Crossing the Mojave by night - Part/ Book: One

   *** Disclaimer: This is a long post, much like the trip we're describing (move is a better word ... a trip is something that can be called off, shortened, decided against - this was a move that was put into motion, and come hell or high water, it had to happen, and as the bridges where crumbling at our heels, there was only one way to go ... ) Do keep in mind as you scroll down the old dark well of this tale ... we're only half way. We may never finish this thing - seeing as though it's been sitting in our drafts folder for way too long, but we've photographed a few other blog topics in this new land of ours, and since we haven't even written ourselves into the mountain pines where the Winnie's now parked, (and being snowed on) we just had to tell you where we're at, so we're all on the same page.

  Cliff's Notes - Moved from CA to Flagstaff, AZ (which is beautiful by the way) .. getting ready to move and adjusting to fit the road again was a challenge, and the 500 miles between the sand and the peaks was an all out war. But we made it : ) We're here! Swimming in beeswax - quick, somebody .. throw us a honey nut cheerio .. we're drowning ; )

   .... Okay, we're going to hit "publish post" now (even though it won't notify anyone for a good 8 hours ..) we always push the publish button at the same time (we do this with important emails as well ... I usually don't push, I just wait for Juwels' finger, on top of mine, to click .. Yeeeee : ) 

Hello Friends : )

  A few weeks ago, (these first 4 words were true at the time that we stared this post ... about 2 months ago...) we loaded up our caravan, tightened down the straps, and set sail across the Mojave Desert for the unknown. It was slated to be a 7-hour drive by the calculations of Mapquest .. so we budgeted 10 or 12. (It took three days) The Winnie moves to the beat of her own muffler, and all you can do once she starts running is hold her reins and let her drink.

   When we embark any distance past the county lines, and the pavement swells like tidal waves of hot blacktop, we know we're entering international waters, and anything can happen.

   You'd figure that having a house on wheels would mean that when it was time to move, all you'd have to do is start the engine and go, and it has been that way in the past, but since we started this little (turned big) candle company of ours, necessary tools of the trade have begun to pile up. On this move the Winnie became a nonfunctional moving truck. It actually gives us a little anxiety to see the Winnie in this state... it's a bit like climbing out of the storm cellar to see what the twister had done. She was packed to the gills all the way up to the driver's seat. The shower was stacked to the roof with bins and crates and beeswax blocks ... we really could've used that cold shower when we were stuck for days amongst the horny toads, triple digits, and tumble weeds.

   Once the sun was out, and the air was hot, the Winnie would overheat about every 15 miles. We finally hunkered down on the side of the 10 freeway and waited for nightfall. Below, you can see the temperature reading through the skylight. Good times : ) 

   As we mentioned in our "Farewell to the Pound" post, we've moved on from our last place of mooring, (the artist collective). We needed a change from the sultry Southern California script of cloistered condominiums, clogged storm drains and one legged pigeons. We yearned for clean air and simplicity - more trees and less traffic lights. (We do love So Cal so so much, but the call of the wild has been strong in our dreams of late, so off to the pines we go to dance the fox trot 'round the camp fire : )

  We scoured Craigslist in search of studio spaces in different parts of  the country. We found old barns, air plane hangers, garages, and sheds. We fell in love with Taos, New Mexico, Portland, OR, pondered little red brick nooks back east, and shanties in the Bayou. And when all was sifted down, much like the old story of the sheep herder in search of gold, we found our perfect space in a familiar place ... right in the Northern corner of my old home state, a lofty 7000 feet above sea level in a dreamy little town called Flagstaff, Arizona.

   The Winnie shuttered and growled a little when we scratched an X on the map way up here in the mountains. "You want me to climb how many feet ?? In the dead of summer???" We did a lot of work on the old girl though: new front tires (couldn't afford the back ones which were riddled with tears ... fingers crossed), new radiator, water pump, hoses, belts, filters, mufflers ... I was covered in grease with bloody knuckles and had rust falling in my eyes for weeks, and all of our money quickly bled into transmition fluid and cast steal auto parts. We were literally counting change for gas money as the move date approached.

   Juwels was packing and nesting and kissing things goodbye ... she had to figure out what we could fit into our box as we d(r)ove into a new chapter of life. "Things" are heavy, and since we were moving our entire studio out of state, beautiful scrap wood and metal which we salvaged for future projects came under close examination, and much of the fat was trimmed in the name of gas mileage and keeping the old Winnie from burning up and over heating as we climbed the expanse.

