I finally began the trip after many delays, including problems getting my Rosetta Stone Spanish program running, a dead battery in the trailer, and discovering at the last minute that my kayak rudder was stuck.
I stopped at 3:00 pm in Indianola, IA, to get my rudder fixed at a kayak dealer that carries my brand. While the man and his wife worked on the kayak, I played with their 1 year old daughter, to keep her from bothering them. Boy, was she cute! I haven’t had this much contact with a baby for years and years.
The man who ran the kayak store was short and stout, with a pony tail and bare feet. Despite the freezing weather, he went outside barefoot on the ice to help me put my kayak on top of my van.
With dusk falling, I was wondering what to do about supper. Right next to where my van was parked was a Chinese takeout restaurant, with a few tables for eating in. The proprietor, of an indeterminate age, was very cordial, almost unctuous. He beconned for me to sit down. I ordered General Tsao’s chicken for $7.25,and sat to admire my surroundings.
The walls were painted fluorescent green up to about 3 feet, and orange above that. There were artificial roses made of cloth on each table, plus at the counter. On the wall hung a banner proclaiming “Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in USA,” but it looked mass-produced. A video screen flashed a series of scenic photos of China, in time to Chinese music. Except for the video, and the cellphone earpiece and microphone headset the man wore (for receiving takeout orders), the whole restaurant looked like a 1950s Chinese restaurant in a small town.
The town itself was like, say, Lodi WI, but with somewhat different architecture. Except for the miles of strip malls on the highway just outside of town, the downtown had the distinct feel of a place that had been left behind, but was struggling to hang on.
There was only one other couple dining in the restaurant. The waiter was seldom seen, in the kitchen with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. The girl brought out my check. When I left, I had a vision of the future for America. In the empty store front next door, I saw several tables arranged in rows. On the glass of the empty storefront was a big sign: “Chinese Class.”
I drove until about midnight and stopped for the night at some nameless interstate rest area. There was lots of snow on the ground in Iowa, and it was really cold that night.
I was so bored that by the time I got to Denver in the early evening, I decided to go to the movies and see "Avatar" again. I figured that lush alien jungle would be a good antidote to Nebraska in late winter.
It may have been a good thing that I did go to the movies, because a few hours later, about the time I would have been passing through, a massive landslide completely blocked I-70 in Glenwood Canyon. I got over Loveland Pass in light snow, and stopped a bit later for the night in the parking lot of some small town’s visitor center. It was snowing heavily. Inside the trailer, it was really cold again.
When I woke up in the mountains west of Denver, the trailer was covered with snow.
I drove maybe an hour to another town, where I stopped for breakfast in a MacDonald’s. This one was a cut above in décor—for example, there were old snowshoes and cross-country skis hanging on the wall, plus not many customers. So I decided to stay and check my e-mail. I stayed till mid-afternoon, making several posts on my conservation blogs.
As I pulled out of town, I heard on the radio that I-70 was closed due to the landslide, and that it would likely be closed for days. So I pulled out the map, and discovered that getting around the block would require a detour on small mountain roads of 100-200 miles. Ouch.
Interstate 70 seems to be the poor cousin on the E-W interstates. It seems to get far less traffic. Contributing factors must be the two snowy passes through the Rockies (Loveland and Vail), plus the fact that it ends on the north-south I-15 in the middle of nowhere. So I-70 doesn’t really connect Denver with anywhere important—just some ski areas and Arches National Park. And now the avalanche in twisting Glenwood Canyon.
So I bit the bullet, and turned north off the interstate. I had to stay constantly alert on the winding roads, with the threat of cattle on the road—signs announced “open range.” Then, I had a long spate of 25 mph and traffic when I passed through Steamboat Springs. Night fell, and at one point, I noticed that the stars were startlingly bright. I drove till 12:30 am to just short of Green River, UT, and slept at a rest area. I set two alarms, hoping to get up after 7 hours and catch up some lost time.
I slept through both alarms and woke up at about 11:30 am. The reason: Due to the blocked traffic to my East, there was hardly any traffic, and not a single semi in the rest area. Usually the rest areas are quite noisy from idling diesel engines. But this morning, it was as quiet as camping in the woods. In addition, it was much warmer, more comfortable for sleeping. The bad news that during all that extra sleep, I was dreaming that I was photographing a wedding, where everything was going wrong.
