On Saturday I got an early start to a very productive day and... hahaha, who am I kidding?
The solution is always MORE TARP STRAPS!
After playing Tetris with trying to fit all of my crap on the bike with tarp straps and no real luggage for several hours, I finally got on the road. I was a bit hurried - I had gotten a very late start and I wanted to make sure that I made it to East Jesus before sunset, as the proprietor's website warned that anybody arriving after dark without prior notice would likely be met with the business end of a shotgun. Specifically:
"1) **UNLESS** THERE IS A SCHEDULED EVENT, if you plan to camp out here or even just visit, DO NOT ARRIVE AFTER DARK. Either show up before dark or spend the night elsewhere. No discussion, no exceptions. Also, even if you have been here before, DO NOT SHOW UP AFTER DARK WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE AND APPROVAL. No discussion, no exceptions. Accept it and deal with it and plan accordingly. Given the nature of Slab City and some of its inhabitants, unexpected visitors after dark are presumed to be trespassing with ill intent and risk staring down the barrel of my 12GA."
- from here
Wait, wait. East Jesus? Hold on a second, is that some kind of crazy cult?
I suppose some history may be in order.
Once upon a time in a land far far away, down by the Salton Sea in southern California, there was a military base which closed up shop and demolished all the buildings, leaving nothing but the concrete foundations behind. Boondockers - RVers who dry camp for free (usually because of a fixed income), found this an ideal place to while away the chilly winters further north, and thus Slab City was born. Slab city is home to dozens, if not hundreds, of what are essentially squatters in a giant dump site with no real infrastructure (no power, no water), next to a military bombing range, at the ass-end of nowhere. It's become a mecca for traveller kids in the winter, and is one of those places you'll hear rumors and legends about. One of the last places you can live free and not be hassled.
Also it has this:
Yes, it really is that huge.
You've probably at least encountered a reference to Salvation Mountain somewhere along the way, there's really nothing quite like it. I think it was featured in that movie "Into the Wild" as a place where they stop along the way.
I'd heard a few tales of Slab City, and I decided that since I was going west anyways, now was as good a time as any to check it out. What can I say? I love weird things! I have nothing to lose! And Saturday was supposed to be Live Music night!
While doing some internet research about the place, I kept coming across references to East Jesus, which seemed to be a Burningman-styled libertarian setup - East Jesus was not a reference to religion so much as a descriptor for "middle of nowhere". The proprietor seemed to be a bit of a gun nut, but that should prevent his camp from being fucked with. Also, they seemed to have the only toilets. There were rumors of the vast stretches of human waste baking in the sun near Poverty Flats, and I wanted none of it. If I'm going to stay in a squatter town in the middle of the desert, I'm doing it in style, damnit!
I sent the owner an email, but I got no reply. Strange... Oh well, better hurry up anyways, maybe his wifi went out or he just didn't feel like answering emails today.
So off I went. Slab again. Yawn.
Total distance: 260 miles.
Somehow, even though I've lived in Phoenix for a good 8 years or so combined, I always manage to forget how hot it gets when I haven't been there in a while. I was baking all day. Some road rash on my knee from when I lowsided the Rebel (Monsoon season in Phoenix, I hit one of the stupid Median Trees that fell into the road and went sideways doing 30) convinced me that the ATGATT mantra had some validity. But boy, when it's almost 100, not even the vented gear and mesh helps all that much.
I was pretty dehydrated when I rolled into Blythe, CA. I stopped at a Starbucks for some air conditioning, wifi (I wanted to see if there was a reply to my email yet), power, etc. I did my duty and bought the cheapest drink I could to excuse my presence.
While I was cooling down, one of the employees mentioned that they have free water. I indicated that I already had a drink, and he said, "Well, that's tasty too, but the water is free..." I told him that I was raised to think it rude to hang out, enjoying the facilities and comfy chairs and not pay for anything, and he told me that they basically don't care and expect that kind of thing. "And anyways, it's not like we have to climb a ladder to get the water or anything." Hmm. Good to keep in mind I suppose...
From Blythe I headed south on CA-78. As the road wound from desert into irrigated farmland the humidity dramatically increased. It struck me that growing crops in the middle of the desert was a bit ludicrous. I would have gotten some photos of desert scrubland right up against green crops, but the shotgun threat bore more heavily on my mind than an interest in landscape photography.
