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June 23, 2018 / annakpf11

Roads Not Taken

“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” —Confucius

DAYS TEN & ELEVEN: June 13 & 14: North Rim to Tehachapi to Richmond

I wake at 4:30 AM, as the sky begins to lighten and the birds begin to stir. Today we must vacate our campsite, but we have not decided on our next destination. My phone shows a tiny bar of cellular signal, and so I check for news of the wildfires in Colorado.

“Dave, are you awake?”

A muffled reply, “Now I am.”

“Another forest fire started in Colorado, and more roads have closed.”

Dave sits up in bed and pulls the duvet around his shoulders. “Given the information we have, there’s no clear answer.” He pauses. “We have to go with our gut, and make a choice.” Another pause. “If we drive to Barstow today, we could be home tomorrow afternoon.”

So be it. At first, we both feel deflated, but then, like a sailboat responding to a shift in the wind, we adjust our sails and set a new course. In the cool of early morning, we make our way through the gracious meadowland leading out of the park.

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A herd of buffalo moves across open ground beside us, including several nut-brown calves, one so young—or so thirsty—that it continually stops to nurse. The lead bison pauses for mother and child to catch up, and then they all plod on.

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When we turn onto Interstate 15, the busy, wind-wracked highway that will lead us through Nevada, Dave grips the wheel, and his shoulder muscles tense. Guiding Suzy in and out of turbulence on the crowded two-lane road is like steering a sailboat with a heavy weather helm.

As soon as my phone shows a strong enough signal, I take a deep breath and begin making calls to cancel reservations and plans we’d made for the next two weeks. Cutting our month-long trip short and missing out on visits with friends feels anti-climactic, and I have to remind myself that it’s no use dwelling on the road not taken.

At noon, we pass through Las Vegas, and Suzy’s outside temperature gauge reads 108 degrees. An hour later, when we stop for gas in Baker, I step out of the car and feel the soles of my shoes melt and my skin shrink closer to the bone. “Hell on earth,” says Dave. It is a frighteningly hot 113 degrees.

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The good news is that traveling in Suzy, we can cover a lot of ground. No need to stop for food, drink or restrooms; everything is on board within easy reach. We average 18 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, and our solar panels supply all our electrical needs except for microwave (so far only used as a breadbox) and air conditioning. If we need to operate the AC without electricity, we can run our built-in, propane-powered generator. If cloudy weather prevents our solar panels from storing enough energy, the generator will fill in any gaps. In short, we feel quite self-sufficient.

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After nine hours and 500 miles of sunbaked highway, we reach the oak and pine-covered slopes of Tehachapi Mountain. A steep cul-de-sac leads to a scattering of day-use picnic areas and primitive campsites, many of them closed or inaccessible. The place is deserted except for two lethargic young women sprawled at a day-use picnic table and a group of six men and women who have pitched tents and seem to be playing a rowdy game of Beer Pong. The sloping “park” has the seedy, slightly eerie feeling of a place that has fallen into disrepair and disuse, but it seems quiet (aside from the Pong Party), and all we care about is a good night’s sleep and an early start in the morning. So we settle Suzy into a shaded site, walk a half-mile down the road to the self-registration kiosk, seal an $18 camping fee into an envelope, drop it in a metal slot and then hike back up the hill, breathing heavily in the heat.

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Back at Suzy, I pour water over my head and tie a wet bandana (purchased in Bryce for just this purpose) around my neck. Instant relief. Sipping an ice-cold beer helps too. For dinner, we cobble together a picnic of canned tuna, potato salad, a packet of Madras lentils, and reconstituted dehydrated broccoli. Camping rations, and they taste just fine. While we are washing the dishes, I smell smoke, and see that the Pong People have ignited a roaring campfire. Surely they saw the CAMPFIRES STRICTLY FORBIDDEN and HIGH FIRE DANGER signs posted at the park entrance? Dave and I gaze at the crackling flames and exchange a worried look.

Adding to our discomfort, a creeping parade of vehicles has begun cruising up and down the dead-end road. Windows down, music thumping, each vehicle slows as it passes and the occupants eye our rig. Perhaps they are simply admiring Suzy, but there’s a vague sense of menace in the fixed gaze. I go outside, alone, to empty a pan of water, and a dark gray sedan pulls off the road and stops next to our campsite. My scalp prickles. I call to Dave, who quickly appears, and the car accelerates up the hill. Even if all this activity is perfectly innocent, we won’t get a good night’s rest. Within five minutes, lawn chairs and bikes are back on the rig, dinner dishes put away, and we’re heading down the mountain. If you need to leave somewhere in a hurry, Suzy is your gal.

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We escape to the Valley Airport and RV Park on the outskirts of Tehachapi, a mom-and-pop campground that is far more beautiful and infinitely more peaceful than the name implies.

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The next day, a five-hour drive lands us on our doorstep with a renewed appreciation for the temperate climate where we live, and the natural wonders in our own backyard. We have learned that we love traveling together with Suzy; she is the right rig for us. Our next adventure beckons, but for now we’re content where we are, in this thin slice of the world.

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Sue / Jun 24 2018 8:21 am

    Hi Anna & Dave

    Really enjoyed reading your posts and seeing the beautiful photos. Sorry you’ve had to cut short your trip but safety first! You can always do it again later in the year

    Sue xxxx

  2. Pauline McLeod / Jun 25 2018 6:15 am

    Hi Dave and Anna
    Lovely to ready your update, pretty scary. I am in Australia visiting daughter Sarah and son in law Warren. Manly is still beautiful even though it is winter here. Pauline 😘

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