Richard & Suzanne & Duncan's Big 2007 Road Trip #1
Hello (or hello again!)
Most of this day wasn't spent traveling (in fact, only the last hour and a half or so were actually spent rollin'), but the whole darn day was devoted to getting us & everything else ready to go. We'll tell you about it anyway so the rest of the adventure will sound relatively exciting by comparison. :)
First, a bit of background: Our son Duncan is now two and a half, and although he's not truly a "terrible two", he certainly knows how to raise the entropy of any system he influences. So, Suzanne spent much of this sunny Tuesday cleaning up our Duncan-disturbed dwelling and getting all the essential items assembled and ready for loading.
Speaking of cleaning: Richard spent the morning doing the last bit of final packup at his soon-to-be-ex-office. For the past ten years (since the 1997 Big trip, in fact), Richard has enjoyed the use of a 9th floor picture-window office where Important Decisions were made and many signs and other devices were craftily created. The good news was you could see some beautiful sunsets from the west-facing windows; however, the bad news was that Richard's work hours meant that he saw many beautiful sunsets. However, these sunset-seeing days are over because the lease is up, and the central Phoenix office rental market is a lot less affordable for the taxpayers due to the upbeat economy and the new light-rail line on the avenue below. Richard and his fellow inmates, er, officemates are moving to a new trailer park, er, modular building complex at the State Capitol right about the time this trip ends, and so Richard had to take most of his usual trip-prep time (including weekends) to take a decade of paperwork and plans and stuff it into boxes for the migration to the new digs (well, not including the piles and piles of paper that were hauled off to save the lives of some trees out there somewhere). The task was finally completed about noonish, and so Richard can now wander away from the old office with a happy heart and a clear conscience, putting his faith in the moving company that some or most of the boxes might eventually show up at the new office in a couple weeks or so.
Of course, this now means it's afternoon, and we still ain't close to leaving. And just to make matters more interesting, the cable internet connection at our house decided to go kablooey right about this time, and continued Net-ability is important for those who will be keeping our home safe & secure while we're absent. After three (or was it four?) calls to Cox Tier 2 support, and three trips to Fry's Electronics for new networking junk (and a new 8 gig pocket USB drive to replace Richard's mission-critical backup drive that decided to join the fun by seizing up as well), we're pleased to note that the packets of the Internet can again make their way into our home pooters.
Of course, the sun just disappeared below the western hills, and we're still not gone yet. Suzanne efficiently assembled all the items she thinks, er, we think we'll need for this adventure, while Richard did his "Mr. Loadmaster" bit by hauling & stuffing all those items into the assigned places in the mighty Truckasaurus. This was completed, and truck was trundled out under the lights and through the side gate and placed on the pad, er, driveway for launch.
OK, now what? Check list? Check. Got clothes? Check. Got kid? Check. Got food? Check. Got meeting stuff? Check. Got everything else? Check. Got any time left after this checklist? Oops.
Bye to the doggie & house, notify the housesitter, secure all doors, windows & hatches, fasten seat belts, radios on, DMI on, main engine start, and we're rolling - and we've set a regrettable new record in trip-start tardiness, as we bounce into the street at 10:20 PM MST. Earlier in the day, Richard had made an offhand comment to his boss that he'd be happy to see Flagstaff by midnight - but it now looked clear that this bit of happiness would not be achieved. Undaunted, we turned north at I-17 (oh great - the exit ramps are closed), and after some stop n' go on the frontage road, we left the glow of the metro area behind us and were on our way.
The trip to Flagstaff up the Interstate was pleasantly uneventful - well, for the most part. About 40 miles out of town, the truck's speedometer dial decided again to play its usual practical joke and drop to zero, taking the odometer and cruise control with it. Since our similar experiences on last year's trip, much troubleshooting time had been spent on this issue, with the result that we found out there wasn't any easy or cost-effective solution. However, some creative rewiring of the truck's distance measuring instrument (sort of a super-accurate auxiliary odometer & speedometer) means that even when the factory-issued speedometer's on strike we still know where we are & how fast we're going - and we'll note that we're staying honest by keeping track of all that mileage that isn't rolling up on the OEM odometer. Then up the hills and into the pines of northern Arizona while we all scanned alertly for elk - Richard was certain of Suzanne & Duncan's eagle-eyed watchfulness by their rhythmic snoring noises. Then a turn into the parking lot of the Residence Inn Flagstaff, where a friendly 1 AM check-in got us exhausted but happy into our spacious suite for the next two days.
Note: Since it was quite dark once we got on the road, and (almost) nobody enjoys 99% dark photographs, we'll instead show you the view from earlier today out the windows of the soon-to-be-vacated office (excuse the poor 'stitching' of the photo image).
Twas a good 10 years, but the view's going away
This day was the first of many where Richard would go his separate way from Suz & Dunc. He rolled out of bed after less than four hours of sleep, and staggered over to the Residence Inn main building to bring some complimentary breakfast back to the peacefully dozing family. Then into the truck for the drive to the ADOT District office, where he would congregate with his traffic engineering brethren for their quarterly meeting - this time in cool & pleasant central Flagstaff. Not much to report from the meeting: the discussion on the new Clearview sign typeface was resolved without bloodshed, and many interesting topics were discussed. Really.
About noontime, some of the meeting gang walked down to the Casa Bonita restaurant, where Richard ended up sporting some useful but unorthodox headgear - his seat was directly under a sunny skylight, so after the order was placed the menu was pressed into service into a second job as an impromptu hat, so Richard's bald spot, er, almost-full head of hair was protected from the rays (and no, nobody had a camera - thank goodness). At the end of the feeding frenzy, Richard somehow got stuck with the $110 tab, but certain negotiation techniques were employed, and cash (or as Suzanne now refers to it, her "Tahoe money") was extracted from his fellow lunchers to cover the bill.
As Richard strolled back to the meeting with his new wad of Suzanne's cash, he was almost taken out by a fast-turning SUV festooned with many expensive bicycles and many more RAAM sponsor logos. Yes, the 2007 Race Across America transcontinental bicycle race is passing through Flagstaff, and the folks of Team Donate Life smiled & waved as they zipped through town on their way to Tuba City and eventually Atlantic City, NJ in a few days from now. Safe and fast riding, everyone!
