Camping, Off-Roading

Lord of the Flies

Day 15

Altitude: 3200 ft. Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 99-74 degrees  Conditions: light to moderate wind, sunny

I bid a fond farewell to the town of Bishop today. I really liked that place. It’s a town made for people like me. Everywhere you look there are backpackers, 4×4 vehicles & RV’s. A lot of people use the town as a base for explorations of the surrounding Sierra Nevada. There’s all kinds of sporting goods stores and just a general vibe of people getting geared up to go places. It was time for me to leave though. Can’t sit still too long when one is on an expedition!

I remembered what Barney had told me the day before about Saline Valley so I looked it up. It actually is closed right now due to coronavirus, and since it is in Death Valley National Park, I’d have to pay expensive park fees to go explore it anyway. That being a no-go, I had to make a decision whether to go back the way I came up to Markleeville (where the temperatures have gotten much warmer) west to the lower Mother Lode (taking a chance of finding a good place to camp among all the closures) or go south to Randsburg (my original plan).

I don’t like to backtrack if I can help it, and all this trip I just wanted to be warm at night. The logical decision was to drive the 2 and 1/2 hours south to the Mojave Desert. I hadn’t been to this section of the desert before, but all the better! I know this part of the state well, having been here before on previous expeditions. I’ve only been to Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve however, Randsburg was in an area that was new to me.

I made my decision and had a great drive down the 395 South. The mountains lost their snow and I watched my in-cab thermometer keep going up and up. When I started seeing joshua trees and the temps starting getting into the upper 90’s I felt like I was home! I drove through Ridgecrest, which I only knew from being the epicenter of the big LA quake back in 1994, and eventually arrived in the little old mining town of Randsburg.

Randsburg was a trip! It was a mile off the 395, and it looked like an old west town that had barely modernized at all. There were shacks and trailers all over the place. There was a main drag that made me feel like I had stepped backwards in time. Other than a saloon, a cafe and a general store, there was no sign of human activity anywhere. I can understand, the temps were in the mid-90’s at 3 in the afternoon and I wouldn’t have been moving around if I didn’t have to either!

The main drag in Randsburg. Not much going on as ya’ll can see.
Another view of Randsburg overlooking the town. Still no signs of life.

I made a couple laps of the place and went to go check out this old mine that my gold guide had told me about. The road didn’t exist anymore, so I was out of luck. The other two sites were a good ways out of town, so I decided to call it a day and went to some nearby BLM land to seek out a campsite. I drove about 15 minutes out of town and found the place I was looking for. There is desolation everywhere and it was hotter than the sun, so there are no people or laws to worry about messing with. My kind of place!

I set up camp about a half mile from a railroad track in the middle of nowhere and just kicked back. A couple of trains passed through, but other than that, all was quiet and peaceful. I had some writing, editing & truck cleaning to do so that kept me busy. One thing that really sucked is that my camp was beseiged by hordes of big fat desert flies all afternoon! I had to stop once every couple of minutes to swat at some big ass flies that kept landing all over me. They were a bunch of assholes! It wasn’t until dark that they left me alone. I had forgotten just how buggy the Mojave can be at times.

After darkness fell, I cooked up some dinner. In the lamplight as my supper cooked, I started seeing good sized spiders crawling around all over! At first I was stoked because they were the first big spiders I had seen on my trip, but when I noticed that they were all over the place it got me a little concerned. I have heard about these aggressive camel spiders that actually like to hunt down people and bite them. I don’t know if these are those kinds of spiders, but if they are, I’m pretty fucked because they are everywhere!

These jokers are everywhere! Not huge, but not small either.

I don’t really give a damn about the bugs in all honesty. It is awesome that I’m able to sit outside at 11 o’clock at night in my t-shirt and shorts and not be cold at all. It’s a little breezy, but it’s a warm breeze. This is all I have wanted on this whole trip, to just be warm at night. It’s also great to be out & about on a Friday and not have to deal with any weekend warriors. This place is too hardcore for those posers, ha ha! It’s going to be hot as the devil tomorrow and I’m not sure how I’m going to go about dry panning in this heat, but that’s another worry for another day. I’m just happy to be at a lower altitude so I can breathe again, and to be exploring a new place in California.

