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  • The Deplorables Diary - Oatman

    The Deplorables is a name chosen by one of the guys in our "crew" of motley campers and overlanders. We're basically old guys who like to explore and sometimes break gear and/or vehicles in the process. This trip we did explore and nothing broke, so it was a great trip! Mike and I get together for what we call "garage beers" where we ponder our next trip and that afternoon was no different. I broke out my ancient Arizona Atlas which I've used for almost 15 years. Thumbing through the pages Mike suggested an area they had explored before but if you've done any overlanding, you can drive a LOT and still only cover a very small area. As we were looking at the map the words "Oatman Massacre" grabbed our attention. We had both heard of this incident in 1851 where a pioneering family was killed by local Indians. It's an incredible story and we wanted to experience it first hand so now, our trip was deemed the "Oatman" trip and the wheels were turning. The call went out to The Deplorables, Jerome and Terry jumped at it, and the planning began. Mike and I headed out on a Thursday afternoon and camped near Royal Arch south of New Hope, AZ off of I-10. It was a quiet night with a gorgeous sunset, slightly cooler temps, and good IPA beer. Friday we detached the trailers and scoured the area. We got a close up view of Royal Arch which is one of four in the surrounding area. After lunch we drove to HooDoo Cabin. Erected in the '40's it housed the wranglers as they checked the hundreds of miles of fencing for the ranches. To this day it's a first-come, first-served respite for travelling campers. Miscellaneous food items have been left, a notebook to sign in, etc. Our BLM managers have done a good job of keeping it intact. We were impressed that the cabin had not been vandalized, only visited. I guess it's too far for lazy vandals to get to. Getting back about 4pm supper was started and Terry and Jerome arrived that night. The following day was the big push south to see the Oatman Massacre site and the alleged burial site. We had shared the route via Gaia GPS and it was roughly 56 miles via dirt so we packed up and headed out. There was just enough technical to challenge the vehicles and trailers and after a few route changes and 6 hours of driving we made it around 3pm. It was everything we expected and read about. We were able to see where the wagon wheels had put slight ruts in the lava rocks as they ascended the trail from the river bottom to the mesa. These were incredibly rugged people. Rocks, ruts, boulders, weather, worn animals, lack of food, etc would have worn down the hardest of people. We were amazed at the route they had to take and realized our ancestors have an incredible story to tell us. Our buddy Jerome is absolutely epic when it comes to using Gaia, Google Maps, and Google Earth. He scours all three platforms for routes and potential camping spots. The location for tonight was a short drive away near an abandoned adobe home overlooking the river bottom. After looking a bit we found it, circled the wagons, got a fire going, and Terry got supper started with another great night in store. Sunday morning we packed up and tried the dirt to get east to Painted Rock but met the holy grail of money and power. It seems a large ranch in the area took it upon themselves to place a locked gate across Oatman Road, a public roadway. Turning around we backtracked to Sentinel, off of I-8 to jump on it and head east to Painted Rock exit. We made it to our intended exit to hit dirt but met another locked gate. This one by the Army Corps of Engineers. We were able to use Gaia and routed ourselves to another public roadway. After roughly 27 miles this route would eventually dump us out southwest of Buckeye, AZ for tomorrow's last day. It was a very long and challenging 20 miles to the campsite and we pulled our little campers places they probably shouldn't have gone. Needless to say we didn't see a soul out there and the camp area was flat and strewn with rock chips negating any mud. Again, the IPA was opened, a fire crackled to life, and supper started. The final morning we awoke to drizzly rain. It was 6am and instead of the usual routine of coffee and breakfast we made a fast pack and headed out. It was a much easier drive out and at only 6-7 miles to hardball it was a great wrap up to the trip. Out of Buckeye it was interstate the rest of the way home. The good part with the rain is most of the mud washed off! I've been camping since my early 20's and started with a Jeep in 2005 with more serious overland travel beginning in 2010. It's been a spectacular ride. Now, our trips are decided around a place, an event, history, nature or other factors. So far this direction has taken us to tucked away places only a desperate person would visit. Maybe I am desperate. Desperate to continue learning new things. Seeing new things. And experiencing new things. Whatever the motivation is, I'm glad it's there.