After the meeting finally broke up, Richard motored back to the hotel to spend a relaxing late afternoon / early evening outdoors with the family, enjoying the picture-perfect Flagstaff weather and the Residence Inn happy hour (and the beverage of choice was apple juice, not beer). Then to the grocery store for a few essentials (such as ice cream) and then a fine pork chop dinner at Hog's Restaurant rounded out a not-too-bad day.
Happy hours in cool & sunny Flagstaff
Suzanne & Duncan awakened in the cozy Residence Inn room while Richard wandered over to the main building to hunt and gather tasty breakfast items to prepare us for the day that awaited. We packed up from our couple days in Flagstaff, while Duncan wisely amused himself and stayed out of the way by disappearing behind the window curtain to watch the guests and staff busily move about. Of course, sometimes we'd forget he was there, and then yell for him, to be rewarded by a happy rustling from behind the drapes. Now we're not saying that the proprietors were worried about us leaving on schedule, but after about the fifth or sixth door knock and phone call we were beginning to think they knew our past history of late check-outs (or were reading our trip logs!) We got out (almost) right on time, and turned Truckasaurus out of town to continue our journey.
It took a bit of conscious thought to take the westbound entrance to I-40 this time, as it's almost always the case that our outbound travel takes us in an eastbound direction. It just felt a bit off to be traveling westward this early in the trip, but we managed to figure it out.
Today was still a work day, though, as we alternated our travel between quiet bumpy stretches of old US 66 and high-speed modern I-40. Richard had a few signs to look at on the Interstate and business routes to ensure traveler guidance and (reasonable) safety, but we'd probably have some fun along the way anyway. Our first leg today led us to Williams, where Richard carefully parallel-parked the big ol' truck beside the banners set out for Flag Day and between the rows of shiny motorcycles to come to rest in front of the Pine Country Restaurant downtown. This place is well-known for good food, but even even better-known for big slices of delicious pie. Did we say big - we meant huge. Monstrous. Colossal. Yummy. It took all three of us to demolish one slice of chocolate peanut butter cream, but somehow we managed to fulfill this feat and stagger back to the truck to drive off all that calories, er, nutrition.
Down Ash Fork Hill we rolled, and so we were out of the cool pines and into some warmer driving. This week has been a warm one in Arizona, and so the nice mid-80s of Williams were traded for upper 90s on the lower grasslands. A few more miles 'o driving brought us into Seligman, where we were again welcomed to town by the smiling Delgadillo clan. At Angel's Barber Shop & gift emporium, Duncan gazed at the dozens of shiny toy cars lined up on the shelves, took a few out carefully for a test drive around the European tourists, and then selected a shiny red slammed '49 Ford hot rod to be his new #1 favorite car (for the next several days, that is). Meanwhile, Richard was being seduced by yet another High Seas Trading 66-themed shirt on the racks, while Suzanne showed off the roomy 66 purse she'd bought on our previous visit. Then over to the colorful Snow Cap restaurant for a small cone (hee hee), to say hi (Bob D's doing better, by the way), use the many well-appointed outhouses, and for Duncan to drive his new little '49 around all the cool old vehicles parked out back.
We skipped the scenic stretch of 66 west of Seligman, since Richard had a few signs to visit on the newer and hillier section of I-40 that bypassed old 66 back in the '70s. We ground up the upgrades and scooted down the descents while occasionally watching the happy moos grazing in the very wide freeway median.
Then into Kingman, where a $85 fillup filled our tank and emptied our wallet, and then on westward. We wanted to inflict a burro-rific experience on Duncan in the quaint little town of Oatman, but the lateness of the day meant that we'd likely get there too late for some quality Dunkie donkey time. So we instead proceeded directly out AZ 68 threading past the pinnacles of the Black Mountains and down the long grade into the valley of the Colorado River, sniffing the distinctive scent of burning brake linings (not ours, fortunately) as we hurtled down toward the river-bisected twin metropoli of Bullhead City, AZ and Laughlin, NV. We found a place for truck amid the powerboats and motorhomes out in the big lot of the Edgewater Hotel, and hauled in for a night of Nevada fun.
Dinner posed a dilemma, since the Edgewater has two good yet economical eateries downstairs - the buffet with all its various goodies, or the Garden Room cafe with its specials. The cafe won this time, and we feasted on prime rib and giant ham steak, while Duncan learned that ranch dressing is not only delicious, but makes a great finger paint as well. After the last bites were downed and the artworks were wiped up, we stepped outside to take a walk along the Colorado River lapping right outside the hotel's doors. Here we saw many cute critters enjoying the evening - happy quacking ducks, colossal carp (was that the fish special?), zippy flippy bats and birds, and a chubby twin-pinstriped skunk ambling along the tourist-festooned shoreline. The cute lil' stinker (the skunk, not Dunc) happily wandered looking for bugs and other treats, while the crowds kept just outside of sprayin' range. Then back into the room for some unwinding & e-mail (guess not - the hotel wireless connection wasn't connecting), and then some dozing under the blinking lights of Laughlin.
Old US 66 in Williams - good times & big pie
We woke up at a reasonable hour (by Laughlin standards, anyway), and scooted down the escalator to the Edgewater buffet for some breakfast action. We got more action than we bargained for, though. Duncan is (almost) always a very well-behaved child (as 2-year-olds go, anyway) when eating in public; but today he unleashed a Class 1 meltdown worthy of a full government investigation. At peak, it was reported he could be heard over the slot machines and cleaning equipment upstairs, but some semi-expert intervention by Mom and Dad saved most eardrums and allowed for the rest of the meal to proceed much more calmly. Then back upstairs to load our junk out, and we were out of the building.
The Bullhead/Laughlin area is notorious for being one of the hottest places in the entire North American continent, and today was one of those days it was definitely living up to its reputation. We loaded up the truck in the sizzling parking lot, while Richard had to do a bit of impromptu rewiring to fix our 12 volt portable fridge. Already drenched with sweat although we hadn't even left the parking lot, we started the engine and headed southward out of town, balancing the A/C with the radiator to try to keep both engine & occupants from overheating.
