Monday 24th April – Drive, Drive, Drive, Bang, Bang, Bang, Drive, Drive, Drive

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Another day when it didn’t matter when we woke up. It was a little windy at camp, which we still had all to ourselves, besides a truck who pulled in for a rest as we were eating breakfast. I made oats to sooth our throats that were still feeling a bit poorly. Jon was near 100%, but I was still a couple of days behind him in the sickness.

My turn to drive this morning, we continued our route north towards Vegas. We stopped in at Kingman for a coffee and discovered places that Jon had been to on his road trip years ago. After passing the Powerhouse and Locomotive Park, we found Mr. D’s diner, a place exactly as you’d expect with pastel green and pink interior colours, an off-white laminate bench top with poofy stools and booths for those having breakfast. We were helped by a lady wearing a waist apron and ordered a coffee. While Jon drank, I wandered around the place perusing the countless memorabilia on the walls. They had everything from photos of locals on their motorbikes to faded portraits of Elvis and Marilyn. When I’d done the full circle, I picked up the weekly newsletter which focussed on random pieces of news that would never have made it to the BBC’s desk.

After coffee, we crossed the road to take a closer look at the steam locomotive then carried on our way.

The Odyssey-Astro game kept us occupied as we drove through barren desert landscape. As we drove, the scenery seemed familiar to Jon and he figured out that he’d passed this way on his road trip. When we saw a billboard for “Bullets and Burgers”, he was sure that was the place where he’d shot a bunch of guns at a shooting range and was keen to do it again. I’d never shot a gun and it wasn’t something high up on my to-do list, but I can be convinced of anything. When I drove straight past the place ten miles later, we drove on until we found a crossover, turned around and parked outside the building.

As we got out of the car, the monster truck was just heading off full of people. A $40 experience, we watched as the purpose-built monster truck did a lap around the dirt roads at the back of the property. It was a bit wah-wah, definitely no wheels of the ground and the drifting was manufactured because of the independent steering on both axles. On top of that, they were only out driving around for five minutes.

Inside, the place is full of memorabilia and touristy crap. After using the bathrooms, we stood in front of the guns on the wall and enquired about shooting some stuff. In the end, we negotiated to share the gold package which, at $299, got us shooting five different guns and a feed for both of us at the end. I was nervous about the whole thing, but Jon was full of excitement. When it came to choosing the different guns, I let him make all the decisions.

A very nice gentleman walked us down into the shooting range where we met Jake and his assistant in a trench-style bunker. Jake handed us ear protection and walked us over to a bunker with our first two guns. Jake went through all the safety, all very straightforward, then got straight on to instructing us on how to hold the Glock 17 pistol. We were starting with the smallest and working our way up. Ladies first according to Jon, so I took up my position and accepted the loaded gun from Jake. I wrapped my hands around the pistol’s grip, lined up my sights and pointed at our steel target in the shape of a torso maybe fifty metres away. Nothing left to do now but squeeze. A direct hit! The noise and recoil surprised me, but it was an interesting sensation. I popped off two more rounds, hitting the target once more before relinquishing the gun to Jon. He got his two shots off fairly easily, making the steel sing each time.

Next up was an Uzi 9mm. This was a semi-automatic that, as Jake instructed us, required more of an aggressive stance to combat the recoil. I went first again and aimed at my target with the butt of the gun squeezed up against my shoulder. Bam! Bam! Bam! Three rounds in quick succession, I hit the target on the first one but the next two went high from the recoil. I did that one more time with the same result, really feeling the pressure in my shoulder each time. Jon did the same as me, hitting the target at first then going high.

The baby guns over with, Jake took us over to another bunker with a target much further away and much, much bigger guns. When I picked up the G36 semi-automatic, I could feel the weight of it, especially at the barrel end. Aiming for a new steel target at least 100 meters away now, I squeezed the trigger with Jake standing behind me, his hand over my right shoulder. The sights were weird on this gun, with a red dot to line up with the sights at the front. I must have figured it out because again, I hit the target first go but got nothing but dirt plumes the rest of my shots. I started in one-shot mode, then Jake switched it to two shots. This one really punched me in the shoulder. For my last few rounds, I rested my elbows on the waist-high table in front of me to handle the weight. When Jon picked up the gun, Jake switched it to fully automatic mode and he let it rip, loosing all of his bullets to the target at once.

Our second to last gun was a fully-automatic belt-fed machine gun which I can’t remember the name of. It was big, black and heavy. There was no carrying this gun, Jake laid it out on the table and I leaned over to hold it into my shoulder, both my hands right infront of me. Jake recommended holding the trigger down to deplete all the rounds in one go to prevent jamming, but after squeezing the trigger and getting three or four shots off, I automatically took my finger off just by reaction. I collected myself and leaned back down to loose the rest of the bullets. Jon’s turn, he had no trouble keeping his finger down. I don’t think either of us hit the target this time.

And now, the grand finale, the Barrett sniper rifle, something you can walk into a store and buy off the shelf for $11,000 dollars, with ammunition, and walk right out. This was what Jon had come here for the second time. It is a huge badass looking rifle, every part of it designed to reduce recoil from the barrel to the butt. We had only three rounds with this bad boy and I was happy to take only one and let Jon have the majority. Jake suggested that I take the first round because if I heard the gun being fired, I may not want to get behind it. That didn’t make me nervous at all!

