October 28, 2012
We heard the men whispering during the night and trying to restart the generator before leaving for Arizona. Without success. The air is thick and sticky when we wake, and without electricity, there’s no coffee. David, who stayed on to keep the shop running, drives us out to the road. We have coffee and chat with the old man at the store. He sings his wife’s praises for all she does to keep the place running, while she stands at the till. Although they are both in their eighties, they drive out every weekend to keep the store going. Joe told us that they are the ‘coolest people’ he knows, the ones responsible for building up the scene and the store in Glamis.
By 8:00 we are on the road. We pictured a quiet Sunday ride through the dunes, while people sleep in. The problem with picturing things is that the pictures we harbor often have no relation to reality. Few people are still sleeping, and there is an intimidating amount of traffic on the narrow hilly road. Large RV’s pulling trailers loaded with sand toys pass us at seventy miles an hour. More than once there are close calls, which increase our heart rate and body functions uncomfortably.
Rebecca a friend from school days, and a microbiologist by profession, says this is the result of adrenaline flooding the body. The way to neutralize it is to breathe deeply. I do this all morning long. Truckers know exactly how much space they need to pass an obstacle without grazing it, an ability missing in this crowd. They don’t seem to realize that their trailers are wider than the vehicles they are pulling, or do they pass us so close on purpose? I distract myself from the danger by reading the RV names: Weekend Warrior, Rage’n, Attitude, Freedom, Four Winds, Holiday Rambler, Skyline, Liberty Coach, and so forth.
In three and a half hours we are in Brawley, where we lunch at a small Mexican restaurant, the only place open on Main Street. On the photo, Brawley was once an attractive town, but the life drained out long ago. Unfortunately no resources or energies have been invested to revive it.
Looking at the maps for orientation, we decide to ride as far as possible before nightfall. Imperial Valley, another green belt in the desert, is depressing and less attractive than the Palo Verde valley was.
Goats and cattle are squeezed into messy, tenement-like housing, a harsh contrast to New Mexico and the wide spaciousness of free range grazing. The breezeless midday sun beats down mercilessly, making it almost impossible to keep moving. I have take off my bicycle jersey and put on the lightest blouse I have, in order to continue. Christof plugs himself into some music, transporting himself into another world and rides off at a pace I can hardly match.
Luckily the route skirts El Centro, a town other bicyclists warned against traversing. Still, even its outskirts are oppressive and feel dangerous although it’s the middle of a hot lazy Sunday afternoon and no one is about. We want to get through here as fast as possible.
The roads are the roughest we have yet seen, cracked, broken, a mess of rutted potholes. There is no frost or cold, so it must have been years since the roads were last paved.
In Seeley we stop at a small store for drinks. Everyone is speaking Spanish, are we still in California? Outside the store, aside
from one dusty chair occupied by a bum, there is no place to sit. As we stand sipping our drinks in the shade of the overhang, a car races into the parking lot, spewing gravel as it screeches to a stop. An evil looking man runs into the store, and loud Mexican music wafts through the open car windows. Christof cheerfully sways to the music
– Nice music, he says in a friendly way to the lad in the passenger seat.
The teenager leans over and says in a menacing tone:
– It’s a war song.
Chris doesn’t respond, so the teenager challenges him:
– It’s about the cartels, he persists.
– I love, what do you call it? Christof searches for the right word, accordion? the accordion music.
– Chris, I hiss at him under my breath in German, you’re getting in over your head! The kid? he might be o.k. But when that man comes back out, ignore him!
By the time he exits the store, we are deeply engrossed in studying the ads plastered on the entrance door. I breath a huge sigh of relief when the car drives off, and we are, once again, alone on the hot empty road.
Plaster City, a factory up in the distance, are the only buildings for miles around. A sign for the Centinela State Prison increases our sense of desolation and confirms our wish to get through the area as fast as possible.
In Plaster City East we rest in the shade of an extinct gas station watching two men repair their off-road vehicles. A guard patrolling the drywall factory, thirsty for diversion, drives over for a chat. Seeing how red faced and tired we look, he insists on refilling our water bottles. We wait for ages and are surprised when he finally returns, to find he filled the bottles with warm water! He is proud of the factory, and shows us where the stones are brought in by train, and then crushed to powder. Water, starch and emulsifiers are added, creating a thick paste which is spread between two layers of paper and dried in the furnace. Cut into common sizes, the finished product is transported all over the country by truck. Plaster City produces half of the drywall made in the US.
In Ocotillo, a small hamlet between the highway and the Chocolate Mountains, we stumble into a bar teeming with Sunday day trippers. In the pleasantly air-conditioned shack, we stare into space, sipping cold lemon aides, and hoping to regain some energy for the last climb to Jackson’s Hideaway RV Park, a run-down, messy place run by a friendly elderly couple from Iowa. The woman answers the door and says, looking at our tired faces, that if we don’t feel like setting up a tent, we can sleep in the recreation room. The recreation room is a dirty catch all for old furniture and household items, but we are thrilled to be able to flop there.
I immediately stretch out on the dirty sofa laying my pad down for sanitary protection. I want to skip supper because I’m too tired to ride into Ocotillo for food. Christof shops while I shower and do the laundry. Since the sofa is occupied, the filthy floor is all that’s left. Christof sleeps there without complaint. We’ve come a long way in eleven weeks!