  • MDS #3...Kicked Out Of The Race

    2003 Marathon des Sables Josh Miller/December 2022 With his third and final trip back to Morocco for the Marathon des Sables, author Josh Miller returned not as a participant, but escorting the US contingent of athletes. It would end up being a story worth retelling! After my two finishes of the MDS, 2000 & 2002, I became affiliated with a group that served as the US representative for American participants in the Marathon des Sables. All major countries had this role. One of the perks was that a rep from each respective country received a complementary pass to attend, watch, follow or participate in the race at no charge, complete with the hotel and dinners. The other US rep was unable to make this year's race and asked me to go instead. I was reluctant as it entailed a great deal of logistical preparation to ensure our US runners arrived safely, checked in correctly to one of the two event hotels, checked into the race, had the right gear, and then, completed the race. I had roster after roster, each runner's flight itinerary, hotel check in procedures, gear lists, race timeline, and fielded hundreds of inquiries about the race, gear, food, packing and training from the runners leading up to the event. I met all of them at JFK International airport the day of departure and our travels and arrival were uneventful. It was a great group of athletes and their spirits were very high. On arrival in Ouarzazate, Morocco our crew checked into the Hotel Berber and spent the evening eating and drinking more wine than we should have. The next day was met with slight hangovers but all of us were excited to get going. My role was simply as an observer over the course of the seven day event. We could talk to the runners but could not provide any outside food, beverage, gear, or any physical assistance. The rules were stringent and non-athletes had to sign in when entering the runner's area. I learned that morning I would be assigned to a US-based TV production crew of three guys with the lead driving our assigned vehicle. So far, so good. The next day runners loaded onto buses to be transported to the Sahara Desert staging area while we packed our gear and piled in to make our drive. The anticipatory nature thus far soured as we drove through several small villages where US flags were burning as well as flaming posters with the photo of President Bush. It seems this moderate Muslim country did not like that he had just invaded Iraq. We wrapped our heads in large scarves with only our eyes peering out in hopes of not sticking out as much. We arrived at the staging area in a remote western corner of the Sahara Desert in the early afternoon and as in 2000 and 2002, it is a small city. There are tents (if you call them that) for the runners, and much nicer tents for observers like myself, workers, others following the race, and the French organizers. The event had a strange air about it considering the global political turmoil unveiling itself. You see, France was vehemently opposed to the US invasion of Iraq and being a race organized by a French organization, there was an air of anti-Americanism, and as a truly international event you could feel a slight tension in the air. As in years past that first night in the desert is a catered event and the last solid meal the runners will eat for seven days. The organizers do a great job and food and wine flowed for everyone. Stage one began at 0900 sharp the next morning and after the start we loaded our truck and myself and the film crew headed out. They immediately got busy positioning themselves along the course for photos, video, and sound. The first stage is generally short, usually 12-16 miles, so only a handful of runners ran into the later afternoon. Most were finished by 1-2pm and spent the rest of the afternoon resting, recovering, and preparing for the next day's stage. We arrived early afternoon, received our tent assignment and unloaded. After getting settled I went with the guys into the runner's area where the head of the crew signed us in. As they were busy conducting interviews and doing their jobs, I made my way to the tent housing the US runners. We talked about their day, preparations, food, and just about any other topic that came up. It was great connecting with them. As the runners prepared their makeshift meals that night we enjoyed another catered dinner and, beat from the travel and heat, retired early. Stage Two was a repeat of the day before except a bit longer day of running. Again, we arrived at the next staging area, got settled, and checked into the runner's area to see how everyone was doing. After an hour or two I made my way back to our assigned tent to relax. And here's where things got weird. Around 9pm an English-speaking French organizer came into the tent and told me the race director needed to speak with me. This was odd but I followed her into another tent which was empty, and after a few minutes the RD followed by his entourage entered. Over the next hour the accusations flew about two rules I had broken, unbeknownst to me. The first was that I had discussed and promoted another running event and second, I had entered the runner's area without signing in. I was aghast. I had many