The Traveler:

I actually went to Joshua Tree twice this time. First on October 10 for about six weeks. I returned east in time for Thanksgiving, as ordered. Then I returned there on January 7 with Eileen and our dog Molly.

Depart Boston

Arrive Ontario, 6 weeks Depart

Arrive bus stop in Bourne

Depart Boston

Arrive Los Angeles

Depart Palm Springs

Eileen had decided that this time we would do the traditional holiday thing in all its glory - New England fall colors, Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas tree, eggnog, friends dropping by; the works. She has never been able to grasp the concept that we can do all this in California.

I needed to get out there due to various problems that had occurred recently, including my having put that computer hard drive to sleep during a moment of stupidity. I normally use TeamViewer to log into that computer and get an idea of how things are going. It is a great service and it is free. Running on both machines, it allows me to work on the other machine 3000 miles away, as though I were there, but it cannot connect to a sleeping hard drive.

Also, a pump timer had gotten stuck ON so that it emptied the 133 gallon pond which in turn emptied the 2600 gallon water tank. Friends there had fixed the problem, as is explained in my camera article on the main Joshua Tree page, but I was still anxious to get a look at it hands on.

Eileen strongly urged me to GO. On October 10 at 3 PM, she dropped me off at the bus stop in Bourne.

At 2 AM PST, I pulled up to our trailer and saw that all was well. I grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat on the deck for awhile soaking it all in, then went to sleep.

Dead Car, Dead Bike and I:

In the morning after my coffee I confirmed that the Prius was dead, specifically the small hidden 12 volt battery that I did not even know existed. This is not the large battery bank that drives the car. It is the one that powers the locks, lights, radio and ignition.

I like to drive with my headlights on at all times, so I leave them on. When I stop, they time out after awhile. I had inadvertently left that switch on five months prior. (I did not make the same mistake this year.) A kind neighbor, with my blessing, had checked the car now and then to make sure it was working. She just didn't realize that she should let it run for awhile. It worked, so she shut it off and went on about her business. She did not know that the headlights were left on each time. In August, she notified me that the car would not start.

Now, hitting the Unlock button on the remote got no response. I opened the door with the actual key that is attached to the side of the remote. I found the manual in the glove compartment. In my search for how to properly recharge the electrical system, I discovered reference to a little battery behind the paneling at the right rear of the car. I managed to climb over the seats and find it. The rear hatch does not have one of those yellow handles that will manually open a trunk lid from the inside in an emergency. I climbed back out and opened the manual again.

There I learned about a little trick lever that opens the rear hatch. I climbed back into the rear, removed the compartment cover, lifted the floor pad up and under me, stuck my finger through a hole below the latch mechanism, found the tiny little lever shaped like a small paper clip, pressed it sideways, and the hatch sprung open.

I connected my battery charger to the little 12 volt battery. Later in the day, I would learn from the AAA guy that there was a connector under the car hood for this purpose. I left it to charge while I drove the rental to the Yucca Valley Hertz and returned it. Israel, who runs the place, gave me a ride downtown.

At Walmart I picked up my brand new 26" Men's Mongoose Blackcomb Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike, which I had ordered online two weeks previously. It was a hot day so I purchased a long sleeve white mesh pullover. I also got a more comfortable bike seat cover. Fortunately, I had also thought to bring a hat and a back-pack with a milk jug full of water.

I think the hat, the water and the shirt saved my life.

I more or less figured out the gears and brakes as I rode the long straight Yucca Trail back towards my place. That was 6.6 miles of hot but smooth pavement. It had been about 18 years since I had last ridden a bike and the gear shifts on this one were not at all like the simple three speeds I had grown up on, but the factory setting was generally comfortable enough. The slope was mostly level or slightly downhill, but on some of the uphills I just got off the thing and used it as a walker to help keep me upright. I stopped often and chug-a-lugged water. I was hot, weary and my legs were getting tired.

I finally reached the place of decision, whether to continue down the paved highway around the hill and then up through the lattice-work of dirt roads to my place, 1.6 miles from that point, or to get off onto a dirt road and trail that gradually leads up over the hill and down to my place, 1.3 miles. The longer route would keep me within a populated area where somebody could find me if I fell by the road. The shorter route could drop me where I might not be found for days, or even weeks. The first would be mostly down and then up, while the second would be gradually up and then down. I opted for the shorter route. I knew it well, having walked it many times over the years, and even driven it in my Willys Jeep long ago before the cleft in the hill became impassable. I was not entering the unknown. Also, I had my cellphone, if needed.

I pushed down on the pedals and headed east out Onaga Trail. About a half mile in, the tires went flat. I did not even waste time exclaiming what I felt about that. I just wanted to go home. I dragged the bike off the road and hid it behind a bush and started walking straight towards the far off cleft that I could see in the heated haze of the sun drenched terrain. This would be even shorter because I didn't have to stay on the roads.