We crossed the diagonal Nevada-California line and rolled southbound along Needles Highway, with our bellies being tickled by the up-n-down of the roller-coaster profile of this culvert-challenged road. We turned east on I-40 just north of Needles, and wended our way westbound between the trucks and vacationers on this busy freeway. We were hoping to find a more-relaxing road experience for today, and we got it when we left I-40 for a quieter US 93 and a few miles later turned off 93 onto old US 66 to continue our westbound wanderings.
Old 66 thru San Bernardino County is generally a quiet, relaxing, and enjoyable experience, with the only interruptions being some spots of bumpy pavement ("McQueen, get back there and fix that!") and the occasional California driver passing at darn high speeds. But these things do pass (sometimes at 100 plus), and the drive was most enjoyable if a bit warm - and the "shoe tree" didn't smell too bad as we drove by either. A spell of driving brought us to the teeny little town of Amboy, which has been bought by the Southern California restaurant magnate who owns the Juan Pollo chain of eateries, and is slowly being restored to full 66 icon status. We pulled in past the wacky Juan Pollo truck parked outside and stopped under the canopy of the under-refurbishment gas station & cafe and spoke to Larry, one of the folks doing the fix-up work, while Duncan frolicked with the two doggies that also currently call Amboy home. Since we had been here and done this, we bought the t-shirt (a bargain at $7), and motored back out into the blazing sunshine to continue our westbound trek.
We stayed on old 66 almost all the way into Barstow, 'cept for a detour around the Marine Corps base just east of town. We cruised Barstow's main 66 drag looking for a place for our afternoon meal, and we were lured in by the classic modern style of the Palm Cafe's big sign, although the pagodaesque details of the building had us a bit doubtful about the range of grub available inside. We shouldn't have worried - the Palm's friendly faces serve good food at amazingly reasonable prices, and all three of us (and everyone else in the place, including many military folk and their loved ones) enjoyed the meals greatly.
As we accelerated out of Barstow onto highway 58, Suz mentioned she felt an odd vibration coming from near the wheel well. Richard pulled over and dutifully checked all 4 wheels & everything else visible for flats or damage, but then the real source of the vibes became clear - the truck's stereo speakers - meaning it was more of a case of "Wang Chung" than "flat tire" causing the vibrations. We merged back onto 58 west and kept going, hoping all our mechanical & musical issues were resolved.
That was not the case, sad to say. A few miles later, Richard's seat belt retractor decided it had enough of that retraction business, leaving him with a limp mess of belt loosely draped over his frontside. Since he didn't really want to have a meaningful relationship with the steering wheel or windshield in case of collision, he pulled over to the far far right of the dirt shoulder to have a little tool-enhanced discussion with the recalcitrant retractor. Right about the time he was persuading the belt to re-reel, a big ol' semi chose to pass too close and too fast near the half-open door, and even though over a dozen feet separated us & them, the wind blast was enough to yank the door back hard enough to actually bend it and the hinges - resulting in some very colorful language and some unintelligible grunting by Richard as he wrestled it back into shape so it would finally close again (oops - looks like it's still rubbing - there goes some near-new paint! Ouch!) Then a few miles farther on 58 took us to the US 395 junction and a stop for $3.13 fuel at the Pilot truck stop on the corner.
What is it with gas-station manners these days? There were far more people wanting fuel than pumps available, and yet those who were actually at the pumps were doing anything but pumping petroleum. We watched the lady in front of us finish filling her tank, look back to see us patiently waiting, and then saunter slowly into the store to take her sweet time picking out snacks. We tried to zip over to another open pump, but some jerk just off the highway cut us off and then gave us a look dirtier than out tailgate's paint (yes, that's rather dirty). Meanwhile, the guy in between isn't even buying fuel - he's just going over his windshield for probably the fourth time with the squeegee to make sure the last microscopic bits of bug were no longer possibly in view. THAT'S WHAT THOSE OTHER PARKING SPACES WITHOUT GAS PUMPS NEXT TO THEM ARE FOR, PEOPLE!!! (ahem) We finally got a gas pump thanks to Suzanne physically throwing herself in the open spot, and we filled up the truck while ourselves being utterly depleted of any kindness toward our fellow man or woman. After our $50 in fuel, we immediately pulled forward to an open parking spot, and had the sad amusement of watching two other schmucks fight over the open spot. OK, time to get goin' again before this gets ugly...
We turned north on US 395, the primary highway serving the valleys and towns of the lands to the east of California's central mountains. The original projection was that we'd make it to Bishop by evening, or maybe Lone Pine if behind schedule. However, due to all that unplanned trouble we'd just had (and the nice Barstow dining too), we were already watching the sun start to dip down behind the ridges of the Sierra Nevada while either zipping by on wide-open highway or inching along behind one of the many trucks also utilizing this busy road. When the signs for Ridgecrest appeared, we made some calculations taking into account elapsed time, Friday night tourist traffic, probabilities of room rates and availability as a function of time, elevation, and latitude, and decided to try our luck in this town. The sign advertising "free hi-speed internet" at the Budget Inn in central Ridgecrest got our attention - the room was very clean and spacious, and had sparkles in the ceiling, which entranced Duncan to no end - but the internet was kaput, as some Richard-assisted (hindered?) troubleshooting revealed that the D-S-L connection to the property was, um, D-E-A-D.
The original plan was to try to get an early beddy-bye time, but Duncan's endless untapped reserves of energy resulted in revising that plan somewhat. We let Dunc bounce off the walls while watching LA area TV stations (bye bye, Bob Barker!), and once he was wound down, washed up, & tucked away (near midnight), we settled in to rest up for the next day.
Hot times on California 66
Bird poop doesn't work well as a computer screen covering. But we'll get to that later.
We wakened under the ceiling sparkles of the Budget Inn, and got ourselves together for another day on the wide-open road. The Budget Inn is also fortuitously attached to a small shopping center with many amenities, which we took full advantage of. The Midway Cafe, a classic mom n' pop eatery serving Ridgecrest for over half a century, served us a very good breakfast, After that belly-fillin', the next stop was right next door at the Just Imagine toy store, where Suzanne found many cool & unique items, and Duncan was kept thoroughly occupied by the fascinating wooden train table - which gave Richard the opportunity to pack up the truck for the family's travels.