discussions with our American contingent as well as other English speaking runners from other countries about lots of endurance running events I had either participated in or, was going to participate in. I excitedly discussed with some my next event in a few months, the Badwater 135, that I was running in three months and encouraged others to give it a try, but promote? I had zero financial investment in any of these races. The accusation about failing to sign in had me stunned. I entered with the film crew after the lead signed us in. None of the others had signed in so it was odd that I was singled out. My arguments flew into never, never land and tensions ran high. Regardless, I was told I would be removed from the race. Wait...huh? "You're kidding me?" I said with a chuckle. To make matters worse, I wouldn't be driven back to Ouarzazate, but instead driven to the closest village three hours away and dropped off. And yes, one of the same villages where they were burning US flags and effigies of President Bush two days before. I asked loudly if this was a political statement which fell on deaf ears as they walked out of the tent. My mind went into overdrive as I walked back to the tent. I had quite a bit of international travel experience but never had I needed to go into such self-preservation mode. It was almost 11pm when I opened my tent flap and walked inside. The film crew guys were there and I simply said, "The race kicked me out." Their jaws dropped. I slowly packed all the while trying to figure out how in the hell I was going to get back to Ouarzazate from this remote Moroccan village I would be left at. I did not want to wake up in that place being stared at by a guy holding a burning US flag. At midnight the same French female who called me earlier came to let me know there was a vehicle standing by with a driver. In my weakest French coupled with a Louisiana drawl, I replied, "Merci". She never looked up at me. I threw my gear into the vehicle and we left. With three hours to kill I was immersed in what my next steps would be. I did not trust this driver to take me to the agreed upon location as I had no idea where his loyalties were; but, much to my surprise he spoke broken English and struck up a conversation. With lots of charades, maps and saying, "Ouarzazate" it evidently became clear to him I needed to get to the race hotel. After an hour or so he muttered, "Taxi", I replied, "Oui!!", and he said, "D'accord" (okay). We drove into this very small village about 0300 and with minimal ambient light and no street lights it was incredibly dark. He motioned for me to follow him down a very dark and narrow alley. I thought to myself, "Oh crap, here it comes...get ready", as he knocked on a door facing the alley. After a few minutes a local, older man groggily answered the door. I peered into the small home which was very basic and very similar to the homes I encountered in my later work in Iraq. Cinder block walls, exposed plumbing, mattresses on the floor, and a big box TV with antennae ears protruding from the top. The two were friends and as I stayed quiet they began a lengthy conversation in French as I tried not to look desperate. After a few minutes my driver turned to me and said, "$160 US dollars." He explained it was another 2-3 hour drive to Ouarzazate and the taxi driver must drive back as well. I shook my head knowing they were taking this American all the way to the bank. I commented that all I had was $140 but I had quite a few school supplies I'd give him as well. In addition to being beat, I figured this taxi driver needed the money more than me and bargaining at this juncture would not benefit me. He agreed, my driver kindly said goodbye, and the taxi dude backed his vehicle out of a very small garage. I loaded up and we were off. He spoke "zero" English so it was a very quiet, but starkly beautiful drive into Ouarzazate. I wasn't too sure about this guy either so napping was out of the question. At around 0600 I breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled in front of the hotel. I gave him the cash and his excitement was palatable. I'm pretty sure that's more money than he'd ever made. We unloaded my gear and I began digging in my big bag for the supplies of pens, pencils, calculators, paper, colors, stickers; I had a lot of stuff. I pointed to it and he excitedly shook his head. I helped him load it in the back of his vehicle and we said our goodbyes. I stumbled to the front desk, asked about a room and was glad to learn they had one. I was still in a daze as to what I was going to do and for how many days. This was the morning of only Stage 3 of the race and with four more days until the finish; well, I needed a plan. Do I stay until the finish? Change my flight and leave when I can? What about the US athletes? It took a full day and night to to get a call out to the US office when I finally connected. We decided I would stay and, hopefully, if I could figure it out, meet the US runners at the finish, an even more remote community than where I was left. I thought to myself how interesting that would be. The next several days were a blur. There's not a lot going on in this small town but it was neat nonetheless. I spent the days walking around town and