I have been on the road now for seven months. There is a rhythm to it. Stay in one place too long and the urge to move is overwhelming. Go too far, too fast and it feels too much like starting over every day.
I have spent the winter hiding from the rain on the high desert in the Southwest. I was in Arizona for a couple of months – the sunrises and sunsets are awesome.
The light during the rest of the day just beats you up. I started my hikes before dawn. The desert in the Southwest is wind, sand, loud engines and big pick-up trucks. Empty lots of sand, scrub and blowing trash all over the place.
Along Lake Havasu, London Bridge appears like a mirage in the early morning light. An American genius reassembled the Victorian bridge in the middle of nowhere, in order to sell houses in the desert. It worked.
There are those tucked-away settlements where residents water substantial lawns on a regular basis and drive air-conditioned luxury cars to air-conditioned office buildings, but those people one rarely sees. For folks on the street, there seems to be a freedom out here in the desert, an unwillingness to conform. This must be connected to the huge skies and the enduring landscape.
I stayed along the Colorado river for a while. I had heard it was dying, but it seems to be doing ok. The Salton Sea, however, is dying, salt and pollution are turning the water on the shore brown. It took me a week to bleach the smell out of my tanks after I took on (supposedly filtered) water nearby. Apparently the lake was created by accident and has nowhere to go.
I am in Palm Springs now. Will be until April. This is the place to be in Winter (esp. if you have a leak in the roof). I am staying with the crowd at the Thousand Trails park. Huge RVs, costing $200, 000 – $400,000 dwarf my 22-foot Tioga Arrow. I can understand why this lifestyle is growing. These mostly older, retired couples have all the comforts of home and the option to live wherever they want. Warm weather is important of course, but I have talked to many who change locations several times a year, visiting friends and relatives. Some maintain a house, a home base. Increasingly, folks are going on the road full-time.
The first time I found myself without any sort of Wifi or cell phone connection was a wake-up call. There are times when I don’t have access to the outside world, nor do I have photographs or words to work on. I can meditate for a while because I have been doing that most of my life, but I am no zen monk. I am learning, in the morning, to watch the light fall into the hills and valleys. I am learning to watch how my mind jumps up and down over the course of a day, first this way and then that … watching to see where it might go next. And I am practicing a nap here and there, although I have yet to actually sleep.
There is a theme that emerges from the conversations I have with others on the road. Everyone is keen to share something new, something unexpected that they have encountered or a change in a previously known situation. Unlike many casual conversations, politics rarely comes up. There is an certain awareness, a sense of the instability of life on the road that lends an air of respect to encounters with others. Since it is impossible to know what this life is like before you do it, it’s a good bet that most people got fed up with something and took life into their own hands.
My time in the Southwest will be over soon. I will be on the road north as it dries up, leaving the sand on the beaches and the desert behind. Trading wide-open spaces for rivers and forests. From what I remember, life under those huge redwood trees is the opposite of life in the desert. In fact, as I shift from one environment to another, I am the only constant I am aware of (besides Alice, my 1996 Tioga). It not so much that I am changing as it is that I am emerging, amidst all this uncertainty.
There are moments, like this one is Pismo Beach, when I am looking at a landscape that has literally shifted a hill into a valley after a storm … feeling the power of the earth, watching the waning light from the setting sun slide off the dunes. Then I look up as a white streak is flashing across the sky. In my mind, I see a couple of hundred people, walking around, going to the bathroom, reading airport paperbacks and working on laptops, speeding across the sky in a metal missile.
I can’t keep both observations in my mind at once. The sizes don’t match. I have to go back to the RV and take a nap.