I knew I was in trouble roughly 10 miles out of Barstow. I just didn’t realize how much trouble I was in for.
Setting off from Wildomar with 2 gallons of water, 2 liter Camelbak, and a neck scarf, I thought I was well-prepared for crossing the Mohave desert in 110 degree heat. Of course, I’d also planned on restocking my water as I rode across.
Except the forecast was way off (not that it would have mattered, I’d have ridden anyway). The 120+ degree heat was the kind of heat that makes you shiver with , as the body tries to manage its environment. Fully covered and soaking wet didn’t make much difference. It was hot enough that a fully soaked pair of jeans would dry in less than three miles.
The waves undulate across the road, giving credence to the Hollywood “mirage.” Roiling waves of dancing heat raised up like ghosts screaming out of the black asphalt, exiting hell as fast as they might crowd through the doors.
I’d brought along eggs, to see if I could really cook an egg on the roadway. Nope…not in Barstow; it was only 122.
Two gallons of water to soak clothing didn’t last long, and with heat this intense, I needed shelter.
There are several exits, but nothing there for protection. Exit 260 offered up a fenced in, boarded up gas station, so I pulled over, carefully broke in, and hid for a couple of hours. It was as though the human in me had turned into a reptile, hiding from the sun as my body began to shut down. Although I’m not a fan of breaking and entering, it was a solution to the situation at hand. The only problem was, no water could be found, and I needed water if this was going to be a successful crossing. My two liter Camelbak was empty in about an hour. After reading my Kindle for a few hours, I knew I needed to get rolling if I was going to find an open gas station where I could refill my water tanks.
To ‘check the winds,’ I put down another egg. This one cooked, sorta. However, I balanced my need for water against staying until cooler temps prevailed. The need for water won out.
Speeding to a gas station I knew was approximately 30 miles away was no good. It too, was fenced off and out of business. It wasn’t a time for fear, yet nervousness set in. I’m at least 20 miles from water, it’s 127 degrees, and I’ve got nothing.
The headaches and chills had already set in, coupled with pained eyes and color shift, signifying dehydration. Urine became clear, and there were no other options but to move, and move fast.
Thankfully, a friend caught me on my cell and stayed with me as I rode to a gas station where I was able to get some ice, four gallons of water, and sit for a couple hours until the heat started to reduce. The gas station was kind enough to give me some ice from their display bucket (was all they had). Oily, gas-flavored water never tasted so good.
When the thermometer was below 120, I set off for Baker. What an idiot I was.
Baker brought me more water, gas, and a few minutes to grab a bite to eat, and by now, I knew it would be a normal ride into Vegas.
As I entered Vegas at darkfall, fireworks began to light up the sky. Entering the south end of the city, I swear I saw at least 25 fireworks shows lighting up, and these continued until I was well past the north end of the speedway. It was a delightful dream, flying through the middle of these explosions in the sky, signifying a dazzling celebration of our independence. What started out as a bad idea had transformed into a wondrous evening. And it only gets better.
Just as I passed Area 51, the sky seemed to explode, followed by nature’s own fireworks. It was as though the sky wanted to celebrate Independence Day along with the rest of us. Overwhelming emotions struck, as I’d not experienced lightning in quite some time.
And then I smelled it; the ozone hinting at rain. And rain it did. I couldn’t believe the beauty, intensity of the lightning, the soft splat of the raindrops on my face (even at 90mph). Listening to Whitesnake’s “Summer Rain” while riding through a desert rainstorm was something out of a film fantasy, a panoply of emotion and love for life, a portent of things to come, and a ritual cleansing of recent experience.
As I rode, I stripped off my Skydive Elsinore T-shirt and threw it to the side as an offering to the desert winds. I stood on my highway pegs and put my arms out (it looked a little like Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic, only a whole lot less sexy). A truck pulled up beside me and the drivers hand gestures suggested he was concerned for my mental health, riding shirtless, standing in the rain, at 90 mph. P
The rain continued off and on into Virgin River Gorge where the rocks were filled with that incredible scent of dusty roses after a rain, sage, and fresh, clean earth. Hard as I try, words cannot properly capture that beauty-filled moment. It may have been 2 a.m. when I arrived at my night’s lodging, but for me, this was the most wonderful day of celebrated independence ever and I felt as though I’d just jumped out of bed, renewed by a deep night’s slumber.
What started as a ‘perfect storm’ of stupidity ended with a perfect storm of desert rain, baptized in love, light, clean water, and an enlightened spirit and soul, providing the courage I need for things to come. What began in trepidation headed for tragedy, slowly built to a dance of amazement, beauty, love, and light. Ending in a skygasm of thunder, lightning, and a lovely, soul-clearing rain.
Today, I feel alive, fortunate, energized, and loving this very short life in an aging man’s body.