You said you wanted to see the desert. I can’t remember where you got the idea, but once you had it, that was it. It’s happened plenty of times before – you become singularly focused, you get a particular look on your face, and the only thing left to do is follow you.
Later, I’d find out that you had zoomed way out on Trip Advisor’s map until you encompassed a three-hour driving radius around San Diego, and picked the top-rated activity – a Jeep tour into the desert. I cannot argue with this method. I once took an aerial tramway to Roosevelt Island because I saw the phrase “Small Pox Hospital (Ruins)” printed on a map.
The point is, I’ve gone to stranger places for weirder reasons.
Wil came with us. I wondered how you convinced him to join us. I imagined the exchange.
“We’re going to the Anza Borrego desert on Saturday. It’s going to be 114 degrees. And therefore awesome.”
“Okay. Sounds like a good idea.”
I like that Wil understands you. Not everyone does. But I think he gets you.
You are both dorky in the same way, I guess.
Our guide, Joe, kind of looked like Tom Berenger. Not present-day Tom Berenger. Closer to Major League-era Tom Berenger. After we signed some rather intimidating forms, absolving Joe and California Overland Adventures of any responsibility, he drove us out to a dry lake bed. The sky was the color of cornflowers and the cracked earth looked like peeling paint.
It crunched under our feet as we walked across it. It was absurdly satisfying, like popping bubble wrap.
Joe said it had rained a few months back – it was the only precipitation the area had seen in more than three years. Three years. This was unfathomable to me. I am from Seattle. There is rainwater in my veins.
He told us that the lake bed had been dry for decades. That back during WWII, it had been a training ground for pilots. He showed us evidence of this, of collisions that had happened long ago. The remains of the tower where observers sat. A hunk of broken fuselage. Fossilized ammunition shells and bits of shrapnel. Because so little precipitation falls, it was all remarkably preserved. It had just spent the years baking in the sun.
We hiked into a slot canyon for lunch.
We sat in the shade, eating sandwiches and small bags of potato chips. Joe had given us canteens, and kept telling to drink water.
“You should be sipping at all times,” he said. Dutifully, we did. He would tally up what we’d consumed at the end of the trip; it came to just under 5 gallons between the four of us.
You didn’t bring shorts on that trip, so you were wearing swimming trunks. I don’t think you were entirely comfortable – you hate the heat intensely, but you love hiking. I couldn’t seem to take a clear photo of you, but in even in my blurry captures, you can tell how happy you are. Almost giddy.
Hiking isn’t really my forte, but I get the appeal. Sometimes it’s nice to just crawl all over stuff.
Or under stuff. Or between stuff.
At one point, we were standing alone on a hilltop. Joe was tending to the car, and Wil was some ways away, standing on another hill.
“This,” I said, “would be a perfect place for a self-portrait.”
“It would!” you agreed, a little too enthusiastically.
And just as I reached for my camera, you took off, running down the hill on which we were standing, and up the one on which Wil now stood. I stared, mouth half open, as the two of you took a photo together
I would tease you relentlessly about this, and continue to do so, even now. How I was the third wheel on that day.
I eventually got a photo of the two of us when you came back.
I know that you love animals, but the few that live around there are nocturnal.
The only signs of life we saw were some plants that Joe spotted, still green from the rains a few months back.
We were out for hours in the blistering heat, climbing over rocks, clutching the sides of the Jeep as we bounced over uneven ground. Whenever one of us looked too warm, Joe would pour ice cold water down our spines, starting at the base of our necks. It was shockingly effective.
The last spot he took us was here:
That was the day we went to the desert, darling, dragging Wil along with us. The sun was relentless, and I forced you both to put on sunscreen, and the only water around was in our canteens.