Nogales.. again

Jan 4th :

I am in hunting camp just outside Nogales, Arizona. I found this spot with the help of a gal from a bike shop 15 miles away. I didn’t want to stay at the Motel 6. It’s too depressing. The whole town is depressing actually.IMG_0173
This is perhaps not camping perfection, but it is pretty nice deal for being so close to the border.. I imagine it being my last camping for awhile.

I’ve got my hammock slung up in a tree and I’m set up 75 yards from hunting camp. Two of the groups are hunting and the other family here to fish in the lake a mile or so away. It is stocked with trout.
Ron, (here to fish) decked out in his best RealTree and open-carry .45 said so.


I asked him about bears
“They’re all up in them hills back there. I’ve been coming here for thirty years and never saw one.”IMG_0191

The campground has no less than one bear-proof trash bin for each of the campers here right now.

We’re in a perfect acoustic bowl.
All conversations, coughs.. belches are clearly audible. I can hear each beer can pop.

Other than that, it’s silent.. One coyote earlier but he’s finished now… He probably saw Ron.

In planning to cross the border in the morning. I feel like I forgot something.. Well, I kind of did. I left my leatherman at Oatman and the small point and shoot camera I bought for the trip is MIA too.

I’m a little nervous and can’t talk to my ESAG because I’m out of cell range but it’s better than the Motel 6, and even with next door recounting their near miss hunting day, I can think clearly in my little blue and green people cocoon. …
Until I hear a bear.  It sounds far off…. I stop breathing.
The hunters have all gone to bed. It is silent except for the noise. I am frozen.
I wait.. It is grumbling… Growling…  Very… Oh Hell. It’s my damn stomach. I’m starving because I ate at three and I don’t want to get up in the cold and cook. I can hear the hunters snoring. I’m sure that was contributing to my audio-hallucination.
I’ll get up in the morning and eat something.

 

Hot Damn!

I’ve posted the details of my movement across country at livetoflytoride.com It’s been three weeks, almost a month now since I left Maryland in a flurry of snow and ice. My ESAG (Exotic Species Almost Girlfriend) and I are working out the horrible four month absence we are facing right now. We havent assigned a title to our relationship yet, so this is what is sufficing for the present.

I was hoping to be crossing the Border around the 21st of December, But there has been a bit of a disagreement from KLaRa.

I made it to San Diego and planned to cross at Tijuana (TJ) and take the Baja Peninsula to La Paz and ferry to the mainland from there, but there werent any tickets until the 26th..

In a flash of brilliance, I decided to ride back through California on I-8, I-10 and cross in Arizona… Maybe Nogales. Had I gone in at TJ and rode the same distance, it would have been slower and more dangerous. A great deal of the ride would be very close to the border.

As I rode the interstate, I kept smelling antifreeze, and finally, parked, with the bike running, looked at my waterpump.. which was spitting bright green liquid from a tiny hole in the bottom. Both exasperated and glad to have discovered the problem on this side of the border, I decided to fix the bike here. I can still overnight the part to Phoenix and be able to fix it on Christmas eve.

I ordered the part while camping at Oatman but wanted to be nearby when the part arrived.

IMG_6524So I shook the Facebook tree.. and an old paragliding acquaintence fell out! I was invited for the holiday at her mothers house in Phoenix. It was a lovely time and Mahi Tacos on Taco Tuesday is my new favorite Christmas Eve dinner!

The part didn’t show up until the 26th. Late. I was hoping it would be a bit early so I could have it finished by dark. At 4:30 I was nearly in tears with frustration and delays. I asked the shop if they could do the work and they said yes. Three hours later, new clutch installed and water seal repaired, I rolled out on my almost-new bike.

I stayed at a motel 6. The next morning I rose, did a few errands and I rode three hours to Nogales. I would cross the border at first light.

In Nogales, I wanted to look at my rear brakes that were feeling a little soft. What I saw was shocking.

They were covered with fresh oil. So were the back of my bags from the tires kicking it up. So was the entire underside of the bike from the waterpump back. The shop had damaged the oil seal when they removed the mechanical seal next to it. I’d lost half a quart of oil between here and Phoenix. The bike only takes two and a half. I would have to repair this before leaving.

After overnighting a whole new set of parts to a dealership in Tucson, I booked a room with a local girl from a house-sharing app.

For half as much as a Motel 6, I have a private room and bath, use of a large kitchen, washer/dreyer and super fast internet. My host is younger than me, is clearly in incredible shape and very bubbly. We talk for a couple hours… I made an inaccurate first assessment based immediately on an east coast-ish Valley Girl lilt that colors her dialogue. What she says is well thought out and describes some good breeding.

She’s bright.. was a middle school teacher for a while, she runs marathons, and loves to do cross-country bicycle trips. She’s shrewd with her money and creative about making it.

