As I mentioned previously, breakfast was already taken care of as we were staying right next to the Cracker Barrel. So, after a nice egg-laden repast, we set forth on the next leg of our journey. We were California bound.
Most of New Mexico, as those who live there or have visited can attest, is desert. So is Arizona, unsurprisingly. I'm not complaining - it's beautiful! It is, however, uneventful. So, all we really did that day was drive, stop for gas, food, and beverages. Nice big cold ones. Kristy has always been of the 'as-much-ice-as-you-can-get-into-the-cup' mindset. I, however, being British and still regarding ice machines as one of the wonders of modern technology, require just a small amount. My thinking is, the less ice you have the more room for the drink! Maybe I'm just cheap. Ah well. I digress.
So, after one of our stops, we drive on, post-bevvie, and Kristy naps. A good while later, she wakes up and we are still driving across the desert, in fact it was Saguaro National Park. Without saying a word, she leans over to her cup, which has just a little ice left in the bottom and nothing else. I am driving and keeping my eye on the road, but I can see with my peripheral vision what she's up to. She holds up the cup to her ear, shakes it, then peers down the straw, then back to the ear for another shake, then down the straw again. She repeats this process once again, and puts the cup back in its holder. Leaning over to me, and putting her lips up close to my ear, she bellows, "THIRSTY!!"
My response is something along these lines - "Well, dear, as you can see, we are in the middle of a large desert with no buildings, including gas stations or convenience stores as far as the human eye can see. When I see such a place, mayhap I will pull over and you can then avail yourself of some ice cold refreshment."
The reply comes back, "THIRSTY!!"
"Well, " I started to say, but was interrupted by a regular stream of "THIRSTY! THIRSTY! THIRS-TEE!!!"
This went on for a few minutes, with me not knowing whether to act serious or laugh out loud, and simultaneously doing both.
After a while it got quiet.
Now I am not sure if everyone reading this is familiar with the show Wings. Those who are will likely recall the character of Carlton Blanchard portrayed by the late great William Hickey, best known as the aging Don in Prizzi's Honor and Uncle Lewis in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
In the Wings episode "Das Plane" Blanchard wins a contest for a free flight anywhere. Since the Hackett brothers neglected to specify 'anywhere that Sandpiper flies' Blanchard talks them into flying to Las Cruces, New Mexico. With Antonio and Lowell in tow, they fly there, during which they crash in a cornfield in Iowa, and finally end up in Las Cruces to meet Milford, Carlton Blanchard's brother whom he has not seen in 50 years. During their flight Carlton Blanchard annoys everyone, especially Antonio, by asking hundreds of inane questions such as, "What do you suppose they do with those little pieces of metal they punch out when they make a flute? "
I encourage everyone who has not seen it to do so. It will make you laugh until you cry.
So, we're driving across the desert, as I said, and Kristy has informed me in no uncertain terms that she is a little parched. Suddenly, after a few minutes, she points at a small mountain (or large hill, if you want to see it that way) off in the distance, and says, putting on a Blanchard voice as she does so, "Say... see that mountain over there?"
"Yes," I said.
"How much d'you think it weighs?"
"Umm, I have no idea."
"On a Saturday afternoon, in the middle of August, about 3 o'clock, how many people d'you suppose drive past that big mountain?"
"Ummm, dear... how would I know?"
Oh Lord. Here we go.
"... if a monkey were to bite you, what kind of shot do you think they would give you?"
And on it went. For about 25 minutes. Finally, joy of joys, I see a gas station and we can pull off and cease this line of questioning.
We carried on till we got to California, and stopped in a little town just inside the State Line called Blythe, which sits on the Colorado River. We found the Motel 6 and settled in for the night.
I love Denny's. An institution as American as Debbie Reynolds. Denny's gets a bad rap sometimes, but you cannot beat it for sheer amount of food. My wife and I both agree on this... Denny's is awesome.
