Thursday, November 26, 2009


Many people celebrate their birthday with a party, a trip to Disneyland, a romantic getaway, or hanging out with friends. Not me. I celebrated by driving into the desert. By myself.

Tuesday afternoon I piled food and water into the Explorer. Last thing I wanted was breaking down in the middle of the Mojave and starving to death three hours from LA on my thirtieth birthday . Not my idea of a great way to go out. If anything bad happened at least I'd be prepared. I also dragged the twin mattress off my bed and threw it in the back of the SUV. Not quite like spending a night at some hotel in Paris or on the beach in Hawaii, but that's ok.

By the time I arrived in desert territory the sun had disappeared. In the darkness I wasn't sure I'd be able to find the little side road leading off into the wilderness. I'd been here before. Two years ago I took a weeklong road trip that lead me up through the wilds of Death Valley, across Yosemite, down into King's Canyon, and back to Santa Clarita. During the first day of the trip I'd come across a dry lakebed just north of Barstow. It's called Cuddeback Lake.

I cruised down an almost empty 385 until I saw what looked like a good sized trail leading back off the road. This was just what I was looking for. I hoped anyway. For eight miles I bumped and jostled down a sandy trail praying my directional skills proved correct. When the path suddenly emerged onto a parched brown, cracked and hardened lake bed I knew I'd been right. This was it. There was little sign of any other human life. Off to the north, many miles away I saw three lights quite spread out. To the south, barely visible, flickered two more. That was it. Other than those five dim reminders that there's still life in this world, it was just God and I. I can't think of a better way to turn thirty.

I drove my Ford Explorer three more miles to the far side of the lake bed and turned to face back the way I'd come. Something inside of me doesn't like sitting in a restaurant with my back to the door. In the same silly way I wanted to be able to see if any other vehicles drove onto the lake bed that night. Sure, that left my back to the wide open desert, but I doubted there was anything out there. What if there was though?

There are certain blessings to an active imagination. Of course, there are many curses as well. One of those curses resulted in the thousand thoughts that ran through my head. What if some sicko killer camped out in that desert and saw my vehicle as the perfect opportunity to commit his next heinous crime? What if deranged ex-Army zombies lived in the hills overlooking my car? What if in the flash of my camera, suddenly the exploding light revealed a rush of crazed creatures hurling themselves toward my car? Yeah, all those thoughts ran through my head. I'm telling you, my imagination is WAY overactive.

After I settled in for the night I stepped out of the car into the beauty of the desert night. A half moon lit the lake bed as far as I could see. I stood in the blue-grey light of the moon and stared up at a sky full of stars arching above me. To the north I made out the faint threads of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. It was just me, God, and the overwhelming sense of his awe-inspiring creation.

For almost an hour I stood alone just listening, looking around, enjoying the moment, trying to take it all in. This was how I spent the last few hours of my twenties. No party, park rides, dinner conversation or friends. That's ok. I enjoyed the silence. I appreciated the solitude.


Jocelyn said...

Fun! And what an awesome way to turn 30 - welcome... =D


Mark said...

I am jealous dude. If I could do my 30th all over again, I'd probably want to do it the way you did... only I'd go over to the other side of the valley so you wouldn't think I was that sicko after his next victim!
Nice way to turn 30 buddy. Happy Belated...
Miss you man,

Michael said...

Congratulations Ken, you made it! I am so glad you found a way, even though this was a monumental event (turning 30,) you have managed to celebrate in a most distinguished way. It seems as though the novelty of being a newcomer from western pennsylvania has not worn thin. I am not surprised though, a person like you has taken full advantage when the time is ripe.
I like the blog Ken, it is very becoming to your personality and lifestyle. I shall try to be a dutiful patron here. Send my regards to your family there in California and abroad. Happy Birthday and Godspeed!

Your amiable friend in North Pittsburgh (a.k.a. butler ;)