Friday, December 9, 2011

Fear and Loathing on my way to Vegas

Today is the five year anniversary of my most infamous drive from Hueco to Las Vegas.

Now before I get started I thought I talk about a little self reflection I've done over the years since this trip. In the past I've always pictured myself as Sal Paradise, Raoul Duke sort of character in all my adventures. But after reviewing my memories I might be more Neil Cassidy, Dr. Gonzo than I once thought.

To set the stage for this misadventure I have to introduce you to my best friend Gabriel. Gabriel is the kind of guy you meet at a party and you remember his name. Probably because he's lining up some sort of naked sauna roll in the snow.

I met Gabe in the Yukon when I borrowed a Tom Wolfe book from him after a random conversation. When I tried to return the book I found out that he was living in a tent behind the college. That's all well in good except it had dropped to minus 20 the night before. Tracking him down I found him showering in the public bathroom. He said he wanted to show me his tent. Turns out it was more of a tarp held up with a stick. After that Gabe moved into guest room at my parents house.

Fast forward ten years. Gabe was heading to go back from Mexico and knew I was in El Paso Texas.

Gabe emailed asking if he could get a ride to Vancouver if he bused in.

I had just spent 6 weeks having the best climbing trip of my life. I had climbed into shape and was cleaning up my projects left and right. Two days before I was planning to start the long journey back to Canada I drove out of the desert and met Gabe at the bus station. Gabe got off the bus with two friends. A Welsh guy and Gabe's new British sweetheart "Jimjam".

Surprised, I loaded them into the van to head back out into the desert. Before I had made two turns it became clear this travel arrangement was going to be a difficult one. Jimjam was tired from the 20 hour bus ride and wanted to stay in a hotel. Gabe pulled me aside and told me he was down to his last 50 bucks. And one night in the hotel would break him for the rest of the trip. He also told me his Welsh friend was worse off than him.

Feeling bad for my buddy I took them all out for all you can eat pizza. Gabe told me the trip had been good but his love interest was dragging down hard on him. He had got this rash on his privates and was worried it might be a sign of bigger problem. (I tell you this because this is the conversation we had in the lineup for pizza.) He said look man you have to look at this. It's bad and I'm not sure if I need to go to a doctor. So into the bathroom we went were he proceeded to whip it out.

(I'd like to stop here to clarify some things: One I'm not a doctor and know nothing about STD's, two it's not a hobby or passion of mine and three I don't recall really wanting to see this.)

Of course as Gabe is showing me his unholy sausage the door to the bathroom did open and yes someone did walk in. I kid you not. Needles to say I was doubly mortified. One for concerns of charges of indecent exposure or for soliciting sex and two for seeing something that is now burned into my memory for life.

(New rule: No more penis viewings for the remainder of the trip.)

That night Gab and Jimjam got a hotel while me and some random Welsh guy headed back into the desert to spend my last day in Hueco climbing.

I had my single greatest climbing day of my life that day while Gabe and Jimjam wandered the streets of El Paso passing the time until we got back. Needless to say they weren't psyched when we finally got back from climbing for the day. They had to be forced to leave their hotel at 11 and spent the remainder of the day walking the streets hungry. Gabe had spent the last of his money on a hotel and couldn't afford to go to Denny's for a Grand Slam.

When we met them, I shared a couple of my peanut butter sandwiches. My plan was to drive to Bishop with a stop in Las Vegas. I hit the gas station Gabe informed me that Jimjam was having a problem with her bladder and had to go to the bathroom every 20 minutes. I was a bit concerned. I mean that can't work. We're about to do a 12 hour straight drive.

I wasn't psyched. I was of the mind set that every time we stopped for gas, then we could use the bathroom. But I'm not completely heartless. In Gabes pre-trip conference he also informed me that Jimjam tended to get carsick and needed to sit up front.

Ok ok. Easy. Right?

So we filled up and headed out. We had been in the van for ten minutes when Jimjam stated.

"Garybell I have to go to the bathroom."

I mean I was sitting right beside her, no more than two feet away. I thought she was joking. Gabe tapped me on the shoulder from behind.

"Ah guy we needs to stop."

Now I'm not a jerk but two things started to bother me. One, we hadn't been in the van for more 15 minutes and two, why was she has holding a four liter water jug.

