Tryna get to sunny Californy…
Strapped for cash and car-less, we decide to hitch to the Badwater Basin from Ashland, Oregon. It would be nice to own a car for such endeavors, but it’s paramount to my lifestyle that I possess nothing except for backpacking gear, a pair of jeans, a shirt, a vibrator, and a french press.
Any time three women hitch together it’s sure to draw a lot of attention. Our fellow Americans stare, gasp, howl, cat call, finger point, psych us out, flip us off, wave, smile, they are spooked and shocked, visibly agitated and proud in their shiny metal boxes. We wait patiently while the circus rolls by. “Where is Badwater?” they ask. “It’s located in Death Valley, we’re going on a backpacking trip!” we say with girl scout enthusiasm. “Why would anyone want to go there? And especially on foot?” they say concerned.
The folks who pick us up are confident and friendly, and have at one time or another hitch hiked themselves. I’ll never forget the hungover, tribal tatted, beefy dude who was headed to his grandmother’s funeral. Upset by her death or trying to fix his hangover, he reaches into a small cooler and pulls out a Corona Light. Outwardly he looks like a hard ass but he’s clearly a delicate man and takes us out for ice cream. He orders fries but can’t eat, so he lets us have them. And so there we were sitting at a picnic table somewhere in God knows where California sharing a bit of waking life with this guy who would normally have nothing to do with women like ourselves.
Two days later…
We’re on the homestretch, less than a 100 miles from Badwater Basin. We’ve been sitting beyond the black stump in Death Valley for who knows how long as shiny rental cars blow by us. They don’t even bother to look. “Crap, a bunch of tourists!” I brood. It’s almost 3:00 pm, the hottest part of the day. I see a cop car on the horizon and put my thumb away. He passes. “WTF!?” I scoff. He slams on the breaks and whips around.
He’s intrigued by our presence in Death Valley rather than suspicious. Turns out he’s on his way to the Furnace Creek visitors center, located only 30 minutes from Badwater Basin. But before we can pile in, he has to run our ID’s. This makes me feel paranoid even though I know I have no warrants. But did I pay that one ticket from that one time? I can’t remember.
Nothing comes back. Phew.
“Can you drop us by the Panamint Springs resort? We need to see about caching food.”
“Yeah, but make it quick I’ve got somewhere to be.”
While planning this hike, we called the Panamint Springs resort about sending a resupply box, but the guy hung up on us three times. Carrot decided that the resort shut down due to a zombie apocalypse (or perhaps Ebola) and this one dude was the sole survivor. We imagined him holed up in the office, shot gun in hand, with no time to deal with frivolous affairs such as ours.
This is only the second time I’ve ridden in the back of a cop car. The first time I was 11 years old. I had been out passed curfew on a bike ride in the sleepy town of Perry, Ohio. When I saw the cop car coming I did what all great criminals do, I ran and hid in a cornfield. But I made a rookie mistake, I left my bike by the side of the road. Behind a cornstalk, I watched the cop inspect my bike. I decided I’d wait until he left but he stuck around. After an hour I’d had enough, and emerged with my hands up crying. He delivered me back to my mother who decided it was funny rather than disconcerting.
On the way to Panamint Springs the cop tells us about an obese man who, afflicted with gangrene, decided to kill himself by walking across Death Valley in 130 degree heat without water. He made it 5.5 miles.
I examine the landscape over and over from the cop car window.”Only 5.5 miles huh?” It is the most uninviting desert landscape I have ever seen. There are black rocks and sand. And more black rocks and sand. I think of the obese man. I’m already sweating profusely. A wave of dread brushes over me. Have we got in way over our heads?
You should have seen the look on people’s faces when we got out of the cop car at Panamint Springs. They can’t figure out what we are. I think of a scene from the movie “Blazing Saddles,” when Hedley Lamarr asks Taggart to round up every “vicious criminal and gunslinger in the west.” Lamarr asks for “rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists.”
Finding a pen and paper Taggart asks, “Could you repeat that sir?”
The guy at the restaurant tells us to talk to the guy at the store about caching our food. But it’s a flat out “No!” from the guy at the store. So we ask the cop what we should do.”Bury it in the desert somewhere!” He is definitely one of the coolest cops in the world. Carrot and I run behind the store, cross our fingers and chuck the bags of food in a bush. No one sees us. Phew! Now that we have our water and food caches placed, we’re ready to hike!
But we still don’t make it to Badwater Basin, the cop drops us off just shy at the Furnace Creek visitor’s center. It’s getting late, and we’re tired of hitching, and itching to hike. “Leave a notice at the visitor’s center about your plans. And don’t hesitate to call for help if you need it,” he says before parting ways. I watch him drive off and question my skepticism about the humanity of cops.
We chug some water and hustle European tourists for rides. They don’t speak English well and ignore us like we’re homeless. When we do get a chance to talk to someone about what we’re going to do, they don’t really get it. Why would they? Why would anyone want to venture outside of the visitor’s center? Or just a couple yards from their car? The first thing you see when you enter the visitor’s center is a sign that warns, “Number of heat related deaths since April: 4.”
Finally, 45 minutes before dark we get a ride from a Chinese couple headed to Vegas. I introspectively watch the landscape present itself to me. This will be my home for the next 6 days.
A coyote casually crosses the road ahead. “See there is life here,” I think to myself “all we gotta do is find the water.”