Achieving a higher state of consciousness and spiritual awareness amid the unpredictable desert sands
Story by Clayton Bellamy
Photos by Travis Nesbitt
If Los Angeles is the City of Angels, then the Mojave Desert is her dark mistress. Hot, seductive and mysterious on one hand; cold and dangerous on the other. The Mojave holds secrets that many men have gone in search of – some never to return. The Eagles, the Doors and the Band all went in search of her magic and muse and shaped a generation. The Mojave indigenous people would take devil’s weed and wander her endless plains in a rite of passage to achieve a new state of consciousness. But we, we are a different breed. We seek wilder things: not just to wander, but to conquer. We seek to achieve a new consciousness in only one way – we ride.
On paper the plan looked simple: three friends, four days, four stops, four amazing adventures. And as a professional musician, travel is pretty standard fare for me. After 15 years of making records and touring the world, I would hope I got this travel thing down. Just book your flights from northern Alberta, jump on some British custom Triumphs provided by our friends at International Motorsports in Vancouver and go for a ride, right? Wrong! On the map, Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park, then to Las Vegas and on to Death Valley, then back to L.A. looks like four easy days of riding. But we found out nothing is easy in the desert and you never know what you will get one day to the next.
Leaving La-La Land
I landed in L.A. and met up with my friends Zach Graham, owner of International Motorsports, and Travis Nesbitt, videographer and filmmaker. We were fired up to shoot some music videos for The Congregation, my new band, and have some fun. We hit the road with a vengeance and ready for our spiritual awakening with all the fanfare and bravado of young warriors ready to accept our trials and claim our manhood. Only we didn’t realize what dangers lay ahead.
The temperature that day was 13 C and a nice departure from the -23 C that I’d left behind in Canada. But with the wind riding on my T-120, I was hard pressed to find any comfort in the California sun. We rode out of the city, leaving the last vestiges of safety, out into the wilderness and the mystery of Joshua Tree.
The ride out of town, for the most part, was probably the most dangerous. Navigating the five-lane freeway and dealing with nervous drivers and the high-speed lane-splitting bikers were so foreign to us as Canadian riders. What we thought would be an easy two-and-a-half-hour ride exiting L.A. quickly turned into four, thanks to the traffic escaping the city core for the weekend.
As soon as we left the main roads, civilization began to melt away. By dusk we were winding up a mountain road into Pioneertown and the famous Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Established in 1946, Pioneertown was built as a living movie set of a 1870s frontier town; more than 50 feature films and several TV shows have been filmed there. The stage inside the Pioneertown Palace, recently brought back to its glory days, has hosted legends, from Paul McCartney to Robert Plant.
The smell of the barbecue and the hippie rock ’n’ roll coming from the bar was a welcome blast to the senses after the long, cold ride. We ate and drank our fill and made quick friends with the band, an activity that turned into a late-night jam session that meandered into the early morning hours until we retired to our rustic lodgings in “town.”
We rose early on the second day, shook off the fog from the evening before and were greeted with even more cold and more wind. This time we outfitted ourselves for the journey, donning our layers and leathers, and prepared for battle with the elements as we headed north through the Mojave Reserve toward Las Vegas. Despite the crushing wind blowing us sideways at times, I was awestruck by the scenic beauty as we rode deeper into the wasteland. Like an endless scene from your favourite movie, we rolled past the hoodoos, cactus and Joshua trees at a furious pace, using all the daylight we could to make miles in the warmest parts of the day.
Sand Isn’t Always Soft
We stopped at the halfway point to eat at a truck stop touting the “Best Burgers in the Universe” – and they were! We asked the locals for a place to ride in the desert and were escorted to a place where we could leave the pavement for a while and put our bikes to work in the sand. The sand was deep and heavy and the rooster tails flew three metres into the air as we tore through the backcountry.
I found out the hard way that the back roads are not all sand as I high sided my 225 kg motorcycle across the trail when I hit some sand-covered but hard rock. The result was a bruised ego, a squashed tail pipe and a broken mirror. I was reminded that even though my scrambled-out T-120 can be taken off-road, it is not a dirt bike. And that extra weight will throw you for a loop if you are not careful.