Day 16

Altitude: 2845 ft.  Stoke level: 2 Temperature: 106-85 degrees Conditions: moderate wind, sunny

The weather conditions of my expedition have completely turned around in the opposite direction than they were at the start. It was hotter than Hades today. I felt like my brain was frying like an egg in a skillet. The only thing keeping the stoke meter from being a 0 is that my new campsite has a decent view.

I got up today in good spirits. I had slept pretty decently, although I was awakened by the heat at 7:30 this morning. My plan for the day was to travel about 15 minutes down the road to this dry gulch off of Mesquite Canyon Road. In the past, miners had made a couple of small lode mines off the road, and supposedly there still was gold in the wash underneath the mine sites.

As I made my way up the road that was in good shape, I found one of the mine entrances and parked in front of it. At first I felt like I had a pretty good spot, but as I got set up, I realized that this site was twice as buggy as my last spot. In addition to flies I had these little desert bees swarming me. The tone was set for the day when I cracked a cold beer. Before I could even take a sip, a damn bee flew right in there! I tried to wash him out, but wound up having to dump the whole thing. What a waste of a precious resource.

It looks like a deep hole, but actually extended only about 15 feet or so into the bedrock.

The bugs were just swarming me like mad. As the sweat began to flow, it made me even more delectable to the little bastards. I grabbed my gold pans and headed down the wash to play in the dirt. I only did about three pan’s worth of concentrates before the heat became too much to bear. Dry panning is definitely an art, but it is one that I’m going to have to work on. I can get a full pan down to about a half cup’s worth of concentrate, but without water I can’t go any further. I had plenty of water but I didn’t want to waste any with this task. I saved what I processed for a later time when I have a good water source. There were definitely some shiny flecks in there, I bet that they are gold!

I was in a bind after this. It was too hot to retreat into my camper, and it was too buggy to relax outside. I tried to put up with the bugs as long as I could, but finally climbed in the camper to wait until darkness fell and the bugs would go away. I turned on my swamp coolers full blast and passed the time watching episodes of The Office, sweating my ass off all the while.

The blessed moment when the sun finally set behind the mountain.

When at long last I was freed from the tyranny of the heat and bugs, I rejoiced! There was still a good amount of wind blowing that was really annoying, but I’ll take that any day over the heat and insects. I was starving but was too dispirited to feel like cooking. I finally managed to get the energy to make up a batch of Indonesian noodles and was glad I made the effort. As I was cleaning up, this little mouse kept running up to me and would dart back into a nearby bush every time I moved. He must have done this 20 times, it was a fun little game we were having. It was the most positive thing that happened today, it helped raise my spirits a bit.

Better watch out for the sidewinders Mickey Mouse!

This was one of the lowest days I have had so far on this expedition. There’s no way I can deal with this heat, so tomorrow I’m going to be moving on. There’s a spot further to the west on the Kern River that is supposed to be good for gold, so that’s where I plan to head tomorrow. I’d rather wait until Monday so the weekend warriors can filter out, but I can’t take another day in this hellhole. It was so hot that it started melting this rubber lizard I keep on my dashboard, it is not a good place for me to be.

After this next stop, I’m going to have to wrap up this trip. I wish I could keep going, but I’m getting so low on funds that I can’t sustain it much longer. If I can find one flake of gold and catch one fish I’ll feel like this expedition is a success. I’m just so beaten up by everything that I have gone through though, there’s a part of me that just wants it to be over and done with. I hate feeling that way, but there’s only so much frustration and misery a man can deal with before he cracks. I’m not far from that point, sorry to say.

Day 17

Altitude: 2542 ft. Stoke level: 9.5 Temperature: 91-79 degrees  Conditions: moderate wind, sunny

Today, I was reminded of something my literary hero and eternal sprirtual mentor Hunter S. Thompson once said. His quote was “It was as if I had fallen into an elevator shaft and landed in a pool full of mermaids.” Well, that is exactly how my day went down.

It started as much as one would expect from Hell’s own buffet. Hot as the Devil’s own piss, ha ha! I had a plan to get down to this place called Lake Isabella in Kern County where gold and fish were rumored to be plentiful. Sounded good to me! I felt positive about having an action plan despite the last couple days being spent on somewhat of a wild goose chase out in the desert.

