If you’re following me on Twitter, you might’ve guessed where I’ve been the past week and at my lack of updates. It just so happens that I’m still alive.
Where we were, the vast networks could not send or receive any signals, at least to a handset. That meant no internet and no calls. And where good signals were hard to come by, the other more substantive stuff found it harder to follow. Instead of a generous slab of turkey breast, we had packed a giant roll of paper towels, 15 cans of various soups and chili, 10 gallons of water, 10 gallons of gas in jerry cans, and a 110 pound dog. You will note that not all of those things are edible. We were headed for Death Valley.
It had been a little over two years since we first visited this landscape that I feel most would not consider gorgeous from the outset. It’s a place that grows on you. The more you see around its loose boundaries, around its rough edges, the more you begin to understand its scope, and seeing it grow, it grows with you. Last time we were there, but only for a day, we nearly ran out of gas before getting on the rocky trail headed to Racetrack Playa, and reluctantly turned around. This time, we were intent on immersing ourselves in devil’s country.
For the other half of the week, we hiked and slept in the 20-degree, brisk Sierra Nevada, which is just northwest of Death Valley with a 180-degree difference in climate. As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy trip. In fact, we witnessed too many cases of Murphy’s law including getting lost for hours in Death Valley at night, accidently driving through closed off-road from the opposite end, running out of gas, getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere at night, and a failed water jug that thought car upholstery was a fancy term for sponge. It ran our water short. But after all this, I still didn’t want to go home.
We saw an young elk hopping in the golden grass field in an early morning, touched an over 4,000-year old tree, which was alive when Egyptians were raising the pyramids, stared at skies filled with billions of stars and spotted a few shooting stars alongside, every night, watched ever-changing sunrises and sunsets, and went from 300-ft below sea level to over 11,000-ft high in the mountain in a day. I felt like an ant crawling up a wall. I kept walking and walking yet my perspective did not change for miles. Big trucks and SUVs driving in distance looked like toy cars. I was amazed how fast jack rabbits can run in a desert where there were very few other creatures with real sustenance. I was quietly awed when I followed tracks left mysteriously in the desert flats by rocks that moved on their own. Puzzlement returns to my face even as I type this. It would take another week to explain and describe everything I saw and experienced. Alternatively, if you’re curious, you can see some photos from this trip on everyday em.
I’m still adjusting to civilization. Listening to the news first was a little bit depressing, as always, as I should’ve known. Catching up on e-mails took me hours. I was so hungry for hearty, stick-to-your-guts food, but my fridge was barren as a desert, and I wasn’t ready to tackle the kitchen. We ate simple things for the past few days like fresh salad, bread, and a rotisserie chicken. It’s been a slow process.
Finally last night, I started chopping vegetables. And today, I made this simple dish -- soba rolls for lunch. It literally took less than 15 minutes to make and it was a bit fun. Boiled soba, cooked shrimp while cutting vegetables, and rolled it like a sushi roll. Not sure if I can call it hearty, but my stomach was still grumbling about the heavy canned food. Besides fixing a quick green salad, this was the closest and easiest thing I came up with using fresh raw vegetables. It could easily be vegan by substituting the shrimp with tofu or another vegetable, but I prefer it with shrimp, which adds a satisfying springiness and substance, yet is tender, with an extra layer of umami. There is something about the combination of seaweed and soy sauce that always gives me comfort. Home now, I’m still acquiring the taste for routine. Slowly but surely, minor comforts return, and I’ll take them as they come.