When was the last time you got dirty? Like truly dirty, with mud all over your face, arms and legs? Just you and messy mother nature. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I did. Up until today..!
Another day of driving -that’s kinda the inevitable thing now with a camper van (or RV, pronounce: ARRR VEEE) brings us deeper into the lands of southern California. The weather is a little different here, now that we are in the mountains and have left Vegas and the Nevada desert behind us. I can notice it is considerably less hot (not too difficult: Vegas was 48 degrees) and I notice it because of the air-conditioning in the car.
Where I write this: at a metal picnic bench in the middle of a valley, surrounded by trees, with the sun colouring my face.
This as my view -in retrospect unsure of why my flip-flops are on the table, I’m pretty sure that is inappropriate.
Driving around in the Nevada desert we put the aircon on absolute pull power, full blast ALL the time, as cold as possible, and still it only merely reached the chilling levels we needed, here in California I sometimes even put down the power. Weird! It’s still pretty hot, mind you, I guess it’s around 35 degrees or something, and that is hot enough.
We left KERN valley at lake Isabelle yesterday after a relaxed breakfast and hit the road. After having spent the morning a day earlier in Calico, the abandoned ‘ghost’ town, which was not as great as I imagined it to be, we decided to drive past and wave to another abandoned town and head for the big trees: Sequoia national forest. Driving from lake Isabella to where we are now (see map at the bottom of the post) took us through a great big mountain pass, with high 80 meter drops without the security of a metal guard rail. It’s as scary as it is pretty, though. On my left are giant big rocky mountains, on my right the Kern river, flowing hard to make its way down to Lake Isabella and behind me are about 37 cars I’m holding up with this big old camper van. I pull over every now and again to let them pass, which is happily responded to by my trailers by either a hand out of the window or two short horn beeps.
It is in Bakersfield where I put the RV in the P from Park (the RV is a ‘standard’ automatic) and we get out for (again) some Walmart shopping. We have a quick, very dutch -bread with cheese- lunch and keep driving further into the heart of California.
More blue sky, yellow line and Californialand.
A branch of the Kern river flowing along the road (or probably the road has been laid next to the stream).
Coolest kid in town.
Our RV – ironically christened “leprechaun”
As we pass Bakersfield we take the 65 north, which is supposed to be a lot prettier than the freeway running next to it. We drive through vineyards and orchards (two of the words I hated for some unbeknown reason in high school, as I could never write them down correctly without spelling mistakes. I have no internet here, so no way to check if I have learned anything since. I promise not to alter them when I upload this text, let’s see.), some of which are given back to nature it seems, as they are dry and dusty, a big difference from the ones opposite the road where the yellow lemons, grapes and oranges happily shine through the leaves of their trees. They shine so happily, as a matter of fact, that I decided to nick a couple, leaving Annemiek all excitedly taking pictures of the whole shebang.
The landscape starts to change a little.
Happy as a kid with an orange.
We pull up at the Three Rivers Royal Army Engineers Corps campsite, which should have more appropriately been named “place where you can set up your tent or RV in the middle of the mountains, but we do not have a pool. Or wifi. Or electricity for that matter.” All jokes aside, it is a breathtaking place, surrounded by the mountains and a lake on the west side. At some point I park the RV correctly and get out: looking for adventure!
Every year, some 80.000 people get bitten by rattlesnakes, and two of those 80.000 people die. People have bites usually around the ankles, wrists and hands. Don’t walk in long grass and don’t go walking around in the dark. The sign at the entrance of the campsite is pretty clear about it: be careful, there’s hissing sausages around. Keeping that in mind, I head downwards to the lake, to see if I can maybe get in for a swim, as it is still bloody hot outside. I walk for about 30 minutes when I encounter the first wetness. This is where the lake used to run, it’s a little dried up yet wet enough to make my flip-flops sink into the dirty black mud. I take them off.
When was the last time you got dirty? Truly dirty, with mud everywhere, on your feet, hands, face, arms, legs? I don’t know about you, but I rarely do. Walking around here in the wet mud on my bare feet is brilliant. The sun is slowly setting behind the mountains, my feet sink into the mud with every step I take, making a funny sound as I pull it out, and I’m loving every second of this silly childish muddy adventure. I’m very careful where I place my feet though, as getting bitten by a rattlesnake is the last of my wishes on my list this year (although I do admit to thinking it would make a great story for my blog).
I am the best arrr veee parker in the WOOOOORLD!
I could do this all day!
