Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Heat

4 PM and it was 120 F (48 C). And that was in the shade, of which there is precious little in Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, California. With the wind blowing hard off the desolate terrain that surrounded us it felt like a furnace door had been left open. It was almost painful, leaving my lips parched, tasting only droplets of sweat as they slid down my face. Stopping our decent into the desert just to get a bottle of water to rehydrate our sweat-soaked bodies I returned to my motorcycle to find it too hot to touch without gloves. I suddenly had no difficulty believing in spontaneous combustion and frying eggs on the hood of a car.
Our bodies were in shock, having climbed to the height of Yosemite’s passes at 10,000 feet above sea level, where the recently snowbound road had only been made passable last week, to the inferno the second lowest spot on the earth’s surface. In the space of 3 hours we had experienced both speeding past snow banks where it was 40 degrees (6 C) and screaming over a wasteland and through the hottest temperatures any of us had known. The juxtaposition of scraping at the very door of the heavens one minute and descending to the brink of hell’s fires the next left us staggering and wrung out. The day’s ride had stretched us in ways we had not imagined.
The landscape’s diversity was also evident in the people we met. The mountains of Yosemite and their magnificent waterfalls had introduced us to a local reporter who interviewed Jim on what had caused him to come to the park while we all posed for his photographer to snap a group photo. The deserts of Death Valley had us cross paths with a solo biker riding around America on his Honda Fury loaded down with camping supplies. Nick sported a shaved head under which had sprouted a scruffy mid-length beard. Although he was obviously anxious to talk, after I asked him about his motorcycle, he was slow to smile. I soon guessed his motivation was to avoid drawing attention to his solitary tooth that stood stark, stained and lonely as its owner. He spoke with a drawl and looked every bit a pirate, although more friendly than fierce. His eyes spoke of a human hard luck story that I would never hear, but I was enriched by the few words he shared.
The day, like life sometimes, demanded adaptation to vastly varied circumstances as well as accommodation of amazingly diverse personalities. My journey, both in life and today, has never been monochrome but rather a kaleidoscope, never a simple piper’s tune but a complex symphony of fury and finesse, sometimes lush as an alpine forest wringing the sustenance from melting snow and sometimes arid and bleak as a barren wilderness struggling to stay alive.
Like Jim says, “It is all good. We can enjoy and learn from each landscape we find.” If I allow it, each scene and character I encounter can be an etching on my soul.

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