A Small Store and Slim Jim’s
A tiny settlement of wooden structures next to a run-down gas station where a few families are living is where we turn to buy frozen burrito’s and potatoes. Two dogs come running, trying to chase people away from the only store I came upon this day.
The dogs are named ‘Trouble’ and ‘Honey’. Soon I see they are being fed Slim Jim’s for consolation, by a woman whose arms are dotted with random tattoos, her T-shirt reveals one roll of her stomach. Trouble is severely beaten and shoot at by the neighbor, he lost one eye in the battle. The woman who feeds the dog a Slim Jim has her grandmother living here, and together with her own mother -both with a couple of children from different husbands- they’re working in the shop. I wonder why people choose to live out here? While cycling parallel with the Gila River but away from sealed roads and farmers, I wondered about the almost nothingness where electricity poles still supply something. The length of a day cycling I notice electricity wires are leading to only one house out in the desert. I come to know that some people choose to live here because they are afraid. They are building fortifications. They despise Mexicans who they think are taking their jobs. They hate black people, gays and Obama. They want to keep their guns because they need to protect themselves. They perhaps want to live out here so they can avoid all that has to do with government. Of course, some people can do without electricity and they might be ending up in homesteads. Living alone in the desert is something I might even be able to.
A wondrous America
The route through the desert, around Joshua Tree, right in the heart of the Mojave is one of a great beauty. Of oddity too. Countless numbers of shoes are dangling from abandoned gas stations or somewhere what has become a pair-of-shoes-artwork. Cycling through Ehrenberg is another eerie experience. This little town feels depressing and poor. As if people arrived here in an old Recreation Vehicle where the tires went flat, and never left. There are no thrift stores, only yard sales along the road. The sheriff is stationed in a long wooden trailer, just like all the people out here. Trailers surrounded by fences, with people mostly being inside. Homeless guys are walking towards the highway, a pit-bull faithfully following their gaits. To come here was over a road between agricultural fields, a road flat as the Netherlands and with nothing to hide behind for peeing. I decide to cycle further on sandy roads next to canals designed for watering the fields.
Cycling on through enormous agricultural fields
Whorls of spider webs fly around, the spider-young moves through the wind to another territory, thereby covering our bicycles in what looks like cotton candy. i spot many birds -Prairie Falcon, Northern Harrier, Swainsons Hawk- and the biggest I can almost recognize. Our ears will soon be filled with the howls of coyotes, their young trying to imitate and a beautiful, fun sound make me laugh. I accidentally sit down in a cactus and am surprised by the precisely grabbing needles, a wonderful job done by nature. When the spectacular light of the evening turns into a million starry sky it soon gets cold. I wrap myselves under the cover of the tent and sleep on, watching a rabbit flipping its white tail. The silence unwrap itself as a soapy bell around my ears. The space is so enormous that a human brain seem not to comprehend. When I look around it is with a bright blue background, or a deep black surrounded by downward flashes of light. The notion of free style camping and the earth to make my home when and where I want is absolute.
The Mexican -or Oman or Liberia- feel
To feel as a Mexican trying to cross the border is soon becoming a daily experience. Uncountable border patrol jeeps pass by, light airplanes fly the border constantly. Helicopters zoom through the stark blue sky and the bushes where I hide are often littered with cheap plastic backpacks, clothes and plastic bottles which kept them alive on their treacherous journey across the desert.
White buses drive through the agricultural fields, buses like the yolk yellow ‘Blue Bird’ school bus. Those white buses carry Mexican immigrants who work on the fields. Many of the people might be illegal and sometimes when I ask them for water they only speak Spanish but my smile is always received by warm genuine grins and waves of their arms. It reminds me of the emirates, or Oman. Sometimes I am even reminded of cycling in Liberia, when I pass shacks built-in sand, when I see the curbs painted fresh yellow and the bright white line in the middle of the road, the mess of electricity wires above the street, thew wooden buildings. The America I cycle through shows little abundance, rather a sad poorness. Except for the RV’s, ‘recreation’ vehicles the size of a luxury coach -about twice the size of a Mexican school bus- often outfitted with a car dragged behind it, or a buggy, or motorbikes, or a boat, or all. America is the land of plenty, right?!
Mecca, a town near Salton Sea, shows little resembles with Mecca in Saudi Arabia: men with silver teeth, slot hats and black mustaches are playing the mouth harmonium, laughing and drinking Budweiser Light. I am greeted with ‘buenos tardes‘ and passed by Mexican ladies just about to burst through the seams of their leggings. I eat street taco’s while I reconsider the beauty of pelicans flying over at Salton Sea. Where my feet sunk deeper and deeper into the cracked earth, which felt like the hardened upper layer of a muffin. Where my tent was tucked between the dense smoke-trees, velvety branches moist and the earth covered with dead fish.