exploring the large market area. I really wanted a genuine Moroccan rug and began looking in the storefronts and small alleys. After lots of negotiating over tagine and tea over a couple of days, I walked out with an incredible rug. The nights were spent with dinner in the hotel restaurant washed down with great wine. I got to know the bartender there, Rashid, quite well. He spoke solid English and was a great guy. After three nights of visiting with him it struck me that maybe he could help get me to the race finish! Hmmmm............. The finish day of the race was fast-approaching. On the night before I asked Rashid if he knew where the finish was and said he did, adding it was about two hours away. I told him my idea and that I'd be happy to fill his car and pay him to drive me there and back. He jumped at the opportunity and picked me up at the hotel the next morning. As we headed down a remote, beat up two-lane asphalt road I knew why it would take two hours. We were going about 35mph! But hey, we were moving and I was going to surprise the hell out of our American athletes. We arrived in this very small, dusty town around 11am. Rashid and I agreed to meet back at the vehicle in a few hours as he had friends here and I wanted to scope out the finish. The area was abuzz with activity. This was probably the biggest event in the history of this village. Busses were standing by to load runners as they finished, the finish line was being erected, news crews were everywhere, and the event helicopter was overhead. It was certainly exciting. I ran into the TV guys I was attached to prior to my departure and it was like they had seen a ghost. "How the hell did you get out here?" One shouted. I replied, "Wine and the US dollar." It was about this time I noticed others staring at me. It was several of the event staff and they too had a shocked look as I smiled and walked away. I made my way down a wide dirt road in town following the course markings. The finish had them skirting a mud brick wall as they ran out of the desert and into town. It was very festive as the lead pack came in and other runners began trickling in. I found a place to sit and waited for the US contingent. After a bit I heard what was clearly recognizable voices yelling and screaming. I also kept hearing something very odd and it sounded like, "Où est Josh?" "What the hell?" I thought. This translates to, "Where is Josh?" and they were asking all of the spectators as they passed them. The closer they got I realized what they were saying. I was in simple awe. They were running together carrying a US flag on a staff and repeating, "Ou' est Josh?" When our eyes met we all started screaming and cheering with big hugs among the group. It was incredible. They all finished strong carrying the flag as were many other countries' runners carrying their respective flags. It was truly an international moment. After more cheers and hugs they loaded their bus and Rashid and I made our way back to town. Of course, I didn't attend the awards dinner that night. Instead, Rashid and I shared a meal. Me, with wine, him with tea, and enjoyed what would be our last time seeing each other. The next day we made our way back over the Atlas mountains via small buses to Marrakech. We took a small plane to Casablanca and from there loaded onto the same 747 I had been on for the last two trips. This ordeal was over. All of the runners successfully completed a very challenging race with memories to spare and I was relieved to be on that plane. I have told this story to a lot of people but only recently decided to write about it. Despite the circumstances, great memories were created as well as a life event I will not forget. This encounter was almost as interesting as working an event in the western Gobi Desert. Stay tuned for that one!

  • Gaia GPS: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide

    Ahemmm, Get The App The Gaia GPS app has been my go-to mapping source for three years now. Our first tip is simple: get it. I've been overlanding and exploring in a Jeep since 2005 and I've had just about every type of route-finding device out there. Starting from hand-held and mounted GPS units from Magellan to Garmin and even a Lowrance Chart Plotter for a short while. I have multiple mapping apps on my iPhone for overlanding and mountain biking. These include Gaia, of course, but also Trailforks, LeadNav, Polaris, AllTrails, Geocaching, and MTB Project. The one I always return to is Gaia GPS when the plan is to explore. Wanna know why? Read on to find out ~ Incredible Platform Gaia is designed to work with your smartphone, in this case my iPhone, and with the GPS hardware and software getting better, it makes little sense for me to invest in a secondary device. Your smartphone is essentially a GPS, without dropping more money on a separate device. Now, Google Maps serves me well to get to more obvious locations, but once we get off-grid I lean on the Gaia app. I downloaded it onto my iPad Mini and once logged into my account and sync'd, all of my information is right there. The iPad is older and I deleted the majority of apps that were on it. It's now a dedicated platform, mostly for Gaia, and when mounted on to my BulletPoint hardware it's incredibly