Late in the month of November, I arrived in Quartzsite, Arizona. I'd marked this as a place to rest for a time, in a town well-equipped for and accustomed to long term travelers.
I rode into Quartzsite on a unseasonably warm night, and found a place to camp, east of town, between a towering Saguaro and a scraggly mesquite. I stayed here for three weeks, each day spending more time in town and meeting people. The hitch hikers, tramps and vagabonds told me it's easy to find work setting up for vendors, here. The old men who sit in MacDonalds all day said everything is going to hell and good luck getting a job. The vendors said "wait until more people show up".
Two weeks in I was offered $9/hr to clean a couple of motorhomes "Before the boss and his crew get here". Motorhomes clean, boss arrives, and kept me on for five days sorting beads and setting up tables. A week after that ended, I had season-long work at D&D produce, a rather large seasonal produce stand. I spend most of the winter re-packaging nuts and candies. At this time I was also given a notice to leave the two-week limit BLM area I was camped in, and moved north two and a half miles north of town to the Tyson Wash long term visitor area. I stayed here, in a pretty spot between a tree and a wash, until March.
Quartzsite was very cheap to live in, ideal for saving money for the next leg of my adventure. Being without a vehicle, no one ever checked my LTVA permit. I paid my $40 fee once, and let it expire after two weeks. Nothing happened. There is a church, Isiah 58, that serves a free dinner every evening. It's also the only free shower in town. I never had any compunction about using the shower(The "cheapest" shower in town is $6. The truck stops are $12), but for a few weeks I persisted in making my own dinner - various combinations of tuna, pasta, and potato. By the time I was working at the produce store, I'd rush there every evening after work to get a meal before 6:30. That, and the MacDonalds, where my social centers. Most people camp in groups, but I was far out of town and no one really knew were I went at night.
I've not had much luck explaining Quartzsite. A google search brings up tales of wild west politics(very true), and mostly puts Quartzsite off as a dying snowbird town(I have doubts). The experience of being a transient worker there was a bit different then what'll come up in a Arizona Times article. Among the retirees and tourists there is a incredible, colorful, group of travelers - artists, crafters, free spirited wanderers. I learned to make my copper jewelry, here, from three fantastic teachers.
I also met Karl in Quarzsite. I'm not how much I can, or want to, explain about him, but he the only person there I never had to put up a front with. The old liar's club at Macdonalds gave him hell(Mostly behind his back) because of me. I'm sure every day people looked at me, with jealousy or disgust, thinking I was "involved" with a much, much older man. I didn't care. Not one bit. Normally that would mortify me, but I've never met anyone like Karl and his friendship was worth a town full of rumors. Being the sort of person he is, I doubt Karl cared either. He certainly has a lot of experience being reviled in ass-backwards small towns.
I'd worried about getting too attached to a fairly stable life in Quartzsite, but when it came time to go, I couldn't wait to put the town behind me. Once most of the visitors clear out, it gets a great deal less friendly. The fun, open-minded people vanish, leaving the bitter and genuinely crazy. The produce store shut down for the season. My long time hangout at MacDonalds become unwelcoming. Loitering tickets became a concern. A few days later, Karl and I left in his 70s Oldsmobile, my bicycle in the back, without saying a word to anyone. 'till next year.
After leaving Quartzsite, we drove for three weeks. We saw the London Bridge, Las Vegas Strip, a snowstorm just outside of Reno, and Mono Lake. I left Karl in Shoshone, Ca for three days while I explored the southern half of Death Valley on bicycle, and tried to come to terms with being on my own, again. We made our way to Paige, Az. At the Wahweap Marina Campground, on Lake Powell, early in the morning on April 26th, we parted ways for a longer time. I'd feared this moment for weeks, and delaying it would just build the tension. It was time to go.
I know Utah will be special. I hope it will be enough to ease my way back to being a solo traveler. Watching Karl's car drive away was harder then leaving home, but now the separation is behind me and I can look ahead. I'm back to doing what I'm good at.