When I arose and looked out the trailer, I was surrounded by snowy buttes. Some where slightly shrouded in fog. In the parking lot, a man in full western garb, including cowboy boots, was walking his Shetland sheepdog to his pickup truck. The dog was romping around in the usual frenetic activity you see in that breed. From his dog, I surmised the man was probably not a cowboy but a “sheepboy.” That word definitely has a less-romantic ring to it—unless, somehow, the man manages to find the romance somewhere.
As I started to leave the rest stop, I noticed the wheel on my trailer was wobbling. On inspection, it showed some damage, plus the bearing was loose. So I drove 30 miles to Green River, where I found a mechanic. A very pleasant young mechanic named Earl fixed it for only $21. While filling out the bill, and noting my name, he said: “Are you related to anyone in town?”
“I notice the last town was named Thompson. Are there a lot of Thompsons in town?”
“Am I going to get the Thompson discount?”
“Oh, I charge him triple.”
“I’ll pass on the discount this time.”
Not far ahead, I saw the reason why. Two FedEx double trailers were sprawled across the highway, having spun out of control on the ice.
The ice soon cleared up, but it continued snowing off and on for a hundred miles, almost until I reached St. George. Just before that city, the snow suddenly vanished. I was now in the Dixie of the west.
I stopped to photograph the Mormon Temple at St. George, all white and lit up with spotlights. A group of “nice young men” in suits and ties waved at me. Inside, visible through huge windows, and underneath a triple-life sized statue of Jesus, was cheery young woman, telling a group of visitors about “God’s plans for the Human Family.”
A bit later at the gas station, I saw many people representing the other culture from just across the desert, the Gomorrah of Las Vegas. St. George is a kind of mixing pot, where Mormons and Gamblers rub shoulders. I stopped about midnight about 45 min. west of Las Vegas at a roadside rest.
I got up abut 7:00, ate breakfast. As I drove across the Mojave Desert towards Los Angeles, I was impressed with its stark beauty, only a little spoiled by power lines. After a while, I suddenly noticed that it was greening up—with a fine, short, sparse grass almost everywhere, giving everything a faint greenish tint. There were also strange fields of sand dunes in a few places on the mountain tops. After a while, a strong wind came up, and blew clouds of dust off the dry lake beds, sending it towards the mountains. Now I’m at a Starbucks in Barstow, the first major outpost of LA civilization. Very funky, with people speaking Spanish, and French around me. A huge mix of people, from rich to poor, some young women in styles almost as extreme as the runway of a fashion show.
The fellow next to me in Starbucks is speaking both Spanish and heavily accented English. He says he is from Ontario, a town about 50 miles west of here. He was born in the US.
It took the rest of the day to get to the border, longer than I anticipated. Once I got into the LA and San Diego area, traffic was heavy, as expected. The freeway around San Diego was 10 lanes wide. The descent from the Mojave Desert into the communities like San Bernardino and Riverside was steep and dramatic. High, snow-capped mountains loomed in the distance--I presume the San Bernardino Mts. As I got into the San Diego area, it was quite pretty, with steep, small mountains and hills, green from recent rain. There were of course lots of condos and other development, but also naturally vegetated hillsides, plus a few orange groves, and wineries. And always, the mansions on the hilltops. Passing San Diego, I got eventually onto Campo Rd., which quickly became rural, winding around the steep and treeless hillsides as I headed back east towards the border.
Campo Rd. was almost a throwback to the 1960s or earlier--that rural California that has mostly disappeared. Just at sundown, I rolled into the little town of Potrero opposite Tecate on the US side. The temperature was surprisingly cold, perhaps in the 40s, and signs of fresh rain on the streets, billowing clouds hinging over the mountains. After a while, I found the library in Potrero back from the border, where I'm writing these words. It's a great library, with very helpful librarians, and blazingly fast wireless internet. Nearly all the patrons are speaking Spanish. Tonight I'll spend the night in the library parking lot, fill up my tank with water there, and cross the border.