Programa de Índio
Mais uma da série “recordar é viver”. A viagem que deu super certo porque deu tudo errado quando eu tentei no mesmo fim de semana no ano passado fazer uma travessia do Lake Tahoe e ir acampar no deserto. Ah, bons tempos… A foto é da minha primeira travessia do Lake Tahoe, em 2005.
Saturday morning somewhere inside Lake Tahoe. I suck on yet another packet of vile-tasting maltodextrin/glucose gel and take a swig of electrolyte juice.
“Hey Rex, what a difference a year makes, eh? Last year at about this point I was hurtin’.”, I say to the friendly skipper of the escort boat.
“Oh yeah, I remember that. How ya doin’ this year?”
Fko, who’s my babysitter, drill sergeant and navigator for the day, pulls the bottle attached to a rope back into the boat and goes back to fidgeting with the GPS like he was playing Super Mario with it. 8 miles into the swim, 3.5 miles to go. Right leg is cramped on the thigh and calf and is pretty useless. My lycra skin suit is digging into my neck and chafing against it like an amorous Chihuahua humping Betty Page’s leg.
Now is when the race starts, I think to myself.
In typical overcommital fashion, I had decided it would be a good idea to combine in a single weekend a swimming race across Lake Tahoe followed by a mad dash straight from the finish line into the deep bowels of the Black Rock Desert to meet a few friends for high desert shenanigans.
Things had not started well. My escort boat didn’t show up for the start. The boats wait for the swimmers a half-mile from shore. You swim towards your boat, meet up and the boat escorts you while you swim towards the other side of the lake. There are more than one hundred boats out there and it’s hard to find yours from the water, especially when you don’t remember what it looks like and even harder when the boat is not there. So I give up trying to find it and just swim. I swim for almost an hour by myself. The race director’s boat comes over and they tell me they are trying to locate my boat but if they can’t they’ll have to yank me out of the race. I am thinking about just going on. I can probably do without food. And, well, I’m in a lake, so there’s plenty of water to drink. I can do this, I don’t need no stinking boat. Just you try pulling me out of the water, Mr. Fancy Pants.
Eventually the boat shows up with Fko in it. The engine overheated and they had to go back get another boat. It’s all good. Just relax, stretch, put one arm in front of the other and enjoy the big blue nothing surrounding you. Go to sleep. After a few hours it’s almost like sleeping. I am moving, I am awake but there’s nothing on my mind. Long distance swimming is the only thing that can put me in this mental state.
I am glad to see the Cal Neva on the State Line on this swim, about one-third of the way. It must be just about the only occasion the sight of a casino makes me happy.
Five hours and thirty-two minutes after the start, I land at Skylandia Beach in Kalifohnia, having started in Sand Harbor, Nevada. I bettered my previous year’s time by 1h10m. I can barely walk or speak or do anything productive. I got 5th place and they gave me an attractive ceramic mug, but I don’t know that yet because I dry myself, put some clothes on helped by Fko and we’re off to the desert before the awards ceremony.
Not so fast. We get to my car after walking 300 yards that took me 10 minutes to cover to find out it has a flat tire. Any other hour of the entire year, it would be no big deal. Right now, I would cry like a daytime TV jilted wife, if it wasn’t for Fko. He changes the tire. Fko is a rock, he is just that kind of guy, the guy you want by your side when the bad guys start shooting. I am useless, I can’t lift a bag of oranges. We go get a new tire and now we’re on our way to the desert! Hooray!
Ahem. Nope. About 10 miles off the tire shop, smoke starts coming out of the engine. Looks like the belt is smoking but we can’t really tell for sure. We limp back to our base of operations in Truckee and frantically try to get a tow truck and a mechanic. But on a Saturday afternoon all the mechanics are out, busy chasing fair-skinned, short short-wearing tourist girls from Sacramento in Tahoe City. We aren’t going to the desert today. Is the Universe trying to tell us something?
That night we host a couple of relay teams at the house and make stiff drinks, smoke cheap cigars and grill some of the meat that was intended for our desert friends. Then we watch Mars Attacks!. Part of it is filmed on the playa. We can even see the Black Rock in the background. It’s heartbreaking. I feel lame.
So we decide we’re not going to let a minor detail such as lack of a vehicle stand in the way of us getting to the desert. Next morning a friend drops us at the Hertz shack at Truckee International Airport. We are hoping to get something with four-wheel drive or at least high clearance.
