That was my first night back on the road. Once I finally got to sleep, it didn't take long to remember how chilly the desert can be at night. I woke up repeatedly between 4 and 6am almost shivering in my old, 20-degree sleeping bag. Sure, there are no mosquitos and little chance of rain in the desert. But there are other reasons to fight the lazy tendency to just toss the bag down and go to sleep. Like fire ants. They didn't get to me, but close enough!
"Hey! Genius! You have this fancy-ass bivy sack for a reason!"
I'd repeat the same mistake again that night. And the next. And the next. What's the definition of insanity again, Adventureman?
|The Jean Nest|
I finally got a little decent sleep after the sun rose and warmed me up and managed to snooze in my little rock nest until 9:15. I then spent quite awhile organizing and repacking the mess strewn around the backpack and deciding what I didn't need for task #2: finishing the incomplete gear shipment home.
It turned out that the overpriced UPS Store run in Las Vegas was completely unnecessary. There was a post office literally across Las Vegas Blvd. (yes, the same one!) from Terrible's. I wobbled across the road and boxed up the excess while cursing the fact I'd sent my jeans home the day before.
The next order of business: food and electricity. I needed to charge the phone and battery pack I'd depleted while writing and editing video and, because of my hasty departure from Vegas and the generally hectic nature of the previous day, I'd actually forgotten to eat. My body, or more accurately, the 40# bag on its back, rudely reminded me, immediately, that it required fuel. Thankfully, there was a single readymade solution to both problems: Denny's! To the casino!
I spent an enjoyably refreshing couple hours eating a massive omelette, drinking a dozen cups of coffee, and writing in my journal while my phone and battery pack got full bellies of their own. And spent entirely too much money. I rationalized it by comparing this Denny's run to my first few days whenever I go to Mexico. I usually fly into Cancun, take the ferry to Isla Mujeres, then proceed to party way too much for a few days before clamping down and becoming economically frugal. A $22 breakfast? Comparatively, that's fiscal child's play! And, besides, I needed it.
After breakfast, routine kicked in. The weather was perfect; sun, breezy, and mid 70's as I returned to Terrible's, assumed the position beneath my comfy shade tree, and waited for some variation of divine transportational intervention. Or, so it would seem.
And, again, it nearly worked. A slightly overbearing redneck from Dickson, Tennessee wandered past as his dog came my way to lick hello before relieving herself in the grass. He asked what I was up to, and when I returned the question he shared how his wife, mother, and sister had all recently died. Bad enough. But then one of Dickson's gangs wanted him to join up because (of course) he was a profound badass. When he refused? They threatened to come after him.
Dickson had understanbly lost its limited charms.
So he'd sold his house and ridden his metaphorical wagon west with his friendly dog and whatever he could fit into the van and the large trailer he towed. A timeless Coming West theme: To Start Anew. Where? He had no idea. Other than "not Nevada". In fact, he was rightfully eager to get "back to California" ; something I thought I'd never hear from a proper Tennessee redneck.
He swung his jam-packed van along side on the way out and apologetically said he'd give me a ride if he had room, but "the dog ain't givin' up her seat."
The pup did look happy and content in that passenger's seat. Who was I to mess that up for her after all the unsolicited friendly licks to the face?
Shortly thereafter, I had this trip's first law enforcement interaction. If you're a veteran of my old blogs, you'll remember these typically being invasive, thinly veiled, blatant violations of "reasonable search and seizure": random, unfounded ID checks. On other trips, I'd taken a bit of a standoffish, if not obliquely combative, attitude to these police state tactics.
But, I've apparently mellowed. I chose to smile and be as positive and cooperative as possible. Why make life any more difficult than necessary while I'm here? Also, why not give the cop a chance to prove he's not a badged bully-cunt?
Lo and behold, he'd stopped simply to let me know that, while what I was doing now was perfectly fine, hitchhiking was technically illegal in Nevada. Convinced it was coming anyway, and in an attempt to get it over with, I proactively offered up my ID. And he refused it.
