Planet 29 has done its best to kill me with some help from my own stupidity.
To my left I can barely see the ghostly visage of the only remaining above ground water on the planet. The Salton Sea is a putrid ghastly body of water. Sitting above an active fault causes a cycle of pollution that devastates the fish and bird populations. The lake is not my destination though and I cruise by. This morning is the one I have chosen to visit the most desolate landscape on the planet; the Dunes. They are on the opposite side of Planet 29 far away from any support systems I have nevertheless they are a crucial site to finish my research. Excitement has boiled up inside and I only slept three hours last night. I imagine the vast nothingness of the sand. True and utter lifelessness.
Even though it is still dark I can faintly see the rolling silhouettes of the dunes. I have arrived. Since I was unable to acquire a hovercraft or even a suitable ground vehicle I must carefully pick my access point. The road I am looking for should take me to an undisturbed part of the dunes. A left off the main road takes me onto a small dirt road. This must be it. Another sign warns travelers away. I continue on. Dark chocolate cliffs to my right continue to hide the slowly rising orange sun. The low light reveals the edge of the Dunes and although it is only a short hike the sand, the sun, and my gear will make it dangerous. So I continue down the sleepy road hoping that it will lead me closer.
It has been several miles and still the Dunes remain just out of reach. This glorified automatic cart I am driving is not equipped for this increasingly treacherous road I have had to cautiously bypass a few obstacles. The map indicated this road will take me along the eastern edge of the Dunes and eventually connect back to the main road heading north. The government protects this sandy patch of land while just past the Dunes to the west they maintain an active bombing zone.
I’ve realized I may not have access from this road which is frustrating after all the planning and the long journey. I pick up a little speed. Still holding out hope that the next turn will allow me access. Some radio signals come in of a woman’s voice, she is reporting that it will be 111 degrees today. Wonderful.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! How could I be so stupid? My worst fear has just been realized. I am stuck. My wheels spin in the deep sand and the under carriage of the vehicle is resting on the high ridge made by the air jets of the hovercraft that usually use the road. Deep breath. Keep cool. Yeah right. The sun is up. The temperature is rising and there is no help coming. It could be days before someone uses this road. I don’t have days. I need to get myself out. I get out my shovel and start to dig. Sweating from the physical exertion as well as the panic that I have buried deep in my stomach. Luckily I have some sturdy research equipment that serves perfectly as a ramp out of the sand. After digging and ramping my way forward five times I am back on solid road. I take this opportunity to send an emergency signal back to the research facility warning of my situation. Now that I have made it through the stretch of sand I am faced with a perilous decision. I am about smack dab in the middle of this horrible road. Do I go forward into the unknown or risk becoming stuck for good going back through the deep sand and out the way I came? My hopes of getting any research done rapidly fade. I am in survival mode. Pure desperation to get back to civilization as fast as possible. I flip a coin in my head and decide to go forward.
The way forward has been slow and proved to be no less treacherous. I fear with each sandy or rocky stretch I make it past I only get further up shit creek; completely and utterly paddle-less. The road curves back and forth. Around each bend I fear I will meet an insurmountable obstacle and be forced to turn around. The next turn reveals transport tracks and I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe if I get stuck for good I can hitch a ride on a transport. It’s risky but seems like a better idea than trying to hike out until I remember the stories of raiders using transport stowaways as target practice.
Another radio signal is coming in; ‘two women were found dead in their vehicles, no signs of violence, they expired from heat and dehydration’. I think of all my loved ones and the lush green landscape of my birth planet. I am NOT going to die on Planet 29. My research has never felt more pointless. My digital map loads and I receive my GPS location. One mile out. Nine miles back. With all of this unexpected slow travel my fuel may not last the trip back. I have to make it forward. Unfortunately the road has all but ceased to exist and I am essentially bounding and bouncing through a small dried up riverbed with loosened sand from hovercraft. My strategy has become to maintain my speed so that I can coast and plow through the sandy areas without spinning my tires.
The riverbed is way too sandy in the middle so I am staying on the edge. My adrenaline has been peaked now for over an hour and my eyes remain glued to the terrain. I am on the right edge of the wash but ahead I see the bank swoops in to meet the sandy middle. Since I can’t stop I make a quick decision. The other side looks just firm enough so I pick up speed and, holding my breath, attempt to make it across the deep sandy middle. I can feel the underside of the vehicle scraping the sand as I rapidly slow but my front left tire just makes it onto the crust of the left bank an pulls me out. My relief is short lived as I see a tree overhangs this side of the bank. With nowhere to go I hope the tree doesn’t shatter my windshield. Turns out it was mostly dead and bounced off my vehicle. The zig-zag maneuver proves useful several more times in the next mile.
A huge sigh of relief comes as the wash ends at a T and meets a washboard dirt road. I take a left and come across a large man made mountain bearing a cross. The entire mountain is brightly painted with many colors. The sign reads ‘Salvation Mountain’ which seems quite fitting. Now it is time to fuel up and begin the long journey back to my barracks. Empty handed but alive.
-RMJ signing of