I’ve always found driving to be a cathartic experience. As a filmmaker, I often find myself living in my own head, trying to tidy up a story arc as I eat breakfast, discovering character motivations while I’m in the shower, or dreaming up scenarios in the deep of night. But I’ve found that it’s long drives that help me most; the ones where the physical journey matches in scope and size to the people and places in my mind.
Heading up Highway 395 from Los Angeles towards the Eastern Sierras on a Friday afternoon is such a drive. Sometimes I imagine what the LA basin looks like from a plane as I drive through it…a giant, meandering techno-tumor made up of right-angled buildings, the cars stuck in traffic akin to individual blood cells clotted around the central thoroughfares. Benign or malignant, I’ll let you be the judge of that… But for now, I’m escaping to ‘greener pastures’.
Slowly grinding my way out of the densely populated landscape of the LA Basin, Jane and I are rewarded by rolling hills of golden grass. Our car radio can only latch onto a station or two of static-laden country music now. No more frenzied pledge drives flanking the occasional news segment, or pop music that never seems to match my mood. We’re awakened to a driving experience far more rare… silence. No more noise; only a sense of profound freedom.
The cool air of the Pacific is quickly forgotten; a memory ushered away by gusts of warm wind pushed in from the sun-baked Central California Valley. Lone yucca trees dotting the Mojave whizz by. The child in me wonders how lonely it is to exist, as they do…standing in wordless vigil on the side of the freeway, watching sunset after sunset to no end. Ghost towns, shacks, abandoned gas stations and railroad tracks–all physical markers of dreams and hopes, communities, and families gained and lost, become gatekeepers to a West that is, at the moment of experience, still wild.
Then, at once, out of the golden plains rises an ominous range of jagged, towering blue peaks, shrouded in cloud and mist: The Eastern Sierras. It’s raining in the valley, and the peaks are under heavy cloud cover, which can only mean one thing; if we climb high enough, we just might be awarded with a rare snowfall. In this drought-stricken state, that means something. As we drive up to the trailhead, night falls. The stars shine bright, like city lights…or is it the other way around? Our friends Corey and Hong are already at the campsite, I hope, awaiting us with a warm fire and hot food. God knows we’ll need it; the next few days, there will only the mountain in front of, behind, and around us.