Death Valley

October 25, 2010

Sunday, 1:23 PM October the 24th, Starbucks, Cheyenne and Buffalo Avenues, Las Vegas. I just got here.

I left Los Angeles on Friday night around 6 PM. I went to the Coffee Gallery and suddenly I could not stand the thought of just hanging around.

But I gotta backtrack some. Friday, 3:00 PM, October 22nd, Harley Davidson of Glendale. I had a meeting there with Oliver, the owner. The reason : the Love Ride. The Love Ride is a charity benefit that has been going on for years. Last year it did not happen because of the hard economic times, this year it’s on and they are limiting the number of bikes to 1000. In the past there has been rides with 18 000 bikes… Holy rolling thunder.

Harley Davidson of Glendale

What do I have to do with the Love Ride? Well, with the love ride there always is music… so make the connections : bikes + music = me these days. A friend connected the dots and Oliver liked my music and everything serendipitously fell into place. Jay Leno leads the ride that goes from Glendale to a ranch in Malibu. It might even be riding a Harley for the occasion. I’ll let you know.

I left Harley Davidson of Glendale and a few traffic lights later I just kind of realized what had just taken place : On November 7th I get to play a gig hosted by Jay Leno, in Malibu, on the strength of a recommendation and some of my MP3’s on line, in front of many, many people, with Forrest… My heart burst. I was whooping under my helmet. Saying OH MY GOD! over and over. The meeting had been kind special in the sense that the vibe was so good and everyone was open and supportive. Magic.

My ride after the meeting took me to the Coffee Gallery. I had soup. Checked my email. Talked to a few folks. Then the inside of the CG seemed too small, so I went outside. I sat on the sidewalk next to the bike. I took a look at the maps. Then the outside seemed too still and I decided to ride out. Lets go East. I’ve been wanting to see the desert since I came back from Nashville. So lets go. Lets just go.

I walked back inside to put some extra clothes on, got caught in more conversations while the minutes of day light whittled away. I finally made it out the door and onto the bike.

6 PM, got about an hour or so of light. Get on the 210 East. Get over the HOV lane. Alternatively split lanes and ride along traffic. I get a thumb up from a rider. Likely the BC plate and the luggage. Yeah, I packed the bike up this morning.. I guess leaving was in the air already.

There’s some drizzle near San Bernardino. I don’t care. Lets go.

Veer into 215 North. Then hook on 15 North. The traffic is thick. It gets colder as we climb through the mountains. Really cold. Fog cold. Brake lights. Slow down. I keep a steady pace, poster child for defensive driving. The fog subsides around the Apple Valley sign. The traffic thins out. I relax a bit.

After Barstow things change. It’s not a commuters traffic anymore. You can see the road miles and miles ahead. A long string of white lights to the left and red tail lights to the right, an endless ribbon in the blackness of the night.

These people feel to me like they are “going somewhere”. There is determination. It’s Friday night. Maybe it’s the call of Sin City? What else could it be? There is nothing else out here. Cars come bunched up in groups, I managed to position myself in an empty space between these groupings. That happened after I stopped to get gas. A busy multiple pump station where even cowboys come to fill up.

Cowboys at the gas station

Somehow I found myself alone on the road. I’ve noticed that over and over again. You follow traffic and you are trapped in this annoying pace and situation where you can sense the aggression, impatience, people passing one another just to be “in front”. But if you stop, get off the treadmill, you can find yourself a nice roomy piece of highway… so there I am, lost in my thoughts. The people passing me drive sports, muscle, fancy cars racing one another. Corvette , Mustangs, Mercedes, Barracudas and those Chrysler’s square, macho looking cars. A couple of Harley’s pass me. Some gang guys, can’t quite read their jackets. One has his hands on handlebars above shoulder level as if crucified to his bike. Could never quite imagine doing that to my shoulders.

Cities are masses of lights, like lakes in the darkness, lighting the skies of a yellowish glow. Cars, speed, cold, engine sound. I got my feet on the back pegs, I have not taken a deep breath yet.

Baker. Exit ramp. Downshift in the dark. I was in Baker back in late August or was it early September? It was over 100 degrees F, a furnace on broil. Tonight it’s nothing like that. The air is balmy almost cold. I pull into the Mad Greek restaurant. As I get off the bike the two bikers pull in. They probably got gas before getting here.

I order food. Burger. It’s OK, not great. I pull out the maps, time to make some decisions. Where do I go? it’s either Death Valley. 127 North or keep going on the 15 and see Vegas on a Friday night. That would be quite the light show.

I chose to go North. The best light show to me is still the full moon over the desert and tonight is a full moon night. Get some gas and proceed.

It does not take 2 miles that I am out of humanity. No homes. Cars. nothing but the moon, a gigantic sky and the desert lit up by the moon. I see a coyote cross the road. Finally. Alone.

The bike runs steady. My bike. I put my hand on the tank in a gentle caress. You’ve taken me all over this country… You still run, you are hurt, but you still run. I’m so comfortable on this machine. This machine that has become my home. I keep looking at the moon and the clouds, the mountains and the flats that are visible almost like on a photo negative. The mountains in the distance are veiled by a thin fog, they beckon. Me riding on this strip of blacktop, surrounded, right and left by these timeless mountains. They call. Fogged, attractive, mysterious, like the sirens, they would probably kill me if I answered that call.