All they have is a Ford Focus. We’ll take it.
And we’re off to the desert once again, Playa or Bust. Two hours later, we’re at the 12-mile entrance. The playa is looking pretty wet, but we didn’t come this far to turn around. I am so happy I want to take a picture. Every time I bring my camera to the playa, it breaks. I never managed to take a single picture on the playa. Not once. But today I’ve got the camera, it’s working great, back from the repair shop. So I take a picture, only to realize I forgot the CF card at home. Some things never change.
And now is when the fun really starts. We take the main playa track, reach the 16-mile pole and, exactly according to plan, miss the fork we are supposed to take. We drive on and on and end up at the Dunes of Confusion, which are, indeed, quite confusing. At this point I realize that in our haste to get here, we forgot to fill up the tank in Fernley like we should have and are running somewhat worryingly low on gas. Not desperately low, but we can’t really afford to be doing a casual desert tour like we are right now.
We wind our way through the dunes for a while until I realize we must have overshot Double Hot Springs by at least a couple of miles. About thirty seconds later, we round a dune to find some people camping out there. In the middle of absolutely nowhere. We stop and say hi. It’s two Austrian girls, blondes right out of the shampoo commercial. They say they’re going to Burning Man. I tell them that in typical Teutonic fashion, they’re about one month early. They giggle.
It turns out they’re with some guy who used to be the drummer of Operation Ivy, who would later become Rancid. Wow. What are the chances of this happening? In the middle of a remote corner of an already pretty remote region of a fairly remote desert. It seems that they had some sort of altercation, and the guy drove in a huff to Gerlach. We don’t want to pry and they’ve got their own car so it’s all good and we have to move on to meet our friends and see you in a month and… Wait, would you like to camp here tonight and go meet your friends tomorrow? The sun will start going down in a few hours…
Fko and I look at each other. We mentally picture our crestfallen friends up in the hills, probably softly weeping over our absence and having no fun at all because we’re not there. Thank you, but we really must be going now. The Ford Focus speeds into the horizon.
We’re still trying to find out how the hell we’re going to get to Double Hot Springs, wandering semi-aimlessly through the dunes. While I am distracted asking Fko to please stop playing disco music cassette tapes in his boom box I steer the car into a wash. Both front wheels are spinning free and the bottom plate is solidly placed on the edge of the gully. Uh oh.
Now we have a stuck Ford Focus while Gloria Gaynor bleats “I Will Survive” into the otherwise silent desert afternoon. We think of walking back to the Austrian girls but we are not sure where they are anymore.
We start working right away. We try everything, the wood panels we had brought especially for this kind of problem, digging the bottom out, bouncing up and down on the car. Nothing works. So figure out we’ll do what any reasonable person would: we’ll go for a nice 10-mile plus walk in the desert in 110 degree heat to see if we can flag down a passing truck for help. Having done things like this in the past, usually I would be a bit concerned, but not today. Today I am invincible. Heck, just yesterday I *swam* a longer distance than this. Plus Fko will save me if I get in trouble because Fko can do basically anything and has super secret ninja powers even his wife doesn’t know about but I do.
So we grab two gallons of water each, hats, radio, fix the stuck Focus GPS coordinates and start the walk through the dunes. Dang, it’s hot.
After a couple of hours we get back to the edge of open playa but it’s becoming clear from the lack of dust clouds that traffic in the deep playa at this late hour is very sparse or nonexistent. Gerlach is at least another 30 miles away so not really an option right now. We decide to walk back to the car and give it another try to unstuck it, and walk to the highway after sundown only if we really have to. No problem because we have the GPS coordinates of the car. Let’s see… uh… wait… the GPS batteries are dead. No problem, I’ve brought tons of batteries for the GPS… uh… they’re in my car back in Truckee. If Molière had lived in Gerlach, this is the kind of comedy of errors he would have written.
But Fko saves the day again. He had mentally triangulated our position using peaks surrounding the playa. Fko does not rely on equipment, he relies on his amazing Fu Manchu powers. And he never goes anywhere without a compass, not even the laundromat. So we walk back with Fko leading the way and find the car in the middle of all those dunes just fine. We get a garden shovel and start digging the bottom out again, while piling rocks and sand along the gully’s edge to get some traction. After one hour the car comes unstuck. Once again we defeated the forces of evil.
