Updated: May 19, 2020
DAY ONE ALONE
The Return to Siberia countdown timer says I’ll be there tomorrow. Actually, I’ll be there tonight. Let’s go!
Last week's Siberia solitude began with this ride from Ludlow to Siberia ghost town. I'd taken a few hours off work in order to leave early (noon) and arrive before sundown, which made for pleasant and interesting travel along a stretch of highway I normally only ride in the dark this time of the year. The many big white 4x4 trucks seen on Route 66 are from the Pacific Gas and Electric company (PG&E), which I'd earlier learned is performing safety checks on an underground section of their gas line running through this stretch of the East Mojave desert. Sorry about the dead bug on the camera windshield... I'll try to remember to run the wiper (my finger) over the lens next time before starting the camera.
Arrival at Siberia was simply lovely; with perfect climate and only a slight cooling breeze suggestive of the very cold nights which are just a few weeks away. There was none of the unsettled anxiety I felt two weeks back and which I later attributed to the increased presence of humanity (the gas line trucks and workers) in a place on earth I usually have all to myself.
Stopping for lunch at the edge of the high desert. It’s cold out here. That’s good, as it means the summer Desert Killer is now gone. It’s too soon for the winter killer to arrive, though I shutter a bit at simply the thought. I’m so much more scared of the desert during the winter than the summer; as there’s no escape. There’s no hiding beneath the bridge. No amount of clothing will do. Especially in the wind, which moves over my two-hundred square miles of empty like a smothering blanket of cold, with a deep indifferent embrace. At least the heat warms the mind, imparting some comforting suggestion of more when life in done. Not the cold. There’s no immortality there.
Lunch is done. I’m amused my muse came out to meet me. It’s the first time she’s ever done so, so far from her desert home. She sat with me here at Chipotle. Like someone close meeting a friend at the airport. Mostly she was quiet though - mentioning only a few words about the cold. I won’t expect her at Siberia. I’m ready for a long night utterly alone. There’ll be no moon tonight. The ghost town will be utterly dark. Too dark to see ghosts, or muse. just darkness and the wind. As far as I know I may never see her again. And that’s fine. As our work is already done.
I stopped at the Barstow field office of the United State’s Bureau of Land Management to meet with a geologist about my plans to file a mining claim in the Deep Water Wilderness. The geologist is a swell guy, and he’s going to work with me to determine if there are any current claims on the land I want. If not, then he’ll help me file my claim. I asked him about the minerals I’m after and he gave me some good, and very encouraging info. Looks like this is a go unless someone else has already “jumped my claim.”
I’ve arrived back at Siberia. The wind’s blowing. Pretty hard. It’s that same wind that got me last time. And a new moon tonight. It’s gonna be dark and blustery - good conditions for a night hike. First to set up camp and have some dinner. No sign of the muse yet. Maybe she’s under the bridge. I’ll go check later.
My desert camp is set up with maybe thirty minutes of sunlight left. Now it’s time to pop over to the writing bridge to see if I can locate the muse.
I struggled to find the right word to capture the sense and feeling of the short hike captured below...finally settling on the Japanese word "dekita" which expresses the proper sentiment - but only when spoken aloud.
The writing bridge from above Route 66. Nothing down there...
Sunset on Siberia ghost town. The wind has stopped. Now the ghosts that never were can return...
I made this video at the start of a very long and very dark moonless desert night. Non-believers may not pray, though many of us do spend some moments before we sleep wondering and planning after the best way we can make good use of the little time we have in life to live well and create meaningful end results. This was one such night.
Train passing in the dark at Siberia ghost town. Nothing to see. Only to hear.
The desert was very dark last week until the moon rose about 3:00 AM. The appearance of moonlight spilling over the Old Dad Mountains woke me up and I went outside the tent to witness the partial moon illuminating the outline of both mountains and clouds. Whenever I see the moon at night while alone in the wild, I'm reminded of a poem Sarah Kemble Knight penned in 1705 while travelling alone through New England. In the poem's opening lines (below), she expresses her trepidation travelling as a woman alone through the night in a dark woods. And then the relief she feels when at last the familiar face of the moon (which she refers to as "Fair Cynthia") appears to light her way. I made an effort to commit these lines to memory when I was a teen and I've had ample opportunity to use them throughout my life:
"Fair Cynthia, all the Homage that I may Unto a Creature, unto thee I pay; In Lonesome woods to meet so kind a guide, To Mee's more worth than all the world beside." -Sarah Kemble Knight
DAY TWO ALONE
Already at work before breakfast. The climate today here is perfect. The first week of November is a very good season for the desert.
