hammocks reading, maybe a river float, fishing, hiking, sight seeing, or shopping for the weeks meals. The world is our pallet we choose how to color it. 

It took a little time to trust leaving our camp unattended without locking down the place like Fort Knox… After all, this is now everything we own and our home space. We choose to live mostly outside which is where we both feel the greatest connection. There is an unspoken rule between campers that needed to be trusted before we could go away from camp and be ok that no one will mess with your stuff. So far we have not had any incidents. 

We rely heavily on maps and Garmin. Trip Advisor is a good source, as is local word of mouth, for finding the out of the way gems that tourist tend to over look. Although electronics are pretty reliable, they don’t always show you the single track road that goes to the most beautifully isolated valley, stream or lake. In a way we are explorers in own own back yard, after all, the world is our back yard. 

Sometimes we are forced to stay in established campgrounds, rest stops, gas stations or a neighborhood or parking lot. This is just part of life on the road. We prefer dispersed camping on Forest Service land or BLM lands. Sometimes the only human life is miles away and the silence can be deafening. I enjoy being very still and slowly allowing my senses to awaken to the intricacies of the world around me. The colors, smells, sounds, feeling of the sun on my bare skin, the vibrations of all around me, all these create a world of peace and imagination. 

Life on the Road

It’s no small task to take off on a road trip of a lifetime. To become a traveler of both time and space. Exploring anything that catches our eye. Going with the weather, eventually heading North and cutting the umbilical cord from our life of 28 years. This of course means I need to get a good handle on my tribe and understand and work with Chris and Tracy to keep me in line if I should loose focus. It’s tiring to stay so focused, but I know it’s what I got to do.

Gandaulf is enjoying life on the road… or he just loves being with his moms all the time. Either way he is comfortable in the van and that’s a good thing. He has his own memory foam seat between us and is able to see out the windows. He is starting to even learn to sleep while driving. He’s such a good boy and everyone loves him.

WE did this 27 yrs ago. Sold everything we owned, and hit the road. Back then it was a silly dream, early middle age crisis… a healing journey that solidified our relationship. We both are at home in nature, be it mountains, deserts, beaches not so much big cities. This is a journey with no real destination. A healing vagabond journey. A wondering yogi. Two lost souls looking to release, relax and reconnect.

The Breaking Point

I woke up this morning

Tears in my eyes

The dream was so real

But was it a dream?

We are living in a time

Where close physical contact

Can be deadly

A hug… a handshake…

A kiss… could seal your fate.

In my dream

I went away

Traveled to distant lands

But all the while…

my heart ached

Never again was there to be human contact

Never again could I lay my head on shoulders and weep

Never again could I connect in a hug

Never again could I gather with friends and laugh

In my dream

Fear runs the world

Man afraid of man

No matter where I went

It was all the same

How can such a world exist?

How can people continue to exist?

People cry heavy tears

A woman holds her dead child

Children hold their dead parents

Hundreds burned like logs

The apocalypse?

A sinister unseen death hangs over the land

It randomly chooses its next victims

It is uncaring and doesn’t discriminate

Old, young, teens and anyone in between

It has robbed us of our freedoms

How can we live without touch?

How can new love begin?

Babies born that lie in plastic boxes

Not able to feel human touch

Mankind cries silently in their protected spaces

Fear gripping their very souls

I fear we are near the breaking point.

 

No…Not what you think

We decided to take this trip to Tucson…just because we’d never been there. We love the desert but Tucson just seemed like some far off retirement community. A dry desert town of little means but rich in Native American, Anglo and Mexican history. Why not?

We just got back from Nicaragua a few weeks ago and we are both already burnt out. The house we are renting has sold and we have 2 weeks to move. At this point I’m glad to be a minimalist.

We’ve submitted an application for a short term lease in a place where we can work on finishing the van and say our see ya laters and hit the road. A month or so to travel across the lower states getting used to the van and each other. This is actually where we melt together and enter into our element. Life from this point on will be fluid.

So back to Tucson, forgive my ADHD… We rented this cute 4 star eclectic hotel to camp out for the next few days. Great reviews. Earthy crunchy whole wheat little place. I admit when we first pulled in a part of me was not feeling it. I calmed down and thought how unfair that we would not even keep an open mind.

Hotel McCoy even racks my brain for appropriate words to describe it. Take it at face value, you’ll drive right on through the parking lot. Look deeper, take time to walk around…slowly. The artists that created this space left a piece of their heart behind on these walls. It speaks to the seeker in this land of saguaros and deadly critters. Grabs your mind and swirls it around leaving you spinning in your thoughts.

When it Rains…It Pours: Belize day six

We knew that it was too good to last. So far our vacation has been perfect. Perfect weather, perfect food and drink and perfect group out here on Half Moon Caye. Our last night was full of dancing, drinking and sharing tales. We watched the sunset at the beach just outside of camp while partying with all our new friends. We took pictures and shared email addresses then went back to camp where the guides performed native Garafuna drumming, song and dance. We all danced the night away and had a lovely prepared meal (no shortage of those). Then off to bed.

The sun began to wake up the day as a big ball of pink in the morning sky. A cloud bank began to roll in and by breakfast the storm had arrived. We all ran out to our tents and secured the rain flaps. Within 5 minutes the rain began. First a little drizzle, then the lightening and thunder accompanied the sheets of rain. Now we are all sitting in the mess hall watching the rain, hoping the boat coming to get us today actually will leave Belize City and make the 2-3 hour trip across open water. I personally would be happy if the boat was unable to come.

Chris and I recounted our trip so far. Chris said that this island adventure reminded her of summer camp. There was always activities to sign up for each day, an applause after each meal, educational moments and of course glamping. So now every time I think of the last five days I smile and think “adult summer camp”.