As we swung into a gas station on the edge of town, Jimjam ran in to relieve herself. I questioned the logic of this trip. I'm like "Gabe why don't you guys fly". He of course was like "Dude, I don't have anything left".

So five minutes later we were back on the road. As I step on it to get out of town as quickly as possible I begun to notice something troubling. Jimjam wasn't speaking to me directly. It always:

"Garybell, I don't like the music."
"Garybell, I'm cold."
"Garybell, It's too warm in here."
"Garybell, I have to go pee pee."
"Garybell, we're driving too fast."
"Garybell, how much longer."
"Garybell, can't we talk about something else."
"Garybell, I'm thirsty."

One hour into the drive I was at wits end. As we pulled over for our third bathroom break. I decided new rules:

Jimjam sits in the back of the van.
Jimjam is advised to shut up.
Jimjam is advised to cut back on the water.
Oh and Jimjam is strongly advised to shut up.

6 hours in 12 bathroom breaks.

New rule: At least two hours between bathroom breaks.

My eye twitched every time Jimjam broke one of the many rules of road. I'm normally quite sane but this was testing my limits.

"Garybell why can't I sit up front? I like to look at the license plates?"
"Garybell can you get Matthew to play something that isn't so dreary?"
"Garybell I have to go wee."

I knew we weren't going to make it to Las Vegas in a single push. I was on the edge of madness. I pulled into a gas station/rest stop and said we were crashing for the night.

I had a double bed in the back of my van and I planned on sleeping for a few hours and making my way to Vegas the next day.

Now normally I'm a nice guy. "Of course you can sleep in the back... Of course we can turn the heat on... Of course you can have my sleeping bag. But in the last 8 hours she had broken me. I was a stark raving mad man. It may not show on the outside but I was ready to snap.

Gabe and Jimjam were going to sleep up front, me and the random Welsh guy were in the back. Welsh guy could sleep across my feet. Gabe was informed if Jimjam complained she could sleep outside.

When I woke up in the morning the van was empty. When I entered the gas station I found Gabe and Jimjam sitting at a table drinking a hot coco. Gabe had found change sitting on the dashboard and got them a hot drink. Gabe pulled me aside and said that last night was the hardest night of his life. Worst than any of the nights in the tent in the Yukon. He thought they were going to die and that I might sleep through his death.

I felt bad. Gabe was my boy. If he died if would have been terrible. I said "Why didn't he climb in the back and cuddle up?"

Apparently Jimjam asked that very thing.

"Garybell I'm freezing can we trade with them?"

Some one told her:

"Isn't it time for a bathroom break!"

And not in a Welsh ascent...

The next day was much of the same driving. Pulling over and constant whining.

I was forming a plan in my mind as we drove. It won't be written here for legal reasons. My Dr. Gonzo was emerging. Instead of acting like a crazed father with a mini van full of kids, I'd gone to the dark side. After all we were driving through bat country.

We stopped in on the Grand Canyon as we neared Vegas. Sadly Jimjam never got see it. What with bathroom breaks and problems with her camera we left before she made it to the edge.

I'm not one for sightseeing and neither was Jimjam judging by the speed in which she moved once we got there.

Next up the Hoover Dam! With me being the only one with any money to their name, I decided not to pay for parking and rather slowed down to peer out the side of the window.

"Garybell why aren't we stopping?"


Gabriel is my best friend, hell he was the best man at my wedding and for that reason I didn't drive off on one of our many pit stops on the way to Vegas. But I knew as we neared Vegas it was the end of the line. Jimjam had to go. I still had a few days to go in my trip and I planned to spend a week climbing in Bishop. I had no doubts that Jimjam wouldn't be able to handle sleeping in the desert.

The plan was simple. I'd fit the bill for a hotel in Vegas. Then before dawn broke I'd head to Bishop solo.

I think my plan showed on my face. As I paid the hotel bill the Welsh guy said quietly.

"Can I come too?"

Taking a random stranger over your best friend is quite tough. I knew I couldn't leave without saying something, so while Jimjam was heading to the bathroom. I told Gabe "You can come to Bishop. " He smiled relief on his face. "But she can't. Your choice."

In the end Gabe made the choice that proved he's a great guy. He called his mom and she wired enough cash and he and Jimjam flew back to Vancouver.

Welsh guy and I headed off.

In a way I was Sal Paradise when Dean needed a ride. I just wasn't going in the right direction.
But then again Dr. Gonzo knew the true score. She was one toke over the line.