She’s a stripper.

She’s danced in other countries.. Australia, Spain and all over the US. She loves to travel and says it’s easy to fill pockets with travel cash after a night or two at the club.

Her house is a comfortable and bright, tiled one story with a Xeriscaped front yard. Its a great place for me to land… She’s got an extra bike to lend out and I take advantage of the wheels to roll around the city’s bike paths and coffee shops. Its a nice way to see Tucson.

Her very attractive hairdesser friend came by early Tuesday and gave us both haircuts.. I was thrilled to not have to find one in town and she was great company..  I found a message on my phone from Kawasaki after she left. The part was not in fact, overnighted. It will arrive on Thursday.

I’m depressed as hell until Janice comes out of the shower to tell me something in just a towel… this.. only a few minutes after she dashed back in the house wearing a micro-running outfit. It’s a day-saver. Can’t lie. Maybe she’s just trying to cheer me up. Either way, it is delightful.

I stayed two more nights in Tucson at another place I rustled up on the internet.. photo 3Finally, my bike parts came in and I put the oil and mechanical seals back in the water pump.        I was able to complete the work myself at the Davis Monthan AFB.. they are usually militant (no pun) about getting people out on time but there was an older fellow who stayed open so I could finish the work that evening.1487247_10202235564843345_1597459065_n

In the morning, I ran a few errands and left for the border… It is January 3rd.

Continuing to post

I’m sorry this has been such a long wait, I have been developing the Live to Fly to Ride idea for a long time now.. it has really been an evolution! Livetoflytoride.com is where I will be posting Rated G and PG-13 material, I will post the same places here, but this is the unrated site. If you are hoping for steamy details and want to know a little more than I should be saying, HAH! this is the place.

I love it here and hope this will remain my underground confessional 🙂

Thank you for your loyalty.

Not So Secret Secrets New Journey

I am reposting from Livetoflytoride.com

If you’ve already seen this post, then it’s the same.. If not, carry on! i think it’s fabulous and I hope you love it as much as I do!!

I am ridiculousty proud to announce that we have launched the Kickstarter campaign!

We’ve got TWO backers already (in addition to the people that have privately given their support) I’m hoping you will share with your friends and riding/flying buddies about this Campaign!

heres the link to make a contribution or SHARE!!!

http://kck.st/1eD8KFZ

Here’s the text and photos for a quick, no-click read…

THANK YOU!!

A story of extraordinary female adventure spirit as we fly and ride our way from from New Mexico to Santiago, Chile.

I’m Wendy. I’ve had a few lives. First as an artist in Denver, then as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician and now, as a writer and filmmaker. I want to show you what extreme adventure travel looks like from a womens perspective.. but not just mine. In this film, we will capture our real life moments of a two-woman journey from Gallup, New Mexico to Santiago, Chile as we fly our paragliders and ride motorcycle through each country, finding other female adventurers along the way.

I’ve been riding motorcycle for ten years and have more than 100,000 miles on and off the road. Kari will be learning enroute. She rides a Piaggio now… so, she’s not a total newb! Kari will be helping me film and open doors with her paragliding community contacts.

Kari Castle: From Bishop, CA, Age 50,  3 time Hang Gliding World Champion, multiple National Paragliding Champion, Red Bull X-Alps Veteran, free flight Instructor and Guide. Ambassador to our beautiful sport, she is unwaveringly good natured with a ready smile and large laugh every time you meet her.

Check out Kari at Karicastle.com

The women I am interested including in the film are ones we meet on the road, quietly exploring the world. I have met them before and find their stories to be often more extroadinary than well established women who are sponsored and have public profiles that limit candid conversation. I have a goal of featuring five amazing gals in the film. (Besides us) I am hoping for many more than that.

Where are they? Noone knows unless you do… this. We speak their language, and love their ginormous souls. We are living it and tracking them down for you.

We will document a cutaway view of the trip, showing you step by step preparations, training, our stops and the incredible women we meet when we get there! We will interview other women by calculated chance as we Fly and Ride South through the Americas. We hope to find women by meeting them at the flying sites, hostels, campsites, interviewing the local pilots, and researching rider resources like Women on Wheels, Womens Coalition of Motorcyclists, Horizons Unlimited and ADVrider. Also, through Kari’s network.

Currently I know of only one woman that I specifically want to meet with. Camila Antonorsi in Colombia. She is one of the very few women doing paragliding tours. She’s also a skydiver and a dentist.

You will see footage from (among other places) Valle De Bravo, Mexico – Lake Aitlan, Guatemala – Lake Ilopango, El Salvador – Caballito, Costa Rica –  Roldanillo, Colombia – Lima, Peru – Canoa, Ecuador and The Atacama Desert in Chile.  We will be blogging our movement daily (if internet access is available) and give you a front seat to this 10,000 mile search as we travel South at livetoflytoride.com

We are not including specific times and dates for personal safety reasons.

