Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thanksgiving and the long drive…

Vicky and I did a lot of driving together last week, which is a bafflingly expansive understatement if ever there was one. We, of course, decided that we’d drive up to Washington, rather than fly. Flying would have nearly doubled our expenses, something we couldn’t afford.

Driving all that way – Anaheim to Seattle is about 1200 miles, after all... most of the time – wasn’t exactly our idea of fun but, as explained, it was our only option.

The first leg, we decided to split in two. On the first day, we left home after 9am and hit traffic in LA and Stockton. We were glad when we pulled up to the La Quinta in Redding later that night. As Vicky checked in, we asked the girl about the restaurant next door. “Is it any good?” “Yeah. We all like it,” she said. Wearing my grubby, driving clothes, I asked her if I’d need to change. She said, “No. You’re in Redding.” Nice town.

And the food was fantastic! The restaurant, Cattlemens, was quiet and warm – we loved the warmth and it was only our first day out! We each ordered Pete’s Special… okay, here’s the thing. If you live close enough, go to this place. Fantastic! Big, juicy Harris Ranch steak (healthy meat = good steak!), aged so well we didn’t even need steak sauce. Spuds. Veggies. Beans. Bread. And a glass of this incredible, Bonterra organic wine. With it, we ordered the artichoke/cheese dip and walked out of there for about $40!! Not bad!

Okay, enough about dinner. We hit the sack stuffed and woke up not too early the next day. We started off at nearly 8am on Wednesday and made pretty good time into the mountains and over the pass. That ended south of Salem, Oregon. Traffic was stop and STOP! Vicky was flinching every time we had to stop again. (She had issues with me looking at the scenery. But, come on, when you’re driving less than a mile an hour…) From our stopping point and all the way north through Portland was over 40 miles, and we crawled the entire way. Vicky was ready to kill – basically anyone – just to get out of the car for five minutes, her own personal edition of the “nic fit”. Strangely though, as soon as we hit the Washington border, traffic opened up again and we were moving. But what we didn’t know was that we were moving with great speed into a rather unpleasant rain storm and, for over 50-60 miles leading up to Seattle, we drove through some absolutely horrible rain with some of the craziest drivers (one a double-trailer Fed Ex truck that thought it was in Nascar) along side of us. Finally, Vicky put on her iPod, I think to stop herself from screaming (at me – at the road – does it matter?), and I turned off the music to concentrate on making out the road in the midst of the deluge. At around 8pm, we pulled into Lynnwood and our hotel.

Vicky hated the drive because, for her, it was more of a ride than a drive. She didn’t like riding along all that way without anything to do. But she had more than her opportunity on the way back. We knew the drive back would be worse weeks ago. Simply, we’d need to do it in one shot – we’d have less than a day – though I’d done that a few times, Vicky must have thought I was kidding.

I wasn’t.

I awoke especially early on Sunday morning. We had come home from Dwight’s wedding the night before to find Titanic on TV… and Vicky wanted to watch it. Damn. I hate that movie. I’ve never been a fan of watching anyone (even Republicans) die slow, painful deaths and that’s all Titanic is, basically. Worse still, I awoke at 3am Sunday morning from a nightmare, watching Vicky’s face sinking into her watery grave. I didn’t go back to sleep.

I awoke Vicky at 4am and we dressed and packed and were ready to leave at 4:30. We were supposed to leave at 5am, but I talked her into an earlier departure time… and I’m glad I did. North of Tacoma and all the way until we were far south of Puget Sound, snow fell, a goodly accumulation of it. Vicky took the first driving shift and I was none too pleased to watch as she sped into the downfall – I got a taste of what she must have felt on Wednesday night as I sped through even harder rain. She told me not to worry but she wasn’t fooling me. I was just thankful when we hit Salem again and pulled up to the Almost Home restaurant for breakfast. Good grub!

I took over the driving after, not knowing what I was in for!

Dad and I had talked over the options for the drive south after I found out how much the chance for rain in the passes had increased. By Sunday, it was a sure thing; we wouldn’t be driving through the Siskiyous on the way home. My first thought was to take the 97 but Dad was certain that, with the way it was raining, my only safe bet would be to drive west, via the 199, to keep the snow behind us. The 199 connected with the 101 and this would have been a safe bet for driving home but we were also concerned with speed. We had to get home faster than the 101 would have taken us. And so, despite even Steve’s warning (he’s my dad-in-law) about how we should have stayed away from the 299, I decided to trade comfort for time and take the 299 once we reentered California. My reasoning was this: The 299 was a 2-lane but Sunday traffic shouldn’t have been too bad. The big storm dumping rain and snow in Oregon and Washington was forecast to stop at the border. And, finally, I needed to shave every unnecessary mile off that I could because Vicky had to get to work on Monday and I wasn’t going to have her blaming me if she couldn’t.