We drive out of the dunes back on the open playa, find some fresh tracks and follow them to Double Hot Springs. Things are looking up. We take the track from Double Hot, find the turn off and get stuck on another gully again. This time we get unstuck in about ten minutes. We’re close now, we drive up the slope and triumphantly roll into our final destination to find…
Everybody’s already left. I thought some people said they were staying a few extra days, but I guess I was wrong. We see Chasterus’ VW van perched on the saddle road overlooking the playa below, inscrutable as an Easter Island Moal. We drive to the van, the driver’s door is unlocked, so we leave Charlie a couple of beers compliment of Fko and Dr. Fiasco in an ice bucket with our radio channel and cell phone number. We park, walk to the rocky outcropping overlooking the playa, pop open one or six cold beers and admire the stark beauty of the Black Rock desert.
Looking at the playa through Fko’s binoculars, we see what looks like a truck stuck in the mud at the edge of the lake in the middle of the playa. We decide to be heroes and save those people so we get back into the Ford Fko and take the road down to Black Rock Springs. Ten minutes later, we’re in open playa. Was this the Road of Death people were talking about?
We get to a quarter of a mile from the truck, which we can now see is abandoned, and stop the car. We walk the rest of the way. This becomes a beautiful exercise in the archeology of mishaps. As we walk, we can clearly see the first warning shot across the bow made by the playa, when the tires sunk about ten inches in the mud for about ten feet. We see a few tracks veering West towards the drier edge of the playa. Not this track. This one goes straight South, or as straight as it can in the mud. The tracks get progressively deeper in the mud for a few hundred yards. This was classical American optimism. The optimism of Edison and Ford, of Patton fighting Rommel’s Afrika Korps in Tobruk. Here was a regular Pershing County General McArthur. He shall return. And he shall return right through the middle of the wet goddamn playa. I love this kind of attitude. It’s people like this who put Man on the Moon.
But today it was not to be. To his credit, he (assuming it’s a he) did not sink the truck down to the axles. By the time we get to the truck, which has a DPW sticker on it, I have playa platform shoes and we can barely walk, even though the ground has obviously been drying up for a while now.
It gets even more interesting. We see deep foot and dog tracks leading away from the truck. We note the dog tracks are smeared out in points. Even the dog was slippin’ and slidin’. Then we see the abandoned bike about 20 yards away. We lose it and start laughing our heads off. Fko plops his expensive binocular in the mud. I laugh harder. Then I light up a cheap cigar.
We check out the guy’s cooler in the back of the truck. Bud Light. So again we leave him a nice cold Sam Adams courtesy of Fko & Fiasco inside the cabin’s shade with our radio channel and cell phone, just in case. We’ll just go around the playa leaving beer and radio channels around today, it just seems like the right thing to do.
But we’re running out of beer and I am getting obsessive about fixing my car, so we take Metric’s cut-off with no problems whatsoever back to Gerlach. We stop at the Black Rock Saloon but it’s closed. Guess the DPW is keeping the Sabbath these days. So we move on to the Miners’ Club next door, where we have a really interesting conversation with Bev, the bartender, Gerlach resident since 1943. She tells us about how Craig Breedlove was a jerk who didn’t treat people right and had to have his truck with his land speed record-breaking car towed out of the playa by the British team. Twice. And it’s not in any book or film. The British team were much nicer too. We talk about Burning Man too but it’s not nearly as interesting as the pool that was built for Drew Barrymore on the site of the Gerlach’s old firehouse when she was in town filming some movie whose name I forget now.
Continuing our tour of Downtown Gerlach nightlife spots, we move next door to world-famous Bruno’s, where we are served by the Man himself. We engage two ladies in a debate over which John Wayne movie is the best. Fko thinks is Aces High, I think is The Searchers. The ladies think we’re both right. We bid everyone at the bar adieu and once again the Ford Fko rides into the smouldering desert night while we have a lively discussion on the fine points of metal casting .
So, cutting a really long story just a bit shorter, 24 hours later we roll onto the Bay Bridge while the most orange of sunsets is going on and the fog is rolling over the city. Jimi Hendrix comes up on the stereo playing Red House at the precise right moment. The Universe clicks and the gears turn in perfect synchronicity.
You know, tourism can be fun sometimes.