Why do you have to be so extreme?

Well, we love it. For a raft of reasons. But first, I think that this kind of adventure is not really so extreme after all. We as a culture are buried in misconceptions and misguided judgement of what this kind of travel is really about. Those of us that gather information from television and radio programming which are driven by ratings are not getting an honest firsthand perspective. What you get is shock, hilarity and horror. Perhaps there will be all three in this documentary, but we are shooting for an honest and candid view of our own and other womens experience.

In preparing for this project, I’ve been given a lot of alarmist advice.. including instructions to watch “Taken” 1 and 2. and even had a coworker threatening to make a “football pool” of what country I would be raped/killed/kidnapped in first.

If anything, it has hardened my resolve in creating an honest perspective of what a motorbiking/flying South American adventure is really like. For a woman.

Here is the short story of what flying and riding means to me.

After a return from Iraq, I felt disconnected and anxious. I needed to find something to shake off the gloom that had settled on my heart. I found that something flying. It created a Zen-like focus that allowed me to leave that weight on the ground. The community, the focus and the wild freedom of flying through the air is unmatched by anything… except perhaps by a twist of the throttle, accelerating into the canvas of a brilliant new landscape. I can’t imagine not riding.

In spirit, we have a third woman with us. We lost her earlier this year in Golden, Colorado at Lookout Mountain. She would have loved this Adventure as much as we do. Pilot, world traveler and moto rider, Meg VanSciver’s name will be on my bike as a reminder of her wit, bravery and beauty.

How did you get this idea?

When I was in Colombia a couple years ago, I was healing from a broken rib and badly sprained ankle at a little Irish bar that had some cheap rooms above it. While I was having a beer at a table outside, a tall blonde woman rolled up on her motorcycle. My eyes almost popped out! Who was this? I had seen many other male riders, but their presence wasn’t remarkable to me. I hadn’t seen any women. I immediately introduced myself and wanted to know every bit of her story… so she told me.

My mind wandered and I thought.. well why can’t I do this with a paraglider? Also, I wondered.. where are all the women? Here’s Sherri, having an amazing time. Here Iam, recovering from an amazing time, (broke my rib in a paragliding accident) where are the rest of us?

Fast forward almost a year to October when I met Kari Castle at her all womens Paragliding clinic in the Owens Valley. There they were! Almost two dozen remarkable women with huge spirits and beautiful paraglider wings to match. Since then, I’ve been reading about and searching for other women who love the freedom of motor and flying sport. I am a current member of Women on Wheels, the Womens Coalition of Motorcyclists, and the United States Hanggliding and Paragliding Association.

The Documentary idea was born from a friend doing her own documentary about lady paraglider pilots! I loved her film and wished for more, but there aren’t any.

Please join us and be a part of our story. Pledge what you can and if you can’t, then come and visit, ride or fly with us. Remember, it’s all or nothing at Kickstarter, so even if you can only afford $5, it still counts!

Wendy’s first book, “Paragliding Confessions of a Lady Bomb Tech” is being published this year in time for Christmas.

Kari is sponsored by: Oakley, Flytec, Ozone, OR, and Pocket Fuel. She is regularly featured in HangGliding and Paragliding Magazines and online articles. She has a clientele that numbers in the hundreds and a fan base in the thousands as well as being an icon in the sports of Hang Gliding, Paragliding and Kite Surfing.

Share this:

 

 

Dreams

When I was little, I had flying dreams. I had fantastic dreams that I could soar and I could see the Earth from a loooong way up, I could swoop and glide, and go wherever I wanted to in the air. It was absolutely magical. I was sad to wake up.. I would squeeze my eyes shut right away when I realized I had woken up. I could remember those dreams. Like it really happened… I still remember them today.

I was flying a site in San Bernadino, it is called Marshall. It’s an awesome SoCal flying destination. It has amazing thermal flying, XC opportunity, and a big, beautiful grassy LZ complete with friendly people, a BBQ…. AND a camping area.

I had a great flight and landed. After folding the wing, I wandered over to the sidelines where some people were talking to pilots on a Ham radio.

I asked curiously, “when are you going to fly?”

“Oh, I dont’t fly.”

“Really??” I squeaked… I always find it strange when people tell me they dont want to fly.

I looked at her…“Didn’t you have flying dreams when you were little?”

“No. never.”

I looked around the field, there were three or four others close by and I conducted a little impromptu survey of the ground handlers. Not a single one had the same flying experience that I had…. in their dreams… at any time in their life. Since that day, I have asked many non-pilots and pilots what their dreaming experience was.