A little conversation along the road
‘You can eat everything, I imagine?’ asks a young Canadian woman feeding her slightly over weighted Labrador a vanilla ice-cream at a large, terrible loud and cigarette smelling gas-station while eating a Cinnabon roll.
‘Yes, I start the day with cookies or muffins,’ I answers, while I think of the innumerable times I had fries and quesadillas, burrito’s and sometimes cookies with a date shake.
‘I am also a kind of nomad,’ she continues while her Labrador ogle’s at a bird. Her boyfriend laughs hard: ‘You? A nomad? You prefer to stay in 3-star hotels only.’ The young woman admits, though she know how to experience the wanderer feeling.
The Mojave desert
America is far from cheap, having taken a step back from my beloved budgetary reign. Food can be incredible good and I try not to economize on Medjoul dates, dried fruit like banana, ginger, papaya and mango and carbo-chunks with spirulina from a health shop in Joshua Tree. Those items goes particularly well on 100 mile stretches without services. I could, of course, ride those barren expanses in 2 days but I prefer to take it real easy. Enjoying breakfasts of home-made fries with loads of mayonnaise. Ampling the warmth of the morning sun while building camp fires, afterward washing the pan and pot with sand. I prefer to stop long enough before it gets dark, so I can take in the heart of the Mojave where colors rivals with one and another without envy. The route around Joshua Tree is much more interesting than the park itself, it’s void of traffic and I have no trouble with arranged camping spots. I have nature áll to myself, instead of lipsticked woman in the toilet building shrieking out: ‘You came all the way from Mecca by bicycle! Oh, I would love to cycle too!’
Entering Arizona is a complete difference with South California. Streets are wide and empty. There’s a lot of agriculture along the Colorado river. Cotton and alfalfa are pressed into huge barrels. From a distance they look like truck or sea containers, those where people in Africa sometimes have their business in. There’s the delicious smell of hay, the sound of coyotes and the autumn-colors of cottonwood and smoke-tree together with the unusual blackness of burned palo verde. The sandy earth with its light ocher combined with the hard orange of my campfire, and the slow falling sun makes up for yet another splash of evening theater.
I pass through Glamis, a sandy desert shop catering to a RV camp and a dune-buggy community where one package of crackers ‘Original Premium with Sea Salt’ costs $6.25. The two women who run the shop are talking to a guy on Skype. I think the cashier dressed in a thin evening gown is in love with him. His soft voice is able to produce a yell over Skype: ‘Wow! 45 dollar! You can close the shop for today. What did she all buy?!’ Along the crackers I bought smoked oysters in vegetable oil, potatoes and real mayonnaise. They do have an enormous selection of all kind of Slime Tubes too, but I don’t need any since I am carrying enough (although with the wrong valve which I don’t know yet).
I pass a few cow-farms, where I am most impressed by the visibility of life. Those cows are more lucky than many of their sorts, which are cramped together on their own shit. The USA where I am located seems to be an invisible ruled country: it’s often invisible where milk comes from, just because there’s almost no life to be seen in the countryside where we cycle through.
It’s all creosote and cacti, thank you Slime Tubes!
Not far after entering Arizona I am surrounded by cactus. In the beginning I stop at each and every one, only to find out that the next cactus is bigger, taller and more beautiful than the previous one. When I am on a wide sandy track with washboard, encircled by cacti on both sides, I choose a cactus in the far distance and make that my camp for the day. That’s how I usually do things. Between giant saguaro cacti, reaching up to 20 meters in height and 150 years in age feels unreal. Once underneath my sleeping bag, quickly becoming wet once the sun has gone down, I again hear coyotes skirting their territory. Footsteps of deer and a desert fox marks my camp when I wake up. Not that got to see the fox, but the evidence is clear by a tiny heap of poo…
It is amazingly special to wake up and having my eyes wander toward the huge saguaro, erecting sky-high from my frog-perspective. These cacti seem to be elderly wise from the Aztec-era. They seem to withstand everything: cold, rain, dew, soaring heat, wind, drought. As if they oversee it all, as Queens of the Desert. Waking up under the stars, not covered by a tent, I wonder whether they took an important part by the local people such as the baobab does in Africa. To be amongst those enormous cacti is a treasure, like eating corn tortillas is, like drinking Ophra chai, like finding another Alternative Baking Company vegan cookie, like a blueberry bagel, like seeing my bicycle, and like being here is…
We cycled this part of USA in November 2014, to be continued…