Equipped with a new tire, we were more than ready to get the fuck out of sin city. We called the bellman to bring a cart up to grab our gear. I pulled the bike around while Gianna checked out, and we met the bellman out front, savoring the look of surprise on his face as wheeled this massive pile of stuff up to not a big SUV, but a single motorcycle. As usual, we drew a small crowd as we performed our bungee voodoo. Finally, it was time to leave. The bike was riding really low with that rear shock out of commission. I would have to ride very gently until we could get that fixed.
We stopped at a local sandwich shop on the way out of town, taking the several police cars out front as a sign of quality. Pro-tip for traveling: Don’t know what’s good to eat in a town you’re visiting? Eat where the cops eat. Not only is it practically a guarantee against food poisoning, but your shit probably won’t get broken into or stolen while you’re inside either. This particular place specialized in Cheese-steak sandwiches, a delight I hadn’t experienced in quite some time. It’s cheese AND steak. Together. In a single sandwich. Fucking brilliant. The walls of the joint were positively cluttered with awards, and the food didn’t disappoint. Though kind of expensive seeming at first, the sandwich you end up with is goddamn massive. It was 2 solid meals for me. Definitely a good find. We grabbed and swallowed a couple 5 hour energies from the gas station across the parking lot, filled up the bike, and finally left the infamous Sodom of the West.
Our route for the day had us winding through the myriad of roads snaking through the Mojave Desert National Preserve, turning onto a new road every 20 minutes or so. This unfortunately involved a lot of pulling over to check the iPhone and make sure we were still on course. I know they make motorcycle mountable GPS screens, and I might be inclined to recommend the use of one if you can find one that labels all the teeny back roads that are actually worth driving on.
Coming from Texas, the desert has a special place in my heart. Desert life has such an incredible tenacity, driven to flourish despite the scarcity of life-giving water. Without the trees to block the lowest 30-45 degrees of sky, the desert feels more exposed to the heavens than perhaps anyplace but mountain peaks. It’s not uncommon to be the only animal bigger than a scorpion from horizon to horizon. The desolate landscape is as beautiful as it is unforgiving, a place of union joining the naked earth to father sky.
As one might predict, the roads through this harsh preserve weren’t that well maintained, and we cringed every time the bolt dug into our new tire. Finally, we reached the border of the preserve, and took a break to smoke behind the big stone sign that marked it. Another couple hours would see us approaching Joshua tree along what I assume were salt flats, based on the complete and total absence of life for mile after mile. Only the litany of blown out tires betrayed the previous presence of other primates.
We finally arrived at the entrance to the park to find the toll booth vacant. Apparently we were after hours. We drove around the park for perhaps an hour trying to find a campsite with water, but to no avail. We eventually found a nice secluded campsite off in the back of a fairly large camping area, and set up our tent. Though Moab had been a little harsh for our tent, it was still hanging in there quite admirably. With the help of our new sturdier tent stakes and small hammer, we had no trouble getting our tent set up. Since there was no water to be found in the park, we would have to ride perhaps 10 miles back to the entrance to fill up our 5-gallon jug. Fine by me, as it was a beautiful evening, and the park has some of my favorite scenery of any place I’ve been.
We arrived at the closed visitors center to find another couple studying a map, trying to figure out where to go. While we got our water bottle out of the bike, they came over to ask us for guidance. They were pierced and tattooed, and to our surprise and delight, from Corpus Christi, Texas. We informed them there was a campsite right next to ours that was still available, and invited them to come hang out with us for the night. They had a cooler full of cold beer, and we had a big bag of grass. After hours in the desert, there was very little on the planet I wanted more than a cold beer, so the news that I could have such a thing, despite having no refrigeration of my own, was music to my wind-weary ears.
I passed a bowl around while we drank our beers and talked. The girl had gotten into hula hooping herself pretty recently, so she and Gianna bonded a bit over that. As usual, we had a bit higher tolerance than those we were smoking with, and continued to smoke a bowl or two after our company had given up. We sat and talked for a couple hours, but we were all insanely tired after a day of traveling, and soon headed to bed.
The tire had only a dotted line of damage around it, not yet a full circle, and we had made it safely to National Park number 4. After a very pretty ride through the desert, we had found fellow Texans, friends for the night. My wish for cold beer had been made manifest, and I drifted into an easy slumber, eagerly anticipating hiking around the Seussical scenery of granite and strange plants the next day.