The overwhelming majority of pilots I met have had flying dreams… the majority of non-pilots (not wanting to fly ever) have NOT had flying dreams. This is just an observation I have made that I find intensely interesting.. I am continuing my study and when I next meet with a large group of pilots, I will be sure to poll the audience.
Please! Tell me your dream-flight experience.. or Non

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Tecopa

The truck keeps feeling a little funny.. jerky a little. There are only seven more miles to go and as I think of a hot soak and smile happily, the engine suddenly quits…at sixty-five miles an hour. Towing a thirty-seven foot toyhauler. No trailer brakes, manual steering only, the truck rolls for at least three miles  on the downhill side of the long hill I just cranked up hoping there is a good place to pull the camper over without having to slam on my truck brakes…. there should be, anyway…

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Finally there is a large open area on the right, clearly used for large vehicles and perfectly flat. I evaluate a good place to crash into some bushes if the brakes don’t stop the heavy rig in time… and angle the slowing camper over to the side. The truck and trailer make a large arc into the gravel patch and the beast slows into a good position for a potential rescue.IMG_3995

I raise the hood and look around for anything untoward… there is nothing amiss. I’ve driven almost sixty miles, so I couldn’t possibly have put gas in the tank… again.. COULD I?

At any rate, it has to go to a repair shop and be taken care of…

I swing the back door down and roll the moto out…. and head back to the last place the phone was getting reception… about ten minutes away.
Forty minutes later, Triple A is towing the truck to the closest Dodge dealership 30 miles to Pahrump.
That done, I ride into nearby Shoshone and ask around about someone with a truck. Mary at the museum calls Susie at the resort who calls her friends the firemen who drive out an old beater pick up and tow my rig to a spot in town.

Finally, everything is settled.IMG_4032

Tecopa is where I sneakily find warm water bliss. I am in my happy place… a tiny town on the border of California and Nevada that I have been returning to for five years now.

It’s cold and my skin has been craving the hot soak I drove so far to enjoy.
I’m a fan of the deep pools on the other side of town, but also a bit curious about these springs.. It’s always a learning experience in new places and chances are, a good one.. Hot water is rarely a disappointment.

I grab my towel and shower kit.
The bathhouse is on the top of the property. It’s been redone on the outside.
Stucco with new tan paint… Here in the desert, it’s easy to tell when something has been neglected.. even for a short while. The sun, salt and the wind deliver harsh punishment to anything you might bring or build in this dry and varied climate.

I enter the squeaky, ill hung sliding glass doors. They stick and squeal and have to shove them a little. Inside there appear to be four tubs, only two of which are unlocked in separate rooms. I swish my hand in each of the two tubs.
I settle my things on a bench in the hotter of the two, click the thin metal door shut, strip down and slowly submerge my now goosebumped body  in the crystal water. It is all of heaven I was hoping for. I close my eyes and drift into nothing.

Almost an hour later, bones healed, mind soothed, I step out… skin steaming, and very warm, I towel off and pull my clothes back on.

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I settle into a chair on my camper patio, pull up a warm blanket and close my eyes in the cold, January night air… I listen to the coyotes yipping a hunt in the black, star speckled emptiness.. the only thing breaking the silence of the desert… that and some frogs. I drift off.

Sometime later in the dark, I wake to a dry wind swirling some leaves and knocking something metal. My mind takes a few minutes comimg alive enough to bundle into a thick jacket to go up the hill for another soak.IMG_4040

I finish my hot spring ritual and head back down to start my day… every time I return, there is a little camper that has its lights on. The yellow light inside the huge glass of the cab seems very warm and welcoming. There are lots of plants outside, a little porch area and sometimes I can hear a dog collar jingling..
Its a tiny, dusty town… Population 100. There’s only a bistro (open only on the weekends), a community center that makes a $5 lunch for whoever wants (it’s really the senior center), and a bunch of hot springs. Honestly, that’s pretty much it.IMG_0031

After breakfast, I rode my moto in the 36 degree air to the dealership. they are making progress. They have determined that it was not actually the lift pump, in fact, they say, it is the injection fuel pump but it will cost $2000 to fix. I ride home relieved that the truck will be fixed but upset that half of the money I saved for a new paraglider wing is gone to my truck.IMG_4003

Ah well, I will soak and have a nice dinner tonight at the restaurant in town and see my friend that works there.IMG_4008

 

The bistro is blue, has seven or eight tables, a mish-mash of furniture, stacks of books and CD’s and a handful of dim lights.. candles. It feels like an old friends home… especially when there are old friends here. It’s open only on the weekends and sometimes only for dinner. Depends if the chef/owner has something going on or how busy it seems. The waitress, Shelly, has been here for a couple years. She’s tall… well, her shoes make her tall-er. Chunky very high boots or sandals… depending on the season. She is fit, classically beautiful and sassy. There is something about her that is also a bit dark and delightfully sensual.. maybe it’s those boots. She’s a world traveler and speaks two languages but has landed here in Tecopa. She seemed somewhat out of place when I first met her here, but is an immovable fixture in my memory now.