We hung a left at the China Lake Weapons Station main gate, and scooted back onto US 395 to continue our journey. We made good time northwestward on the mostly-multilane US route, with the dry desert of eastern California interrupted occasionally by green oases such as the Caltrans Coso rest area, where we stretched our legs under the shady trees. Up through the pleasant small towns of Independence and Lone Pine we continued, as the rugged peaks of Mount Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48) and the other impressive pinnacles of the upper Sierra Nevada loomed high above us on our left-hand side, and the pale expanse of the dry Owens Lake bed and the blue channels of the (name of Los Angeles Aqueduct omitted for homeland security reasons) passed by on our right.
The town of Big Pine has a little playground at Mendenhall Park, which was a welcome sight after some hours of highway cruising. Duncan zipped up the steps & rungs of the play structures, and met some other friendly kids who were at the park for a birthday party. Then the Slip 'n Slide came out, and even though Duncan wasn't dressed for water play, that wasn't going to stop him from the aqueous amusement, and the owners of the slide were exceptionally gracious in letting our little interloper scoot & splash with the local kids. Alas, we couldn't stay all day for slippin' and sliding, and so a thoroughly wet and amused kid was toweled and changed and back in the truck, with a little drop or two more emerging as Duncan realized his waterplay was done for the day.
We curved through Bishop, where US 6 (still the longest US highway) ends where it meets 395 - and it's only 3,205 miles from Bishop to the other end of US 6 at the tip of Cape Cod! Although we're sure Provincetown is a fun place to visit, we instead stayed on 395 as it climbed from the warm arid valleys into the cooler pine forests of the eastern flanks of the Sierras. We motored around Mono Lake as the occasional California state highway branched off to the west and ascended the near-vertical flanks of the Sierras, and then slalomed alongside the rushing rapids of the West Walker River as it tumbled out of the Sierra highlands.
As the afternoon shadows lengthened, we noticed we were getting rather close to our final destination in the Lake Tahoe area. We were also fully aware that the area 'round Tahoe is very busy and expensive on summer Saturday nights, and so it might be a good idea to find a room for Saturday night snoozin' that would make for enjoyment, affordability, and a short Sunday drive to our outbound destination. We rolled into the small town of Walker as the neon lights started to snap on, and the classic-style sign of the West Walker Motel stood in front of what looked to be a friendly place to bed down. Turned out Walker was a great choice for an evening's stay - the motel was comfy and most friendly, the local BBQ place served up some great supper (but closed earlier than expected, prompting a mad dash across the road to get grub before the door shut), and the mile-high climate made for a perfect setting for an alfresco family dinner sitting in the classic motel chairs out in front of our cute lil' room.
As sky darkened and the stars started popping out, we did what the town's name suggested - we walked under the stars along the shoulder of US 395 from one end of town to the other, refreshed by the cool mountain breezes wafting through the Sierras. Then back to the room, where Suz & Dunc watched bad reptile-themed movies on the TV, while Richard sat outside and used the motel's satellite Internet to check on the outside world and send back updates on our adventures - well, until a fine feathered friend perched above him deposited a small gift on Richard's once-shiny G4. Who says mountain folk aren't generous? Later, after the screen was wiped, the electrons were sent and the crocs were croaked, we all snuggled into the soft beds for a nice mountain nap.
Peaks of fun in the eastern Sierras
We stayed snuggled in the cushy cozy beds at the West Walker Motel well after the sun was peeking through the swamp cooler vents, knowing this was the last day we could sleep in for the next 5-6 days or so. Then a roll out of bed and a stuffing of the suitcases, and we were ready to cover the final miles to the big lake. However, there was still some walking left in Walker, as after we cleaned up & moved out we strolled down the main street to the Walker Burger food stand. Folks had said it had some of the best food in the area, and sure enough our burgers were most bueno, enjoyed all the more in their shady garden eating area, complete with well-appointed bird houses (complete with 'realty listings'!)
Then back up US 395 and on past the azure waters of Topaz Lake, where we again crossed that long diagonal Cal-Nev border, and found ourselves back in the Silver State. Several miles of driving past farms with happy munching Nevamoos brought us into Gardnerville & Minden, where we stopped a spell for $3.08 fuel at Eagle and replenishment of supplies at Raley's Market for our coming week in Tahoe.
Now when the geographers say that Lake Tahoe is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, they mean it quite in the literal sense - in order to get to the blue lake vistas and blue-plate casino specials, ya gotta go over some darn steep hills. We made our final approach up the Kingsbury Grade from the Carson Valley, crowning out and then plummeting down the 9% grade into the ski lodges & holiday homes surrounding the big lake. Then a left on US 50, a right into Harvey's parking lot (oops, missed it - we're back in California again!), back across the state line to Harvey's, a sudden screeching halt to remember to remove the antennas & beacon from the roof of the truck before the garage beams remove them for us, and then a full stop at our destination for the next six days.
Suzanne & Duncan settled into our room at Harvey's resort (ranking somewhere between "opulent" and "palatial", except for the grand view of the casino A/C units and sports book antennae), while Richard hauled in a week's worth of sundry supplies for three meetings and three family members. Then a brief rest, and off to our first official function, a meeting / reception for all the committee members. Here we munched while catching up on old times & friends, while Duncan amused himself with working the crowd and precariously balancing next to the plate glass windows to better enjoy the view of the folks & lake below. Then an evening walk down US 50 (across that diagonal NV/CA border again!) to explore the wonders of this resort community. Then Richard took Duncan back up to the room for clean-up and sleepy time, while Suzanne lingered a bit in the casino to engage in some "vacation financing". While the cash flow wasn't perfect, fun was had, and then to the king-size bed to rest up for a busy week.
Look! We're here by Lake Tahoe!
The first day of a week of meetings began early - at least for one person. Richard was out the door and across the street to Harrah's for an early-AM buffet, then down the escalator & under US 50 to the conference room at Harvey's for the day's discussions. This day would see a joint meeting between two AASHTO committees, one comprising state DOT traffic engineers, and the other made up of key members from various states working on bicycle and pedestrian issues. Richard is a member of both of these committees, and so he spent much of the day wearing both hats - and doing a bit of running back and forth madly between sessions.
Meanwhile, Suzanne & Duncan had a much less stressful day, sleeping in, relaxing, and settling into the rhythm of life at Harvey's.
(yup, that's about it for most of the day...)