I knew the day was going to be blessed when I looked up some recent Coast to Coast material to listen to on my trip. Amazingly, I found that Ian Punnett had just interviewed my patron saint of fishing, Jeremy Wade! Whoo-ee, I was ultra stoked! I knew it was going to be a good run on down to my next destination. With good ‘ol Jeremy talking about all things fish, I rolled on down the mountain to the next spot on the expedition.

As I made my way up and into new territory, I got out of the desert wasteland and fell into this really cool valley full of joshua trees! It was so freakin’ cool to see so many of my old amigos growing strong here in this little pocket up out of their range.

There ain’t nothing better than a whole thicket of joshua trees as far as the eye can see.

I’ll never forget when I came around that last bend and first fell eyes on Lake Isabella. The ‘Hallelujah’ chorus rang in my ears so strongly! I couldn’t believe what it was like to see this huge body of water just appear right out in front of me in the middle of the desert. Was this for real? No freakin’ way! Indeed, at long last, I had stumbled into my own desert Vahalla.

It was super dope, I looked down at this mini Lake Tahoe sized body of water and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were sailboats and small yachts everywhere. There was a sandy shore full of RV’s, campers, and people in every direction. I had never heard of this place before! From what I’ve come to understand, this is where all Bakersfield comes to party on the weekend. Being as Bakersfield is considersed to be a kind of shithole area by California standards (my apologies to any Bakersfield readers, but you know it’s true) I can see how this area got overlooked in the great scheme of things.

I was just so blown away by what I was seeing everywhere. This was a happening place! My mission here was not to party though, it was to get up into some gold action. There was this historic gold mining site called Keyesville up out of town that I was wanting to get up into. I followed the directions to get up into the trailhead where I encountered a guy and his family in the process of unloading their OHV (off highway vehicle). When I parked to check things out the dude came over to chat. He told me that the trail I was about to tackle was super gnarly and he thought it’d be a miracle if The Beast could make it. We shot the shit for a bit, and he offered to take me up the trail in his buggy to see if I thought my Beast could handle it.

I took him on up with his offer, and we rolled on up a ways. I quickly determined that it would be a total clusterfuck for sure if I took The Beast up there in that direction. I told my new buddy all about my mission to find gold and fish, and he had some good things to say. He told me that this was the only way into the gold grounds that I was wanting to get into. The dude wasn’t really much of a gold guy, but he told me about one time he went up into this one particular area and just filled up a baggie full of a random handfull of sand he plucked from the riverbed. When he got home, he washed out his sample to find he had a bunch of fine gold! This was from just a random grab!

I thought that was rad as all hell. As we talked he told me about some good fishing spots and places I could camp without being messed with. I’m like, “so how does the local law enforcement around here deal with out-of-towners like me just finding spots to chill and just kickin’ it? He’s like, “Man, as long as you ain’t blocking any roads or causing a scene the cops don’t give a fuck. It’s pretty conservative up here. Actually, I’ve got my CC (concealed carry) permit here in the state of California. It’s one of the only strongholds we’ve got here in the state for that.”

No freakin’ fuckin’ way! I’ve done found me a good ‘ol boy! I’m like, “Dude, I roll with my pistol and my shotgun, and with out of state plates I’ve just had the fear that some quisling California cop is gonna bust my Louisiana ass and fuck me over with my guns somehow.” He showed me his .45 and said, “Dude, around here, don’t worry about that shit. As long as you ain’t shootin’ or making a spectacle, the police around here respect gun rights.”

I tell ya’ll what, this was some good shit to hear from a local. This sounds like my kind of place! I love California so much, but it is so anti-gun it is pathetic. As a Louisianan, I was born with a gun in my hand, and there ain’t nobody that’s gonna fuck with my right to keep and bear arms. Thank god there is an enclave here that is all about that. There are still some patriots out here in the West, thank God!

My new homie took me back down to where his wife and kids were patiently waiting for us to return. I bid farewell, and never even got the feller’s name. He was a true bro, and I was really blessed to make his acquaintance. I think we both equally stoked each other out, it’s a good thing to happen amongst men.

