Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 160: Official Welcome

Ehrenberg, Arizona to Wiley's Well Road exit, California. 22.8/3088 total.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

9:45 a.m. I’m headed for the Colorado River this morning, where I’ll cross into California, go through the town of Blythe and another dozen miles beyond to exit 222, the Wiley’s Well Road exit, a total of 22.8 miles.

It’s another fine clear day here in the desert. The temperature is in the mid 50s and should get up into the mid 60s. Ho hum.

First off, I head down to the Flying J gas station on the access road to get my morning cappuccino/coffee mix. Then I negotiate a fence and come up onto the freeway bridge over the Colorado River, at the center of which I cross into California, the Golden State, the last of the 13 states I must walk through on this journey.

At one mile in I enter California, 3066.2 miles after beginning the project. In entering California I also enter the Pacific Standard Time zone, the fourth time zone of the trip. So it becomes an hour earlier. The Colorado River here is about a quarter of a mile wide and has water in it, which is a wonder considering how many times it’s probably been dammed upstream. I imagine they manage to capture most if not all of the rest of the water before it reaches the Gulf of California. I also enter the City of Blythe, which the sign says has a population of 21,800 and is 266 feet above sea level.

I hope this isn’t a harbinger of things to come, but the very first thing that happens to me in California, as I make my way across to the other side of the interstate at the “Welcome” center (which isn’t here to welcome anyone but to inspect agricultural products being brought in and also as a Border Patrol station), is that I get waylaid by an employee of the California Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans. He waves me over and gets out of his truck full of orange cones, wearing his white hard hat and reflective vest, and asks me a few questions about where I'm from and where I'm coming from. Then he lectures about walking on the highway. He points out that there’s a pedestrian walkway across the bridge on the north side, which I didn’t know about because I walked up an embankment on the south side of the road. After warning me more officiously than any cop ever did, he bids me go and sin no more. As I leave I wonder if Caltrans workers have some special police powers I’m not aware of or if this guy is just a Border Patrol wannabe, eager to keep his cousins out of the country.

I was going to get off the expressway here anyway, and I do. I follow Riviera to Hobson Way, which will take me through Blythe and beyond before I have to deal with the interstate again. I’m walking past lots of agriculture, fed by irrigation ditches no doubt diverted from the Colorado. There’s cotton, alfalfa, and something that looks like winter wheat. The land stretches flat and smooth here in the Palo Verde Valley, toward the McCoy Mountains to the north.

At about 3 miles I enter the business part of Blythe, interspersed with low end chain motels—Day’s Inn, Budget Inn, Knights Inn—gas stations, and bars. I pass the Horny Toad Saloon and Patty’s Bar and Grill. There’s a cut-rate quality to Blythe so far. It has a Sears and a K Mart. One sure sign of a city that lives in the past, economically speaking, is a free-standing Sears store.

Blythe was named for a gold prospector named Thomas Blythe, who got the water rights to the region in 1877. Then he and a couple of partners built it up into an agricultural producer. Today it's a motor home mecca, like Quartzsite, and attracts RVers from the northern states.

Gas prices are futuristically high here in California, probably due mostly to taxes. It’s selling in Blythe for $3.39 a gallon, which is 44 cents more than on the Arizona side of the line. I may have to slow down the pace of the walk a bit because of the cost of gas, which is my major expense. But not just because of that. I’m also savoring these last few weeks of the walk as I close in on my destination. And I invite my readers to stay tuned after I put my toe in the Pacific Ocean, because I’ll be sojourning in southern California for a time in order to see some of the sights. Got to look up the Clampetts in Beverly Hills and Bill and Ted in San Dimas and of course the Little Old Lady from Pasadena. I didn’t spend all this time walking here just to hightail it home as soon as I get done. And as long as I’m on the subject of my plans I should mention that I’ve already started to think about another walk, this one up the Pacific coast from San Diego to Vancouver, beginning some time this year.

California is really a state after my own heart—high taxes on everything. I even like the name of the California tax department, the State Board of Equalization. That has an appealing socialistic ring to it, as if they’re committed to taking the money of the rich and giving to the poor. Of course I know that isn’t the case here or anywhere else in this country, but I do like the name.

In a small park I see a bronze sculpture of two giraffes reaching up to eat the leaves from a tree. Crossing Main Street I arrive in what looks like the nicer side of town, with a Starbucks and a Best Western Motel, a step up from the ones on the east side.