After some great pictures and laughs, we decided to cut our day short and stopped in Primm, Nevada, instead of Vegas. This town, right on the California-Nevada border, boasts three large casinos and a wild-looking roller coaster. We managed to get into the restaurant right before closing and had the place to ourselves save for a weary gambler.
As fate would have it, we were talking about first aid and the Heimlich manoeuvre when Travis looked across the restaurant and yelled, “Sir, are you choking?” To the surprise of all of us at our table and the staff, the lonely gambler was choking badly. Travis and I ran to the man’s aid. I proceeded to administer the Heimlich until his blockage had cleared while Travis directed me, yelling, “Hit him again, Clay!” until the man was breathing again. Zach gave him a gentle belly rub until he settled down. We shook hands and headed back to our rooms in utter disbelief at the series of events.
As if the desert was smiling on us for our random act of kindness the night before, we woke to a hot sun blazing down and the wind completely gone. We peeled off our layers and raced onto the highway west into Death Valley.
Often touted as one of the hottest places on the planet, it did not disappoint. The heat was palpable, drying our bones, and our pasty Canadian skin burned in the sun. Any vestiges of roadside civilization slipped away as we passed through Baker and past the military “no fly” zones and into the vast expanse of dry lakebeds and sand dunes. At one point, we rode over a hill to expose an 8 km stretch of empty road across what could have been an ocean a million years ago.
The Devil Says, “Twist It”
The spirit of the devil’s weed took hold of our throttle hands as we opened up the Thruxton 1200 and T-120 for all they were worth across the lakebed. Speed blurred the lines on the road and the bikes were barking between high-rpm shifts until the rev limiters kicked us back into reality.
As the sun began to set on the third day, we made our way to our Airbnb lodgings, the Villa Anita. In a place called Death Valley, where people usually go to escape and not be found, the villa was an oasis. Billed as a living art museum, the villa is owned and run by a group of artists and can only be described as a hippie art commune.
We were greeted by two beautiful angels of the desert and I wasn’t sure if I was being led to salvation from the heat or into the Hotel California. But all the amazing patrons at the villa and the incredible vibe and food quickly put us at ease. We ate and drank and walked the five-acre compound, which is covered completely in paintings and sculptures and creativity. We sat by the fire and reminisced with our new friends as we looked at the stars. We were now as deep as we would be in the desert’s desolation and we could feel the magic seeping into every part of our bodies – and sand into every crack and crevice.
On the last day of our journey now, we bid our new friends and the desert oasis farewell and rode out into another windless day of dry heat. The temperature was a beautiful 25 C and I could only imagine rolling through here in the dead of summer with temperatures reaching 40 C. The air seemed to suck every ounce of moisture from our bodies and I was so grateful for every water stop along the way.
Back in the Sand
We were sidetracked once again by an open expanse of Sahara-like sand dunes with bikes and quads and buggys rolling all over them. We couldn’t resist one last opportunity to put the T-120 to task, so we pulled off and tore into the desert flesh one last time until we had sand in every part of our bodies and the clutch was slipping from the heat. We cooled the bikes as the roads wound back south and we could almost feel the shift in the air pressure as we approached the coast and the call of the ocean.
Santa Monica, California, was our final destination on the map. And as the water and beaches called our names, we rolled on the gas hard the whole way. We were dry and we were dirty; but most of all, we were transformed. The ocean would make us clean and replenish us, but the desert was deeper than that now. It was under our skin; in our bones. Our eyes could see farther, our spirits could reach higher, our throttle hands were stronger and, just like the young Mojave warriors, we had achieved a higher state of consciousness.
We had found our mojo.
Clayton Bellamy is a singer/songwriter who has won multiple awards while playing with the Road Hammers and is a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast. Follow him on Instagram @claytonbellamy or listen to Clayton Bellamy & The Congregation’s music online.