After we parted ways, I decided I wanted to go scout out the northern reaches of Lake Isabella. There were some USFS primitive campgrounds up there right on the lake I wanted to go check out. On my way down I was just floored by the beautiful views so I stopped to take a good picture. Right as I was getting good and set up, some Mexican dude rolled up and hollered at me. I was tripped out for a second, but then he asked if I could take a picture of him and his girlfriend, I’m like, “Hell yeah bro!” and I got some good shots of him and his lady. In return, he took a shot of me.

Not the most flattering pose, but I can’t go wrong with Lady Isabella at my back.

I went a little further on down the road and reached my destination. At long last, I found not only an open campsite, but one that had dispersed camping all the way up to the lake! It was insane! After 2 and a half weeks of brutal conditions, it was like I stumbled into Eden. Yesterday I was at war in Satan’s backyard, battling hordes of soul-sucking insects, Now I’m calmly at peace on the shores of a beautiful placid lake. What a difference a day makes indeed!

It’s been a long while since The Beast and I have been lakeside. I’m getting some Baja vibes from this place.

So here I sit at the lakeside at 4:30 in the morning, after being up all night writing. Suddenly, I realized that I can see without light. It is astronomical dawn right now here! The sky is at the first glimmers of dawn. All of a sudden I am aware of a bunch of bats that came out of nowhere all of a sudden. With the slight increase of light it woke up the mosquitoes a bit. This in turn emboldened the bats to get one last feed in before they go to bed. I don’t want this to sound creepy, but I literally have to duck my head out of the way of all the bats swarming me right now. They are picking off the mosquitoes which are starting to swarm my head, so they are actually doing me a favor! It’s not exactly awesome when bats get within a foot of my face, but I’m cheering them on. We’re on the same team after all! Go Batman Go, get yourself some skeeters!

The light at 5:15 in the morning. Hello summer solstice!

Day 18

Altitude: 2542 ft.  Stoke level: 8 Temperature: 99-69 degrees  Conditions: windy, sunny

After staying up until dawn writing, I got maybe four hours of sleep before the nuclear furnace overhead made it impossible to continue. The steady 15-20 mph breeze dropped to nothing overnight, then resumed blowing again around noon. It was a truly excellent evening, typing in the lantern light. Bugs came in swarms, one moment I’m covered head to toe in about 3 different sizes of gnats and the occasional mosquito. The next moment, they totally vanished. It was perfect when both bugs and breeze were out of the picture.

One thing I forgot to mention last night as I was writing is that every now and then I’d hear a fish splash right out in front of me. I know the sound of a catfish flopping in the water like I know my own voice. They are definitely out there. The only thing that stopped me from fishing was that I didn’t have appropriate bait. I have different kinds of Powerbait and salmon eggs, but no nightcrawlers or chicken liver. I didn’t plan on catfishing, but that’s what’s on the menu if I can catch one.

I decided to make a run into town and grab some bait, along with other camping necessities like ice, booze and propane. When I got into town, it was like it was the Fourth of July! People were everywhere! I went into the bait shop/market and it was full of customers. Not a mask was to be seen on anyone, anywhere. It was the first time I’ve seen that on this expedition. It’s pretty much business as usual in Kernville.

They didn’t have any chicken liver, but they had lots of nightcrawlers. I grabbed a box and paid for my stuff. After this supply run, my financial state has officially entered critical territory. As of now, I’ve got enough to get back on, as well as enough for a week’s worth of groceries. I hope to God there is some work going on when I get back, I’m sure going to need it. I have enough supplies to go one, maybe two more days before I’m going to have to pack it in. It’s the last thing in the world I want to do, but it must be done.

I came back to the cove where I was camping and got busy getting my rig sorted out. I got my shade structure up, and jumped in the lake to bathe. It did me a world of good to get clean and cool off for a bit. The heat was just debilitating. Once I got settled in, I decided it was time to wash out my paydirt I had brought with me from Randsburg. I washed the pan, constantly scanning for any gold that might appear. Lo and behold, I actually found of couple of flecks of color! They were tiny, about as big of the period at the end of this sentence. They were tiny, but were unmistakenly gold. Even with such microscopic flecks, the gold color just glows. You can’t miss it. It was just crazy the amount of work I had to do for just two flecks of gold. Oh well, at least I didn’t get completely skunked on the gold-finding part of this expedition!

