August 12, 2014 – Flagstaff, AZ. It rained in the Mojave yesterday. Drops the size of quarters. I smelled it before I saw it, the damp, hot scent of wet asphalt filling the Dolphin like an animal’s musk.
The Dolphin: a 1986 Toyota motor home, beige and brown, hurtling through the 100-degree air at 40 miles per hour. I am proud to roll its windows down by hand, to sit shirtless in its scratchy seat, to angle its smokers’ windows instead of turning on the AC. I arrived in Needles, where gas cost $4.99 a gallon. Ahead, the Colorado river shimmered between emerald green fields. Behind me, the sun crashed in a fiery mess to the desert floor. The heat leapt from the ground, clung to me like scent.
I remembered my first trip through the Mojave. I remembered where the rocks rise like a miniature J-Tree above the road to Kelso. I remembered pulling cholla from Blender and Amelia’s snouts with a Leatherman there, where we slept fitfully before continuing north, hands chalky and calloused, scabbed from a month of crack climbing in J-Tree. We were rose-cheeked and windswept. Clothes torn.
It’s been eight years and my body still aches when I drive through the Mojave. Not from the climbing but from the memory of what I was, what we were. I ache for what we found in tailgate meals, the practice of climbing, the novelty of the mountain west. The Mojave was my threshold. I passed through it into a life I loved.
There was something so wild about it. The creosote and endless sky. Abandoned things. The desert felt like it was hiding something. It always does to me, and I’m still expectant behind the wheel when cross it.