There’s a whole chapter in Going Alone called The Path of Wildness. I’ve decided this mysterious stone-lined trail at Siberia shall be the concept’s namesake.
I got a good bit of Bible study done and a healthy dose of writing complete. Now it’s time for breakfast. And I haven’t even been to the bridge yet.
It’s time to go to work under the bridge. But first, I’ll leave a note on the bike so the railroad police won’t send a helicopter to look for me like that one time. Fortunately, I arrived back then just in time to stop the search before the chopper lifted off, but not in time to prevent them sending police to my home to talk to my wife. These notes seem to do the trick and were suggested to me by the railroad police. Swell fellas, by the way.
These stones, located between the ghost town ruins and the bridge, always fill my mind with questions.
Each chapter of the new book gets its title written in chalk in the wooden rafters below the Route 66 bridge at Siberia. The chalk seems to be holding up well after half a year, though like all of us I expect it’ll be dust before long.
I’ve completed two new chapters in the last three months and their titles are now under the bridge. I hope I spelled “principle” right.
Here's the reason I wound up writing chapter eight of The Good Life twice - the wind had blown the first chapter away. I use chalk to write on the rafters of this old 1930's-era Route 66 bridge, the names of each chapter I have successfully completed while working from the folding chair I keep stashed in the rafters. It seems the red chalk I initially used can withstand fairly well the nearly constant desert winds, while the green chalk is soon blown away. In fact, it looks like the wind completely blew away the title of the last chapter (written in green) which made me think the chapter hadn't yet been written...so I wrote it again. It wasn't until I got home and went to transcribe the work into an electronic copy of the manuscript that I realized I'd written the chapter twice. So now I have two completely independent copies of the same body of work... Looking them over, it's clear the chapters each follow the same theme and line of thought, though with distinct differences in language, approach and character. Anyway, I think it's time to switch back to red chalk.
It was wrong to not return to Siberia this past summer. So much only chances lost due to my fear and insecurity of this place I otherwise love. Like a child afraid to go outside. I chose instead to gaze out the window from behind the curtains of my safe and sound. That is the risk of avoiding risk.
I’ve run out of polished desert stones to send out with my book. Here’s a nice collection of fresh material for the tumbler. There’s some lovely agate and petrified wood in there. I think I’ll have some nice samples to send folks beginning in December.
It’s almost noon and time to leave Siberia for my real home with my family. With a little luck I’ll cross the 205 miles in time for dinner. It’s good to have a place to go which leaves us with less and less with every visit - allowing us to focus on the really important stuff that’s left behind...
Departing Siberia is always a bittersweet moment of relief and excitement all in one. Relief that the experience is at last over, and I'll soon be safe again at home with my family, while exciting in the knowledge of the two weeks of life ahead with my brain charged and ready for lots of interesting thinking about the contrast between the empty indifference of the universe at large and the wonderful, buoyant, animated communities of life, love and challenging hardship we each must partake during our very brief adventure of life. Goodbye for now, Siberia. See you again in two weeks!
I stopped to see if they’re selling the mineral my mining claim will seek to secure. They are. And it’s a good price. This is encouraging.
This one really shook me up... This is Amboy Road which stretches from the nearly deceased desert community of Amboy all the way to Twentynine Palms. It's a long, mostly straight and narrow ride through an enormous desert valley. You can see for ten miles ahead and behind--though for some reason the guy in this van decided to play chicken with an on-coming family SUV. No horns blared during this encounter though I'm sure there was shouting from within the SUV, followed perhaps by a mumbled prayer of gratitude.
One hundred and sixteen miles to home. I’m a little under halfway back... It’ll take about a week for the wildness to begin to wear off. That’s why it’s important to go back. Not to re-live the desert empty - but instead to simply refresh the rare and valuable perspective the empty provides on the rest of life.
Rode hard and put away hot... The GSA got me out and back yet again. What a bike! The last 24 hours were memorable. Possibly the best and most productive Siberia solitude yet. The real essence of Going Alone.
My name is Kurt Bell.
You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.
Be safe... But not too safe.