On my way out of Blythe on the west side I pass a guy I saw earlier when I was driving the route, one of those nomadic freakazoids one sees from time to time, who always remind me of George Clinton. Or maybe its that George Clinton reminds me of a street person. Anyway, this guy seems to be carrying everything he owns on him, including several layers of clothing and a shopping cart stuffed with miscellaneous items of real or imagined value. When I get close I see that he’s not very old, perhaps in his late 20s, and is quite disheveled, sporting red dreadlocks. He looks down and away from me fearfully as I get abreast of him, and I can tell that whatever he’s suffering from includes a heavy dose of paranoia. Just to be friendly and give him something to think about for the rest of the day I say in a cheery voice, “You’re almost there!” He continues to look away and hurries his pace a bit.

After K Mart I’m back in the open again, passing more irrigation ditches and lots more land under cultivation. Vegetables—something in the cabbage family—and an orange grove.

In California everything you see reminds you of something you’ve already seen on TV or in the movies. And for good reason. The state and all its physical features, at least in the southern part, as well as all its freeways and residents and towns, have come to belong to the nation because of the media. I fully expect that the next time I get stopped by the cops it’ll be Ponch and John from CHiPs, or those doofuses from Adam 12, or better yet Broderick Crawford from the old Highway Patrol show, lumbering out of the passenger side of a cruiser, dressed in a suit and fedora and walking swiftly over to me with his short-legged gait to give me a gruff lecture. “Dontcha know it’s dangerous out here? Get offa the highway.”

It’s time for an Arizona statistical wrapup. I walked for 20 full and 2 partial days through the state, for a total of 408.7 miles. I entered the state on November 23 and leave it on January 13. On the full walking days I averaged 20.36 miles per day. Arizona was my third-longest state, edged out by New Mexico by just a few miles. Texas of course was the longest with over 750 miles.

I got 25 ride offers in Arizona, a little more than one per day, which wasn’t bad considering that for several days in the greater Phoenix area I was on sidewalks and not getting any offers. For found money and road kill, though, Arizona proved to be quite stingy, and in fact was significantly behind the rest, especially given its size. I found only 57 cents on the highways and byways of Arizona. As for the dead animals, they just weren’t there. Maybe the fauna of this state are extraordinarily lucky or fast. More likely they were hunkered down for the winter. I counted 13 birds of all kinds, 11 dogs, 5 skunks, 4 coyotes, 3 rabbits or hares, 2 cats, and one each of javelina, fox, cow, and mouse. There were of course the usual puddles of dried flesh and fur and bones that I had trouble identifying, but because of the dearth of roadkill I generally took extra time to try to figure out what they were, just to bulk up the stats.

Besides being in California and in Blythe, I’m also in Riverside County, one seriously large county, even by western standards. It starts here and goes all the way over to west of the city of Riverside on the other side of the state, maybe 150 miles away. But San Bernardino County, just above Riverside, is about three times bigger, and at 20,000 square miles is the largest county in the lower 48 states, and larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, and New Jersey put together, only without nearly as many Italians.

At 12.6 miles I reach the western end of this paved road and I’m joining up with I-10 at this point. According to the map the town near here is Nicholls Hot Springs. The good news is that I can stay on either dirt roads or hard-packed desert just outside the interstate right-of-way. For a while there’s a viable two-lane gravel road, pretty well maintained. But after about two miles that road veers around a mountain to the north, and I leave it to stay close to the highway.

On through the desert I trudge, jumping across dry stream beds and climbing up irrigation berms. At about 16 miles I’m off any beaten path and just walking on the hard edge on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Uneven terrain is slowing my pace down a bit, but it’s flat for the most part and not wildly hilly and rocky like yesterday was. Once in awhile I hit a stretch of perfectly level gravel that goes on for half a mile or more. Down here along the washes and dry stream beds that I come to every few miles the palo verde trees seem to be sprouting tiny leaves.

At 18.5 miles I cross the Isora Ditch. Then, as the sun gets low enough to shine straight in my eyes from the left, the expressway exit where I’m parked comes into view, perhaps three miles in the distance. I now have something to focus on. It's Wiley’s Well Road, Exit 222. I can make out the rest area just off the exit, where the motor home is parked in the midst of the semis.

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