There is a shriveled old woman sitting across from me and the books. I saw her at the senior center earlier.

Rose is in her seventies and short. I ask her about the weather. She looks at me in disgust.  “I can tell what the weather is going to be when I look out the window.” Pause…  thoughtful.    “If my cat comes in wet, I know its raining outside.” She glares as if challenging me to ask another stupid question… scoops a spoonful of soup in her mouth.

I try to make small talk but it is a real challenge. I must quickly agree with all opinions or she levels The Eye at me… every bit of her blue sweatered 4’8″frame ready for combat. During our short debate, I discover that she owns the warm little trailer that I’ve been admiring, and is the town tailor. She will mend any garment for free.. she won’t accept money, but a bag of groceries or some help with the propane seem to be a welcome substitute. She used to live in Northern California. Her husband hated Tecopa…

Rose: “Well, he died, and now I can get in the hot water.”

I am delighting over a simmering bowl of the beef stew that Shelly just delivered. It is really fabulous. John, the chef, is miraculous in the kitchen. He used to be a chef in New York but got tired of the rat race and moved his operation to…. Here!                                                                            Dinner is always fabulous…. middle of nowhere dining excellence.

There is some talk about a telescope outside. A local astronomer that stays here gives impromptu classes about everything in the sky…. which is a lot, because there is almost no light pollution. He’s happy manning a powerful telescope and feeding a very low fire in an old wash tub drum.

After some stargazing and a slice of raspberry cheesecake, I relax again on my camper porch and let the desert silence invade my busy mind.

IMG_0033I wake to my last day in town. It is surrounded by red, desert rainbow striped mountains, cliffs and a scattering of different sand and stone formations. Every hill in the area has a little rabbit trail to the top… I just walk around till I see it. They’re not marked. Cell service can sometimes be found at the top of one of these.. sometimes not. None in the town center. The locals can tell you the closest place to get a call. Most of them will let you use their phone.IMG_0034

The smallness makes it warm and comfortable. If something goes wrong, the entire town will rally to help out….

If you are skeptical of this utopia I describe, rest easy. I’m not under any impression that it is the perfect nest. There is plenty of small town drama and gossip… the hallmark of a condensed community. There is also a strange element here that I noticed the last time also, and it was even more pronounced this time. The town population is nearly doubled… with Asians. Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Thai. The resort I like at the end of town is partly if not wholly owned by Koreans now that put up a lighted red and white sign above the original. It is in Korean. and big. There’s still some hippies running it, but there are ominous signs of change.

It has been frustrating all afternoon with the patronizing apathy of the Dodge dealership I had relied on to repair my stranded truck… three days later, it is at the same stage of broken as when it went in, but now cost me $2000 to get out of car jail.

There is a place in Las Vegas with great reviews, online.. Diesel Specialists.. so I have it towed there to be resuscitated. They’re closed on the weekend and I’m taking a gamble that they can help.

I spent the rest of the early evening having dinner with Shelly and John, chatting with the very nice local sheriff (ruggedly handsome body builder also) working out the details of my travel to Vegas. There is only one bus out of town every two weeks and it was here three days ago.IMG_0035

The gal that was manning the desk at the resort overheard the story and offered me a ride… an hour and a half each way.

There always seems to be kind people. Everywhere. Always, there is someone that wants to help. When the camper blew a tire in between Ely and Wendover, Nevada there was no means of changing it myself… the very first car that passed me saw my trouble and turned around to help. In Colombia, dozens of times. Hitch hiking rides in Brazil and Moab… new acquaintences opening their homes and kitchens to me. The number of kindnesses to me completely eclipses the amount of selfish or cruel behavior….

Now, as Suzie drives me into Vegas in her old two wheel drive pickup, we talk about Tecopa, and the trip to Omaha. I’ll be back in a fair bit and until then will be missing the silence, the warm people and some deep hot water.IMG_0027

Torrey


I love Torrey Pines Gliderport. It is one of the most special places of my life. I never feel lonely when I am on the hill…  Never when I am flying the buttery smooth air.

