An Apology to my San Diego Friends

I was in San Diego yesterday. I debated whether to tell anyone, but in the end this was a hit-and-run trip to the courthouse for a document, with a little time set aside for a trip with my sweetie (and dogs) to Kono’s for a big breakfast and a too-short, very happy visit to Dog Beach.

For those keeping score at home, Kono’s is everything it ever has been.

For my San Diego friends, I promise I will visit again, and next time there will be ‘bertos and Callahans and Tiki and BV and Keith and Mikie and Adam and Jerry S. and all the rest of you. I feel a little guilty, but this trip turned out so very well that I hope you can forgive me and accept my rain check.

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Sonora Pass, Revisited

Has it really been so long?

If you own a nimble little car, particularly a convertible, put Sonora Pass on your bucket list. Be sure to note, however, that it is closed more than half the year. At almost 3,000 meters above sea level (officially 9,624 feet), it’s just not possible to keep the road open year-round.

I drove the pass once, many years ago, and this time the memories came flooding back. The place where I passed the slowpoke in a VERY short passing zone. The guy just wouldn’t pull aside, through there were ample opportunities. Then there was the place farther up when I had to shift down to THIRD (I have a six-speed), and briefly to SECOND, because the grade was so extreme and I didn’t want to lose momentum. I remembered the smell of burning brakes coming off the vehicles coming down, vehicles that probably shouldn’t have been there to start with.

Another corner, farther up, that I didn’t remember but now I will, as it hairpinned around to the right, steeply up, and I kept the accelerator to the floor to keep momentum and steerage but needed both hands to steer as I discovered myself in the wrong gear. It’s the kind of moment automatic-transmission drivers will never know, for better or worse. There were some people in a pullout there, and they probably heard my steadily-increasing-in-pitch “WoooooooooOOOAH!” as the full glory of that curve became apparent to me.

That was about the time Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” came on the radio. I had to laugh. 55 mph would not be happening for a while.

I pulled over where there was a good view of the road below me. It was a long way down from where I stood to the rushing river in the valley below. I stretched, took in what oxygen was available, snapped a couple of unintersting pictures. The slope of the ground beneath my feet felt odd; paved surfaces aren’t supposed to lean like that.

Back in the car, around a bend, and a better place to stop. My foot twitched between brake and throttle, indecisive, but I decided to pull over again. “Taking it slow, today,” I reminded myself. “Smelling the roses. Only planning to get as far as Tonopah.”

I pulled over again, stood on a rock and fired up the panorama feature on my phone. At this time, I’m unable to upload the result. I’ll get on that real soon. After a few more moments to appreciate the view, I hopped back in the car.

Not much farther up the snow pack started to become significant. The snowplow cuts through the banks at the side of the road were obvious. My memories of my last time through the pass don’t include snow. For a few miles, the best potential camera shots were from the perspective of the road; one seldom-discussed advantage of convertibles is the ability of one to hold a camera up over the windscreen and get a good shot.

Touch-screen controlled cameras suck for this purpose, however. Even when using the hardware button to trigger the picture, too many knuckle-brushes against the screen change modes and settings, and while I could spare a hand occasionally, I could not spare my eyes to ensure that I had taken a shot. At one point I pulled over to review my work and I discovered I was in time-lapse mode, with a sped-up view of my lap. Then I was in some sort of ease-in-out-slow motion video. I just wanted a dang picture.

Not a great picture, but I like the reflection of the snow, and the reflection of the reflection.

Just over the top, maybe two miles on, a bicyclist was stopped at the side of the road, heading up, lights flashing fore and aft. He was straddling his bike, clearly gassed, panting through a salt-and-pepper beard. “Almost there!” I called out, hoping he took it as encouragement. I looked at my clock. Early afternoon. I wondered when he has started his assault on the pass that morning. He was a long way from any potential base camp I knew about. Maybe I should have offered him some cookies, or a Gatorade. In hindsight I think I could have been more helpful.

