March 28th, 2011
This past weekend I met up with my friends Munchie and Ali out in the Mojave Desert, near Joshua Tree. The ride out was cold and windy, but I made it without much trouble. Three hours on a small motorcycle can take its toll quickly, but once I found the back country cabin I also found my second wind. We hiked around Joshua Tree for the rest of the day until sunset. The scenery is remarkable and the hikes quite pleasant, so much so that it doesn’t make for good reading so I’ll skip ahead to the troubles of the next day.
We woke up with the sun and headed out early. We made a good hike up a small mountainside but didn’t stay long. Munchie had to drive back up to San Francisco for a flight back to Chicago later that night. We headed back to the cabin and I checked over my bike before we parted ways. I was dangerously low on oil and most of my electrical system had wiggled itself loose. I tightened everything up and dumped a quart of oil in the motor. But the 42 year old motorcycle wouldn’t start.
Why Munchie chose to rent a cabin in the middle of the desert is beyond me. We were a few miles from even the smallest town and time to fix my bike was time we did not have. They still had a nine hour drive to SF and it was fast approaching mid afternoon. I had them drop me off in town and I ushered them on their way. I would have to figure this out on my own now, stranded in the devil’s desert. I was completely alone now with very few options.
But what is life without a little disaster and adventure?
I decided not to get too worried about. After all, I enjoy some unknown in my life and these are usually the best times. I wasn’t sure how being stranded in the desert would end up being a good thing, but I am forever hopeful. Another thing I kept thinking about is how no one would care to know about my nice pleasant trip out to nature if nothing went wrong. In a way, I almost had to be thankful.
Great times don’t always make for great stories.
So I hitch hiked across town to the only auto parts store that had any life in it. It was Sunday and damn near everything in this town was closed. I resolved myself to staying in a roach motel until Monday, where I had hoped this town would come to life. At least that way I can hire a mechanic to come out with me. I soon learned that most shops out in the desert take their weekends on Sunday and Monday. This would mean being stranded for at least two days, with time and money I wasn’t really interested in spending. So I bought some spark plugs and a socket wrench. I figured if it wasn’t an electrical issue, I may have fouled the plugs burning through the oil. I was going to have to get myself out of the desert. As I sat in the shade trying to hitch a ride back to the middle of the desert to my bike, I saw my savior pull up.
A lifted, boxy Jeep Cherokee pulls up to the gas station across the way. It’s painted in decals reminiscent of the famous #3 Dale Earnhardt race car. I beeline to him, hoping he could give me a lift to my bike and maybe even trouble shoot with me if I can’t figure it out. I find out his name is Randy and he lives in the area. He runs a small business dealing in Nascar collectibles and was working across the way at the local swap meet.
So I jump in and Randy takes me back to the swap meet where he gathers up his trailer of goods. I’ve never been to swap meet in the desert, and it’s probably a good thing. The temptation to throw away the minimalist lifestyle would be too much. Something about the folks that shift goods around in the desert… somehow the most unusual and fascinating things end up in the desert. This place felt like an American version of a Bedouin community.
Randy and I zig-zag across the unnamed, unpaved roads of the Mojave. He seems to know exactly where is he going. We find my motorcycle sitting pretty like an oasis. I jump out and tighten down all the loose electrical (the battery terminals, the regulator rectifier, and the starter solenoid). We connect the jumper cables and the 1969 motorcycle kicks to life. It was as simple as that; some loose wires, a dead battery, and a jump.
Oh, and I forgot to mention. Ten years ago Randy was involved in a horrifying accident where his Jeep Cherokee rolled two and a half times. In the mountains. He was pinned between his Jeep and the road, crushing his chest and severing his spinal cord. He is paralyzed from the chest down. But none of this stopped him from being the most lively guy I could’ve hoped to meet in the desert. He is not only as strong as an ox, but he is so full of excitement and life. And he was willing to help out a complete stranger. He exemplifies the ‘today you, tomorrow me’ mantra.
So when life hands you lemons, even if you’re stranded in the desert or a truck lands on your chest, you may as well focus on the good and make some lemonade.