I’m here for the next few days.IMG_3974IMG_3685

It is incredible that such a place should exist. It’s proximity to such a developed urban area and its financial value make it an unseemly place to put a hangliding or paragliding launch. But it is here in beautiful La Jolla, CA and it is busy… and almost always full of pilots and bystanders.IMG_2835                                                  It is a place to experience for yourself. To see with your own eyes the sparkling Pacific meeting the Black beach three hundred and twenty-seven feet below. To feel a gentle West wind full of salt. To see the rainbow of paragliding wings in the sky when the airspeed and direction are perfect. To stand in a sunset filled with sometimes Peregrine Falcons, Brown Pelicans, Harris Hawks, Black Crows or Seagulls, flying friends and an enormous expanse of calm seashore.
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Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 9.41.47 PMIt is magic to me and the memory burns a pattern in my mind. I feel whole and good…. I feel like I have a super power. It is the power of Flight…. Whenever I land, my smile is as big as the beach. It is hard to stop laughing. It is better than the best drug. Ever. It is pure love.IMG_3971IMG_3753

 

Minesweeper

I have Duty.. I took some regular Navy work onboard a ship.. It is a Minesweeper…. Tiny. I have never been on a ship this size.. And it has been almost ten years since I was on a ship at all..IMG_3630

Never spending much time around ships or anyone other than EOD guys, I dropped quite a bit of Navy professional knowledge. What acronyms were for the different rates (jobs) when, what and where to salute, names of different shipboard spaces. Normally I wouldn’t do any of this but with reserve EOD potentially headed for extinction in the near future, I am jumping on anything I can find to do to see what I might like.

I check in with the admin department across the bay and head to my ship.  I find the USS Chief and meet the commander that accepted my application. He’s handsome and polite. I like him right away… We talk for a while and discuss further plans for my career. Honestly, I don’t have further plans, I’m just trying to fill in some time gaps left open by the hole in my commitment. I haven’t shown up for duty in more than a year. The Navy will kick me out pretty soon if I don’t start completing necessary tasks to staying an active part of the reserve component. Physical readiness tests, general military training and regular duty hours.IMG_3642IMG_3657

IMG_3654I’m left alone after an hour or so to figure out my time for myself. I forget where exactly I was supposed to go (there are a lot of doors and stairs) and have to ask a couple sailors that seem more than a little pissed that there is a lost woman aboard their all male ship. I can’t really take them that seriously… One of them was a guy they call “Too Tall”. it’s an apt name. He’s scowling at me, but he can’t stand up straight in the low overhead.. His head is cranked over at a steep angle everywhere he goes. It’s no wonder he’s grumpy.

What is patently embarrassing daily for me, is the PA announcement they have to make each time I board their vessel. They ding a bell, then..  “Rig The Ship For Female Visitors”  Loud.

I can barely suppress the urge to run down the ladder and yell into the berthing.. “Pillow fight’s over, boys!!”

The vessel has no accommodations for women, they have to tape a sign to one of the heads.. “Female Only” (singular)IMG_3006


The duty, unfortunately, falls during the holiday stand down period.. Which means that the sailors are geared for the holidays. There is a crew there to keep the ship alive and ready, but otherwise, meaningful work has come to a halt. It is festive though, and the Christmas lights have been wound into the rigging… There is a team of reindeer riding our forecastle. It is quite beautiful at night to walk the pier and see all the decorated ships.IMG_3008

I am frustrated by this duty though. I am used to a furious pace generated by the training department… or the Chief… or the LT… or anyone who might be bored. Which in the EOD community is anyone not otherwise engaged. I miss our crazy, sometimes unbalanced but always interesting crowd. I don’t want to have another job in the Navy. I love mine.

Two weeks later, I am free and have scheduled two weeks of vacation. I want to fly and relax before I have to go to Omaha.IMG_3795

Oatman

 

It is just after daybreak and I am musing quietly in my camp chair parked just outside my trailer door. I can hear a plane. A bird trilling in a nearby bush… One farther away…a different call. Nothing else except the ringing silence in my ears. The steady hum of highway traffic is totally absent.

I am ecstatic to have awakened in this silent desert wonderland. It is an escape from time. There is a small farmstead about a half mile behind us. Only Dakotah and I are here at the foot of the mountain.

I debated going to Phoenix for the weekend, I’m really happy I didn’t. I decided to camp here in the LZ at Oatman instead.
I found him here last Saturday. He is a sweet, gentle personality. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. No, really. He wouldn’t hurt it. He captures each errant creature in a plastic bag designed specifically for such a task and releases them at the end of the day.

He drinks spring water (he got it from a spring himself) and is a vegetarian, he only eats organic food and works out on a homemade  gym. It consists of a wooden weight lifting bench, a small set of weights and pull-up bar welded to the top of his van. The bench doubles as a serving platform for any meal.

He’s a hippie… And a paraglider pilot.

We meet in the morning, he shares some of his coffee and I pet his old dog… Little Brother. We make a plan to hike up the mountain around two thirty.

I’m a bit late cause I’m hungry. I heat up and scarf down some potatoes and ribs my neighbor Jim gave me back in Gila Bend. They are ridiculously good.