Later on, we were invited to a little get-together upstairs, where views were viewed and snacks were snacked. Then a walk down the state line toward the setting sun took us to the shores of Tahoe, where our little bouncer hopped and bopped in the twilight. Then back up the hill to Harv's, as the local wildlife came out - bats twittered and swooped above, a few thoroughly urbanized coyotes trotted by on their way to the golf course grounds, and the twentysomethings poured out of their dens emitting mating calls near and far. Dad took Dunc up to the room for pre-bed & e-mail, while Suzanne made her casino time count up with many pennies won (and lost). Then ta bed for da night!
The lake has the blues!
More meetings for Richard, as the traffic folks and bike folks reassembled to continue their combined confab. He was on the hot seat early as the agenda turned to issues he's stuck neck-deep in, such as the rewrite of design guidelines for bikes and national networks of long-distance routes for cyclists. It was a big and sometimes tough crowd, but it can be reported he survived the early ordeal (although some therapy may be needed later).
Duncan and Suzanne chose to spend the day more enjoyably - they headed to the movieplex to see "Shrek The Third". Dunc actually stayed still long enough to enjoy the ogre-rific entertainment, and his mom appreciated the good behavior and the time spent out of the room.
The evening activity was a social gathering at the Edgewood Country Club, where the greens of putting meet the blue of the lake. Our friends at ARTBA served up a deelish dinner, and allowed us to meet up with AASHTO & NCUTCD friends both old and new. Duncan was feeling most rambunctious after the meal, and decided to play fun games as "Footprints In The Sand Trap", "Do Pine Cones Float?", and "Run Full Speed Toward The Hidden Drop-off Where They Park The Golf Carts". This last game ended abruptly as Dad made a open field tackle a bit short of where gravity would have kicked in, and we all decided that a game of "Watch The Sunset Quietly" would be a good way to round out the day. Then a starry stroll back to the hotel, and more Jackpot Party fun for Suz, while Richard done did dad stuff with Dunc. Then some last minute prep for tomorrow's meetings, and our first full week on the road was closed out and put into the Fond Memories file.
The AASHTO gang is enraptured by another brilliant presentation
Oh - so you want a more scenic picture, huh? Here ya go:
Enjoyment at Edgewood
Another early start for Richard, as he attended morning meetings while Suz & Dunc snoozed snugly. The AASHTO traffic engineers meeting wound down and the NCUTCD meetings cranked up, and so Richard remained meeting-bound through the afternoon and on into early evening, which gave the rest of the family free rein to do as they pleased - and what pleased them was to just sit back & enjoy that Harvey's room.
Once the inmates of the NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee were released from bondage about 7:30 PM or so, several of the members and their families got together for dinner, which was found after a brisk walk (and a bit of a jaywalk) across the California line at a local grill and bar. Our gang overwhelmed the kitchen a bit, resulting in quite a bit of leisurely socialization in a pleasant environment while we waited for the servings to appear. Several hours later, after feedin' and talkin' was done, we went back to the hotel, and a pooped Richard (and fortunately unpooped Duncan) wandered up to the room, while Suzanne plopped herself in front of the giant horizontal spinning disk of the 12-seat Wheel of Fortune penny slot machine. This was lots of fun, but not as 'wheely' enriching as she'd hoped, and after an hour of having her finances 'Sajaked', she also headed to bed to try her luck another day.
Just another darn Tahoe sunset
Suzanne & Duncan went out to explore the shore of Tahoe this day, finding many interesting & fun places to visit amid the stores & sights of both the California & Nevada sides of the area. Since we were at a transportation-related meeting, it was fitting that some transportation-related playthings were obtained for the return trip amusement, and Suz finally found that perfect little souvenir to remind us of our visit.
How did Richard's day go? Well, to give you an idea, on this longest day of the year he never saw the sun. His meetings again ran from early morning on in to the evening, compounded by a splitting headache that just wouldn't go away despite the variety of remedies administered. But the long meetings and head beatings finally ended, allowing for a late dinner with the family and a start in on the long process of getting all our stuff back in the truck and out of this scenic burg.
Duncan likes Tahoe!
We found out today that the unofficial motto of Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. (parent company of Harvey's hotel/casino) sometimes seems to be: "Customer service? We save that for the high rollers."
We usually like to stay over Friday night after these meetings, given that the Friday NCUTCD sessions often run well into the afternoon and the fact it's much more enjoyable to not be in a blustering rush to move out of the hotel. Also allows us to contribute just that much more to the local economy. However, the Friday night room rate in Tahoe is in the near-$200 range (if a room was available, which they ain't), and so we must move on a bit earlier than usual. Given the probability of a long Friday meeting, we thought it wouldn't be too much of an imposition to ask for a bit of a late check-out. The first time we asked, though, the clerk literally laughed and told us we had to have our butts out of the room and on the street by high noon, regardless of how long the meeting went. So Suz frantically packed for Richard to haul out during breaks in the meeting, and we were nearly out by the appointed hour of doom. We weren't quite ready yet, and we called again to the desk, and they reluctantly agreed one PM would work for them. At one sharp, we were at the front desk, and on our way out wanted to have a chat with the manager about our less-than-stellar treatment. He apologized, but seemed puzzled - according to him, everyone in the group should have had an automatic late check out! Yeeearrghhh!
After our chat with the hotel management, we took the final loads, tossed them into Truckasaurus, and romped down the ramps to pull out onto a very busy US 50 as the weekend gamblers streamed in from California and elsewhere to see the sights and try their luck. South on 50 in California brought us some luck as well - we found the happy blue canopy under the neon sign of the Sno-Flake Drive-In for lunchtime fun. This fine establishment, also owned by a Duncan, serves up fine grilled items and frozen treats, and we doggedly munched our frankly tasty foods on the outdoor patio, entertained(?) by the conflicts between the bicyclists on the 2-way sidepath/frontage road and the traffic turning on & off US 50.
Then back onto the heavily-traveled highway, a right at the 50/89 junction, and we continued our looping of this lovely lake. We twisted and turned by the blue waters of Emerald Bay, and then continued past Tahoe City and Incline Village back into Nevada (again!). We waved ta-ta to Tahoe just before the scoot over Spooner Summit, and back into the high desert and a short drive to Carson City, the town proud to call itself the capital of this trapezoidal state. A short drive past the cruising classic cars took us to the Desert Hills Motel, where we unloaded, freshened up, and went right back out to the Silver Oak Country Club, our next destination for the day.
