The Standoff


I have a story. Listen.


Last weekend my family, a couple of close friends and I took advantage of the beautiful weather and headed down to Southern Utah to camp, chill, play music, hike and cook amazing food. I drove down Thursday morning in my truck with two friends. We all had Friday off and were planning on securing one of my favorite camping spots on BLM land at the very end of a long dirt road where the rest of the group could join us. On the drive down we had a lively conversation on the tense state of the world and our country and agreed that we all needed a fun weekend outdoors filled with laughter and music. When we pulled off the last main artery and headed onto the final, bumpy dirt road, it was obvious that it was going to be a packed, fall break weekend in the desert. My anxiety started to climb as I saw several other RV’s and trucks heading back in the direction of our desired spot. Although my truck was packed to the brim, I was able to maneuver past the slow rolling RV’s. Every available spot we passed was occupied. As we anxiously rounded the last corner, I let out a giant whoop and jumped out of my truck spiking my hydroflask water bottle into the ground - the spot I wanted was wide open. We unloaded, set up camp and placed our camping toilet out where anyone driving back would see that this last spot was occupied. One truck drove up towing a pop up trailer and dirt bike and looked like they were considering pulling back past our toilet into an adjacent open cove. I walked up and from a distance let them know we were reserving the spot for others that would be joining us. They nodded and turned back. We spent the rest of the evening preparing an amazing dinner of dutch oven enchiladas and then gathered around our desert fire and pulled out the guitars and chilled under the brightest bowl of stars I had seen in a while.

The next morning I abruptly awoke in my tent to the sound of weed whacker mowers. I jumped out and to my frustration saw two little kids on dirt bikes dressed in full body pads and helmets taking little hills and turns right next to our camp. I walked up, flagged them down and kindly explained to them that they were riding really loud dirt bikes right next to us while we were still sleeping. Then for good measure, I added a white lie and told them that they had woken up my baby and my baby was crying. We were men without a baby. The two kids nodded and their weed whacker engines whined loudly as they pulled back behind the bend. When the sun hit our camp an hour later we all climbed out of our sleeping bags and tents and got the day rolling. It was decided that we should move our camping toilet back into an out of the way cove and move my tent over closer to where the kids had been dirt biking to give a clear visual to folks that we were reserving the space. After re-organizing we took a journey exploring the terrain back behind our camp and continued our ongoing conversation on the pandemic, the upcoming election and the future of our world/country. I’m sure this is not a huge surprise to anyone who knows me, but I am extremely critical of and disgusted with our current president and the arrogant, machismo, misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-science and anti-environmental stance that he has made acceptable, even mainstream, in our country right now and that I wish nothing more than his defeat when all the ballots are finally counted in November.

When we got back to camp from our hike I went back to use the bathroom. Ten minutes later as I walked back towards our camp I heard multiple loud engines. My two friends were next to my truck staring at a group of five dirt bikers (three adults and the same two kids) and an adult on an ATV all right next to my tent. There was a man standing in the center of the group with a white shirt holding the hand of a small child who was pointing at the little hills, my tent and at us. To be clear, he was not pointing at us to communicate with us, just merely pointing us out to his group. Then the man stepped back and began shouting and whipping his hand around in the air like he was at a rodeo. Suddenly the dirt bikes and ATV’s begin riding the little hills and circling my tent.

We were all completely dumbfounded. My friend nervously laughed and yelled “Dude, they are covering your tent in dirt.” Sure enough the adult dirt bikers had begun fishtailing right next to my tent, spraying dirt all over it. Even now, I cannot fully explain just how tense the situation was. We were pissed off, slightly intimidated by the extreme show of force and highly amused all at once. After several minutes I yelled to my friends: “Should I go move my tent?” Heads shook a solid no as we began discussing the Catch 22 of the situation. If we move the tent does that signal that everyone can come back to our secluded spot and camp and dirt bike right next to us all weekend? The man in the white shirt looked completely ready for a physical fight. I imagined him as the father of those two little boys earlier that morning. In my mind they had returned while we were hiking, saw my tent blocking their path and went back to tell their Dad. He walked them back and angrily explained that those three men do not have a baby and that they do not own this land and then gave them direct orders to not back down until we gave in. Besides having no desire to get into a physical fist fight, we had to wonder if that was as far as this man was prepared to go. It was not way off to conjecture that he had a firearm either on him or back at his RV. None of us had firearms. Was he the type if things got physical to draw a weapon? Not that he would shoot us, but as a show of force? And so we sat down under my shade structure, pulled out some sparkling waters and watched.

Shortly thereafter an idea began to take shape in my mind. It started with pulling out my guitar, putting the strap around my shoulder and tuning it up. I couldn’t think of any songs to sing, so I just started playing three chords. Same thing from the other side: circle circle, engine engine, dirt dirt. I stood up playing the chords, wearing my black cowboy hat, black bandana, running shorts and running shoes and started walking towards the other group. One of the things that connects me and my two friends is that we are all surfers. I’m not the best surfer out there, but I appreciate the thrill of catching a wave. And so in my mind I start saying to the bikers “Right on. Ride on.” I was smiling, nodding, playing my guitar and standing fifteen yards away from them aggressively pounding my tent with dirt. As one of my friends articulated later, “It was like a scene from a western movie. You have this cowboy stand up going to face the opposition there in the wild, wild west, but rather than a gun drawn to fight, he stands there strumming his guitar, telling the opposition I’m going to stand up and show you that I’m here, that I see what you are doing, that it’s not okay the way you’re behaving, but that I am not going to escalate this, because I’ve got the instrument of peace and love.”

I kept my position playing for them for another ten minutes and then turned around and walked back towards my friends and truck. A few of the bikers left, but a couple kept right at it. I completed the longest, most monotonous song I’ve ever played on the guitar, and then walked over with one of my friends to move my tent. At this point there was just one of the little boys on his bike still circling it. We waved to him, nicely yelling: “Hey bro! We’re moving it. What’s the best way here? How do you want to share this this weekend? Its all good man, please stop!” He did not acknowledge us or stop what he was doing until my tent was back closer to my truck and his dirt bike path was clear and open. Then he biked off. Silence came back to our camping spot. We all took a big proverbial exhale, laughed and got on with our day. We were joined by the rest of my family later that evening and were SO excited to tell them the crazy story of the standoff. It came spilling out of our mouths and as we told it, we couldn’t help but realize that for all the intensity we had experienced - for the microcosm of the macrocosm that is our divided country - the story just sounded like a scene from The Karate Kid movie where some ten year olds on dirt bikes circled our tent until we moved it! Life is hilarious. It was a great rest of the weekend. The dirt bikers and ATV came back every now and then to ride the little hills and blast the sound of their engines through our camp, but there was no tension. We treated them the same way we did the flies that would land on your arm or the little, painful stickers you would brush off your feet. And we enjoyed the endless beauty of the desert.

In the next couple of weeks, our country will hit the crux of a nationwide standoff. It is a standoff much larger than RV culture vs Desert Hippie culture. It worries me deeply. I hope to my core that the tension de-escalates and cooler heads prevail. Preferably heads that believe in science, fact over fiction, love for our planet, belief in the unity of the human race and have really good taste in music.

Breathe deep and keep honing in your balance.

Much Love,

James

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