The 199 split from the 5 freeway in Grant’s Pass. I was ready for a switch in drivers already by the time we reached that point. But I wasn’t going to say anything to Vicky because I’d promised to take this unknown stretch and let her rest. My first clue as to how this drive would go should have been when I saw snow-warning signs on the 199, the western road with the lower elevation. What I didn’t know was that the storm was moving much further south than forecast and that Vicky and I were heading straight into it.

The 199 was an exhausting road, made for scenery – and we weren’t seeing any of it, just rain. At the California border, the road entered Smith River Park, filled with redwoods and started to wind through river valleys and around mossy hillsides. It hit the 101 at Crescent City and Vicky and got out for a much-needed stretch and potty break. (Yes… I said “potty”.) But when we walked out… the rain had turned into a deluge to make Noah blush. Vicky asked, “What do you want to do?” “Keep driving,” I told her.

There was a lot of traffic on the road – a lot more than I liked, at least. Soon, we entered the Redwood National Park. Gorgeous? Yes. Fast, what with the other cars and the torrential flooding? No.

But! We saw elk!


At points, we could see the Pacific, roiling untitularly. This storm was not nice. And it seemed to take forever to reach the 299. On the map, the distance had seemed so short! (Inches!)

By the time we reached the 299, I was tired but I didn’t want to tell Vicky. Our GPS said that we only had about 150 miles to go. I could make it, I told myself. But you put two tired people in a car for that long – the sun was going down – and tensions flare. By the time we were past the coast and past the forest and well into the mountains…

… any arguing had stopped…

And here’s why. We were in another snowstorm. And either the clouds had dropped enough or our altitude had climbed enough (signs designating 2000 and 3000 feet kept popping up on the roadside) to put us in a cloudbank. And it was dark out. And I couldn’t really see the road. And I was tired. And people kept whizzing by… To Vicky’s credit, she never said she told me so… or that her father had. To my credit, I kept my speed up, gritted my teeth, ignored my paranoia towards driving off of cliffs, and kept going. I had hoped that our detour would put us in Redding by 6pm.

At 6:45, we pulled into Redding. Not too bad if I do say so myself… and I do…

But we still had an incredibly long way to go. After a quick bite at Carl’s Jr, Vicky took us the next leg of the drive. The rain even stopped for a few minutes. We thought we were past the storms. Little did we realize. The rain kept coming back, now and again, our entire way home! Somewhere south of Santa Nella (Pea Soup Anderson’s!), Vicky ran out of steam and I took over again. It was around midnight and Vicky was too tired to listen to any CDs or the radio. I drove on in silence.

Boy, was that a bad idea! The only thing keeping me awake were my imaginary conversations with the other cars and snippets of songs half-remembered. Vicky told me she was never fully asleep so she must have really worried to hear my improvised sketches and conversation – ANYTHING to keep me awake! (Okay... not anything...)

Arriving at the Grapevine took forever and traffic picked up. We entered another patch of rain all through the mountains and I was too tired to take the road quickly. I kept our speed down to an ungodly 65 mph and grumbled at all the people flashing their high beams at the asshole going the speed limit.

After Magic Mountain, Vicky awoke and, together, we passed the last few miles home. I was ready to pass out at any moment and only kept myself awake and driving thanks to the acid reflux causing intense pain.

We pulled up in front of our house at 3:45am… we’d been driving for nearly a day straight… which, coincidentally, is just about enough to make me never want to do that again.

People joked about us killing each other on the road but we actually made it pretty well. At least, well enough not to need to prove it again!

... and, no. Vicky did not go to work on Monday.


Jenn from WA said...

10 years ago you and vic would have been able to do that drive without any issues. Now, well now, we're old.

Greg said...

Hi Kenneth,

I enjoyed your travelogue. I am former Executive Director of the Smith River Project, and I now run the Siskiyou Land Conservancy. Both organizations have a lot to do with protecting much of the land you and Vicky drove through in Northwestern California. I would like to send you more information about our work, for even though you got rained on, and couldn't enjoy it much, this territory is some of the most beautiful, biologically diverse and ecologically important in the world.

Please see: for more information.

Yes, we are seeking donations. We rely on donors from outside the area to keep our programs afloat. Our work benefits all Californians, and Americans. Can you help?

Donations may be sent to:

Siskiyou Land Conservancy
P.O. Box 4209
Arcata, CA 95518

We are a non-profit organization, and all donations are tax deductible.

Thanks for your good writing, keep it up!

Greg King
President/Program Director
Siskiyou Land Conservancy