Have I Said This Before?

My girlfriend and I have been planning our escape for years. It was some fear and apprehensions that stopped us from taking the leap years ago and wandering our beautiful planet on a forever way of life…traveling.

We planned and saved every dollar we could. Tried to make good decisions about big purchases. Brought our company to a viable asset. Fixed everything physically wrong with our aging bodies so we could be young again. We made a goal of 2017 as our jumping off point.

Well 2017 came and went. We put our business up for sale at the beginning of 2017. We had several interested parties, but running a car dealership is not as simple as liking cars. Everyone that came to the table either faded away when they found out how much was actually involved or the banks turned them down. I fell into a deep depression that I kept hidden as best as I could.

We set ourselves up to live a good life. We built our dream home 18 years ago and are about 3-4 years away from paying it off. Our house is warm and comfortable and WAY too big for our little family of two humans and a corgi. It was a tax shelter and necessity which has now become a source of financial security, affording us freedom if we could cut the chains.

We have read countless books on becoming a minimalist. We have attended Overlanding expos and created good, healthy ties with fellow explorers and travelers living both here in the US and in foreign countries. We bought a 2015 Ford Transit 250 to build into our adventure mobile. Of course with our still busy schedule it has not had much attention. So here we sit, chained to our business and unwilling to give up our comfortable home until the sale.

To make matters worse… everyday we wake up to another mass shooting, another unarmed kid shot by cops, a narcissistic POTUS who is batshit crazy and can seriously impact our financial health, physical health and turn the world against us. Kids are taking to the streets demanding change but getting the hand by the grownups they rally against. It is just too much for my fragile psyche to be bombarded with everyday.

Why take off and leave all that we know? Why sell off everything and have nothing but freedom to show for it? Why break away from all that is comfortable and travel to third world countries where people are happy and live harmoniously with the world around them? Seriously… you need to ask!

A Long Time Coming

It’s hard to tell a story with so many twists and turns. Sometimes the anticipation and planning is more stressful than anything I’ve done before. It’s different when it’s a long term decision. The path we choose now WILL affect the next phase of our lives. Saying that out loud really brings this into perspective. The decisions we have made in the past could be wrong… we always had the time and means to make it right. This decision may not be so easy to undo.

What on earth could be so dire? Well it’s the decision about our new home on wheels.

So you may be saying, so what’s the big deal?

When you are going from a house too big for two, to a custom created camper van with a living space of 73.5 square feet. Everything you own is contained in this space. How do you decide what to keep and what to discard? We grew up in a time when at least 40 years of our lives were NOT digital. That means for a photographer… boxes and boxes of prints and negatives. I have a wood toy chest from my childhood I have lugged all over the US every time I moved. Handwritten letters from past loves, friends and family. Artwork collected from around the world.

The electronics, furniture and other STUFF is easy to part with. There is just so much STUFF to get rid of…

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The process: We have really vacillated back and forth between a very used Sprinter van to a gently used Ford Transit. My mind has been designing and redesigning our cozy living space. The main goal is usable space and storage. A space that two women and a corgi can live in comfortably. A “home on wheels” that is comfortable and inviting. Our Tiny Home.

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There is so much I have had to learn. Solar, plumbing, electrical, wood working. The imagination is strong and the ability to recreate what I see may be tough. We hopefully will be buying our van this week and the build will begin. I hope we will be able to be patient and build out our space carefully and “hell for strong”, as my dad would say.

The Hurry Up and Wait Game

The hardest thing of all this moving on is the hurry up and wait game. I guess we did it to ourselves.

In the US, perhaps as with many other countries too, forgive my ignorance… we have to invest our money in a home in order to offset some tax burdens imposed on us. Same holds true with a business… pay yourself or pay the government.

Seventeen years ago we built our dream home. We had no intention of moving outside the US or traveling to the extent we are currently planning. If you had told me back then that we would amass a good amount of money, enough to live very well on, I would’ve laughed. Today this is very much a reality.

The biggest hang up is our business and building it works out of. I have no doubt that our home will sell quickly. The business is hit or miss. The building is also a major wildcard. Part of investing in our future has been making these investments. It is the time it takes to liquidate all these that is driving me crazy.

It is the hurry up and wait game that we are embroiled in currently. People inquire about the business, the building and what not. We answer these questions and nothing seems to ever materialize. The other day some “YouTube” guys came in and took a tour. They are looking for a studio to make their videos. Another guy came in and sat down in front of me until we had so much going on I had to excuse myself. Another guy has been texting and has a walk through and interview on Tuesday. I hope that in all this action some solid lead will come.

In the meantime we continue to move forward with decluttering years of possessions. The various pieces of local artwork from different countries where we have traveled all have to go. The nick knacks, furniture and household items we have accumulated must go. It is hard to put what worldly treasures you think you want to keep and someday be reunited with, in an assortment of manageable boxes.

What will life look like when we finally land and put downs some roots again? Will we be able to live on our own and be healthy? A deep down part of me fears growing old. Being alone someday. The life of  a Gay Woman, a Vagabond, an Overlander, a World Traveler… all come with a price in the end. Growing old and alone. Hey… it’s reality. No kids, no family but those you’ve met on the road. No roots, no foundation but the means to buy whatever happiness you can… and even now that isn’t always a given unless you carry around pieces of gold.

So now… sitting in my backyard, surrounded by sounds of the birds in our little piece of forest. Somewhere in a small mountainside in Utah, my home, the simple greens of our oak trees and aspens are soothing that turmoil of fear. Life is here and now. Sometimes, yes we must settle with hurry up and wait.