Nature

Tales of Little Morongo, Chapter 6: Dead Battery Hike, Part Three

Note: This is a continuation of a hiking story. Click this link for yesterday’s installment.


Dead Battery Hike, Part Three

Our toilworn feet tripped over boulders, probed through debris from past flash floods, and dodged green and gray piles of cow manure, left by Huckleberry’s herd. The trail meandered down canyon, coaxing our sapped spirits onward, as if to say, “Not much further . . . keep going . . . it’s just around the bend. And if not this bend, then maybe the next.”

We concentrated on lifting our heavy legs, one step at a time.

About a mile down I spotted something familiar on a north slope of the canyon. A slight hint of green. “I think that’s it, Jake.”

Tiny seeps like this leak to the surface sporadically, throughout the Mojave Desert. They’ve been known to save the lives of foolish hikers like Jake and me.

Sure enough, we found a tiny spring, just a small seep, surrounded by a few mesquites. Huckleberry Hound had devised a meshlike filtering apparatus, with a narrow black tube that ran downhill from the seep to a nearby water trough. At the trough there was a way to unclamp the tube, so we could fill our canteens, then reinsert it back into a float valve.

A bull and several heifers lounged in the shade of some Desert Willows about 50 feet away, as we parked our tired asses in the shadow of a mesquite. “Look at the balls on that bull!” Jake joked.

Yes, and it’s balls that got us into this predicament, I quietly reflected. It took a lot of balls for us to hike in here, and it will take a lot more to hike out.

The light of day lasts only so long, so we eventually pulled ourselves back onto our feet and wandered on. Jake was looking shaky. I kept glancing back at him to make sure he hadn’t collapsed. “I’m alright, I’m alright,” he’d reassure me.

Another mile and we found ourselves in a shady boscage, confronting the Pierson Ranch gate. The cool umbrage of cottonwoods brought welcome relief. But the gate did not. It was locked, as usual. I knew a way around it, but this required some scrambling. I could do it, but I wasn’t so sure about Jake.

I picked my way up and over first, with Jake carefully following after. And to my pleasant surprise, the old man made it.

On the other side of the gate we were exposed to the windows of the Pierson Ranch house, about 200 feet away. I felt anxious. “Jake, we better get outta here. They’ll see us and come out with a shotgun.” But Jake was having none of it. Before us lay a cool pool of water. Pierson Spring. The old man waded into the pond, filled his hat, and poured precious, cooling hatfuls of mossy liquid over his head, one after another.

It revivified him. After a five minute shower he was electric again, and ready to go. Thankfully, none of the Piersons had spotted us, and we were able to slink down the road until out of sight.

We had about a mile-and-a-half of canyon remaining, but that was one of the longest miles-and-a-half I’ve ever endured. The canyon floor baked in the afternoon sun. We were like fish, frying in a skillet. I felt my brain switching on and off at times. Talking and thinking were kept to a minimum. We had to conserve our energy, or we’d soon become dead meat for the coyotes and turkey vultures.

Jake stumbled along behind me, trying to keep up. The salubrious effects of his cool shower had worn off quickly. I slowed my pace. Near the mouth of the canyon, I saw him suddenly veer off and head for a low cliff. Had he gone doolally from the heat? I wondered. Then he collapsed at the base of the cliff, in a thread of shade, and lay fanning himself with his hat.

“Jake, are you okay? Y-you just stay there! We’re not far from the ranch. I’ll go get some help for you.”

“No, I’ll be alright,” Jake muttered weakly. “Just give me a few minutes.” And so we laid back a little while, against the cliff, in this tiny excuse for shade. Finally Jake started to fidget around, and then he staggered back onto his feet. “Let’s go,” his voice crackled.

A half-mile of staggering and stumbling later, we reached my sister’s horse ranch. As we approached the front door, we delighted in the welcome purr of a swamp cooler, emanating from inside the ranch house. My sister had told me the day before that she and her husband would be away, but that she’d leave the cooler on for us. Bless her sweet, precious soul, my atheistic brain mused.

I fell against the door as I reached for the knob. Cool air awaited us, and we were both anxious to breathe it, feel it, and absorb its sweetness through our smoldering skin.

But it was not to be. The doorknob would not turn. It was locked fast, and I had forgotten to obtain the key from my sister.

Our brains were so muddled from the heat, that we had a hard time figuring out what to do next. We were on the verge of heat exhaustion and needed that cool air to save our lives. Our thoughts swam and sank in the sweat of our desperation. Should we break a window and crawl inside? Did we even have the strength to do that?

And then an important detail emerged from the haze of Jake’s baked brain. He had parked his pickup truck here, the day before. All we had to do was get inside, start the engine, and fire up the air conditioner. The key was in his pocket.

We laughed maniacally at our stupidity as we stumbled toward the old truck.

We scrambled up and into the baking cab. Jake fumbled with shaking hands, as he aimed for the key slot to the ignition. After a few rattles of the keyring, he managed to sink the key. Oh please, engine, start! Start!

This was an aging quarter-ton, with a history of hundreds of thousands of miles, and a decrepit engine. Jake had used it as a runabout truck for his machine shop business, and had held onto it after he’d sold the business and retired, eight years earlier. This old bucket of bolts required tender-loving care to stay on the road, but Jake was sentimental about it, and reluctant to trade it in for a newer beast.

Fortunately, he’d been faithful about nursing it along with routine oil changes and other required maintenance. And now hopefully, the truck would return the favor and save us from heat stroke.

Jake rotated the key. The engine turned over. It sputtered, and began coughing itself to death. More sputtering. But then, with a whining whir and roar of salvation, it found spark and fuel.

It started.

This has been the final installation of my six-part series, Tales of Little Morongo. Thanks for reading! Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

36 replies »

  1. “Doolally?,” I think I have used that word a time or two. 😉

    I was half expecting to hesr you guys running from a Pierson’s shot gun!
    Sure glad you didn’t break your sister’s window before thinking about the truck! LOL! Yay for air-conditioning!! Heat like that would make anyone doolally!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Heat… you can have it. Hottest I’ve ever experienced was 117F in Riverside, CA (with a quarter-mile visibility in the smog) when I was in college. Mercifully brief stop, but I recall wondering if I would make it back to the car. Only time I’ve been to Palm Springs was (I think) going to the San Jacinto tram.

    Water is probably among the most misunderestmated aspects of wilderness travel. Running out will kill you in the cold too… just not as quickly, perhaps.

    Liked by 2 people

    • 117F is smoking hot. And Riverside can get very smoggy. It’s not so bad these days, but about 20 or 30 years ago, it was very common to be unable to see the surrounding hills and mountains.

      I think the hottest I’ve experienced was around 122F, while delivering mail in Palm Springs. Mail trucks don’t have air conditioning, just a little dashboard fan. I drank an entire gallon of water before I could finish my route.

      You have to have water, no matter what the weather. When I’m hiking in cool weather, I go through about a quart every three hours or so.

      Liked by 2 people

      • During my grad work in the mid 90s, I had a beater ’88 Toyota Pickup I used to shuttle equipment twice a week between Cal Poly Pomona and Lawrence Livermore, usually up the central valley. AC was an open window and a squirt bottle.

        If I recall correctly, you’re going to Yosemite soon. Picture of me as company water-carrier to the base of Half Dome… four gallons in that pack (along with some gear). That’s the last time I was there.
        (Replace the “[DOT]”)
        luminousaether.wordpress[DOT]com/2016/02/18/heavy-loads/

        Liked by 1 person

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