"Lady Vagabond has risen and come into her own, Singing ay-yi-yi-yi, the open road is home…" -- S. J. Tucker
We take a break from the Italy trip report to tell you about the road trip, which is finally happening even as we speak. I’m writing this from a Best Western in Barstow, California. If all goes as planned then we’ve got two more days till we get to Albuquerque, where we’ll stay with my friend A, and then my fosterling C will drive the last three hours to Alamosa, Colorado by himself and I’ll take the plane from Albuquerque back home to Seattle.
We set out last Friday, at 9:30 in the morning. It took us two days to get to Oakland — one long day because we stopped twice for extended periods; once to shop at a supermarket and fill our cooler and grocery bag with travel food and then again in Portland, where C grew up, so he could say goodbye to his parents and brothers, and pick up a bunch of things he’d left at his mother’s house. By the time we were done with that there was no hope of getting to Grant’s Pass that evening like we had planned to, but we stopped at a respectable Motel 6 in Roseburg (I know, the idea of a respectable Motel 6 is a little weird, but I have very no-frills standards for hotels — if there’s a comfortable bed and air conditioning, I’m content; if there’s a bathtub I’m happy). The second day, we got out early and pushed on hard, stopping only once for a half hour lunch. We reached Oakland, where we would be spending two days with my friend S, by 5:30 in the afternoon.
California roads, at least near the major cities, are the most difficult driving I’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t easy in the mountains either, but once we got down onto the flat north of Sacramento, it was easy enough for me to let C drive for two hours. But nearing Oakland, even with only middling traffic, it got forthright terrifying. I told C as I fought to get into the correct lane to handle yet another split highway, “Portland has spaghetti roads. California’s are just as bad but wider and messier. I think they have fettuccine.”
We spent Sunday on our own feet. C had originally planned to go see some places in the area where he had spent some time as a child, but between the difficult driving and simply being really tired of time in the truck, he went for a walk around Oakland instead. Me, I had no intention of setting foot in that truck till Monday. By the time we arrived on Saturday night, I felt as if I had been riding in a ship — my body felt as if it were moving when I was sitting still, because of so long when it really was in a moving vessel.
Besides, it had been a long time since I saw S, and they’re my favorite roleplaying game friend. I spent most of Sunday afternoon gleefully pretending to be a sapient cuttlefish, and having a great time doing it.
On Monday we set out again. It was intended as a short day — we’d been advised to get a look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which was two hours south of Oakland. Since the aquarium was expected to take most of the day, we began driving just barely late enough in the morning to miss rush hour traffic, and got to Monterey Bay around noon.
The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to the aquarium, which was genuinely worth the hype. Sea otters, spectacularly lit jellyfish exhibits, multiple sea bird aviaries, endless different fish habitats… even cuttlefish, for whom I had a new respect after playing one. Like squid, they ‘talk’ with the color patterns in their skin, something I made great use of in the game and had a wonderful time seeing in person at the aquarium.
(All the aquarium pictures will be in the next, bonus, post, because there are too many to put in this one.)
The main shoreside road in Monterey is called Cannery Row. John Steinbeck wrote a book set there, and named after it, which has made him extremely popular with the folk of Monterey. There’s a little park along Cannery Row, named for him and with a statue of the author at the front. Our motel was at the other end of Cannery Row from the aquarium, just off the beach; a sweet, inexpensive little place, unimaginatively called the Monterey Bay Lodge. We did not, alas, see the seals off one of the piers; we couldn’t easily find the right one and were pretty tired by that point. But C got into a swimsuit and went down to the beach on foot, to play in the water for a little while. I hadn’t brought a swimsuit and was tired anyhow, so I stayed back at the motel and rested. A good long night’s sleep and we were ready for a group of rather more difficult driving.
The road was mostly not northern California fettuccine, but it wasn’t easy. C, who was navigating for me, described a possible alternate route as: “Either way will be weird, but this way will be a more understandable weirdness and might avoid a roundabout.”
“I don’t mind roundabouts,” I told him, “but I’m all for understandable weirdness. Let’s do it.”
So we went that way, which basically involved taking California route 58 directly through Bakersfield, instead of ducking around it as the Google map kept trying to make me do. It was indeed understandable weirdness. It was also HOT. The external thermometer on Frank the Truck read 105F by the time we’d gotten deep into the Mojave Desert. Fortunately, Frank’s air conditioning worked brilliantly. We didn’t even have to keep it on max. Of course, when we stopped at a rest stop, my 21-year-old travel companion insisted on getting out of the truck to experience what 105F felt like… which meant opening the door and letting all the hot air in. It cooled down after another 20 minutes or so, but it took a while.
C drove for a scattered hour or two, depending on where the road was easiest. We stopped once to take a break and switch drivers, and he found a gorgeous blue Panama hat which we ended up buying. I did not get a hat. I got vanilla fudge, which I’m not supposed to eat much of because of the creeping edge of arteriosclerosis, but I’ll eat it slowly.
Between Monterey and Barstow is wind farm country. There were endless modern windmills set up along the ridges. I told C, “I can just imagine Don Quixote looking up at that ridge in absolute horror.”
During the last couple hours of the drive we got an unexpected message from my husband G, who’s at home tracking our progress online, and had this to tell us: “Be glad you’re not on Route 80. 150,000 tomatoes spilled out of a truck over there.”
Before we left Seattle everyone had assumed we’d be going to Colorado via I-80, but actually I had intended all along to go south straight through California, and then hang a left. That would keep me out of the most extreme mountains, and I hate mountain driving with a blistering passion. So my bias against mountain roads kept us safe from the humongous loads of spilled tomatoes. Seven cars crashed on the interstate in the tomato chaos, but it was conveniently far away from where we were.
We have, by this time, settled in Barstow for the night, and I even found a room with the bathtub that I always hope for. Tomorrow it’s on to Flagstaff, we hope; the day after, we wrap up at A’s place in Albuquerque.
Hopefully, the only tomatoes will be in the soup.