Before work starts, I felt like exploring the coastline. Besides, I sort of missed the car and the open road. I drove south on US 1 planning on just going to Big Sur, but had enough fun on the curves that I kept going toward Hearst Castle. By the time I got there, Xanadu was closed, but the drive was worth the $20 in gas it cost me. The color and definition of the light was incredible, and made for some pretty decent photographs.
Woke surrounded by Sierra pines, and wandered about the campsite while Marko slept in the car. Took some photographs of the pioneer memorial, and then paid the park fee. Our first day in California, and we learned the true expense of the state. Paid $25 for a night sleeping on the ground, where it had been $12 and voluntary in Kansas. Had our first $50 tank of gas, and headed south to Lake Tahoe.
Passed some bike race, with perhaps a thousand participants, all on expensive bikes and not all seemingly fit enough to ride them. Trespassed by some condos and got a look at the lake; not as impressive as I had thought, as least when compared to the emerald eye of Crater Lake in Oregon. Turned around and got back on the highway.
Passed through Sacremento, and by innumerable fast food joints. Our quest for a decent lunch took us to Berkley, where we figured there would be cheap student grup, and were right. Stuffed ourselves at an Indian buffet, and then over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Traffic there was quite exciting, with trolley cars and bike lanes confusing the hell out of me. We finally found Marko’s hostel, and then our stoic farewell. A quick handshake, a promise to keep in touch, and I was alone.
It was even more difficult to get out of the city without a navigator, so I focussed on not hitting any pedestrians and hoped the directions would figure themselves out. They did, and I turned south and eventually got on the 101.
Two hours later, past Silicon Valley and Cupertino (resolving to make my hajj there later), and I was through Monterey and on my new doorstep. A shower, dinner, and now I write this account overlooking my first Pacific sunset. Six days, 3921 miles, and over $500 in gas, and I am tired. Eager to start my job, have some fun in the sun, and no longer afraid of any prospective road trip.
The next morning, we toured the monstrous temple in the center of SLC. Marko asked serious questions of our cute Finnish tour guide about the religion to which she had committed her life. I wondered why all the guides were young and female, and all the “living prophets” were old and white. The guide tried very hard to demonstrate that they weren’t a cult, and that they take the word of Jesus seriously, but the words rang hollow when compared to the preposterousness of their claims. Perhaps all organized religion seems as odd to the naive observer, but the Mormonism really seems to be a fabrication by Joseph Smith. He must have been quite a smooth talker to get so many to follow him to the desert shores of a salty lake, and settle there to recreate the Garden of Eden. At least there’s decent skiing nearby.
Had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, which appeared to be the coolest place in town judging by its clientele. Had a wonderful pesto pasta, which stopped my hunger but didn’t make me feel as if I was full. We stopped at KFC for seconds on the other side of the Nevada wasteland. Made it across that entire state, surrounded by biker gangs and truckers, all enjoying the scenery once we got off past the Bonneville salt flats. There was little sign of civilization until California, and we were careful to watch the gas gauge.
Stopped for dinner in Truckee, where we ate at an upscale yuppie bar, with a nearly twenty page wine selection. Luckily they also had a wide array of taps, and we toasted to the end of our journey together. Spent the night at Donner Lake State Park, the site of the infamous early pioneer camp. We didn’t resort to cannibalism, although we had discussed our feelings about it, and decided it was perfectly acceptable under the circumstances. One should be able to sign away one’s right not to be eaten, if one so wishes. What sort of country is it where you can’t decide that you want to make someone a tasty meal as your last wish?
Woke and said goodbye to our engineer friends. Coasted downhill to the town of Mesa, and bought just enough gas to get back to civilization, where prices would be more reasonable. I hit a small rodent, which died in a valiant effort to cross the road. The first time I’d killed a mammal, and the experience didn’t phase me a bit.
Out of the rockies and into Utah. Turned off the highway to see Arches National Park, which was worth every extra mile. Red rocks curved across the brilliant blue sky, created only by erosion, not a divine architect. It was great fun to climb on the slickrock, up to the ceiling of one of The Windows, and peer down on the desert from above. Very interesting to see the multitude of foreign tourists coming to see the best of America. A group of elderly German folks was as impressed with the scenery and astonished by the heat as I was. We had a moment of cross cultural understanding over the one water fountain in the park, as we both drank happily from the spigot.
