Heidi Buyak 10/2010
It was going to be nice to get into a natural hot spring and wash the dust off from a long ride. The night before, though, we had to car camp not one of my favorite things. In the morning my husband made me stretch my legs.
“Just hike with me up to that post over there.”
Reluctantly I went and then with a burst of energy I decided to beat him there.
What looked like a single short post from our vantage point, across a dry river bed, wasn’t. They were the edges of two wooden grave markers. Two different start dates and two different end dates burned simply and clearly in the rounded weathered cedar markers.
John and Erin, father and daughter, had been doing more than camping there, for a while. We stood silently looking out over their eternal view. It was dusty black and gold undulating dunes of the old seabed. It was an endless view. We stood there silently with them, found a few meager flowers and offered an equally meager prayer, and silently left.
He had read about Saline Springs on the Internet and this was just the kind of thing he liked to explore. The clothing optional bit was just a bonus and made it all the more enticing.
Someone back in the 60’s found these natural hot springs and developed them just enough to put in two cement tubs, an open air shower and an out house, which was not open air. Sandy paths cut through the gray gravel landscape connecting the amenities.
I slipped out of my shorts and pulled the tank top straight up over my head with one clean pull. He was already in the tub with the strangers. Next went my panties and bra. The air was dry and the same temperature as skin, I didn’t feel naked. I climbed in.
We shared the pool with another older couple. They looked to be in their sixties. We were in our late twenties. And they were a little peek into a future without sunscreen. Clearly, they spent a couple weeks every winter tanning their leathery hides. They were real disappointed that we learned about the place online. I didn’t think it was going to be a problem since it was nearly impossible to find and all the signs leading up to the place warned about the lax dress code.
Right on cue, another couple about our age pulled up in their little rental car and got out. He obviously read better than she did because he was ready to take a dip. She probably had a much nicer body than I did but we’ll never know. She stood there arms crossed and sour while he mewed and tried to persuade her. Better an old body then an old face. In the end, she won, he lost, and they left.
Another couple joined us. I think she was with someone. It was hard to tell we were all so consumed by trying not to look directly at her. Even I stared. Next to her, I had the figure of a thirteen-year old boy. My poor husband, it was either sit in the hot water and think of cold water or sit on the edge of the tub in eighty degree heat and think of… what? So we got out and put our clothes on.
After a quick look around we left. We had rented an Oldsmobile ‘under’ Achieva. On a long stretch of washboard and he decided to kick up a little dust and we started flying. There was this rock off to the right side of the road. No problem he barely dinged, thinking it would go shooting off the road. It didn’t. It came up underneath and mangled our front driver’s side tire.
He got out and put on the spare. The spare is the reason why car rental companies don’t want you to take their cars off road. A wheelbarrow tire would’ve been nice. Naturally, the dust he kicked up caught up with him and sandblasted him and the car. He got back in and we had a good laugh. We weren’t too worried because we had a cell phone and the map showed a paved road only ten miles away. If we were careful we’d be fine. I checked the cell phone, out of range.
Then another rock found the rear driver side tire and flattened it for us.
Rattlesnake canyon was only wide enough for one car, we had to keep driving. I checked the cell phone still out of range. Who was I going to call, the car rental people?
“Yes, hello you might want to call your legal department on this….”
No, we kept driving. We were just cresting a small rocky hill when we looked out the driver’s side window in time to see the donut spare go bounding by. It had popped its rim and it wasn’t going back, it had had enough. He got out and fetched the bad donut tire. He put the first shredded tire back on the front wheel, with sand spitting in his eyes.
Plowing along, the road had gotten wider. A car passed. It was someone from the hot springs.
“Are you ok? Oh! Hey! Hi! Do you need anything? You got water?”
“Yeah, we’ll be ok, gotta keep moving. We’ll be fine. Thanks.”
At least they didn’t say,
“Hey, you look different with your clothes on!”
Looking at our faces they probably thought they were too late to help us, that we had already lost our minds, they scurried away.
Pieces of tire were slapping the underside of the car. We could smell hot metal the brakes were heating up. If the brakes got too hot we’d end up as the meat dish in a “car-b-que” and we didn’t really want that.
The front tire had returned to its original components and we were now driving on the rim. Not wanting to be left out, the back tire also disintegrated.
How many miles can you go on a rim? A lot longer than the map was telling us.
The road was winding along a cliff wall, on the right and a cliff edge on the left. And it was still all loose rock and dirt, good for the car without traction.
Every hill we pressed up saved our brakes until the down side. A ridge loomed in front of us. He gunned it and we made it. Finally we saw the edge of the park and paved road.
Exactly one car length onto the pavement both rims snapped with a loud cooling crack and fell away from the wheel well. We had ground to a halt.
I checked the cell phone. It worked! We called AAA and they sent us a tow truck from Lone Pine. An hour later we’re on our way to town and to the garage of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe. It was late but someone was there to help us poor city kids. They told us they could probably get two new tires for us by tomorrow afternoon, sometime. We of course nodded and consented to his demands.
My husband asked if he should somehow try and connive the rental company into paying for the tires. He was always conniving, something he did with an uncomfortable transparency.
The mechanic put the car up on the lift. My husband asked,
“Well, whaddya think? Think they’ll go for it?”
The two men looked up at the underside of the car.
“Well, if you do that, the first thing they’re gonna do is put it up on their lift. And see the oil pan here? Well, it’s pretty banged up, might even be cracked. And the brakes are badly worn. No, you’d be better off not saying a thing and taking care of it yourself. Probably be cheaper.”
He agreed and three hundred dollars and a day later we were back at San Francisco airport. We had successfully turned the car in and were sitting on the shuttle bus. Then the driver asked,
“Who had the light blue Oldsmobile?”
We sat there real quiet, holding eye contact, our obligation over.
“Whoever had the light blue Oldsmobile, please check your pockets for the key.”