April 09, 2012


It used to be that when I visited the desert, my day was done as soon as the sun went down. I was terrified to drive down the unlit highways of Death Valley, or subject myself to sidewinders slithering through the darkness. So I began a routine of watching the sun go down, eating dinner, doing some writing or reading, and ending my day.

It was a nice change of pace from my New York City life, when the day often started with the onset of night, having spent most of the day in bed hungover, or in the office chained to my desk.

And so going to bed at 10 or 11 at night allowed me to wake up with the sun, feeling fully rested, clear of mind and headache-free, ready to drive, hike, and write my way through the world.

This was a routine I continued when I lived in Joshua Tree, and pretty much every time I've returned to the desert for vacation (even Palm Springs, with the exception of one epic, fateful night which rendered me three hours' sleep and I still got up at 6 a.m. to go hiking).

For some reason, I haven't been able to maintain that schedule while living in LA, maybe because once again I am chained to a desk during the day, and still being new in town, I can't bear to go straight home, eat dinner and go to bed. I obsessively go out, hoping to meet people, hoping to make friends who'll last for more than one night.

And yet, by and large, I refuse to spend any days in bed recuperating. If I am dehydrated, headachey, overtired or underslept, I simply push through it. When given the choice, I always opt to do more rather than do less.

And so when I went back to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park this weekend, a trip I crammed into my hellish work schedule which doesn't allow any days off right now, I was still driving there when the sun went down. I arrived in the dark, stomach howling with the coyotes, necessitating dinner, a beer, and frozen margaritas sipped on a patio by a fire pit with a friend, a rare commodity not only on vacation, in the desert, but right now, in life in general.

I got four hours of sleep, got up at 6:30 a.m., and hiked nine miles for seven hours in the sun.

Stomach growling again, I shoveled in a late lunch, stopped for a complimentary frozen margarita at my motel, brought it with me for a quick dip in the pool, and then hustled over to California Overland (surprisingly only 10 minutes late) for a moonlit ride through the desert, replete with a hot dog- and s'more-cooking campfire.

When the night ran long, I insisted we keep going so I could see 17 Palms under the eerie cast of the full moon, though I was so exhausted, I dozed off riding shotgun in the military-grade truck that was tumbling over the off-road terrain. I was so sleepy, Joe had to lift me out of the front seat and set me down on the ground, legs buckling, arms thrown around his neck. I would have liked to have stayed for a nightcap, but I had to go.

And so with another four hours of sleep, I got up again in the morning to hike five more miles, swim one more time, and drive three and a half hours back home to LA. I could've stayed longer. I could've hiked more. I could've seen more. But I was exhausted.

I drove westward into the sunset, arriving home before the dark, cooking dinner and lying in bed.

But I could not sleep. Not right away. There was still too much to do.

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