Over the years, we've met many folks from across the United States at AASHTO & NCUTCD meetings, and one of the more useful & friendly specimens is Scott Thorson, the state traffic engineer of Nevada. Mr. Thorson (not to be confused with another more notorious Nevada-related person sharing the same name) was given a grand send-off into the world of retirement by the assorted gang of friends, acquaintances, and other hecklers who showed up to eat, drink, and see Mary (his wife). Duncan joined in on the applause as we made Scott grateful he was retiring before we could come up with even more stories to tell (or make up) about him as the golf course geese looked in through the picture windows. In addition, Mr. Thorson had the good sense to hold his shindig in a room completely decorated with all things automotive (befitting his love for his '65 Mustangs) including some classic gas pumps, signs, and even a purple T-Bird parked in the corner. Duncan of course thought this was most cool, and spent the post-speechifying time appreciating all the colorful & fun items. Fortunately, most of the decor is from the heavy-gauge-sheet-metal era of American automobiliana, and so nothing was in danger of being hurt by our little motor fan. Then back past the bright flashing neon of Carson City's main streets, a stop at Safeway for late-night goodies & painkillers, and through the swinging door of the motel room for the night.
Busy and interesting day 'round Tahoe and Carson way
There are many routes of travel between northwestern Nevada and the central valley of California, ranging from fast freeways to bile-rising byways. To narrow down our selections, we consulted a computer mapping program, which suggested several routes: way up to Reno to take I-80 west, back around Lake Tahoe and down to Sacramento on US 50, or along one of the several California state highways threading their way through the high passes of the Sierras. All of them had nearly the same overall projected driving time, according to the computer, and so we selected the one that had the shortest distance involved.
Short roads can make for long days, though.
We left the casinos and state office buildings of Carson City behind us (after snagging one of the last McDonald's breakfasts du jour) and motored south on US 395 and straight on NV/CA 88 into the Sierras. We turned south on 89 toward the small town of Markleeville, where there was a bit of slow driving due to a brush fire in the surrounding hills. Trucks and response units were lined up on the highway doing their fire-fighting duty, and it was notable that the majority of responders were from the Nevada side of the line, seemingly indicating that multi-state mutual aid agreements are alive & well in these parts.
When we saw the big ol' yellow sign warning us that 24% grades (24 feet/inches/meters/miles up or down for every 100 along) lurked ahead on California state route 4, it seemed clear that this route would be, um, interesting. A few miles further along (and a couple thousand feet further up), the yellow centerline just sorta disappeared, leaving a one-lane road just wide enough for eastbound & westbound vehicles to squeeze past one another, and to allow for passing the many bicyclists noodling up and zipping down the steep grades. Several miles of second gear brought us to the top of Ebbetts Pass, where we pulled off to let both the truck and its occupants cool off in the refreshing Sierra air. We chatted with the cyclists as they rested under the oddly-lettered sign (8,730 "TF"?)
Then a trip down the switchbacks and swerves of the western face of the Sierra range brought us past the mountain lakes and rushing whitewater of the Stanislaus River and back to centerline-enhanced roadway, and on into the rolling brown foothills occasionally interrupted by red "Fire Danger Extreme" signs. We hopped into Angels Camp, a town made famous by a certain Sam Clemens, and cruised past the froggy street signs to find a place to set a spell and enjoy some lunch. It was just our good fortune the local Catholic parish was having their summer festival this day, and so we parked the truck and headed on in. Duncan loved the games such as "Jonah and the Whale", "Angel Halo Toss", and "Daniel and the Lion", and really liked the little toy cars, beach ball, and other items he won as we all enjoyed the food and fun.
Then we were back on the road southbound on state route 49, a curvy drive along the foothills of the Sierras roughly looping around Yosemite National Park. This was certainly far more scenic than the alternate routes in the Central Valley, but did require Richard to direct his full attention to the driving task while Suzanne & Duncan enjoyed the views as we wiggled up the grades and rolled down the descents (second gear is our friend today!) Past the big tubes of the Moccasin Creek hydroelectric project and on thru Mariposa we continued, noting all the Yosemite-bound tourists crossing our path. At the south end of 49 in Oakhurst, we took a break at a local fast food place while Duncan blew off some of that energetic eagerness scampering thru the tubes and slides of the play structure as mom & dad fed him when he occasionally popped his head out an opening or two.
The trip down CA 41 brought us into the vast Central Valley of California, and to the freeways of Fresno. We merged onto the very busy California state highway 99 for the last leg of today's trip, where development & widenings have almost obliterated all vestiges of the old US 99 highway that once ran along this corridor. Then off on 198 toward central Visalia and an exit on Mooney Boulevard - and one of the saddest sights of the entire trip met our eyes, as we saw that the curving pink facade and tall Deco tower of Mearle's drive-in was dark, abandoned, and seemingly soon facing demolition. We'd enjoyed eating at Mearle's during our trips to Visalia, and we'd sure miss the place (and the malts, too). Then to the Econo Lodge to wash up a bit, and on to our more important destination - an engagement party for Richard's nephew. Here we were welcomed by Richard's sister & brother-in-law and all the new family-members-to-be, and Duncan played with the older kids (the ones born in the 40s to 70s ;) and we fed & relaxed from a long & interesting day while spinning outlandish stories about our travels (yes, the same ones you read here). Then back to the Econo Lodge for some interesting parking gyrations, and then some rest as the folks in the upstairs rooms lulled us to sleep with their thumping & bumping.
Up and down and around we go...
This Sunday was definitely a day of rest, as we slept in reeeeallly late at the Econo Lodge, and then made the short drive over to Richard's sister & brother-in-law's house in central Visalia. Their two sons were also there, along with other family and friends, and so the day was spent most relaxingly & enjoyably socializing with the gang. Subs were sunk in our bellies, pies were rounded off, and then a fun splash & soak in the pool for everyone made for a wonderful time - although the beach ball volleyball game did get a bit out of hand sometimes. After we were all dried off and everything gathered up (including a small child who didn't want to ever come out of the water), we cruised the tree-lined streets of Visalia in the twilight, eventually ending up back at the Econo for a restful sleep and a preparation for the final stages of our journey.