Leaving Arches, we ventured further south to Moab, the home of mountain biking. Lunch at an excellent diner, with an ice cream bar inside for the perfect dessert. A patron there suggested we stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, and we followed his advice. It would be only a short distance out of our way, although 25 miles later we disputed that claim. Atop a mesa, looking down on the Colorado carved lanscape a thousand feet below, we didn’t need to see the Grand Canyon. The mesa came to a neck only five yards wide, which according to legend, cowboys used to trap wild horses, culling the strong ones and leaving the weak to die in the harsh sun far above the river below. Seems like bad business practice, and is probably exaggerated by time.
Back on the road, and north to Salt Lake City. Took a cutoff through Price, on what we would learn was the deadliest highway in the country. The police officers who stopped us were quite clear that our speed needed to be controlled on the sweeping downhill curves, and we were let go with a stern warning. I guess our stories checked out, and Marko’s accent made us seem as the naive travelers we were.
Keeping our speed in check, and on the lookout for law enforcement, we rolled into Salt Lake City at nightfall. We checked into a cheap downtown motel, showered, and went off looking for what fun there was to be had on a friday night in the Mormon capital of the world. We found a single bar within walking distance, that closed at 11:30. We drank quickly, and were kicked out into the night. Perhaps there was more fun to be had, as the crowd in front of a club indicated, but we were tired and in no mood for dancing.
Woke with the sun and called home while Marko slept. Chatted briefly with our neighbor, a young man from Delaware traveling to Seattle with his dog and a bike on the back of his car. Nice to see that we’re not the only ones enjoying the ride across the country.
Drove through miles of empty Kansas grassland, discussing the American condition and the suitability of farm subsidies. Stopped for lunch at the Real Country Grill in Wakeeny KS, only a spot on the map, and less of a mark on the land. Only a gas station and a place for grub, although some of the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had. Far and away better than Bob Evan’s, and a rival to Ruth Powell’s. Cruised across the rest of Kansas, and into Colorado. Excited to see a new state, although little changed until Denver. Through that city, and stopped on the other side at Dinosaur Ridge. Nice to stretch our legs in the cooler mountain air, and see some three toed tracks across ancient seashores. Incredible how much the landscape can change over geologic timescales.
Back in the car, up the mountains and happy to be done with the flatlands. Planned on stopping to commemorate the continental divide, but passed it in a tunnel on I-80, and got to Vail before realizing our misfortune. So no ceremonial marking of that great watershed event, only the knowledge that it was all downhill from here.
Lunch in Grand Junction, CO. Stopped to ask for recommendations for “cheap, local, tasty foodâ€ at the youth hostel, and some wise-ass offered Taco Bell. Instead went to an excellent pizza place almost under a bridge. Got an excellent large “all-the-way”, with anchovies and Avalanche on tap. Almost finished the damn thing, but we each gave up on our last piece. It made an excellent breakfast the next morning.
Through Glenwood Canyon, an impressive engineering feat, and a lot of fun to drive. Turned off I-80 at Mesa, expecting a short drive to a campground. Ended up ascending nearly 4,000 feet to the top of the aforementioned Mesa, and nearly running out of gas. Stopped at Jumbo campground, which appeared closed due to the tree across the entrance. But that wasn’t enough to stop the other occupants, and so we joined them. Met three men around a campfire, next to their motorcycles. They had plenty of bourbon, and offered to share. We weren’t about to turn them down, and we joined their party. It turns out they are aircraft engineers at Boeing, and one of them was MIT Aero/Astro class of ’65. We shared stories of our alma mater, and discussed how it had and hadn’t changed over the last forty years. Four drinks later, after exhausting all possible topics of conversation, I stumbled to the tent, and shivered my way to sleep in the cold mountain air. Although I was wearing a well insulated jacket and sleeping in a down bag, I faired better than Marko, who had only a sweatshirt and the car to keep him warm. We resolved to sleep at lower altitudes in the future.