I suddenly realized that I needed to find some shade. The nearest shade in the right direction was a Joshua Tree. I changed course just enough to get me to that tree. I reached the tree and sat down against it. I found that if I squeezed in tight against the bristly bark, most of me was in its shade, especially my head which is what seemed to matter the most. I drank some of my water, but it was almost empty so I would have to take it easy on that. I sat for a few minutes, but did not want to get too rested, and it was still hot in that partial shade.

I stood up, put my backpack back on, and headed for the cleft. I could see the dark shadow of a boulder in the distance so I veered in that direction. It was a long stretch and the going was slow. It was more of a determined stumble now, rather then a steady walk. I reached the boulder and gratefully dropped down into its deep dark and cool shade. It felt so good. I could have laid down and taken a nap. I removed the backpack and the hat and just sat there soaking it in. I sipped some water. I randomly pressed the button on my camera a few times out of habit. I sat for quite awhile, but I knew that I had to continue on.

I recall resting in the shadow of another rock. Eventually I reached the cleft. My water was such that I had to hold it up over my mouth and wait for a drip to reach my lips. I pushed my legs until I was up over the cleft and could see my valley below. I had made it.

The descent was precarious and I had to keep myself from falling on the downslope. I could see my place far down the hill to the left and I angled towards it. I went from rock to rock, keeping my feet under me trying not to step on or bump into any cacti. Eventually I found myself at the edge of my deck. I carefully pulled myself up onto it and made my way to the cool shade of my lovely trailer, my friend, my savior. I was home. I held my head under the deck faucet and drank heavily from another jug of water.

As soon as I was reasonably together, I unplugged the charger, got into the car and drove out, down and around to where I had left the bike. I found it, dragged it down into the road, manhandled it into the back of the car and drove back home. So I guess the charger worked.

The next picture I took was about six hours later. I am sure that six hours included a few cold beers in the shade and a long long nap.

Again the battery was dead. This time I called AAA and let them deal with it. I then went for a very long drive to charge that battery as the fussy computer inside the Prius expects it to be done. This charge seemed to stick around a little longer. However, about five months later, after a third call to AAA, I drove down the hill and to the Toyota place near Palm Springs and had the battery replaced for $322. I did stop at Autozone on the way but they said that Toyota will not allow them to sell this battery. I have since found that it can be bought online, or the Optima yellow top as an alternative, for half the price. Also, some Pep-Boys shops will install it for 15 or 20 bucks.

A week after the ordeal I took the bike to Joshua Tree Bicycles where they lined the tires with Kevlar (the strongest synthetic fiber to date, though carbon nano-tube fibers are on their way) bands impervious to the assortment of invisible needles that permeate the desert soil.

Eventually I would return with Eileen and she would talk about getting another bike so that we could go for rides together. I had little interest in that.

I also purchased a Racor PBH-1R Ceiling-Mounted Bike Lift online and attached it to a 6 foot aluminum strap so that it could be hung across the carport rafters, getting it out of my way.

If I were to purchase another bike, I would go to these guys. They know their business and certainly would not let me ride out the door with the wrong tires. They probably would have made sure I know how to work the gears too. I should add that I have also come to the realization that I should do my part by buying from small local businesses whenever possible, even if it is a little more expensive. Then to the chain stores who hire locally, and last of all online, which used to be my first choice.

Hung Up:

I like those long 2" wide aluminum straps. They are so useful for all kinds of things, if only as a perfect straight edge up to eight feet long. With half an idea in mind I bought two of these last year, actually long steel 2" straps with holes, plus three plastic Stanley Organizers with ten removable bins each and a clear hinged lid, T-hinges, pulleys, boxes of nuts, bolts and washers, and a tube of PL 375 glue. Then they sat around for a year until the other half of the idea can into being, or until I was sick and tired of working around them all the time. The idea was to get all of those accumulating boxes of screws and nails off of my walls and out of the way, but still available as needed.

I concluded that the best available space I had was the ceiling, so this would have to hang down as needed and then fold up and out of the way when not. Now I do have that and it contains all of the screws, nails, hooks and most other stuff that lined the walls, and it is very heavy. By releasing the ropes from their hooks diligently with one hand as I guide it with the other, I can drop it down slowly. It is good for me; I can always use this small workout. If Eileen needs a nail or a hook, she may have something of a problem, even though she is more likely to say "Van, I need ...".

When I designed it, I did so thinking the cable from an electric motor could replace the ropes. It would also need some kind of clutch or brake in case the cable snaps. I have also considered an attic stairs spring mechanism. Then there are those pistons that carry the weight of a car hood or hatchback. I like the idea of the pistons best because they will be least intrusive as I try to maneuver around the hanging boxes in that 8x8 room, and they would probably be safer then the other ideas. The problem is that you have to be an engineer to work out the angles. Apparently, they have to placed exactly right. Hopefully, this will be the first thing I resolve when we return.

Daughter Time:

In late October Darby contacted me about coming to visit for a week. Normally there would just not be enough room, so this was a good time and I said okay. I have long wanted both of my daughters to see the place. They had been hearing about it all of their lives and had been reading my newsletter/ journals for 11 years, but they had never seen it. When I built the utility house with a private dormer under the roof, I had done so with this possibility in mind. As it turned out, I found it to be great for my noon naps while Eileen was here so that she could have some privacy now and then also.