Oh that I could veer into them and be absorbed by it all. Disappear. I cry.

It’s been kind of wild lately. I can’t get into it… but it wears me down. What am I to learn from this all? That the world is crazy? I knew that.

I’m sad to no end.

It does not matter how far you go. It does not matter how strong you are. It does not matter where you are…. You are always brought back to this fundamental misunderstanding. Us, them, me, you. You will always find someone ready to lose it all and destroy everything in order to be right.

I cry and yell at the Gods :

I DON’T UNDERSTAND.

….

WHAT AM I SUPPPOSED TO LEARN FROM THIS?

…..

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM ME?

…..

WHERE DO I GO NOW?

…..

The road glides by. The night desert velvet meshing with the sound of my 750 who runs and runs for me. My face is soaked. I feel like throwing up, a deep pit in my stomach and I cry and cry.

WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO???

And right then and there this big shooting star streaks the sky. And I cry even more, it’s so beautiful. Who am I to ask questions? And yes, thank you for all the blessings, the gifts, the courage to keep on. I don’t want to be greedy or vindicative…. I still don’t understand. Maybe I never will. So much beauty. So much sadness. The gifts, the punches. Yin yang, good, bad… As I said in a song… I got a chronic human condition…. ride, ride, but you can’t hide.

I get to the campsite at Death’s Valley National Park after trying to look at my maps on the road side by the bike’s headlight. I got about 20 miles of gas left. I’m really tired. I look at the time and it’s’ 12:42. It’s really quiet, everyone sleeps. I can see three campsites with motorcyclists. One of the riders does like me : he sleeps on the picnic table. I pull out my sleeping bag and every move I make is like a loud cracks and bangs in the night. Maybe it’s the desert emptiness that does that but it’s embarrassingly loud. Sorry guys…

I slip into the bag with my leathers on. I close my eyes, my head rests on my jacket and Leo is tucked inside the sleeping bag. The wind wakes me up a few times. The whistling…. could drive someone mad. I pull the sleeping bag over my head, it’s quieter. The moon is still there. magicking the scenery into an unforgettable picture I could never take with any camera. Sear it in my brain before I forget, immortalize it in my memory while I can, before life finds a way to stop me. So beautiful. So beautiful… I fall asleep.

I wake up grumpy, lack of water maybe? I went to bed without water… I actually left town without water, and as I was getting ready to sleep I was just wanting to drink water, thirsty to no end. But I had none so I went without promising myself to find some in the morning. I paid for the camping, headed out. I never had dreams of water before, last night it kept coming back calling, teasing. The desert.

Furnace Creek Chevron and Furnace Creek resort were 1/4 miles down the road. Gas for the Suzuki, Water for me. The “resort” has been around since the 30’s : accomodations, golf (imagine the water needed…) store, restaurant, pub, museum, carriage rides and more… there are people from all around the globe touristing around. I get breakfast and about 6 glasses of water and head out.

desert

Death Valley is quite amazing. Different shades of desert, mountains, sand, rocks, foreboding, attractive, all at once… I feel we are really cheating. Visiting a place like this in the summer is like teasing a cageless lion with a fresh bloody piece of meat.

I end up on the wrong road, well who said which road was to be the right one? But I am way East when I had planned North. There is a gas station there, I can’t even locate it now on Google maps, that is how small it is. There I studied the maps and tried to figure out where to go. Could continue East and go to Sequoia National park. On the other hand, I wanted to go towards Vegas… I decided to head North, then I’ll redirect East again.

The scenery around here looks like the heart of an angry man. The rocks are burnt, dark, black, barely anything grows, the mountains are bare, the color of dried blood stains. Everything has a sharp, cutting edge, threatening to cut. I meet another biker at a vista point where I stopped to put more clothes on as I was freezing.

angry scenery

“You comin’ from the North or South? ”

He’s an overweight guy riding some sort of gigantic Honda cruiser bike.

“South’”

“Is it nicer down there? ’cause up there it was just ugly”

“It is warmer down there” I said.

“Where ya headin’?”

“Dunno, just going” I replied. ”

“Yeah, me too, just goin’… … well be safe.”

“You too, take care” I said.

He went his way, I went mine. It’s cold, windy and inhospitable. I just zig and zag down the road. I need some espresso… punch in the GPS : Starbucks. Some 60 miles North. OK. That is where I am going.

I land in Bishop CA. Get coffee. Check email. I end up sitting on the valve of my camel back. There is water all over the bench, the floor and my butt…. sigh.

mountains near Bishop CA

I leave realizing I have to backtrack to Big Pine then up the mountains across the passes on the 168. I am not a fan of backtracking but here we go. there is no choice, the mountains dictate where you cross and where you don’t. It’s maybe 4:30 or 5 PM. Got some light left but I’m going to have to hurry. In retrospect, I can’t imagine what could have happened if I had ridden this mountain at night.

