For all those wanting an Einstein update, the lovely hound is well on the mend, and settling happily into his new life with the Kiy family.
Incidentally, since I stopped walking with him many more people think I am homeless and have kindly offered food. I sense Einstein’s regal looks helped shake off this impression!
Thanks so much for your support. On this journey, now in my 50s, I seem to be using social media more than ever! Amazing to think when I first travelled in my 20s I’d be off the grid for weeks – no mobile, no email, no GPS, nada.
Ok, here goes:
Walking, you always notice far more than in a car: notice changes in the camber of the highway; notice tiny shifts in the weather; notice the far off thrum of a reckless driver; notice the smell of rain, a dead animal, a nearby bakery…
But most of all you notice signs, always signs: signs for the local elections, sorry, I just had to give a plug for a sheriff called Stan Sniff; signs for Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree; signs warning airplanes will catch you for speeding – I can clip along briskly at times but that’s just ridiculous – and signs for Little Pioneer RV Park, where tents are not normally allowed but they let me camp anyway. Bless you Jackiy (correct spelling).
But you see subtler signs too. Slogging up Highway 62 towards Yucca Valley, I saw a tiny memorial for a child, see photo. It was displayed so any passing walkers could find it. As nobody else seems to walk on US highways (the car is categorically king here) I felt privileged to fall upon something so moving.
Yesterday, on a remote section of Palm Drive, a black jalopy pulled up ahead of me. A young woman and three children, all under 10, piled out, holding flowers, cards and toys. They all hunkered down by a small wooden cross by the roadside and carefully placed their items.
They then stood up and, holding hands, began to sing in Spanish. The sound was not of this world, part wail, part chant, so exquisitely beautiful it made me shiver.
Whoever this roadside victim – a parent, a sibling, a friend – I’m sure they must have felt the love in some capacity. The cross looked so new, the flowers so fresh, the singing so strange, so tender: it was like a moment of grace.
Last night I camped on a tiny square of dirt in a Yucca Valley RV Park. Tonight, in contrast, my tent is perched in the eerie majesty of Joshua Tree National Park.
It was an easy walk on flat, smoothish roads to reach here (@blackrockcanyoncampground) and I’ve made the most of it, scrambling the trails: tomorrow will be back on the highway for a 22 miler to the little town of Twenty Nine Palms.
A corned beef hash @route_62_diner, rustled up first thing by lovely Roxy and Maria (see photo) got the day off to roaring start. The jukebox at the diner was wonderfully retro and even boasted Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins. Oh yeah.
Walking into Joshua Tree I was lucky to meet, Dale, the campsite rep, who told me that the park straddles both the Mojave Desert – where I am – and the Colorado Desert.
Joshua trees, which are striking, giant, sharp-leaved Yuccas, are ideally suited to the terrain here, at roughly 4000 feet. Below this juniper and mesquite dominate.
My favourite Dale fact focused on the pinacate beetle which thrives in the Mojave. It drinks no water, but munches fungus to stay hydrated. It’s also known as the ‘circus beetle’ as when threatened it does a headstand while firing off toxic fumes. Respect!
For those of us of a certain age, The Joshua Tree by U2 was one of the landmark albums of our youth. All day I’ve been humming: ‘But I Still Haven’t Found, What I’m Looking For.’
Top tune but don’t worry about not finding what you’re looking for, Bono, mate, maybe you never will – but it’s the searching that makes life interesting.
So yesterday I camped in Joshua Tree National Park, and today walked through Joshua Tree, the actual town. It’s a quirky little place full of rock climbers, rock bands and just plain rocks.
Not forgetting Canadian tourists, nature seekers, bird (and UFO) spotters, yoga fiends, martial artists (and every other type of artist) and, briefly, a strange, red, bandanna-wearing English fellow pushing a rickety cart.
Ate the healthiest snack of the trip (I’ve been troughing truck stop, calorie-bursting burritos galore) at the friendly Natural Sisters Cafe, which boasted a menu so wholesome I’d never heard of half the ingredients. Chia? Irish moss? Nooch? Rainbow beans? (I made the last one up).
Other than this, and being harried by an ornery dog outside a remote ranch, it was a nice, unremarkable, march on, clock up the miles sort of day – 22 in total – to the desert oasis town of Twenty Nine Palms.
When I asked a local student, Journey (loving these ever surprising American names) what her town is known for, she laughed: “It’s famous for having 29 Palms, oh, and a Marine base. That’s the only reason you’d come here.”
That will do me. I actually love these tiny, off the radar desert towns – and I appreciate them more and more.
My next stretch of highway to the Arizona border is 100 miles of nothing but cars, sand and rocks, so I need to rest up, kit up and brace myself.
Today is the wedding of my great friend, Bob, who will be tying the knot with the lovely Vicky any minute now.
Bob asked me to be an usher and give a reading, which would have been a huge honour.
Sadly, I’m not able to join this joyous event as I’m in the middle of the Mojave desert @twentyninepalms, doing my laundry, which is now ripe enough to do the tango all by itself.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be here too, but I’m gutted not to witness my friends’ vows of love – and to toast them, multiple times!
In the brilliant 80s film, Stand By Me, (if you haven’t seen it, do), at the end, the lead character says: ‘I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.’
It’s a great, rather sad line. I’m lucky7 to have friends I’ve known since 12/13, and a couple before that, and it’s true, these friendships are set in stone. Mates you can say whatever you like to and not worry a jot. Unshakeable.
But I believe true friendships can be sparked at any time of life.
I met Bob in my thirties, made the best of friends in my forties and even now in my early 50s dotage!
Of course, some fall by the wayside, in the hurly burly of life it’s inevitable, but true freindships always endure.
The friendships that I make on the road are a vital part of any journey. Yes, these friendships can be fleeting, but never trivial, indeed, often their brevity adds to their depth.
Today I am meeting two new friends, Gary and Amy, who I met while munching on a burrito near Anza.
They enthused about my walk and said they would be happy to help if needed. With their sparky, can do demeanor, it was clear they were serious.
The next stretch is 100 miles of empty desert, so assistance with food/water drops will be invaluable. That too, is friendship.
My friends have been like beacons in my life leading the way, sometimes quietly, sometimes bright, but always there.
So thank you all, the friends I’ve known since I was 7, since I was 12, since I was 50.
A toast to Bob and Vicky, big love to you both, and a toast to friends we’ve known forever – or just met last week at a roadside burrito shack. Cheers!
PS. If anyone can spare a dime for the three great charities I’m walking for – the Alzheimer’s Society, the Puzzle Centre and Medical Detection Dogs – it would be hugely appreciated.
And best of British to those running in the Swanbourne Endeavour next Sunday. You’ll end up smelly, muddy and knackered but with a huge smile on your chops. Still time to join, it’s a top event for great causes.
Cheerio, the desert awaits!