More memories as the road wound back down, and a curve carved with luck-fueled precision, the suspension squeezing and releasing in synchrony with the bank of the tight curve, the tires whooshing loudly but not squealing, the car shooting ahead as I downshifted to take some of the load off the brakes. I was redeemed for the curve that had taken me by surprise on the way up.

There’s a military base just beyond the steepest part, on the first flat piece of ground. As I passed one crew was paving the helipad (a road sign warned drivers of dust kicked up by helicopters), while another fatigue-clad bunch sat on a ring of boulders, facing the man addressing them, the way kids at camp might sit in a circle and listen to their counselor tell a story. My first time through, when my car was much younger, I had noticed that the propane tanks on the base were painted light olive, rather than white. I spent many miles pondering the logic of that. Was white not the best color? I always assumed white was intended to absorb less heat from the sun. What possible threat would be mitigated by painting the tanks pale olive?

There was more to my drive yesterday, but past the military base it does not qualify as Sonora Pass anymore. Sonora Pass is a wonderful drive, rivaled by few other stretches of road in this very large country of ours. It felt good to renew our acquaintance.

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Road Trip Coming!

Draw a rough rectangle anchored in California, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington, and you have an idea the route we’ll be taking sometime early next Summer. Sound vague? It is! (Though I prefer the term “flexible”.)

There will be three of us in the vehicle — pilot, navigator, and small dog. I want to keep the miles on any given day reasonably short, stopping at many rest areas to let the small dog sniff things and for photo opportunities I’ve driven through in the past. Unfortunately that means we won’t be able so stay in any one place terribly long.

That rectangle intersects many old friends, and some of the best sights the western United States has to offer. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this trip. Those in the path of our march will be hearing from us as plans solidify.

Road Trip! Wooooo!

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Requiem for My Travel Shirt

It was on another road trip to Kansas that I first dubbed my blue aloha shirt my Official Travel Shirt. I was wearing it for the second straight day (no sense sweating up another shirt), and I tore the breast pocket just a bit while stuffing in change from a drive-through, limiting the other occasions I could wear it.

But for driving across the United States in a convertible, it was pretty close to ideal. Light and breathable, the cotton fabric was quick to wick the sweat away from my back and provide cooling. When I put my elbow up on the door frame, the shirt would balloon up, creating a cyclone of joy across my torso. Good times.

Good times that finally came to an end on this trip. The ravages of sun, sweat, suds, and more sun began to undermine the integrity of the fabric. The dye faded and the fabric got thinner where the sun hit it most directly—on the shoulders and (rather embarrassingly) on the gut.

When packing for my latest road trip, I realized the shirt’s days were numbered. The pocket was really starting to flap in the breeze and the fabric was giving out along the shoulder seams. This was to be the shirt’s last ride. In retrospect, I should have given the shirt a dignified retirement before the trip even started; it just wasn’t fair to ask it to get me across the Nevada desert in its condition.

The first night, in Wells, Nevada, I took off the shirt to discover two bright-red patches on my shoulders:

Sunburn on my shoulders makes me cry

Sunburn on my shoulders makes me cry

By the next night in Vernal, Utah, blisters had formed, and while I waited for my car to be repaired I also tried not to ooze into my sheets too much while I slept at night.

My travel shirt, after one too many days on the road.

My travel shirt, after one too many days on the road.

The shirt had given its last, and while I had other shirts along for the ride that were adequate, they were all too new and too nice to dedicate to being the new Travel Shirt (though one had good Cyclone of Joy™ action—I might have considered it were it not so dark-colored).

So the search begins, but clothing like this isn’t just found on a shelf, it’s discovered through adversity. It is the product of miles, and the grace with which it handles them. It is sun, and sunscreen, and sweat and wind and time and groping in the pocket for the toll ticket. It is the stop at a rest area with a gentle pit bull going to her new home. It is the discovery of a new road, the onset of a sudden rainstorm, the knowing glance from another convertible driver, the pause on a deserted road at night to hear the chirping of the crickets.

It is the stories. The new shirt will have a lot of catching up to do.