Some local lake loon came over to visit during the day. Didn’t see him get any fish, a bad sign.

After I did this, I started feeling really weak and depressed all of a sudden. These are tell-tale signs of dehydration I’ve observed in myself over time. I got into my cab when it got cool enough and got hydrated again. It was a gradual process, but eventually I got to a state where I felt like I’d be in decent form for a night of catfishing.

As I waited for the wind to die down, I passed the time watching my favorite River Monsters episodes. They are the ones where Jeremy Wade goes after the giant goonch catfish. When he jumps into that raging river to keep from losing that 160 lb. beast, I always have to holler! He is so hardcore! I was hoping some of his fishing luck would rub off on me.

Around midnight when the lake and the winds laid down, I got out my gear and got lines in the water. All night I’d alternate between nightcrawlers for catfish and salmon eggs for any trout that might be around. I got a couple bites on the worms, but that was it. There were still plenty of bugs around and spiders crawling around everywhere. This place is not for anyone who is an arachnophobe! They were crawling around everywhere eating the hordes of flying insects attracted by my lantern light.

As I passed the time drinking wine and listening to podcasts, I saw something weird crawling up my catfish rod. Upon closer inspection I found a little frog crawling up my pole! He must have wanted to get in on the bug action as well! He was a cute little feller, it was crazy seeing a tree frog of all things out in the desert. I guess the lake conditions allow such little creatures to live here.

My little frog friend wanted to go fishing as well!
The town of Lake Isabella looks pretty at night. It’s nice watching the cars go back and forth.

As morning got closer, I got really tired and took a little catnap. I woke up right before dawn and immediately noted that the fish were back from the previous day. I got really excited to see these packs of fish just slowly swimming around occasionally popping something in the water with a big splash. Undoubtedly some had to have been catfish, but I had no idea what these other fish were. They were everywhere! I tried every trick in the book to catch these creatures to no avail.

I finally got out my fly rod the first time on this trip and attempted to get a dry fly out to them. I was thinking that maybe they were feeding on the bugs landing on the water so this approach might work. I got in some really good practice casting, but couldn’t toss a fly more than 10-15 feet away. This might work on a small river, but not on a big lake like this one. Around ten they finally went away, so I put everything away and cooked up a big steak for a late breakfast.

As I was getting everything put away a young couple came over to me that had just set up camp a little ways down the beach. I wasn’t in the mood to do anything but crash, but all they wanted was to see if I had any bug spray they could use. I don’t guess they were prepared for the bug onslaught that happens when the wind dies down. Fortunately for them, I had almost a full bottle of Deep Woods OFF I let them borrow.

As it was already over 100 degrees in my cab, I popped some emergency Zanax I keep around for these kind of situations to knock me out during the heat of the day. Before the meds kicked in, I posted the videos I made of the mystery fish to the r/Fishing subreddit to see if the people on there could help me ID these mystery fish that ignored all my bait offerings.

I had a good solid benzo sleep and woke up around 5:30 feeling fit as a fiddle. I saw that the youngsters had returned my bug spray with a five dollar bill. Such nice young people! I got on Reddit to see if anyone had any ID on the mystery fish and the verdict was unanimous: I was dealing with schools of carp. Having never fished for carp I didn’t recognize them. They eat stuff like corn and bread as they are vegetarians. It was recommended I use a drop shot with a bread ball to catch them. I hear carp are pretty bony, so I don’t know if I want to go through the trouble to catch them.

I’m going to try to fish one more night and after that I’m done. My ice is already melted so that’s that. I figure I’ll kill time until the early morning hours and try one last time for a nice catfish, I still have a few nightcrawlers. I’m pretty disappointed so far with the fishing at this place. A couple of hundred yards offshore I’m seeing all kinds of big fish leaping up in the air and it is frustrating I can’t get out to them. If only I had some kind of raft to get out there! That’ll be something I’ll have to bring next time. Well, hopefully I have some better luck fishing tonight, I’m keeping my fingers crossed!


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