Of course, the first thing that happened, as I was pulling from the driveway, was I almost hit a car. The nice couple braked, and it wasn’t much of an encounter, a wave from them and a shrug from me and I thought, “Well, I got that out of my system.”
I followed them down the street and passed the big bank of mailboxes. I realized as I drove by that I had made no plan to have anyone pick up the mail. I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. At a certain point, if you want to “go” you have to just “leave.”
And we were off.
These exits on big trips always happen in stages: First, last minute stops on the way for groceries and to check tire pressure, got gas the day before. Then, put a few miles on it as you keep running the check list you have been working, wondering what you have forgotten. You are still close to home, could go back if you forgot a wallet or something really important like your favorite hat.
But nothing comes to mind and so, step three, you keep going, the world passing by, a familiar local world you have seen thousands of times in all seasons. But it looks different to you because you are leaving it behind, not using it to get somewhere.
It’s breezy and the bus reacts to even small puffs of turbulence. A VW Bus is, essentially, about an aerodynamic as a carboard box filled with cardboard boxes.
A few more miles and you start to notice how things are different, maybe drier, maybe a pothole filled or an unfortunate ground squirrel. You are entering the mindset of “road trip.” Then, you are, say, ten miles from home and you take that first significant turn that aligns with a compass heading in your mind to your DESTINATION. And that is when the trip really begins.
You feel the commitment, the determination, the decision to take on the life of action and you are now on “it.” I dialogue these facts to Michelle. “We are on it now, babe.” Knowing it’s a bit of a monologue, that she probably isn’t processing it in any way that I understand. But she is content and that is enough.
Just twenty or so minutes from home we find ourselves in the upper Mojave and it’s glorious. Still greenish, with a few poppies here and there. Not much traffic and I move along feeling that the Bus is “right.” Michelle is taking in the passing world like a child watching the passing of corn rows. Mo has settled in but always has a bit of attention on the sliding door which is his ticket to new smells. Worries dropping away, you marvel at the lack of skill most drivers have in passing on a two—lane road. You will marvel at this many, many times over the next few weeks.
And in the glorious non-town of Neenach you cross the Pacific Crest Trail at one of its lowest, if not THE lowest, point on the hiking journey from Mexico to Canada. To the South, Mexico just a relatively short distance away, a couple hundred miles. To the North, Canada, far, far away through some of the most beautiful vistas on planet earth. This is about the time, first week of May, that a bulk of full—on PCTers will be crossing here on their way North and, as I round the bend and come into sight of the trail crossing—a crossing you will only know is there if you know it’s there…—there is a woman with a big, sage colored pack rising over her neck and head! Sauntering along and looking both ways before crossing. She is already lean from that first 200. I wonder, as she takes in the Bus, what she thinks. Is she enjoying her trek? Does she yearn for home or a cheeseburger? Does she wish she had put her thumb out and she could join us on our much easier adventure? But the encounter is over in a blink of an eye as we head East on Highway 138.
A few short miles takes us to the Weevil store and lunch. This is a bit of a tradition whenever I go this way and I fall into conversation with Amish who takes our order. He’s the guy with the big beard. The cook makes a chicken quesadilla for Michelle and a bison burger for me. I order it because it’s different, it’s something I do on these journeys, try to avoid the chains of Chains.
Amish, because of the Bus, assumes I’m interested in edibles and he makes some suggestions that might help Michelle. I listen, a bit dubious (No pun intended), but I do listen. He ends up suggesting a special lemonade he sells at his “dispensary.” And he also suggests that I avoid all highways and freeways and take the longest routes I can. He tells me I should go South to get to Death Valley… Death Valley is to the North.
I’m not against this, love it actually, the long way, but I only have 7 days to go 2000 miles because of schedules on the other end so I know I won’t be able to follow either suggestion. I won’t be experimenting with new treatments for Michelle on the trip. But philosophically I do agree with the “long way” strategy and, in my book, that’s a pretty big deal. I will certainly enjoy the long ways that come up, the unbeaten paths we end up on.
The burger was excellent. Michelle nibbled. Mo watched her.
As you cross deeper into the Mojave it widens and dries out and aside from the handful of Joshua tree groves—I suppose you call them “groves”—it’s scrubby and inhospitable. Not ugly, but not easily suitable for humans. You need to carry your life with you out here.
We have a tail wind which makes the vibration symphony of a VW pretty quiet. A tail wind is your best friend in a bus.