The plan to spend a few days hiking in the Eastern Sierra fell apart. My hiking traveling party was either physically busted from the first day on Mt. Whiteny or emotionally and mentally done with anything involving a mountain. And so we decided to drive to the desert instead and headed south to Death Valley.
One of the things I pride myself on is an intense curiosity to go anywhere, but if given a list of places to visit, the desert would have ranked near the bottom. I had no lifelong desire to see the desert. Westerns in film, television or literary form held little appeal to me with the one exception of Little House on the Prairie. The gold rush didn’t hold a particularly vibrant spot in my love of all things historic. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t up for a trip to the desert. It just never really appeared on my cosmic to-do list.
We spent about two days in Death Valley and most unexpectedly, I fell in love with the American desert. While the scenery was breath-taking what struck me most was the stillness. I first noticed it when I took a power walk by myself. Everything was still. No noise. No wind. No faint whisper of animals. Just complete stillness among vast beauty. Without even knowing it, this is what I had been craving — a stillness, a calm, a confidence, a joy. This is the essence of feeling I try to capture during my own yoga practice and my beginner forays into meditation. I was blown away. I took a few minutes to experience it, to be present to the stillness.
At times it seems counterintuitive, this notion of stillness. If I want to get better, to succeed, to thrive I need to be doing, right? One of the most overlooked and misunderstood parts of training is recovery. All athletes need recovery time in order to prevent burnout, prevent injury and as a way for the body to acclimate and absorb all the fitness gains it has made. It needs some stillness in order to continue moving forward. A trip to the desert isn’t necessary to achieve that recovery and sense of peace, but for me, the opportunity was a meaningful reminder.
Highlights of my Death Valley Adventure:
- Along with stillness, there is great subtly in the desert. Yes, it is big and bold especially with the mountain ranges all around the valley. But even in the grandest view lies subtle shading of colors and contours. Sometimes when we focus too much on the big picture, we lose sight of the interesting details which bring life to image.
- Continuing to prove that I would not make a good pioneer type of person in any milieu, I got slightly lost when running on the Badwater salt flats. The foursome I was with went to Badwater Basin, which at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America. It’s also the beginning point of the famous Badwater Ultra Marathon, which runs from the basin to the Mt. Whitney Portal. To say I ran at Badwater sounded pretty cool to me, so we went for a sunrise jog. Only my running partner for the day, Lee, and I overshot our turn back to the parking area. By around a mile and a half. Momentarily scared, I got myself together as soon as I saw the movement of a car and we found our way to the road. Mini-adventure aside, running on the salt flats surrounded by the colors of sunrise was the coolest run I have done since running around San Francisco with Mark last year. It was a way to bring the stillness of the desert and my workout together.
- We ended our desert excursion with a trip to Scotty’s Castle, also known as Death Valley Ranch. The intricate story is about the unusual friendship between Death Valley Scotty, a former entertainer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and a cowboy and con-man, and Ohio business man Albert Johnson. Johnson invested in Scotty’s gold mines, which turned out to be fake. But Johnson and Scotty remained friends. Why? They each got something they desperately wanted. Scotty got the opportunity to perform and keep living his cowboy, con-man lifestyle. Albert in return got to play cowboy for six weeks of the year and enjoy a respite far away from the business world. It’s a story which gets you thinking about what “treasure” really is and about the unique aspects of friendship. And it reminded me that in my next life, I want to be a National Parks Ranger. For real.