The morning of Day Five we ate at Denny's, just down the road from the hotel, and took off. We were headed to LA, where we would pick up I-5 and follow it all the way to Washington. Today our drive would take us past Joshua Tree National Park, where I would endure yet more Carlton Blanchard-style questioning. After that, the drive would take us to Palm Springs, where I noticed a bunch of windmills up on top of a hill. I'm naturally curious, and I've always been a bit of a green pinko Commie liberal recycler, so I said, out loud, "Wow, look at that wind farm." At that point it hit me that a wind farm is usually placed in a windy area. As if reading my thoughts, the wind then picked up with a big gust, and here I am driving a large heavy object on wheels with a flat side, something akin to a sail. For the next few minutes, steering the big rig was incredibly difficult, as Mother Nature was trying to force me off the road. Once we got past that area the wind calmed down and we headed straight towards LA and of course, rush hour traffic.
We all know what rush hour is like when driving a regular car. Driving a big truck in rush hour traffic and towing a regular car behind us is indescribable. I can't remember much about it. All I know is I was glad when it was over.
Now it was getting toward dusk and we stopped to eat, I can't remember where. We decided to keep going as far as we could before stopping for the night as we were anxious to get to our destination after being on the road for so long. My left leg, not being used for anything while I sat in the driver's seat 12 hours a day or more, would go numb, as would my butt. We pushed on northwards until I had to pull into a rest stop, as I could see several sets of white lines in the road and I couldn't make them join back together. Kristy didn't want to sit in a rest stop next to all these truckers so she got out and I moved over, and she got in and drove for a couple hours so I could sleep. Finally we stopped in a town called Williams, just north of Sacramento, and found a motel.
DAY SIX - Homeward Bound!
Now we were in Northern California, and all was smooth sailing until round about the town of Redding. Here is where you can find Shasta Dam, the 2nd largest and highest concrete structure in the USA, and a source of some controversy since its opening in 1944, when a Native American tribe, the Winnemem Wintu, lost a lot of land including burial grounds and other sacred sites for which they have yet to be compensated and also they have yet be allotted any land which was promised to them over 60 years ago. Shasta Dam is incredible to look at though. But we were starting to go endlessly uphill and the poor old U-Haul was not happy. Slower and slower we went, up, up, uuuuuuppp. "Dear God, " I thought, "please don't break down."
After a while we figured out how to drive these hilly areas, and soon we were at Mt. Shasta, driving these mountain passes and looking at the scenery. Suddenly I saw a sign that made a warm fuzzy feeling come over me. The sign? "ESPRESSO". At long last! I was home! Back then (1998) Starbucks had not really made the inroads into the South that it now has. It took us until we were in Northern California before we found good coffee. That's a bit sad, isn't it?
After fueling up (the place was next to a gas station) we headed on. Pushing northward through beautiful green Oregon, we finally crossed the big bridge at Portland into Washington around 11 p.m. and were immediately hit by a wall of the most inhuman fog you ever saw. This stuff was thick, even thicker than the fog in my school's production of "Oliver!" on the first night when they hadn't got all the bugs worked out of the fog machine. I mean, it was a 'real pea-souper'! My natural instinct, only being able to see 4ft in front of me, was to put my bright headlights on. This only made the fog brighter, but just as difficult to see through. For about the next hour I drove at a snail's pace until it finally cleared.
We got to Olympia and gassed up for the last time. It was at this point that a kindly soul who was also gassing up pointed out to me that the brake on my tow dolly was on.
I had been driving with it on the whole time.
Have you ever felt really, really stupid and embarrassed? I started to think to myself, no wonder it was such tough going up those hills! No wonder people were giving me funny looks as they passed me! Ack!
So, with the brake now off, we headed to Lake Stevens. We got in at around 4 am, and decided to leave unpacking for the next day. But we weren't going to bed yet - I had been waiting all this time to give Kristy her Christmas presents and I wasn't going to be satisfied until she opened them, dang it! For weeks I had been buying little gifts here and there and adding them to a big big box, along with confetti, streamers, sprinkles, noisemakers and party poppers. I sat her down and made her open everything. Lots of little bottles of perfume, books, teas, etc. were crammed in there and we spent a good half hour opening everything. I had done it. I had achieved surprise. Finally, when we were about to start using matchsticks to prop our eyelids open a la Tom & Jerry, we decide to get some sleep. There was some serious unpacking to do tomorrow. And now, we had stories to tell our friends, our kids, and our grandkids.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” - John Steinbeck
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” - St. Augustine
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” - Mark Twain
“Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover / Breath’s aware that will not keep. / Up, lad: when the journey’s over there’ll be time enough to sleep.” - A. E. Housman