This time, we were aiming for a pile of bowling pins in the dirt, not wanting to destroy the metal target with the 50cal bullets. I lined up, the sights crystal clear, looking just like they do in the movies. Tentatively, I squeezed the trigger. Wham! That thing pushed me fair and square in the shoulder, but the noise overwhelmed me. I walked away, happy with my one shot. Jake and Jon both told me that the noise I heard from behind the gun was nothing. When I heard it from a short distance, I would know what loud was. They weren’t wrong. When Jon took up his position, I was standing a few meters back and I could feel the boom as well as hear it. It was bloody terrifying.

Our experience over, we stuck around chatting to Jake for a while, awed by the different guns you could walk into a shop and buy. Before leaving, Jake offered us a souvenir of the Barrett bullet casings, which we happily accepted. The one he passed me was still warm so must have been one that we’d just shot. I was still a bit shaky as we walked back to the restaurant for our feed but I was happy Jon had convinced me to do it. What an experience!

In the diner, the gentleman that had walked us out had our burgers out to us in no time. It was a brilliant burger, super simple but yummy. One of the best Jon’s ever had and probably for me too. It rounded off the experience quite nicely. It was Jon’s turn to drive so he got behind the wheel and drove out, still heading north. By the time we reached the Nevada border, I was losing the Odyssey-Astro game 14-3 so we started anew when we crossed the border. We did discover that I was fighting a losing battle since the Astro was in production for twenty years, ending in 2005 while the Odyssey had started in 1994 and was still going! Jon had statistics on his side! We carried on regardless, me determined to win against the odds somehow.

Just outside Vegas, we stopped at a servo so that Jon could test his overseas money card at an ATM and I was amazed to find poker machines inside the servo, with a patron occupying a seat. This really was Nevada!

On the big highways, we skirted Vegas, neither of us interested in going to the strip having both been there before. With the traffic, it was very hard to spot Odysseys and Astros! Since we were in Nevada for such a short time, I thought maybe that would be my chance to have a win, but it wasn’t looking likely. After passing through the desert all the way to Mesquite on the border, I was down 13-6 and it stayed that way until we got into Arizona again.

In Mesquite, we stopped at a Maccas to use the bathroom and have a snack while I uploaded some very overdue blogs. It was nice to get back on top of it with their Wifi. Half an hour later, we got going again, me driving this time. We were back into Arizona for only thirty miles and I thought now was my chance! I stayed in the lead 1-0 for the whole stretch but alas, we saw an Odyssey only meters from the Utah border so the end score was 1-1. Bugger! As soon as we crossed into Arizona, the scenery changed dramatically, we were no longer in the desert, but driving through Virgin Canyon. It was very pretty scenery with cliffs that extended for dozens of meters over our heads.

I had planned to meet a friend in St. George, but he was off gallivanting in California so we drove through and did the same for Hurricane. These are places I plan to come back to for the mountain biking. We were aiming for Zion National Park and thinking the campgrounds would be full, we thought we’d seek out a free camp just outside the park. As I drove, Jon did some research on freecampsites.net and found a spot ten minutes from the park with good views of the cliffs. It was a bit up in the air as to whether the BLM land was still open for public use, but we decided to wing it. We drove past many signs that said no camping in the residential area, but we drove on until we were past the houses and at a trailhead. Beyond the trailhead, there were a couple of pullouts with rocks laid out across them. The barriers didn’t look too official so we thought we’d be ok. After driving on a bit more and hitting sand, I reversed back up the hill and we chose a pullout.

We moved the rocks and log that lay across the road and hid them in the bush and set ourselves up next to a generously built fire ring. We did a bit of firewood collecting, not having to get much thanks to the big log that had formed part of the barrier. The view from camp was stunning, looking right down into the valley of Rockville and up onto the cliffs of Zion. We wandered back down the road to the trailhead and by reading the information signs, we convinced ourselves that we were camped legally.

We walked a ways along the three mile trail that lead to Eagle Crag, admiring the beautiful desert flowers as we went and marvelling at the Mrs. Butterworth climb that was visible from where we stood. It was a potential adventure for the next day, but the three pitch trad climb was rated at 5.10a so a bit out of league in our current climbing strength. We turned back after a mile so we could get back to camp in time for sunset.

Jon built a fire while I set myself up in my chair to watch the sun dip below the horizon. The thick clouds had dispersed to dots in the sky so we were expecting a colour pop, which didn’t happen, but it wasn’t needed, the view was beautiful enough as it was.

After sunset, I left the warmth of the fire to make dinner of spaghetti bog, but with rice instead of pasta. I got a bit fancy with some herbs and the smells were encouraging. Jon rated it my best dinner yet!

After we ate and Jon did the dishes, I did some back exercises by the fire, then we just sat and talked, admiring the few twinkling lights in the valley and the crackle of the fire. We were up until about midnight when I collapsed into bed while Jon had enough energy left to catch up on the world news.

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