  For instance, we were tipped off as to the location of an amazing skeleton of an old grandfather clock in the alley just a few days before we left. "This would make such an amazing shelf. We could use it as a display at our next show!!" Juwels wanted to strap it to the roof. I didn't even know how we'd get it up there. "It doesn't weigh that much ..." I just smiled. In the end, father time stayed back in trade for her commercial freezer packed with her rationed seasonal fruit and dry ice. (Note to self: dry ice will make everything taste fizzy and carbonated ... even frozen avocado.)

   We needed to leave at night to keep the engine cool and the tires from exploding on the hot blacktop. Days went by that we proclaimed to be our last.

   "We're leaving tonight!"

  Linnie, the mother hen of the art studios, would come out into the lot each night with her camera and take pictures and get all teary eyed, and as the clock struck 10 and 12 and then 2am ... we'd decide that we needed another day of packing and shedding our ballast. I thought we'd never get out of the gate. We took test drive after test drive, and it seemed like every time we'd return to the Pound, there'd be something else to fix or tighten or replace. The brakes were locking up and making noise, fluid was leaking, the temperature gauge was boiling over, and each time I'd climb back under the beast and furrow my brow.

  On our final day, we left town at 2:30am. It didn't make any sense, but we just HAD to get moving. It'd dragged on too long, and the Winnie was ready(ish).

A few weeks earlier, my parents had surprised us with a set of walkie talkies (We'd be driving two separate cars and we only have one cell phone between the two of us. Our synchronized lane switching can get a little hairy when orchestrated entirely by way of hand gestures and frantic lip reading in the rear view .. oh, and the Winnie's horn doesn't work either, it just throws sparks when pressed.)

  Juwels was driving the trucka, and I was driving the hive. "Can you believe it, baybee !!!" Juwels came in over the two-way radio. "We're doing it ... we're finally on the road."

  I yawned. "Okay, Miss Muffet. You ride behind me and let me know if my tail lights go out again."

  "They're shining bright!!"

   Within the first ten miles on the freeway, orange cones started to appear on the far right shoulder. They tapered in, turning four lanes to three, two, and then one. Perfect. I was pinched in against the cement barricade on my left with a line of cones on the right. Men with jackhammers wiped their brows under electric white light. And cops stood around in their red and blue strobe lights.  

  Don't hit a cone, swerve, don't hit the divider, swerve... repeat. Now's not the time to get pulled over ...

  Driving the Winnie is not like driving any other car. You know the way a little kid pretends to drive a car by swerving the wheel back and forth back and fourth in quick successions .. you actually have to do that to keep the nose of the Winnie in a straight line. It's a never ending flow of minor alignment swerves and corrections, but you get used to it after a while.

   We hit a couple of hills, and the temperature gauge climbed high enough to motivate me to pull off the road to splash cold water on the radiator and admire the stars. Juwels loved these little rest stops and would always meet me in front of the open engine toting her little cooler packed with mason jars full of cantaloupe juice and nut milk and raw chocolate.

   The Winnie's gas gauge is broken, so we decided to just clock the miles on the truck, and fill up every 150 miles or so (incidentally, the odometer on the truck mysteriously stopped working about midway through the trip as well : ). At about Palm Springs, we pulled off for gas. The oil was low as well as the transmission fluid, glug glug, and the sun was just starting to come up, but everything was going great, and we had no inclination that we wouldn't be in the pines in the near future.


   CUT TO: beads of sweat rolling down my forehead, and heat waves permeating from the road. The Winnie did NOT like driving in the high desert under any other light but moonlight. (we were supposed to make the whole drive in one night, but ...) I asked Juwels not to run the AC in the truck either because we had stacked so much weight in the bed, and she said she wouldn't, but I think she may have fibbed a little because on a few occasions, when I'd walk back to the truck to grab the phone, the steering wheel was cold. "I just had it on for a minute ... she's running cool as a cucumber anyway.."

   The road started to climb, and I stayed optimistic. It climbed and climbed and climbed, and so did the temperature gauge. (watching this gauge would become a theme/ obsession for the trip ... and I have my suspicions that it may have been misreading the whole time.) I shifted down into 2nd gear and then 1st. I was going ten miles an hour with the hazard lights on, and cars flew past the old Winnie blaring their horns.

  We pulled off and splashed the steaming radiator with water, and then climbed a bit more. I felt like the hill would never end. Another twist, another rest on the shoulder and splash of cold water. She was running so hot near the end, that I pulled the cover off the engine and just left the fuming knot of steal and hoses exposed in the carpeted hole next to my chair .. just so I could watch and make sure she wasn't spitting fire or dumping coolant. With one hand on the wheel and the other clutching a Meyers spray bottle filled with water, a leaned in toward the volcano of an engine and tried to mist the backside of the radiator while I drove. It didn't work. The fan just blew it back in on me. Horns blared, sweat poured, and eventually ... we made it to the top of the hill. (by the way, for those of you who don't know the consequences of extreme overheating, it can ruin your engine. Although there's surely some interesting characters and stories to be mined out of these little crossroad towns, we were praying not to become the 235/6 resident of any town consisting of one street light, the gas station and a subway.)