This place has been severely flooded recently. There is hair pin turns, gravel all over the road, sand that has been carried by instant rivers of water down the mountain sides. It looks like it was violent. Unforgiving. The road is narrow and snarly with dips and 180 blind turns with red gravel scattered all over the lane. This is the first time I really miss the third gear. Too high or too low on 2 and 4. I’m actually kind of scared. The bike feels unsteady, it is actually shitty on sand… my front tire wobbly. I slow right down. Some passages are like hallways of mustard rock, some turns offer you deep cliffs on the right and rock walls on the right, the road narrows to a single lane, I pray for no incoming idiot. No sight seeing around here, keep your eye on the road.

I get out of that to find an immense stretch of highway that leads into another set of mountains. I floor it. The sun gets down slowly but surely. There is a ranch in the distance. I get to the other set of mountains with it’s tight turning two lane narrow road.

on the stretch between two mountain passes

Timing being everything I was grateful that I arrived a few seconds early enough to see the semi truck come out of the next blind turn… Loaded with hay and taking the whole width of the two lanes to execute his curve. I stop, he goes by, I start again, a second truck emerges from that blind turn… he stops, let me by. A few seconds and this could be a different story. Or no story at all.

When I finally get out of the mountains I am on a long stretch that hosts Joshua trees. To my right the sky is pink with the last remnants of the sun’s presence. The place is like a long lost dream. I pick up speed. It’s downright cold now. I got wool sweater, coat liner, rain jacket, long tights under the leather pants and I’m cold. I’m fucking cold. I don’t dare putting on the electric vest. Can’t have a dead battery out here.

I made it to Beatty around 7 PM. Frozen, almost out of gas again but in one piece.

I filled up at a hotel, casino, candy store, gas station place. Gigantic… I’m a bit shell shocked, I look around, there are lights everywhere, the buzz of neon lights, shiny cars, flashing bulbs inviting us all in. I decide to go find a hotel and a hot bath. Can’t really spend the money but I’m too fried not to. I get to the Atomic Inn… a bit strange but the room is nice the blankets warm and there is a bath. Of course the wi-fi does not work… but whatever. I get to bed, surf mindlessly from channel to channel seeing parts of Jurassic park, Law & Order bomb squad, and some other meaningless tv junk.

a neighbor came to say hi

the Phoenix Atomic motel in Beatty NV

Sunday. I made it to Las Vegas. I’m still feeling lost. The Gods are not replying to me. I met a few people on the road. Pat in Beatty, she was selling pommegrates from her tree on the side of the road… she used to live in Vancouver, has a daughter in Whistler and a son who is a drug addict in the downtown Eastside… She asked me what’s next and I honestly don’t know.

Pat and the pommegranates

I acutely feel the fact that I have no home. That I am at the mercy of strangers. My future is a blank page. I hang up in the stratosphere with those questions floating around me. I don’t have the luxury to wait and ponder because I am on the road with a thin margin of error between cliffs and rock walls. … I have to trust. As I have trusted, blindly, blissfully, offering my soul to the Gods as a canvas for them to paint.

I have two shows coming up one of them the Love Ride… I am looking forward to that. Very much so.

I have a bike that needs attention. Very much so.

I want to keep making the music, write the book, prepare the album. Very much so.

These are the things I know for sure. Everything else is hidden in the fog right now. I thought a ride in the desert would help. I keep hoping it will because right now I feel I am bouncing on a tight rope wobbling ungracefully.

My challenge. My strength. My life. My art. All this, to juggle on a planet where gravity rules, where the body of flesh misleads, and where winter swaggers in, bragging, unapologetic.

faceless

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2 Responses to “Death Valley”

  1. David Walker Says:

    Sorry Danielle,
    I wrote a whole bunch here and hit a wrong key and it all disappeared in an instant :–(
    You drove throuh a part of California we used to go to for holidays since the early 1950’s. I envy you your moonlight night.

    Most people do not get it, what is real and what is truly beautiful and being alone with that is sad. I believe that Buddhists would say that with enlightenment comes profound sadness. I am afraid of that.

    love,
    david


  2. Rain in the high desert; reminds me of 6th-9th grade in 29 Palms, when the rain finally came we would wait a day or two and then you could go out (and not get bogged down) and look very closely, and the teeintsy little flowers would pop out of the hardpan in their only opportunity to bloom and set seed for the next cycle.

    Miles of forbidding greasewood desert with an occasional Joshua tree, but carpeted with colors – all colors – so small you have to put your face down to them (and mind the burrs and other things that bite!) to even see them. One of Nature’s little miracles.

    Everything green is a gray-green, thick-skinned, saving moisture, but rain makes this magic moment happen. In a week, it’s all done, gone, closed-up shop and back to the dry.

    Chuckawallas burrowing under the greasewoods for a safe spot from the sun and coyotes, sidewinder and kangaroo rat doing their dance of life, the translucent tan big and little scorpions looking for their dinner, the slow ‘stink-bugs’ that the Cherokee medicine man Rolling Thunder (see Doug Boyd’s book) called, IIRC, a Thunder Beetle.

    Thanks for the jog! The songwriter in your heart beats my narrative every day, but perhaps you can see it and make it a part of your memories too.


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