But the publicized-beyond-belief wildflower bloom in Death Valley these last few weeks will not, I’m happy to report, ever be included in this Category of the Overhyped. I was down there in D.V. for St. Patrick’s Day, and the floral displays were, well, it was prime-time eye candy. Good enough to where, in years to come, one can imagine there will be loads of seniors sitting around the ole video campfire on the 52-inch plasma screen inside the land yacht, swappin’ stories about The Mighty Bloom of ’05, with its sweeping hillsides of desert gold, its impressive pockets of gravel ghosts and its dense stands of phenomenal phacelias.
Being in the park reminded me that it’s time to go over the Neon Babylon “C.Y.A.” checklist of things you need whenever you’re doing time outdoors. Sooner or later, the inevitable unexpected glitch will attempt to put a backbite on your good-time ramble, but you’ll be ready if you have this stuff:
1. Jumper cables. Duh. But then again, I’m sure there’s a whole lot of brainiacs out there who don’t have a set in the vehicle. Take care of business, for god’s sake.
2. Decent spare tire. The key word here being “decent.” I remember the wise words of a grizzly old prospector with bits of beans and bugs in his beard: “if your spare sucks, you suck.” It is truth that he speaketh.
3. Speaking of tires and back roads, if you’re on a road that has a lot of pointy rocks and chunky gravel, watch your speed. If you drive 40 mph or more, you’re begging for some slashed rubber. Take it from a hoser who knows. That would be me. I know it’s tough to do, but if you keep it at 35, your jack has a much better chance of staying in the trunk.
4. A portable little air compressor is nice. Chances are you won’t use it much, but if you have a slow leak out there in the weeds, filling up tires with that compressor beats the bejesus out of having to grime out and bust lug nuts for a half hour. Also handy for bikes, inner tubes and rafts.
5. Good Swiss Army knife. Essential features for the modern camper include corkscrew, tweezers, toothpick, spatula, nail clippers, ear wax tongs and bolt cutters.
6. Good first aid kit. If you have the good Swiss Army knife, you’ve got to have one of these for when you slice yourself up with that damned blade. Those things are sharp.
7. Satellite phone. With one of these suckers, you can chuck items 1-6. You can be broke down 42 miles sideways of Bumdunk, and still be able to call AAA. Be prepared to wait awhile.