  I grabbed my walkie talkie and said. "Let's pull off at this next rest stop."

  Juwels said something back, but I couldn't hear her over the growling engine.

   We were starting to get those up-all-night jitters, and we'd only gone 150 miles or so, but we were proud of the Winnie, and I even called my mom to tell her how great things were going. I told her how beautiful the desert looked and how I missed the smell of it. I told her about the giant hill the Winnie had just climbed, and as she was congratulating the three of us and wishing us luck, I walked back to have a look at the rear tires to see if the cracks in the rubber had grown any. She had just asked me a question like, "So when do you think you guy's will get there?" when I noticed a stream of liquid pouring out from between the the dual rear wheels ...

  "Okay," I thought, "we're screwed."

  "Peter??" Mom asked. "Do you know how much longer?"

  "Ummm ..." I reached down and dipped my finger in the fluid. If we blew a break line, we'd be glued to the spot and fall victim to the roadside assistance tow drivers and whatever back alley shop they'd drop us at. "Ahh ... I think we should be able to make it there tonight." I said. I didn't want to tell her about the blood on my hands. She was so excited for us.

  While this was all unraveling and spilling over, Juwels was frolicking around the rest stop talking to a group a bees she found drinking from a leaky faucet. "Oh .. hi, bee. You're thirsty, huh : )" 

   "Babe ..."

   "Hey, look at all these bees I found."

   "That's nice. Come over here. I want to show you something."

   I showed her the leaking fluid and explained what I thought it might be, and she didn't say much. We were both way too tired to be towed off onto some expensive subplot of the trip ... Neither of us wanted to call a truck, so the choice became do we, A. Keep driving forward toward the next town, Blythe, CA which was almost 80 miles ahead, or do we B. Go back down the hill to the town that we had just crossed through? The thought of having to drive back up that hill again was ghastly, and if there was a problem with the breaks, we'd be going about 150 miles an hour by the time that we finally reached bottom. (the emergency brake doesn't work either - Ha!)

  At that very moment, the cell phone started ringing. (a wonder that we had service way out there to begin with.) It was some random 4 digit phone number, and standard practice would never prompt me to answer any unknown call, but for some reason I picked up the phone on the first ring. Maybe whoever it was could help in some way ...


  "Hi, is this Peter?"


  "Hi Peter. This is Jason from Pete's Roadside Assistance."

  I paused for a second. What the hell? Roadside assistance? Right now? Huh ... I actually looked over my shoulder wondering if I was being watched or something ... not that that would make any sense anyway. How'd they get my number?

   "O... kay."

  The guy went on to tell me that I had called him a month or so back asking for a quote on RV tires, and he just wanted to see if I might still be interested in them, or if he should take me out of the system. I remembered the phone call.

  " I thought you said you were roadside assistance?"

  "We are - but we also have an RV service center ... where you'd called about the tires."

   I told him that we found some tires since then but that we were actually on our trip right then, and I asked him if he might know anything about this fluid leaking out of the rims. With the phone pinched to my ear, I slithered under the Winnie across the gravel and dust as he asked me a series of direct questions about the color and scent of the fluid. He knew exactly what it was. I called to Juwels to toss me a wrench, and I loosened a drain plug on the rear differential.

   "Now stick your pinkie finger in there."

   I did.

   "Can you feel the oil?"

   "Yeah. It's hot."

   "Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that ..."

   He told me that we'd be fine, and that if anything the brakes were going to stink a bit when we hit them, and we'd need to plan more time to come to a full stop, (not my strong suit) but that he'd seen people cross country with a broken seal.

   "Just climb back under there every so often, and if it's low, put a little squirt in."

   I thanked him profusely, and wondered what the chances were that of all the moments he could've called to check back in with me, how he had picked that exact moment. I guess we plant these seeds for flowering good luck without even knowing it. So we were on the road again. And at the same time, I had another thing to obsess about other than the temperature gauge : ) Of course, I couldn't leave it at that - I had to get a second opinion and make sure that this Pete's guy knew what he was talking about. I called the old Napa Auto Parts that I used to go to in Long Beach. There's a slightly eccentric guy who works there who used to work on old motorhomes, and I call to pick his brain from time to time.

   "Napa Auto Parts, how can I help you?"

   "Is Jess working today?"

