the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
I push through the next two days, determined to make the Thanksgiving potluck in Ehrenberg.
I cross the border into Arizona and spend the night in Flagstaff. First stop is the Little America Travel Center to take advantage of their marble bathtubs. These are well-known among the nomads that move between the high country and the low during the year. Flagstaff, at an altitude of 6,900 feet is forested, and cooler in the hot months of summer. Little America is surrounded by deep green conifers, and, unlike other travel centers, the entrance almost seems an afterthought, tucked in next to the hotel. I scout around a bit to understand the layout. Is this really a truck stop? There are over 60 parking spaces for trucks in a deep set parking lot, the woman at the counter tells me, but because of the North Pole Experience, all except 20 are blocked. Because it's only 2 o'clock, I am fortunate to find one at the end. I take Freyja for a walk in cosseted grassy spot replete with picnic table and metal green dinosaur that is cuffed to bolted metal plates in the ground. There are three festively-painted Polar Express buses parked at the back of the otherwise empty roped off lot. I peer up through the front window as I pass. Steampunk-themed gears and wheels adorn the space behind the driver.
Ensuring the pets are comfortable, I gather up my bath bag and head back to the travel center. For around $10 (it might have been $8, it might have been $12–I didn't care how much it was) one can get clean towels and two hours in a squeaky clean private room with a garden tub, shower, sink, toilet and heat lamps. They also offer free amenities like shampoo and razors. Apparently, once, they even gave out bubble bath, but now only bath fizzies are for sale. Highly recommended purchase–and bring some electric candles to perch on the edges of what is really a garden-sized tub. The bright lights ensure I can confirm the sterility, but don't do much for relaxation.
Rejuvenated, and only sniffles left to remind me of my bout with the flu, I browse the goods for sale.
I leave with a six pack of IPA, a postcard, and a bright yellow ant-embedded lollipop for Rick.
I don't want to take a trucker's parking spot, so after confirming they allow it, I drive to a nearby Cracker Barrel to park for the night. More tall evergreens grace the grass-edged back lot and I discover a strong open wifi signal from a nearby hotel. I carry my own hotspot, and while the signal is generally adequate, stronger wifi can turn Skype video calls, sans buffering, into a blissful experience. The cooking smells wafting from the restaurant are insanely tempting, but I resist. I'm fully stocked in anticipation of the next week in the desert. I shop the souvenir store, instead, and leave with a Christmas ornament.
The next morning I pull out at first light - Phoenix is expecting it's hottest Thanksgiving on record, maybe 90 degrees, and I want to get to my destination before the temperatures rise that high. Although I've had no issues since Denver, I fear Juno will again vapor lock on me. Also, we'll be traveling and dropping over 6000 feet–to Ehrenberg's 879 feet above sea level. I just don't know what to expect. I keep hearing from mechanics how carburetors are finicky, and need to be readjusted for the altitude.
The drive is, once again, prepossessing to the point of intoxication.
The evergreens give way to forests of saguaro cactus, appearing to wave as I speed by, and then down to endless miles of the emerald irrigated fields surrounding Phoenix. The city sits in a flat bowl, ringed by sharp dark mountains. Mist clings to their bases and once again I feel dropped into a place out of time.
I discover here, when I stop for gas–thanks to a good Samaritan, that I've left my steps down. I face-palm, thank the stars they weren't ripped off on a curb, and continue around the almost empty 303 bypass to join the heavy holiday traffic on I-10 west. Only two more hours to go.
As the temperature rises outside, as well as my gauge inside, I bite my nails. On one hand, if I slow my speed, the engine won't have to work as hard, but on the other, the afternoon heat is fast approaching. The temperature gauge passes the three tic mark. I find myself, again, in the familiar tense state of counting the miles, and anticipating the rises, rather than enjoying the drive.
Finally, Juno dips down into the Quartzsite valley (where I contemplate the wisdom of perhaps finding hookups as I rumble by), then up one long rise out–no stumbles–and ten minutes later I am at Exit 1. It is the last one, just before the Colorado River and California border. This is it. I recognize the infamous laundromat, the portal is it were to nomad living in Ehrenberg. It will be where I will not only do laundry, but shower, retrieve mail, dump my tanks, drop off my trash and refill my freshwater tank for the foreseeable future.
Now, to just find the tribe down a long, bumpy and rocky road. I've watched a video for instructions, and there promises to be signs.
When I finally pull into the encampment, which I know by the six solar ovens out in front, my mind churning over the concept of 'just pulling over anywhere' to park, I am warmly welcomed by Jim, a bit of a celebrity on the CheapRVLiving forums–the guru of solar and internet, and Go Granny Jo Sparks. They make suggestions, pointing out the short red sticker bushes that are especially lethal to tender east-coast dog paws, the designated area for those with generators (or at least one they are trying to make), and also where spots are that might be more level. I already know one doesn't park down in the washes, as tempting as they are, filled with the only green brush for miles. To me it seems either you have to run over scrub to get to places, snuggle up against the dirt road, or park on ankle turning rocks. I choose the latter, and this will be the first of three different spots I settle in over the next five weeks. I can't avoid the stickers, they surround our spot, and Freyja looks unhappier than I've yet to see her, gingerly picking her way through the scarlet landmines.
I feel, at all the same time and in equal parts, guilty for dragging my pets across the country under the delusion it would be an adventure for them, relieved to finally be at my destination, scattered, jumpy and like I should be kissing the inhospitable ground beneath my feet. I have no time to process, the potluck is starting.