I swing my pack onto my back and head to Dakotas house.

We both have hiking poles. They are almost a requirement for the hike. It is a very steep, rocky trek up. Dakotah instructs me how to place the pole carefully prior to taking each step and to hike up the areas where there is vegetation growing. The boulders are not stacked on top of each other quite so thickly and are cemented into the earth. The chances of having a major rock slide is less…. Even a minor one would be catastrophic. They are quite evenly sized, between as big as your head and about the size of a beach ball..some a bit larger…about the size of a coffin, I think darkly.

It is a sharp, wobbly staircase. Eight hundred feet up. Every ten minutes or so I turn around to look at the unfolding landscape. My camper shrinks on the desert floor. I take several breaks with my mouth dry and heart pounding…finally I  reach the top. Dakotah is waiting. He stopped a couple times to make sure I was doing ok, but has still made it way ahead of me. It has taken me a little over an hour. It takes him about thirty-six minutes. He is in spectacular shape.. and almost twenty years my senior.

We stand at the top and admire the landscape. It is getting close to sundown and the wind is pulsing up the hill in regular cycles, fairly gentle at around eight to ten mph. I lay out my wing and take the first launch. My wing comes straight up, I give it a quick check, turn on my heel and run forward.

I holler “Ka – Kaw!” and it echoes in the big bowl as I fly away from the hill. Airborne!!

It is buoyant and mostly smooth. There are still little bubbles from the days more powerful thermals. I find a few of them on my way out, but I don’t take advantage of much lift so close to the rocks. It Isn’t enough to carry me far from the sharp danger.

I land about fifteen minutes later walking on the desert pavement not far from my camper. Dakotah has not launched yet and I face the hill to wait and watch his flight.

He finally  takes off near sunset into the deep almost navy blue sky… I follow his flight into the spectacular sunset building.. cerulean/red/orange/yellow swash of color that streaks the sky low to the West.

Dakotah finally lands forty minutes later nearly in front of his van right before all the color has left the sky. It is spectacular to watch him fly. He has no fear.

An hour later I return with some organic grilled romaine I just fixed and he spoons me a bowl of the veggie stew he has made. Its good.. He’s thrown a couple jalapeños in the pot and surprised me with its spicyness. I’ve had dinner with only a very few vegetarians and I have to look in his bowl because i’m curious to see all the things he’s put in it.. The one thing I couldn’t identify were some flower shaped disks he told me were broccoli hearts.. The rest was kale, cauliflower, beans, carrots, and broccoli tops.

The next day is mellow. I fix a few things on my truck, explore some of the countryside, check out the road to the top.  It’s skinny and steep.

I’m not wanting to hike up to the top today. I’d go up if we could drive, but I’m just not feeling it. I’ll watch him fly and take pics if he can launch.

The last campers left some wood. I think it’s mesquite.. There is a ton of it dead around the corner by the alfalfa fields. It would be nice to have some company by a fire tonight, I’ll ask Dakota over when he lands.

I finally see him launch in the orange light, it’s a bit buoyant but not too lifty and he soars the ridge getting little pops that take him just feet over the top of the ridge.. as the last of the sun dips below the horizon, he punches out and sets up his landing…

I greet him as he folds his wing. His smile is giant and I can see that he is thrilled with his sunset ride. I show him some of the pictures I took and invite him to my campfire later. He is delighted with both and says he will bring some tea.

The fire is just the right size… Just big enough to throw off some good warmth when I scoot in close with my blue campchair…. I enjoy the quiet crackling of my creation for fifteen minutes before I hear crunching footsteps on the rocky desert floor… And the wheezing, limpy pawsteps of Little Brother, exhausted with his long walk.

 Dakota has some warm, fragrant peppermint tea in a cup for me, he is always smiling.. It is a joy to have the company of such good energy. He sits next to me in the flickering light and tells me stories. He tells me about his medicine wheel and how he builds each one very carefully, aligns it to the cardinal directions and how he makes a prayer for every rock he chooses…   IF it has the correct energy. It can take days if not weeks to build one. Sometimes he will choose rocks that he only gathers in the moonlight.

He tells me of panning for gold, of living on a reservation, and his life as a saturation diver. He is endlessly interesting to me, but my eyes are beginning to close.

I am grateful for meeting such a free man, such an incredible spirit that is so open and willing to share. I love his sweetness to all living things (he doesn’t have fires because it kills the creatures that live in the wood) but he doesn’t chide me and in fact, says he enjoys the warmth and company.

He gives me a giant hug and parting tells me, “Goodnight Dear One, sleep well.”

I smile with a lump in my throat. He has become dear to me too.