There were a couple of oddities I did stop to take photos of. One was a strangely lumpy set of hills behind a barbed-wire fence, some kind of military thing? I don't know. There were these large divots carved out of the hillside at varying intervals:
The other was, I came up over a hill and suddenly, DUNES! Tons of dunes as far as the eye can see! They were having some kind of race, too, I saw dirtbikes and dune buggies with flags tearing the place up, vendors selling gas out of pickup trucks with "RACE GAS" signs. Oh man, it looked like fun. Someday I should try to get in on something like that. I snapped a few quick pics and was off.
I arrived at East Jesus just before dusk, after picking up a can of soup and some fruit from the store in Niland. I was proud that I managed to not drop the bike in some of the loose dirt on the road to get there! I came close!
After chatting with the local ringleader, Frank (Sorry for getting your name wrong!), I found out that the website I'd found was defunct, the original owner, Charlie, had passed away last May and his friends were taking care of the place in his stead. Well, makes sense why he wasn't answering his email...
Their actual website was http://eastjesus.org/
East Jesus was an oasis in the desert - ice cold water, electricity, shower, wifi, composting toilets, refrigeration, all of the comforts of home in a squatter town in the middle of the desert, far from utilities. There were solar panels, wind turbines and a generator, as well as deep-cycle batteries to provide the juice to power everything. Every available nook and cranny was absolutely stuffed full of assemblage art, most of which was created from recycled/found materials as Slab City is for the most part a junkyard. There were various pieces that had been dragged here from elsewhere - the art cars, a few of the donated larger sculptures were refugees from art galleries in LA or elsewhere. From what Frank had said, the place had a bit of a reputation among artsy types, and he'd regularly get people bringing by a truckload of doll parts or other random odds and ends for the people who frequent East Jesus to build things with. It was surreal to be browsing the internet 20 miles from nowhere surrounded by random artifacts of civilization.
I was given the tour of the sculpture garden and the facilities, then led to a camp with a very large, 8-person tent already set up. He called the camp "Hogwarts", because, as he said, "a wizard used to live there". Cloak and pointy hat and everything. Somehow this did not surprise me in the least. I moved my bike into the camp, took my gear off (ahhhh, much cooler) and set up my sleeping bag in the gigantic tent.
Back at the main camp, I met up with a British woman named Beth and Chris from BC who were travelling together. Chris had been busking all across the US and told stories of the various places he'd been. Highly entertaining. He was going to perform for us at The Range - the main stage where live music gets performed every Saturday night. It's more or less a free-for-all, loosely organized by a guy they referred to as "Builder Bob".
After securing a free meal and a jug full of ice cold water (luxuries!), we wandered over to The Range. There were a lot of dogs randomly roaming around as well as on the stage itself. The seating at The Range was all old couches, bus seats, and various car parts, left to wither in the desert sun. I wished I'd brought a blanket or something to sit on, but luckily I managed to avoid any exposed springs. The foam was scratchy, though. Lighting was bulbs placed inside of 5 gallon buckets. Ghetto, but highly functional.
Some of the entertainers were not very good - Bob, the organizer, admitted that he was not very good, yet insisted on playing the first and last 5 songs. He was terrible. A for effort though?
In case you wanted proof:
Chris played, and was actually really good:
Another band that I liked was called the Bible Brothers - I'm not religious, but they sure could play. A man from the audience with an accordion and a harmonica joined them, blurring the line between entertainer and audience, and added another layer entirely to the performance.
(Sorry about the video quality. I took these using my Droid X2. I don't really have a proper video camera, and my cheapy point ‘n shoot takes worse video than this does. Also I was running out of disk space. And I'd never taken videos with it before. I've got a bunch of other videos from this evening, but these were the best without editing - that entire process is a bit of a mystery and I don't think I can do it on the Droid. Ahem.)
Eventually the quality of the music started to degrade and we headed back for East Jesus.
Frank took no shit from anyone. He'd been a chef professionally, and had hitchhiked all across the US. We had some good conversations, and then I wandered off to Hogwarts and settled down in my sleeping bag to the sounds of a drunken woman screaming into a microphone at the top of her lungs at 2 am. She was decent with the guitar, but her off-key half-remembered lyrics to popular songs (Stairway to Heaven, Hotel California) and random caterwauling made me grateful when the festivities came to a close.
Next: Fey explores Slab City and tries not to die of heat exhaustion!