Learning to Drive as I Go

I feel as though I've returned from a massive research field trip, and time to take all the data collected - DO something with it! My college professors reading will appreciate the analogy. It was always a goal of mine to work on a PhD and write a thesis on something! Not exactly how I imagined, though exciting to have so much to work with.  To my donors - thank you!

The following essay and photos  are from April 11th - 12th of 2018. Having been traveling across Nevada, we were dipping further south to avoid a significant weather system calling for high winds, which makes for an uncomfortable night of sleep. There was a good lead on a campsite just off Nevada route 6, west of Coaldale, and off road 264. We decided to make a play for it. The hunt for camp became one of the more memorable adventures of this journey.

April 11th, 2018...

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Much of Nevada is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and unless posted, open for public access (and camping in designated spots.) We turned onto an un-named two track. We were just looking for a place to hunker for the night, with little intention to venture too "deep" into the unknown. Needless to say we ventured.

We've made countless turns off the main drag in search of prime camping locations in past. Each and every time you take to the dirt, sand, rock and often a compilation of all - it's an adventure into the unknown. This particular time it was like a scene out of Alice and Wonderland.

The first bit of the drive was easy. Rolling hills of sage bush, dotted with cactus, though nothing to shelter one from the incoming weather. I kept thinking if we head towards the mountains, we'd find a valley/canyon to shelter, us particularly from high winds. At some point we began climbing, introduced scary-to-me switch backs and stunning views (appreciated more because it distracted me from how tightly I was gripping the steering wheel!)

We just kept going deeper into the unknown, having faith in the road, clues along the way which encouraged us not to give up and hours later came across the perfect place to camp. We had just enough light from the setting sun to whip up a hot meal and turn in for the night - plenty sheltered from any possible weather.

April 12th, 2018...

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I did not write anything in my journal on April 11th, it was a full day of travel as we aimed to dodge incoming weather. If I recall we did have some wind as the system passed north overnight, but otherwise uneventful till the next morning when I went to turn the Jeep on to warm things up, forgetting it was in gear and sent the Jeep LAUNCHING itself backwards. 

I've never moved so fast in my life! I was NOT sitting in the driver seat at the time. Had recently learned I could start the Jeep without pressing in the clutch if it were in four wheel LOW and neutral.Turns out the Jeep was in reverse. Furthermore, had been perched on a few rocks or logs to level it out for sleeping. Use your imagination and it was a comical scene that would make one's father cringe (as my father is reading!)

Now WIDE awake, could see it was a gorgeous morning and the mountains off to the West received a fresh coating of snow. The adventure continued with the rising sun as we had to find a way out of the canyon (not far from Trail Canyon Reservoir, Southeast of Mustang Mountain in the Inyo National Forest on the Nevada side.) I will not forget the drive into the canyon and I will absolutely not forget the drive out.

Now is a good time to remind you all that I'm still, at this point in the journey still a very green off-road driver! Generally speaking the roads themselves are in better shape than some of the forest roads of the Northeast with one very big difference. In the Northeast the dense forest make you feel safe, secure and hide the scary steep drop-offs to your left and or right (or both sides!) In Nevada you easily climb elevations greater than 9,000 feet with absolutely NOTHING to one side or the other.

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My confidence was high we had a way out of the canyon and through to the other side of these mountains, reconnecting with Nevada route 6 (needless to say we took the "long way") -  just east of the California border.  My MIND knew we had a way out, but my GUT had a terrible feeling of what we had to navigate to get there. 

I'd been every fortunate that during those early days on the road Monty and I were not alone. We were at this time traveling with an extremely experienced overlander, and in fact, you can watch their episode including these travels. Not in the episode, just how scared I was. I was scared the day before as I'd never driven at that altitude with so many high switch backs. On this morning less scary switch backs and just steep STRAIGHT up climbing in LOW gear in hopes that when we reached the top, there would be a way down the other side.

There was! Just like the day before, my tears were quickly replaced with giddy joy! Nevada is beautiful! The drive remained technical, though we found our way into another canyon which led us back to pavement and on-wards to California. In less than 24 hours I faced a number of my fears, learned a few lessons which for sure have kept me safer later down the road, and that my adventure home is far more capable than it's driver! 

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For the rest of the day I was on cloud nine. I did it. My first "real" drive which felt true and sincere to what I've come to learn about overland travel. We navigated the road less traveled. We had everything we required to survive out there for however long. It was VERY remote, wild, with a healthy balance of exciting and scary.

The remainder of the drive was easy, smooth and breath-taking. The Mammoth Lakes region of California is stunning. Just stunning. We settled into a nice camping spot protected from the weather and out-of-this-world views of the mountains. Exhausted, I settled into my cozy "Jeep home" with Monty by my side.

The following are snippets from my journal. By the time we arrived to California I had no funding to speak of. Was not just scared and humbled by the experiences of the trip, worried I was going to fail at my mission, which had been evolving before my eyes. These are raw thoughts copied straight from my journal entry for April 13, 2018:

"Sitting just outside Mammoth Lakes at a campsite with simply epic views. It’s a photographer’s dream out this way with landscape alone."

"I’m trying to take this all in. This moment. The moments leading up to this moment. What am I doing wrong? What am I doing right?"

"I’m hungry and tired. My head hurts. It’s 4pm. Endurance makes gold. Endure. Period."