Pano’s all the way. BEE – EEE — AAA – UITIFUL!
Finally reaching the water of the lake I decide not to go for a swim, as only getting closer to the edges of the water makes me sink down in the mud until my knees. I keep taking photos of the sun going down behind the mountains and can’t believe how pretty this place -and this country- is. The ruggedness, the sheer vastness of it impresses me everyday. There is so much land, so much untouched nature here, it is almost impossible to wrap my brain around. -to completely fair, the moment I was thinking this was the exact moment I heard the James Bond theme song blasting from a boat a couple of hundred meters away from me. Tumm da da dumm, dumm dumm dumm Tumm da da dum-
The view is instant happiness, the setting sun reflected in the standing water of a pool, painting the sky between the mountains all sorts of colours. Im a lucky boy.
I head back, walking barefoot through the long grass -as explicitly forbidden by the camp instructions. I am a silly man. I walk past the foundations of what once was somebody’s home. Now it’s nothing more than a square of stones with the outlining of the house. I am fascinated by these kind of things.
Taking photos as long as there is memory on it. Right when I take some photos of my big dirty face (somehow posts with a face on it get clicked on almost three times as much as posts without) I hear a loud, distinct grunt, some 15 meters away from me. I freeze instantly, the hairs in my neck immediately standing up. First thoughts: it’s a bear, I’m gonna die, why me. Let me live.
Would you just look at that. Holy schmokes, that is pretty.
Bird watchers among my readers: please tell me kind of MASSIVE bird this must have been. I have big feet, size 45 (US size 11), so unless this is from an ostrich I don’t know what kind of big bird we are dealing with. Who knows??
Straight out of a catalogue.
Getting down & dirty! – crap, what’s that sound?!
Before leaving for the states, I remember asking my best friend Jeldrik to look up some things up for me. “What do you do when you see a bear, do you run or do you not move? Do you look them in the eye while slowly walking backwards or do you not make eye contact and make a run for it? Which bears are more dangerous, black bears or grizzly’s? His response: “I think it’s just best to generally stay away from any kind of bear.” – Thanks a lot, dude.
My fear of a bear eating me are immediately tempered when I look where the sounds come from. I relax. It’s a MASSIVE, 100 kilo wild boar drinking at a puddle next to me. He hasn’t noticed me yet. “Awww,” I think. “That’s Pumba from the Lion King. Look how cute he is.” Then I tense up again. Shit. All of a sudden I remember reading Thea Beckmans’ amazing book “Crusade in Jeans” (I believe it was this one, correct me when I’m wrong) when I was a kid, and what I particularly remember is the scene where one of the guys get absolutely gored by a charging wild boar. The boar thrusts his sharp tusks into the femur of the kid, ripping open his skin as a can of beans, slicing through one of the main arteries in his leg and leaving him to die within minutes.
Oh, yeah that’s true. These animals can be pretty aggressive. I look at my kit. A pair of swim shorts, a wife beater, a pair of sunglasses and a camera. Not the best preparation to fight with a fully equipped wild boar gunship. Slowly but steadily I back down, taking a few cheeky not too clear photos in the meantime.
Alright. So sunsets are no problem apparently, but taking photos of wild animals has yet not been my forte. I’ll keep working on it though.
With the boar now behind me I quietly start walking a bit faster until I reach the -obviously relative- safety of the campground.
The sun has now fully gone down now and slowly some stars start making an appearance. It isn’t before long until the sky is burst open with the most stars I have ever seen in my life (okay, I’m not that old yet, but I highly doubt I will ever see more stars then now). There are literally a MILLION stars, what am I saying, MILLIONS of stars. There is absolutely no other light visible except for the occasional lights on the horizon where a car tries to compete with the bright stars and eventually loses. All of a sudden I understand why they call it the milkyWAY, as I can clearly see it is a big brush of stars, like a giant long cushion. I see the big dipper, the small dipper, the pole star, cassiopaia and many more constellations I don’t even know how to distinguish. It is unlike I have ever seen.
It’s a quiet, quiet night and all I can hear is the crickets cricketing (what DO they do?). There is no life anywhere close except for those shiny stars and the beam of my torch, defused by the empty beer bottles on the table. I’ve seen seven shooting stars, one satellite and a wild boar that didn’t kill me. It’s been a good night, a great night even.
Time to go to bed…
You won’t believe how many pictures I shot. And I love every single one of them.
This is where I am right now (my mom said this would be a good idea):
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