Gila Bend

 

I am sitting outside my new Toyhauler in Gila Bend, Arizona. It should be quiet here in the desert, but really its not. The rubber from every vehicle that passes is a rip in the perfectly still air.. I can follow each sound across the highway… every once in awhile someone peels out in a muscle car. The campers nearby play music, crumple potato chip bags. There is a child or a woman screaming thinly from someones TV. It is impossible to tell which camper it is coming from.. Sound carries far in the desert.

 

Gila Bend is one of those places I’ve always dreaded going. I’m a city girl.. and kind of a foodie. I like meeting people with ideas and dreams. Gila Bend doesn’t have a lot of dreams. Its got a lot of Meth though. It seems to always be the blight of a small town. Even with the blight here, it seems small and safe.

 

I don’t really go into town much.. there are a couple small restaurants, fast food, a tire repair, hardware, and about four gas stations. No grocery store… actually, there was one, but it closed last year. Most of the locals like the Italian place. They’ve got good pizza.. it is New York style, pretty authentic too. Mostly I’ve just been cooking in the camper. I made a roast duck and chicken, bean soup, some nice grilled steaks and salads.

I’m saving the fat from the duck… you need six to eight cups in order to confit a duck… if I make two more, I’ll have enough. It seems worth the effort since the Phoenix grocer is charging eight bucks a cup for the fat…

 

When I’m not cooking, I always like to check whatever area I’m in to see if there is a good flying site nearby.. I’ve been moderately put off by some online guidance I found with my phone here. It said that you shouldn’t fly during the week because there are military jets that use the airspace.

 

Two days ago, my coworker and I were coming back in from the range and I saw a truck parked at the gas station. It had at least five hang gliders on top and what looked like some kind of motor. I emergency asked my co-worker to stop our truck so I could jump out and meet the pilots. They had just come from the local site.. Oatman. They are a middle aged fit fellow and a gorgeous black haired Mexican gal with a thick Spanish accent. They tell me there is no jet hazard.. the military stopped buzzing that mountain years ago and that there are a couple hippies camped out for a couple weeks. The couple is on their way to Mexico to fly. It is what they do full time. For money, he teaches people how to fly ultralights and does art. My chest burns with jealousy.

 

That evening, the minute we arrive home from work, I set out to find the site. I don’t bring my wing because A. it is still unpacked because its nice to kite in the evenings when the wind is right, and B. Because there is no way I’ll make it for even a glass off. I’ll be driving home in the dark for sure.

 

I head out on I-8 then Painted Rock Road and follow the instructions… but I’m lost in some gloriously green alfalfa fields almost immediately. Finally, I get turned around and feel like I’ve got the right spot. I’m headed down a washboard dirt lane. There is the big hill with radio towers directly ahead of me That’s what I’m supposed to be looking for. I don’t see what looks like a good LZ yet, and I wonder what is on the back side of the tower mountain… The sun is setting hotly and it is a banner evening, but I’m worried if I’ll be able to find the hippies in this fading light. There is a LOT of empty country here.

 

As I round the last corner to the right, the back side of the mountain takes my breath away…. OF COURSE!! It is a classic ridge. A big beautiful, sweeping bowl with a few acres of flat desert pavement* with sparsely dotted saguaro and creosote for an LZ. It would be easy to land right next to your car.

There are two campers here. One is a white van that looks a little trashed and the other is a tidy hanglider strapped to a newer model truck with a nice tent setup. There are two guys by the van and one of them is folding up a wing. I zero in. An old yellow dog wheezes and limps toward me as fast as he can. (not fast) He makes a large effort of greeting the new visitor. I quicken my step to make his painful journey a little shorter.

I wave at the two pilots and they start walking toward me as well.

 

One guy just landed. I first introduce my self to Paul and shake his hand. Dakota (guy that landed)will have no part of hand shaking and gives me a giant sweaty hug. I love his enthusiasm! He’s thin, in his mid-fifties, and is sporting a messy sun- bleached blond ponytail, a permanent tan and smile, powerful looking arms. It is obvious this fellow is thrilled to be alive. Paul is about the same age with salt and pepper whiskers but a little more sober and has to be back to work the day after tomorrow.

Dakota will be flying and camping for another week or two. We talk for a half an hour about wings and sites and people we know.. I get a jury site checkout, some local lore and finally excuse myself to return home in the deepening twilight. The desert pavement is just forgiving enough to see some faint tracks but with any less light, I will be hard pressed to find my way out.

 

I am delighted with this epic place, it is exactly the type of site I have always imagined I would love to find. I can barely wait to fly it this weekend even if I only get a sled ride or two!!

 

*What is desert pavement? It is a naturally occurring, closely patterned arrangement of rocks on the surface of desert soil that is very flat and might seem to be man-made. Many times it has a varnished appearance from clay and other deposits.. it is unknown the exact reason how it is formed but there are several theories.