Mars One

Everybody was excited. Everybody had either been recruited or volunteered. I personally had responded to the ad on Craigslist. It seemed like a great opportunity, and lets face it, I didn’t have much of anything going on at home. My wife left in a huff one day and took the kids and the dog, but she of course left the cat that I hated. The cat hated me back, and had avoided my every attempt at capturing it. But even though I hated the damned cat and wanted it gone, I still fed the animal and changed the litter box, just because the cat felt like the only piece of family that I had left. When I sold the house I told the new tenants the cat was included.

When I first saw the ad it seemed like a perfect method to leave my past behind. The Mars One Mining Co was looking for employees to make the 7 month trip to Mars, to help establish the mining colony there and start new lives on the red planet. The salary wasn’t great, but all housing and food was included, and employees would be provided with a plentitude of leisure time to enjoy other pursuits, such as surfing the interwebs, exploring the Martian dunes in their patented Mars Buggies, playing golf beneath one of the numerous dome-covered courses, or just relaxing at the resort-like pool and spa built by the company.

I assumed that most of the other volunteers and recruits were trying to escape their lives on Earth for one reason or another. We had all been allowed one suitcase of belongings and no personal electronic devices. The company would provide us devices upon arrival, and any other supplies we needed would be appropriated if possible using the requisition request forms. The shuttle was buzzing with excitement of terminal losers and fallen heroes looking forward to their chances to start anew, to rebuild their lives and happiness from the ashes of broken and mistake ridden histories. Nothing more exciting than the prospect of a clean slate.

We were given instructions how to wear the mask apparatus before takeoff, which would put us into a suspended stasis during the majority of the flight. We were told that by the time we awakened we would already be on Mars, and our new lives would begin. The entire shuttle vibrated with the excited possibilities and the promises of adventure. I took one last look at Earth out of the porthole, and then carefully applied the mask and nostril tubes as instructed. I had visions of scaling the summit of Olympus Mons and standing at the precarious edge of Valles Marineris as the mask apparatus began working its magic and I faded into a dreamless unconsciousness.

It wasn’t until I awoke shackled in a cold cell constructed of red Martian rock that I realized the laws of Earthly decency apparently didn’t apply anywhere past the third planet’s gravitational influence. Needless to say, they weren’t exactly the accommodations I’d had in mind.

Mars planet 2 (Nasa image enhanced) (by J.Gabás Esteban)

The Road to Whitney Portal

It was spring break, and we had driven for hours in the rain. At some point as our elevation climbed the rain turned to sleet, something halfway between rain and snow. We drove though miles and miles of wasteland blurred by storm and fogged windows. But once we reached the backside of the mountain range the storm clouds disappeared suddenly. We had reached the desert, the rain shadow created by the jagged peaks we had just traversed. The clouds would unload all their water and snow and precipitous fury within the elevated peaks, and the clouds would evaporate into the atmosphere as soon as they passed, all their piss and vinegar beat out of them by the altitudes of the mountains. The sky was a piercing blue, but we could still see the clouds swirling into nothingness as they passed the snow covered peaks.  The mountains on either side of seemed to be growing taller and steeper, and the shadows longer and darker. Finally we reached our ultimate destination — The Motel Mt. Whitney in Lone Pine, CA.

Having been cooped up in a truck most of the day we all were anxious to get out on the road. One quick little excursion before dark. We unloaded the motorcycles from the trailer and made a quick check of the map. Less than ten miles from out current location we saw a jagged and enticing road that wound up the backside of Mt. Whitney named Whitney Portal. Though Mt. Whitney and surrounding peaks were still enshrouded in the remnants of the storm clouds, we could see the snow at the base. We didn’t know how far we could get, but decided to make the effort and set off through the upthrust boulder fields commonly known as the Eastern Sierras.

To give an idea of the topography of this place without a personal visit is difficult. The land has been folded into steep and jagged and dangerous looking shapes. Mount Whitney is the tallest point in the Continental U.S., and less than 100 miles away is Death Valley, the lowest point, and in between there are many other valleys and peaks. The landscape makes you feel very small and insignificant, and creates a sense of uneasy wonder as you ponder the forces that could create such rugged beauty.

When we reached the bottom of Whitney Portal Rd. we found it closed due to the extreme weather, so we turned around and went back to the Motel. All I could think was that it felt lucky somehow, like that icy, mountain road would have been nothing but heartbreak and trouble. I didn’t feel ready for such extreme adventure yet. Better to ease into such things. But I didn’t have long to acclimate. The destination the next day – Death Valley.

Welcome to paradise.

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes

See more photos of the Eastern Sierras HERE