Making a splash in Visalia
We got up, cleaned up, checked out, and left Visalia behind us, cruising down Mooney Blvd. toward Tulare and the state route 99 superhighway. 99 is fast, but not too scenic, and so we decided to exit for a slower yet potentially more interesting route in order to keep us from succumbing from dull-drive boredom. We wandered off 99 at the Kern County line in Delano, turned west on the Garces Highway past the giant shortwave transmitting towers beaming signals around the planet, and then south on 43 for some 2-lane driving through the alfalfa, cotton, and flowers of the southern San Joaquin Valley, as the Amtrak California trains rushed by. We did not behave wascally in Wasco, the rose capital of the nation, and we didn't give anyone the shaft in the sister city of Shafter, but the nicely maintained downtowns (and numerous ice cream stands) looked inviting for future visits.
Several miles later, we reached the south end of the Big Valley and started our way up into the foothills. The town of Taft looked like an inviting stop for a late lunch, and the Dari Delite drive-in did not disappoint us. A few yummy meats & frosty treats later, we were back on the road, climbing higher into the ranges of mountains laying between the valley and the coast. State route 33 follows the topography closely as it makes its way from the Cuyama to the coast, and we did our best to follow the road as it clung to the cliffs and veered into the valleys. We tooted the horn as we drove through the tunnels, watching closely for the hordes of motorcyclists also sharing this very interesting 1930s-era highway.
Then we popped out into the palm trees of southern California, and found ourselves in the quietly affluent community of Ojai. We parked next to the Spanish-style arches of the shopping arcade and the topiary animals of the Chevron station, and set Duncan loose in Libbey Park for some rambunctious exercise among the shady trees and the monkey bars. Duncan got along fine with the local kids also enjoying an afternoon at the park, and we enjoyed the shade, breezes, and scenery of the place.
After about an hour of Dunc-runnin', we were ready to hit the road again, and so we wound our way on route 150 up and over the hills, past the orchards, and into the valley of the Santa Clara River. Then a turn east on busy 126 took us through the farming towns (soon-to-be-suburbs?) and past the abandoned railways as we approached the busier parts of the SoCal megalopolis. We hung a right at Magic Mountain onto I-5, and merged the ancient yet able Truckasaurus into the streams of aggressive traffic as we entered the vast city of Los Angeles while the sun set over our shoulders. We veered onto the 405 thru the Valley, up & over the Sepulveda Pass, and down into the crawl & sprawl of the LA Basin. Our day of travel ended as we exited the 405 and headed westward on Washington until we rolled up on Beethoven and the Sunbay Motel, our home for the next two nights. After a little mix-up involving parking spots, we settled in and opened the windows to let in those cool ocean breezes (and traffic noises) in and rest up for fun beach action the next day.
Scenes from the high road to Ojai
Since we didn't particularly need to be anywhere at any time this day, we slept in for a spell, and finally got up and assembled ourselves for a fun day at the edge of the continent. We jumped on the big green Culver City bus running route #1 past the mercados and storefronts of Washington Boulevard and the expensive high-rises of Marina Del Rey to our destination for this sunny day - Venice Beach!
Yes, this semi-wretched hive of crazies & loopiness was to have the sad fate to be invaded by the Moeur clan today, and we're sure it'll never be the same (not that it ever is, anyway). We jumped off the bus and headed into the throngs of walking/biking/hopping/dancing/skating/skateboarding/running/somersaulting/staggering visitors and locals, and made ourselves at home in this wacky stretch of beachfront. We were hankerin' for some vacation-type grub, and Big Daddy & Sons served up some much-larger-than-expected slices o' pizza with lots of red pepperoni circles that the seagulls and other scavengers eyed enviously.
Then a stroll up and down the promenade allowed to meet many more of the fun folk infesting Venice, and also allowed for a spot of impromptu shopping at the many places lining the beachfront. Duncan found just one more car to add to his treasured collection - a cute police car (complete with flashing lights & rolling eyes!) that nearly matched the LAPD SUVs cruising along the sandy stretches. We also found a colorful basketball at a bargain price, and a shirt appointing Dunc a "honorary Venice lifeguard", but had to pass on some of the other less-than-savory products also for sale. We also posed in front of the Venice Beach webcam, and a quick phone call back home confirmed that we were indeed being seen on the Internet in all our blurry glory. We're famous... maybe?
Oh yeah - there's an ocean around here somewhere, isn't there? OK, we're finally getting to the Pacific, which it seems this whole place is about (well, that and oddball food, shopping, and people). We were a bit concerned that little Dunkie might be frightened or intimidated by the waves of the majestic sea as they crash upon the shores of California, but...
Ha! Not our fearless son! At his first chance, Duncan just ran lickety-split right into the waves, dancing and giggling all the way as the surf rolled over his legs (and shirt, and head, and...) His dad of course was right nearby doing the Baywatch thing, only having the sense to keep the pale skin of his rippling, um, muscles securely covered under a tasteful Route 66 shirt. This went on for more than full two hours as the 747s loudly roared westward from LAX a few miles south of us, with some breaks so that Richard could pass on his brilliant sandcastle-building expertise to the next generation, and to occasionally shoo the seagulls from some assorted snacks.
After all this splashing & sandcastle-building (and watching the inrushing tide obliterate our magnificent creation), we dried off, shook off some of the sand, and strolled back to the Sidewalk Cafe for a beachfront dinner, as the sun settled down over the Santa Monica Mountains. Then a fond farewell to the place as we walked under the hanging lights on Windward Avenue, and Bus # 1 deposited us back at the Sunbay where we could enjoy one more night of cool sea breezes (I think that's what we smell...?) and prepare for the long journey home through the relentless desert.