However, it dawned on me that I would have to be the one to sleep in the dormer during Darby's visit so that she could have her own bedroom with a door, a closet pole, bureau drawers, and with a sink and toilet immediately available. This would be a good time to clean the dormer and make some repairs. There were louvered 3" round vents at each end of the dormer. I added some removable covers that could close the vents on a cold night if needed. I also completed some unfinished work on the sliding door panel so that it could be shut tight to seal off the place. I then thoroughly vacuumed the dormer and remade the bed. It was ready to go.

On Tuesday November 15 after midnight I picked Darby up at the Ontario Airport.

Two hours later we were approaching a spot on Quail Springs road where I would be able to point out our hill in the bright waning moonlight. I was about to pull over when I noticed headlights right on my tail that had not been there a moment before, so this guy was going fast. I wavered a bit in a moment of indecision and his red and blue lights began to flash. I pulled over.

He asked for L&R and told me I had wavered. I suggested that it might be because I unexpectedly found him on my tail just as I was planning to pull over for other reasons. He showed intense interest in who we were and what we were doing there. The young rookie seemed almost disappointed that we had a good reason and that I was not inebriated. He decided to be our friend and chit-chatted with both of us for awhile. He then went on his way as I pointed out our hill to Darby.

The following is a list of things we did and places we went over the next seven days, gathered from my Quicken account, my Thunderbird calendar and from photos that conveniently include dates, times and a wide range of other info within the pixels of the JPEG coding. Without those aids, it would be a hodgepodge of intermingled fast moving events and slow casual moments in no particular order. I then fill in additional items as they come to me.

15th, TuesdayJoshua TreeBreakfast Country Kitchen. She meets my friends, the owners Marienne & Peng Uy. Gifts, big hat, Coyote Corners. Home Depot. Walmart.
16th, WednesdayLaguna BeachBreakfast The Cottage. Rooms Hotel Laguna. Bought bungee cords to hold fender torn backing into telephone pole.
Visited friends Joey and Carol Reynolds at South Laguna home once owned by her mother and I.
17th, ThursdayLake ElsinoreThrough San Juan Capistrano to breakfast at Hunny's Restaurant in Elsinore. Then to Joshua Tree. Dinner at Crossroads Cafe.
18th, FridayPioneertownWalmart. Dinner at Pappy & Harriet's nearby in Pioneertown - phony non-Marine comes on to Dar.
19th, SaturdayJoshua TreeClimbed the hill - found 4th corner. Groceries at FoodForLess. Subway.
20th, SundayJoshua TreeWalmart cold pack for Dar's sprained ankle. Groceries to The Way Station food kitchen. Meets volunteer from Chatham, Cape Cod, MA. Applebees.
21st, MondayOntarioDarby drops me at the airport as she continues south in the rental to visit a friend in San Diego. She flew east two days later on Thanksgiving.

We traveled some and we hung around home a fair amount. Her younger sister Brianny even joined us for a few moments by phone as we drove the high winding Ortega Highway from the ocean up over the Cleveland Mountains to Lake Elsinore and then on and up to Joshua Tree, overall a 3000 foot climb.

On Saturday we climbed to one of my favorite spots on our land, a scenic and peaceful clearing surrounding a large pair of boulders that once were one massive boulder on top of the hill far above, itself much higher then it is now, very long ago. This is where I sat in 1968 when I was even younger then Darby is now, taking pictures of these boulders which I would then sketch with pad and pencil, imagining a blue placid pond with some cool green grass to lay on. At the time, I wondered if I might be able to bring a road up to this spot and build a small cabin.

Found It:

In 2006 I had resolutely searched the entire hillside looking for the other brass tagged corners of the 10 acre parcel. I knew the corner down by my trailer but none of the others. I found two more during that search, was delighted and wrote about it, but I never found the 4th corner, then or on subsequent searches in 2007 and in 2008.

As we sat there talking, drinking our water, taking pictures and enjoying the view of the valley far below, Darby nodded at a rock nearby and said "What's that?". It was a brass tag with surveyor's markings. OMG!
But it was in the wrong place. I had been sure that the missing corner would be much further up the hill, but my eagle eyes had never even seen this one.
My immediate assumption was that it must be some kind of half-way marker, but when I later studied a Google satellite map with the ten acre boundary superimposed, I could just barely make out a very large boulder pair adjacent to the NE corner of that square. So that was it. This was the fourth corner brass tag.
Thank you Darby.

At least it was nice to know that my favorite arroyo was on my land, even though the rest of the hill above was not.

Darby, one year later:

"Ha! So I did did find the last marker!! I remember I was so intent on finding a marker that day, it was almost like I knew I would - almost like I was meant was like a treasure hunt...I couldn't stop scanning the walls of the surrounding cliffs the whole time we were up there! I'm glad I could help with the last piece of the puzzle! :)"

Copyright © 2012, Van Blakeman