functional. Since the iPad is wifi only I bought a Dual Universal GPS Receiver and it integrates with the iPad perfectly even showing on the GPS receiver app how many satellites I'm connected with. Navigation When planning a route or wanting to see something you can manually insert a waypoint and save it. If I want to explore an area I'll open Gaia and Google Earth, both on my laptop and drop waypoints at all of the spots I want to stop at or potential places to camp. Google Earth has more clarity when zooming in and I'll use it to identify existing camping locations or routes, then drop a waypoint. I'll copy the lat/long from Google Earth, paste into Gaia, and then save it. Say your buddy sends you a lat/long of where he is set up to camp. You simply copy/paste the coordinates into the Gaia search bar and the waypoint icon will show you on the map where it's at. Tap "Route To" and you have turn-by-turn directions. To the left is the end result of a recent excursion I recorded. I had specific routes but we did not use all of them. No extra chargers Purchasing a secondary unit requires bringing along that devices charging cord. Since I already keep multiple iPhone charging cables in my vehicle I'm already prep'd the next time I head out. Laptop integration A big feature I like; I can plan routes and set waypoints from my laptop by logging into my account. At 55 years old the thought of trying to build a route from my phone or iPad is painful. I know kids today can do everything on their devices. Not me. I like the larger screen, real mouse, and real keyboard! You sync your phone and your plans drop to your device. Sharing info from secondary devices (Dedicated GPS units) To sync your trip in Gaia go to your settings, tap on your account, and tap on the sync button, that's it. You can do that with secondary devices but I had trouble then sharing plans with others who didn't have, say, the Garmin app. Maybe that's been remedied, but I'll never know. When the route is planned I download the area and share it with the guys. Search and Save Routes You can easily search for individual destinations, tracks, roads, trails, waypoints, etc. and save them. Once you have saved an item you can access it from your saved items. Once you've completed a trip or visited a particular waypoint, toggle the "eye" feature and it is then hidden from the main map. You can avoid having potentially hundreds of waypoints and routes clogging your view as you plan another trip. Upgrade Options You can use the app free, or, as I did, upgrade to the Premium version. The best part of this feature is you now have over 20 different maps and layers you can apply while setting their transparency. In other words, how much you want them to "show" on your device. To the bottom, left is a photo of the different overlays you have access to with the Premium version. A Mildly Challenging Learning Curve In other words, you have to use it to learn it. It's not Google Maps where you put in an address and your phone tells you where to turn. You have to actively engage the app with planning, dropping waypoints, creating routes, etc and learning the minutia of this platform. Battery life Since you will be using your smartphone more, its battery will drain much faster than sending a few texts. You should make sure that your smartphone is weatherproof and shockproof with a good case since you will be using it more. Privacy Let's say your driving along on a remote forest road. On Gaia you see a "road" and it looks like it takes you to a potentially great camping spot. On your Gaia map you see that the road is approaching and you take it. The Grid feature on the app shows it to be about 1.5 miles to the end. The track hasn't been used in some time and the grass is starting to cover it. But, at the end, you encounter an epic viewpoint with a fine fire ring that is already built, great cover from the elements, and several slightly used camping areas. What the hell? This is exactly what happened to us and we spent two nights there. And with the waypoint/track set to "Private", no one else will find it. That is, unless they really look for it! In the pic to the right you will see the Privacy setting at the bottom. Offline Use If you are worried about your mobile network coverage or data use, simply download a section or sections of a map and use it offline. You can download up to 10,000 tiles. Below is an example of the window showing download status. Route/Waypoint Finding Tip When I know an area I want to check out I'll start dropping waypoints such as great viewspots, potential camping spots, checkpoints and other points of interest. When I get into the nitty-gritty I'll have Google Maps and Google Earth open and will use both to check routes and camping spots. Google Earth seems to be clearer when zooming in so I'll use all three as I plan a trip. Gaia Wrapup There is so much that Gaia GPS offers. And not just for the overlander, but the hiker, biker, or any other activity where you cover a remote distance and need help. And what's not to like. The app is free and the entry version is free. Geez! It's at least worth a look! Thanks for the read and we look forward to seeing you, "out there"! 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