   "Yes he is. Please hold."

   Thank God - if anyone knows .. he'll know, I thought.


  "Is this Jess?"

  "No, this is Barrack Obama. What do you need?"

  "Oh .. uh .. this is the guy with the old motorhome who's been asking you abou-"

  "Whaaaat?!? What are we talking about?"

  (He's actually a very nice and helpful automotive genius, but he lives in fast forward and does a lot of talking to himself while he's thinking.)

  "Hey, so I'm crossing the desert into Arizona right now in the old Winnie, and -"

  "Why the hell would you do that?!"

  "... and I've got this little leak between the back wheels."

  "You blew a wheel seal."

  " I know, but I'm just wondering if ..."

  He went on to tell me that I might be fine, but I might also burn up the rear end and cost myself thousands of dollars in damages.

   "What would you do if you were me?" I asked.

   "I wouldn't be driving that old toaster through the desert in the middle of the day. The oil might stay in ... or it might not, but you're gonna burn your engine up driving it in that heat!"

    "Ahh ..."

   "Good luck!"

   "Thanks ..."



    I hung up.

   "So what'd he say?" Juwels asked.

   "Let's get going."

   The next few hours were filled with doomed attempts to cross to the next town. We'd get moving, and five minutes later, the heat gauge was in the red, and I'd grab the walkie talkie and ask Juwels to follow me off the road. We finally decided that we had to just pull off and wait the rest of the day out, and hit the pavement at nightfall. We exited on a desilate road and shifted into park in a dismal lot of dumped junk, car tires, and hot plastic bottles of darkened urine. Juwels was concerned about her freezer full of chopped frozen fruit. We had dry ice in there, but we never meant for the plug to be dangling through the night and into the next day. I told her to pull on the right side of the Winnie and to get as close as she could. There was no shade there yet because the sun was directly overhead, but in 4 or 5 more hours, the Winnie's tall frame should offer some shade on that packed camper shell with the freezer inside.

   Hiding out in the cluttered sultry Winnie for the day was an act of spiritual willpower, like chanting in a sweat lodge and seeing visions of eagles and serpents. Juwels actually started to embrace it, and pulled out the computer to work on this very blog. I find that life's little blips are a lot more bearable when you think of yourself as the protagonist and envision some imaginary audience enjoying the show. We don't Tweet (yet) but we shot off a couple picture text messages to friends and family who were at work or school. I actually fell asleep in the driver's seat for a half an hour or so but woke up only to feel more dazed and confused. We debated at length whether or not we should pop open the freezer, dig out the blender and make an ice cold fruit smoothie, but Juwels didn't want to open the lid for fear of loosing any of her precious cold air. It was buried behind an avalanche of other things in the back of the truck anyway, and if we went out there in the sun, we'd probably wither away before reaching the frozen mango anyway.

   About 5 or 6 hours into our sweat, Juwels was on the phone talking to her sister in NY. She asked her to look up the weather in this neck of Haities to see when it cools down. We were getting really antsy to get a move on and needed a time to focus our hopes. And by the end of that conversation, we realized that we were waiting there in the sun for almost no reason at all. It was never going to cool down. From what Juwels' sis told us, once the sun went down, the temp only dropped 2 degrees, and then at about two in the morning, the temp would drop about two more ...

   When would it be cool enough to drive again? December? Oh, Lordy ... It was during this time that there were even some whisperings about heading back to the beach. Why did we leave the perfect weather, sun, sand, palm trees in the breeze ... the Whole Foods bulk section ? Oh Lordy, Lordy Bee !! 

   My brother called around the same time (he lives in Flagstaff and had been (im)patiently waiting for us to arrive for the last six weeks as the move kept getting pushed back.)

   "You guys leave last night?"  (He's asked us this same question every day for the past 6 or 7 days that we thought we'd be leaving... )


  "You here?"


  "Where are you?"

  "Just outside of Blythe."

  "Blythe !! ?? What the hell have you guys been doing all this time. That's only like a 100 miles outside of LA."

  "I think it's more like 180 (I said, knowing that we'd earned every mile at our tail) ... but we're not quite to Blythe yet."

   I told him about all the hullabaloo we'd been through in the past 18 or so hours, and he went on and on about how we should have already been there. I assured him that we wanted to be there even more than he wanted us to be there, and he went on an on some more.


   I hung up the phone.

  "What'd he say," Juwels asked.

  "Let's get moving."