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An Unplanned Visit to Vernal

I was making good time scooting across the southwestern part of the United States, plying US Highway 40 from outside of Provo to Denver, my target for the day. Somehow in all my traversals of the region, I had never taken this slice of roadway.

I paused in Duchesne to fill up the tank, and soon after I pulled back onto the highway I noticed that the battery warning light was on. Uh, oh.

I considered two possibilities: That there was some fleeting problem (like the window motors had briefly overloaded the system – the windows are getting very sluggish) and everything was actually fine but the error condition was still registered in the computer, or there was a deeper problem and I was currently drawing off the battery, and the running time I had left was strictly limited.

Highway 40 in eastern Utah is not exactly buzzing with humanity (despite this being the beehive state). The next settlement of any size was Vernal, so I turned off any optional electrical items and crossed my fingers. I made it, and pulled into a parking lot to see if I could find a clue about what was going on.

I happen to own a wifi-enabled ELM327 which, combined with an app on my phone, allows me to read and clear the error codes recorded by the car’s computer. I got the widget and my phone talking to each other, only to discover that whatever condition causes the battery light to come on is not recorded on the computer. As far as the OBD II port was concerned, everything was hunky-dory. Humph. I had to conclude that whatever condition caused the light to turn on was ongoing. I turned to Siri to find a mechanic. Mostly I got tire stores.

When I twisted the key to start the car, it turned over with a distinct lack of gusto. No doubt about it, I was running out of juice. I made a command decision: First I would find a hotel, then I’d find a mechanic once all my stuff was safely stashed in my room. I’m glad I did. Unloaded and rolling once more, I got about half a mile before the car shuddered and rolled to a stop as I ducked into the parking lot for a laundromat. The last few feet into the parking space took leg power. Then it was time to call the nice folks at AAA.

Those nice folks sent another nice guy with a huge-ass tow truck to drag my car to a local mechanic. The catch: It’s Saturday. He took me to a good shop that’s “pretty much almost always” open on Saturdays, but, alas, not this particular Saturday afternoon. Nor is it likely they (or anyone else) will be open Sunday.

Currently I’m sitting in a nice-enough place called Wingers Roadhouse, drinking a King’s Tale Pale Ale, by the Winger Bros. Brewing Company. Since it’s on tap, it can only be 3.2%, which makes for an odd pale ale. At this moment “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac is playing. If only I could.

Small-town Utah on a Sunday. Here we go.

Descending From the Mountain

Snowflakes, fat and fluffy, falling poco tiempo, dance out of the way of my car, sliding up the windscreen and out of view, as I glide along Barranca Road. It is quiet, modern car quiet, the rental’s motor almost inaudible. The flakes aren’t piling up yet, but the road is cold and it won’t be long.

I take a breath, inhale the silence.

By the time I reach Santa Fe the sun is shining; my sunglasses are in my bag in the trunk. I lower the visor, squint, and roll on south, joining the Interstate traffic and setting the cruise control for a speed just a little over the posted limit. Going with the flow. Time for the radio. The station I listened to as a kid is still playing the same list it was thirty years ago. Some things never change.

I’m tired, my nerves raw from rambunctious nephews, back stiff from a night on a too-short sofa, nose and eyes still irritated by the christmas tree. Not the kid’s fault he had a toothache last night. I’ll miss those guys. Who knows how old they’ll be when I see them again? The younger nephew probably won’t even remember me.

Man it was a hoot hanging with those guys. Non-stop entertainment. By the time I reach La Bajada hill I’m missing everyone already. I turn up the radio. Twofer Tuesday. Nirvana – not on the list when I was a kid, but I’ll take it, at the intended volume.

Almost Had It

It was about 35 miles west of Ely, on a section where highway 50 gets curvy. The caffeine hit and “Addiction” by 4gasm erupted from the speakers. I felt it then, that old road feel, wind and sun, and the smell of the desert after a rain.

Than I hacked and shuddered and my cold reasserted itself, and I was glad I’d already booked a room in Reno.

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