Beachy keen excitement in Venice
After our oceanic action yesterday, we were a bit tuckered out, and a good sleep-in would have been nice. However, the Sunbay's manager asked us nicely to be out right on time, as he had other visitors coming in before noon. So we made the final pack-up and room check, and began our journey eastward toward home. We cruised past some old hangouts of Richard's when he'd come here in the summers to visit, and then stopped for a while at a pretty green park in Culver City to let Duncan get some rompin' in before the long highway stretches that lay ahead. The play structure at this park looks like a big green castle, with a yellow path spiraling out in front of it - which seemed oddly familiar, then made perfect sense when we realized we were right across the street from the old MGM Studios site (now Sony/Columbia). We let our little munchkin climb the towers, slip down the slides, and see-saw on the teeter-totters, while dozens of other happy kids (almost all with nearly the same red-colored shirt as Duncan was wearing) scampered to and fro.
Then into the truck and on slowly through the bumper-to-bumper mess of midtown LA traffic at lunchtime, where the cars vary widely in value & colors but everyone's equal in terms of speed - slow. We inched up Fairfax past the black & white box of CBS Television City and through the African themes of Little Ethiopia and the big Hebrew-lettered signs of Fairfax Village (didn't see any "Wee Britain", though), and then had our obligatory Route 66 experience (but for only a mile and a half) on a lively and busy Santa Monica Boulevard. Then north thru the touristy throngs of Hollywood, a reasonably safe merge across 6 lanes of high-speed traffic (yes, one lane at a time) in the space of 3/4 mile on the Hollywood Freeway, another couple hilly twists and turns, and it was lunchtime!
The oldest remaining Bob's Big Boy restaurant (only 58 years young!) stands in its Googie Moderne glory on Riverside Drive in Burbank. We miraculously found a spot in the busy parking lot, ensconced ourselves in among the vinyl and Formica, and feasted on sandwiches worthy of a large endomorphic fiberglass icon. Then some dessert featuring indecent amounts of brownies and hot fudge, and back onto the scenic streets as they wend their way past the studios of Warner & Disney.
A wrong turn in Griffith Park and a loopy freeway ramp didn't deter us much, and we found ourselves in the stream of the broad 210 freeway - but this artery was clogged as the first part of rush-hour traffic (lasting about 7-8 hours these days) plugged up all the lanes (even the carpool lane, too!) We stayed on 210 past Azusa and Glendora as the traffic surged and slowed, and onto the newer segments through Cucamonga. There's one last missing link of this new freeway as it rolls from Sylmar to Redlands, and so we exited past the signs advertising the "play on the freeway day" (it was last Saturday - darn!) and cruised the streets of Rialto and San Bernardino to pick up some local flavor (that hasn't been changed by the rampant redevelopment) and some $3.07 gas.
Filled up at San Berdoo, we rolled again east onto state route 30 (210? 30? 210?) and watched the temperatures climb as we left the ocean breezes miles behind us. Onto a clogged-up I-10 we merged, and we finally made our way beyond the dinosaurs and windmills into the open desert of central California. Given the trucks and yahoos on I-10, we soon exited onto the less-frantic alternate route of Dillon Road north of the mansions and trailer parks of Palm Springs. Dillon is a road that believes in hugging the local topography, and the ups and downs of the whoopdedoos of this belly-tickling road entertained the occupants of the truck as we bypassed the hubbub of the Interstate. We ended up in Indio, where a short break at the TA refreshed us and got us a $4.99 atlas for the next trip, and then onto I-10 for the long climb out of the Coachella Valley.
When I-10 replaced old US 60/70 about 35-40 years ago, much of the old highway disappeared under the new asphalt and gleaming guardrails of the Interstate. There are a few intact stretches of the old US highway still around though, and one of them goes by the name of Chuckwalla. When Richard was a kid back in the early 70s on the family road trips to the coast, the family would chant "Chuckwalla, chuckwalla, chuckwalla..." as we passed the signs for the old highway. The signs have changed (now they say Ford Dry Lake and Corn Springs), but the old road remains, and we drove its white-centerlined length as we taught Duncan the "chuckwalla" chant, in the hope that he would pass this silly tradition on to his kids someday. We rolled to a stop in the middle of this utterly deserted highway to watch the sun go down over the mountains behind us, and let Duncan jump and hop on the old pavement as the moon began to shine brightly above and the desert critters settled in for the evening (no snakes, fortunately).
Some more freeway miles took us into the border town of Blythe, where we exited again onto old 60/70 (now B-10) past a few cool neon signs remaining from the old US highway days, and stopped to spend a few last minutes in California by enjoying an outdoor dinner under the buzzing lights of the Foster's Freeze stand. Then across the Colorado River and back into our home state for a nonstop run across the western Arizona stretch of I-10, looking at the brand-new Clearview signs that had just been installed by a project that Richard was slightly involved in. We celebrated as Truckasaurus rolled 221,000 miles on the slightly-off odometer as we passed under the flyover ramps of Loop 101, and then one last stop at the truck plaza for a last fillup (these road trips are great, but $133 in fuel in one day is a bit much) and a turn onto the high ramp onto I-17 north. Finally, with just four minutes remaining on the clock for this day, we backed into the driveway and shut off the engine, happy to be home, happy to see our happy wagging tuppy again, and happy to have enjoyed such a fun adventure.
Well, as we run off into the sunset until the next trip, we hope you enjoyed our 2000+ mile journey as much as we did - and you didn't even have to get sand in your shorts!
But not all of life's journeys are all happy times.
On June 21st, Bob Delgadillo of the Snow Cap in Seligman died of cancer, and will be sorely missed and long remembered.
As we write this, a raging wildfire is destroying some of the very places we visited in the Lake Tahoe area, and there is the threat of even worse fires before the season is through.
Please keep these people and places in your thoughts and prayers.
And another thing: Suzanne did this entire trip, including all that walking, with a broken toe. Let's hear it for such a dedicated mom & roadtripper - and for decent painkillers! :)
We have another Big Trip planned for later in 2007, to head up to Yooperland (upper Michigan) to retrieve some memorabilia from Suzanne's mother's house. Suz's mom is now in a nursing home in L'Anse, and we need to head up there to help get the old family house emptied out and ready for the next family to call it home. We're planning on another set of reports from this next trip - let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in having your inbox littered with them.
Well, back to the regular routine here in Phoenix - Richard's old office is boxed up and emptied out, and the new trailers, er, modulars await. Suzanne & Duncan are holding down the homefront, and we're all hoping to keep our cool as the temperatures soar - but they'll come down again in a few months, same as always.
And there's lots of lawn-mowing awaiting in the back yard too...
See you next time!
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