   To get to the next town, I had to literally put a piece of black tape over the heat gauge (see no evil, hear no evil, yada yada yada... I assumed that the rotten thing was lying to us anyway) and we just charged it to the city limits. Blythe - what a little slice of heaven. The whole town was basically centered around a McDonald's and a Del Taco. There were cops and tweekers everywhere, and we weren't sure which could cause us more problems. The whole place gave us the willies. We parked the land yacht at the Mceedee's, and Juwels drove across the street and found out where a Napa was. I wanted to replace the heat gauge with the high-end one that I was too cheap to buy from Napa a week ago, and we needed more oil for the leaking wheel seal. I climbed out of the Winnie, but just as I was locking the door and getting into the truck with Juwels, we noticed this couple dragging their feet across the lot and staring right at us. The woman was pushing a shopping cart packed with all sorts of clothes and bags, and the guy was scratching at his tattoo covered neck.

  "Well," I said. "I'm not going. I'll stay back here to guard the Winnie."

  "Good idea."

  It seemed like Juwels was gone forever, and I waited around on the curb across the parking lot snake eyeing the couple and the rest of the walking dead who staggered through the lot between the Mc D's and the Greyhound station. I couldn't get myself to go back into the Winnie. She stunk of fumes (I had the engine cover off again) and she was too cluttered and claustrophobic to seek shelter in ... but then it started to pour rain.

  I ran across the lot and pulled myself inside the music box. The Winnie sounds really cool in the rain. The drops are all amplified and differentiated, and it almost sounds like each drop has its very own microphone. I sat in the driver's seat with my feet on the dash and watched the lightning and the push and pull of the wind.

  Juwels finally showed back up at the lot. Apparently she had been given directions to Auto Zone, not Napa, and she said that there was some 16 year old girl behind the counter who knew absolutely nothing about what we were looking for, and the only heat gauge they had was the same kind I had bought a week before that didn't seem to tell the truth. Napa had a better one, and they actually did have a location in town, but Juwels had just missed closing time while she was talking to the young girl who was blowing bubbles of hot pink chewing gum. And it was storming, badly. Great.

   "It's always an adventure with us," Juwels said.

  "Does adventure mean that everything always has to be going wrong?"

  "With us ..." she said, "yes."

  It was finally dark, and rainy, and the wind was gusting in the opposite direction that we were supposed to be heading ... oh, and our windshield wipers don't work : ) I know, I know ... why do we have solar panels and archways, and bamboo flooring but no E-brake or windshield wipers?? In my defense, the wipers literally stopped working the night before we left town. The running lights had been out for over a year, and I finally rewired those and got them shining, but in the meantime, when I hit the wipers just to make sure, they threw a puff of smoke, jarred half way across the windshield, and died. I checked the weather before we left, and it was supposed to be all clear ... well, for the night that we were supposed to be driving at least.   

   My mom called to see how the trip was going. Juwels sis text to ask if we were there yet, and the tweeker couple parked their cart next to the pay phone, and went into McDeath.

   I had my mom pass the phone to my dad, so I could ask him an automotive question, but he didn't really know the answer (neither of us like messing with engines so much) but he did tell me that there was a Motel 6 down the street for just $36 dollars per night. "Oh, wait ..." He read an online review. "It says here that a lot of people have gotten their cars broken into while they're staying there. I probably wouldn't go there. I'd just keep driving."

   A blast of wind rocked the Winnie around, and a web of lightning shot across the sky. 

  "Okay, thanks dad. We'll let you know how things go."

   One of the skylights blew off the roof (the skylights had all blown off in the past and been crushed into a million pieces in the road, and we just replaced them with clear plastic, held down with bungee cords for the drive, classy, I know, but we were short on time to build anything better before the move, and besides, it wasn't supposed to be raining.) so I climbed up the slippery ladder to wrangle the sheet back on. My hair whipped around in the wind like wild snakes, and the cop across the parking lot watched me like a cat watches a feather on a string.

   We've gotta get the hell out of this town...

to bee continued...

    You can see Part Two - the finish - {Here}


  1. My heart is with the two of you thru this more then difficult trip. I am sending love and light for this to end soon and that the rest of the travel runs smoothly and with many blessings. Be Careful!!! Can't wait to read the rest...

  2. What a move! I thought that I had a very difficult move last June but you guys won. You should write a book!

    I hope you get to your destination soon.

  3. I love reading your blog! It makes me wish I was young again! Have fun and BEE safe!

  4. Ah....It reminds me of driving from PA to Prescott, Arizona. Once we got to Tennessee something stopped working and we couldnt drive over like 20 miles per hour.... and pretty much like 5 or 10 going up a hill. We had our emergency lights on and we could only hold hands and remember to breathe as we inched up the hills.... cars storming past us. Quite an adventure not to be repeated. Cant wait to hear the rest! I hadnt checked your blog in awhile... glad i did.