Curt is Chicago native - but don't hold that against him. After stops in Madison and California, he moved to Waukesha in 2004 to open a downtown business.
While perusing through some old files, I came across photos of a trip we took last year to California.
I meant to write a blog about this trip at the time, but it seemed to slip my mind and it ended up being forgotten.
And to be quite frank, blogging about Waukesha and what happens in Waukesha and what is wrong with Waukesha, and what is right with Waukesha has run its course.
So for now, I would like to share with you the story of how my wife and I almost died while hiking in the California desert.
Like New York or Chicago, Los Angeles, California is a busy place. The traffic is horrendous, the smog can be terrible, and people are always in a frantic rush to get everywhere.
But just three hours east of this insanity rests some of the most beautiful desert in the United States.
While it can be fun to visit the west coast, enjoy the ocean breezes, and see the famous sights, the desert offers something very different, very enriching. And when the madness of the world finally wears you thin, there is no place you can feel more alone and at peace than in the middle of the desert.
Our trip began in Borrego Springs, California, a sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere.
It was the third day of our visit, and we had decided to hike one of the many trails mapped out by the visitor’s bureau. We were in the mood for an adventure so we traveled by Jeep to a remote trail about 45 minutes outside of town.
It was the off season, so tourists were scarce but it was also the hottest time of the year. Daytime temperatures could soar to well above 100 degrees, and an ample water supply was necessary everywhere you went.
Our route included a hike to an oasis, then guided us around a small mountain, and eventually led us back to our Jeep.
About and hour in length, it was just enough of a venture for the water we had.
Hiking in this kind of terrain was something sort of new for us. Although the trails were marked (more on that later), there was still an ample amount of risk.
A simple wrong turn, a twisted ankle or a fall, the danger of a rattlesnake bite- these were some of the very serious perils we faced as we set off on our journey.
But we believed we were up to the task.
The trail began by following a dry creek bed to the oasis. In 30 minutes, we were sitting in the shade of lofty palm trees and listening to small waterfalls pouring into little basins.
It was beautiful.
Hawks perched themselves on nearby cliffs and closely watched little desert rats scurry from bush to bush. We sat for a while and scanned the cliffs for any signs of the very elusive desert ram.
Before long it was time to continue on. It was 10:30 AM and the heat of the day was building intensity. We wanted to be safe in the air conditioned comfort of our Jeep before noon and back at the hotel pool by one.
We left the oasis, rounded the mountain, and began to head back
At least we thought we were heading back.
The sun was now almost straight above us and it was becoming increasingly difficult to tell which direction was north or south, east or west.
The extreme heat was beginning to wear on us, and our water supply was depleting.
In the beginning it was easy; we simply followed the creek bed to the trees. Now we were in the open desert… flat, rocky, and desolate.
And as for the markers I spoke of before, let me now share with you what a trail marker looks like…
See that? It is the incredibly intelligent idea of California Conservationists to design the markers in such a way that they don’t take away from the natural beauty of the landscape in which they are placed. They are designed to “blend in with nature”.
Now take a look at this next picture.
There are fifty billion brown cacti with yellow tips in the desert. If you can find the trail marker in this photo, you are a better scout than I.
Suddenly things were not looking so good…
Before we go on, let me just say that one of my favorite shows on television is Survivor Man. Every week I watch host Les Stroud go days in the wild with nothing more than a pocket knife, some flint, parts of a tractor, and a few inches of twine.
Eight days later, he finds his way to safety and is usually none the worse for wear.
Fifteen minutes had gone by and my wife and I were convinced we were going die together in the desert. Les would not be impressed.
As we roamed through the dry white sands, we would find the occasional trail marker but never its successor.
Aimlessly we wandered the barren landscape, sun block wearing thin, water running out, and mirages taking shape. I began to think of how much extra the Jeep was going to cost me if I didn’t have it back to the airport by Saturday afternoon around 5PM.
But really, who was I kidding. My family would have to incur that debt considering all that would be left of me was a collar bone that some vulture vomited up along a desolate highway in Borrego Springs.
Finally we sat down beside a large rock, gazed into each other’s hopeless eyes, and prepared to fade away into the winds of the desert.
The silence was deafening…
And then… a faint whisper of conversation drifted in on a light desert breeze and settled into our ears. As we strained to listen, the sound of voices grew louder.
Someone was approaching us.
As we clambered to our feet, a group of British hikers rounded the bend and headed in our direction.
A witty British accent broke through the air.
God had delivered us Monty Python to lead us from the desert… and it was good.
“Hello,” we responded, as if everything was great and we were skilled hikers with years of experience in the high desert.
The British then asked, “Are you blokes ending your hike or just beginning?”
“Well then, that must be your Jeep just ‘round the bend. Nice ride.”
Just around the bend? Oh thank God…
“Thanks, and have a great day.”
“Cheers,” they said, and on they went.
“Cheers.” You have no idea. God bless the British.
And as we crested a small hill, the parking lot from which we started was visible through the thick heat on the blurry horizon.
We skipped like school girls to the lot, hugged each other like old friends do when they have spent time apart, and paused to thank the Gods of the desert for sparing our poor souls.
We had escaped death at the scorching hands of the Borrego Springs desert and now it was time to head back to the safety of our hotel for a cool shower and a dip in the pool. I reached into my pocket for the keys to the Jeep…
“Honey, you don’t happen to have the keys, do you?”