Over the past several days, I’ve been working my way down California and into the desert segment of my itinerary, where I will be spending the majority of the remainder of this trip.
Saturday / Day 19: Redwood National Park, Black Rock Desert / Burning Man Playa, Reno, Carson City, Lake Tahoe, Echo Lake
Sunday / Day 20: Echo Lake, Sacramento, San Francisco
Monday / Day 21: San Francisco, Yosemite National Park / El Capitan, Fresno, Sequoia National Park / General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Forest
Tuesday / Day 22: Sequoia National Forest, Death Valley National Park, Las Vegas, Flagstaff
Wednesday / Day 23: Flagstaff, Sedona / Cathedral Rock, Flagstaff
Reaching the Playa at Black Rock Desert was my first real taste of the desert. The drive in on County Rd. 447 was extremely relaxing as I went approximately 90 minutes without seeing a single other vehicle (in either direction) or even another human being.
Although the heat was unbearable, I still found myself curiously interested in attending Burning Man. In a lot of ways, I think the visit to the Playa sort of de-mystified Burning Man for me. Plus I now have more experience camping out, living outdoors, and meeting the sorts of people who would attend Burning Man. It is highly unlikely that I could attend this year, under the circumstances. But I would like to make a return trip at some point in the future.
I’m going to attempt to describe the indescribable. Between Black Rock Desert and Reno, my GPS navigator took me off the highway and onto a dirt road. I wasn’t paying close attention to the overall route, but I accepted the direction. Being put out onto dirt roads is hardly novel, and it looked like GPS was trying to move me to another highway.
However, the dirt road became much more than a nuisance, with several bumps and dips that nearly rendered the path impassable. It u=quickly became clear to me that this was an ATV trail, not a vehicle path. At a turn in the path, GPS told me to continue for two miles. There was no way I was going to make that!
But then, almost as quickly as it told me to go for two miles, it then told me to make a turn in 800 feet. I looked at the GPS skeptically as I inched forward. My avatar did not move across the map. I realized that GPS no longer had a solid fix on me. I kept lumbering on, but there was no clear path after 800 feet. As I looked off into the distance, I could see that this path wasn’t taking me to another highway – even at two miles out. It was clearly taking me into the mountains.
I zoomed out the GPS view and it appeared that the navigator took me off the highway onto what it interpreted as an access road, and was planning to take me right back to the same highway it had just pulled me off from. Except there was no traffic – no slowdown to justify putting me on an access road in the first place! Let alone an access road that plain and simple did not exist. I did a treacherous one-eighty and found my way back to the highway, cursing my GPS navigator in a manner like I’ve never cursed before. That bumps and dips along the path it had strung me along were so severe that they nearly knocked me out of commission.
San Francisco – Sue & Chris
I spent the day on Sunday with long-time Internet friend Sue St. Blaine and her husband, Chris Chambers. It was the first time I had met either one in person, and I got a long hiking tour of San Francisco (and good exercise, but beaten calves that ache to this day).
Death Valley, Circuitous Mountain Passages, and Acrophobia
I’ve climbed ladders, I’ve climbed scaffolding, I’ve been at the tops of skyscrapers, I’ve played on roofs, I’ve been a passenger on aircraft, and I’ve even piloted aircraft. That it should be driving along winding mountain roads on the edges of cliffs that instills a sense of acrophobia in me kind of boggles my mind, but it does seem to be happening.
After spending so many days on long and winding mountain roads, I can honestly report that I’m sick to death of it. I’m tired of driving at 15-25 miles an hour. I’m sick of the g-forces. I have had so many near-misses with other vehicles that it’s a statistical miracle that I haven’t been in an accident (yet).
In contrast, I loved driving out to Black Rock Desert. And I loved driving through Death Valley National Park. Death Valley was not a landscape of rolling sand dunes as far as the eye can see, like I thought it would be. Instead, it was a delightful roller coaster through some shallow mountains with long stretches of straight line roads (with little traffic). It was nice to be able to sit back and just drive. At times, I felt like a passenger, not a driver.
Although I really don’t have much to say in words, I would like to take a moment to say just how beautiful the city of Sedona Arizona is. Sedona is about five miles north of Cathedral Rock (another beautiful site) and has one of the more distinctive and charming aesthetics I’ve seen on the road.
More Hitchers – Colt, John, and Cricket
I mentioned Colt, the second hitcher I picked up for a brief time in Wyoming. I’m pleased that he has recently reached out an established contact with me.
Upon reaching California, I suddenly saw several hitchhikers after a bit of a dry spell. But for various reasons, I passed on the first few because my instincts told me to. I finally picked up John – my third passenger. I can’t remember exactly where and when – I might be able to cobble that information out later when I go through all of my maps, photos, posts, and notes. But I took him about 20 minutes to his home. I gave him my information, but so far haven’t heard from him.
Then, around Kingman Arizona, I picked up Cricket and her dog, Redwood. I brought her to Flagstaff where we camped out for the night. She then peeled off for Albuquerque while I was staying in the area to head to Sedona. Her and I are already connected digitally. And I’ve just got to say that watching Remy and Redwood play with each other was a real delight. They had such great chemistry together.
I had no realistic expectation that I would be able to make it on a 15,000 mile road trip without some form of vehicle maintenance. Rapidly approaching the 100,000 mile mark, it was inevitable that I would need new brakes. At Sequoia National Park, my brakes began to grind, but once I got out of the park, the grinding stopped. The next day in Death Valley National Park, applying the brakes caused an alarming wobbling and vibrating sensation. But again, it stopped.
Having lost the van and being out in the desert, I was not about to take chances. In Las Vegas, I ponied up almost $800 for new brakes. The new brakes seem fine, but the repair has effectively rendered my cruise control useless. I’ll need to decide if I want to detour to another shop to get that corrected.
It’s a Dry Heat
Having spent time now in the desert southwest, I now understand what people mean when they say “it’s a dry heat”. It is more tolerable than cooler temperatures at higher humidity (which we’re quite used to in Wisconsin). However, the blazing sun can still make even a dry heat unbearable. Out in the open, it feels like the sun is slow-roasting my skin (even with sunscreen). Inside the cab of the vehicle, it’s a greenhouse which requires non-stop use of air conditioning to maintain habitability.
And, I’ve just got to say that I’m sick of the dust. After 23 days, I’ve only seen good, soaking rains on three days. Most days have been bright and sunny – especially in the Plains States. The result is that everywhere is dry and dusty. I keep praying for more rain to help settle the dust down.
On account of detours and slowing down in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been able to slow down quite a bit and put myself on track to do 2,000 miles per week. About four times as fast as I originally intended, but acceptable under the circumstances.
But now, being in the desert southwest, there won’t be many more opportunities to find cool spots to camp out. That means we’ll be logging more miles per day, which will accelerate the overall pace. At this point, I’ve got about 5,600 miles left on this trip. But I don’t expect it to last much more than two weeks from now.
All Decisions on Hold Until last 250 Miles of the Trip
As noted in previous blog posts, I’ve been thinking about my residential and occupational options after this trip. Strangely – as I head into the final phases of this trip – I am not thinking about it as much, even though needing to make decisions is imminent. And the reason is – I really can’t make any decisions until I’ve had a chance to meet with certain colleagues. And that won’t happen until the last 250 miles of my trip – in other words, either the day my trip ends or maybe the day before.