Death Valley

I landed in Santa Monica on a high, ready to hang out with my friend Katie and her twin sister, Molly. Little did I know that somewhere along the way I'd picked up a nasty virus as a hostess gift. The first few days found me sitting on the couch with little motivation, suddenly craving stillness and quiet after 3 super fast days on the road.

Between creeping illness, a pile of assumptions surrounding expectations, lack of pre-planning downtime away from Santa Monica, and an intense online class I'd signed up for, I quickly lost track of being a good guest. My constant presence, compounded by illness, created friction, which ultimately landed me in a Motel 6 in Mojave, CA for several days, after a very expensive visit to a walk-in clinic that didn't accept my insurance.

Mojave is not a vacation destination, but it's a surprisingly good place to recover from an illness, mostly because there is almost nothing to do. I swam around in a dark fog of cold medicine, feeling guilty and sorry for myself as trains thundered by at all hours of the night and I woke every few minutes to blow my nose or indulge in a long, wracking cough. Then Katie texted me that she was sick, which ratcheted up the anxiety and frustration levels for us both; we were due to catch a flight to Washington, D.C. in just a couple of days. Our friendship was feeling pretty well dented.

I wanted to visit both Death Valley and Sequoia National Park, but I could only manage one. After 2 days of trying to recover I managed to get myself upright enough that I felt as though I could make the 2+ hour drive to Stovepipe Wells General Store, smack in the middle of Death Valley.

The sun was high and bright by the time I reached the edge of the park after dozens of miles on narrow, winding roads with high speed limits. A small military plane buzzed close by overhead, tipping its wings to take a look at my car as I reached the entrance. After a few minutes of traveling along the valley floor, the road wound up through the canyon, turning through orange, ocher, brown, and red rubble covered mountains.

At the top of the pass another valley opened up, bleached and shimmering in the winter sun. I made my way down to the general store, where I browsed for a tiny gift to add to my souvenir box. With that task done, I knew that the only other thing I could accomplish was to make my way back. Cold medicine just turns your head into a fog bank.

Still, I stopped a million times on the way back over the pass and then many more times on the alternate route I took back, which hugged a lake and a giant mountain range with clouds snagged along the top.

Back at my motel it was a long nap in preparation for bedtime. I was almost healthy enough to return to Santa Monica.