Well, shit! A cop. Just doing his job. And helping me out with useful information? Hey! Michigan! Maryland! Pay attention!
I smiled and even shook his hand as he left and felt an appreciation that's sadly too rare today. That wouldn't be my last interaction with Nevada Highway Patrol while in Jean. Each were positive.
The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. No rides. And again: no real effort. At least now, after the hitchhiking statute lesson from my new lawdog friend, I didn't feel slothly about avoiding the I-15 ramp and began wondering about possibly walking Las Vegas Blvd. south to the next town, Primm, and its Flying J.
Around six, as the sun was falling, a young man between 17 and 20 walked with a pronounced limp past me on the way to the casino. I said hello, and told him to be careful as he struggled to cross the busy road. He meekly nodded his acknowledgment; clearly somehow disabled. He initially had trouble getting across and I nearly jumped up to help, somehow. But, he made it on his own. And I didn't think much more about it.
I was still there, listening to the Cubs-Dodgers playoff game, when he returned an hour or so later. He waved and smiled this time as he returned to the truck parking area. Five minutes later, he re-appeared again. This time with a man I assumed was his father. This smiling fellow also had a strong speech impedement, but was quite friendly and offered me a beer he had hidden in his front pocket. I politely, but emphatically, declined thinking the last thing I needed at this point was impairment! I thanked him anyhow, appreciating the gesture.
Then he walked over to me and coyly, secretively even, slipped me a five dollar bill. Unprepared and taken aback, I took it not sure what to think. Let alone say. Where did this come from? Maybe I read too much into it, but this was WAY out the ordinary. The best I could figure was that he was trying to express gratitude for something, and I was deeply moved by the act...an effect having nothing to do with the $5 itself, but what it represented. A bit more of my toxic, divisive summer cynicism melted away and I was again reminded of why I do this. These two: obviously a couple more of the abundant good guys.
I finished listening to the Cubs game and made my way back to the same sleeping spot feeling much better about things than the night before. My "Spidey Senses" were tuning in and it had become obvious that they had NOT atrophied. In fact, they seemed more enhanced. I hoped to lay out my bag and crash early, but my night wasn't quite over.
About 10-minutes after setting up and lying down to decompress and reconcile everything, I noticed a rather larger person's silhouette coming toward me from the parking lot!
"What the fuck!"
Instantly, I sat up and instinctively puffed my body out in some bizarre, primitive attempt to make myself look larger than I am! I also reflexively dug the knife out of my pants pocket.
This was something new. I've been stealth camping since 2008. This was the very first time I'd ever been found! Never even close! Before tonight! Of course, the paranoid reptilian brain went into hyperdrive.
"He saw you walk back here and he's coming to steal your boots and Clif Bars!"
The reality? I scared the living shit out of him! He wasn't a vagrant predator. He was either staying at the casino's hotel or in an RV, had gotten stoned, and didn't want to risk possible interactions with the police. So, in his inebriated state, he thought it was wise to cross I-15 on foot to get to the Chevron station on the other side! Why? I have no idea. And, after the shock was in no mood to ask. But, there I was. And he was legitimately terrified I was going to shoot him!
He was almost comically apologetic, despite the fact that there's now way he could or should have expected me to be there. That, after all, is the point of stealth camping! He lingered for a minute trying to defuse any potential conflict, obviously picking up on my own agitation; an aggression I was subconsciously projecting intentionally! "Project strength to avoid conflict." I think that's a Fight Club thing. Tyler Durden. Get to know him.
My new friend never made it across I-15. He discovered the fashion perils of encountering barbed wire and returned defeated 5-minutes later. This time, thankfully making plenty of noise so as not to startle me! And, repeating his request that I not shoot him. We spent 10-minutes chatting before he mercifully left me alone. It took 40-minutes before Mr. Reptile Brain was finally convinced he wasn't just scoping me out for a return 2 am assault. In retrospect, almost another Vern Moment. But not quite!
The only return that night: the cold. Of course I stayed atop the bivy again. And again, woke up at 4am. Freezing.