Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Getting There

Now that I have established my base of operations in distant (if not exotic) Port Angeles, you may ask yourself, "how the hell does this maniac get there?" Well, it's not such a chore if you're patient and generally love to be behind the wheel, as I am. So dear reader, here's a rough example and a timeline for getting from Port Angeles to Reno.

First off, there is no single way to get there. Add up the number of different combinations of which highway to take, which pass to cross through either the Cascades or Siskiyous/Sierras, and whether or not I have to stop for a meal or a purchase, and the possibilities are damn near endless. But for arguments' sake, I'll just go with my usual route.

3:30am: I'm just rolling out of bed, and the first thing I go to is my computer. The latest weather reports, specifically for those mountainous areas that I'll have to pass through, are utterly mandatory this time of year. Come spring and summer, I won't give a fat rat's ass about pass conditions, but right now that knowledge is paramount. Following that comes the shower and food prep, usually a mess of sandwiches for the trip to come.

4:45 - 5:00am: Departure from Port Angeles, eastbound on US101. Traffic at this time of day, no matter what day it is, will be almost nonexistent for quite some time, switching from US-101 to WA-104. After about an hour I cross the Hood Canal Floating Bridge and head south on WA-3. I finally see some traffic passing through Silverdale and Bremerton, and switch onto WA-16 in Gorst. By the way, times will be marked as (+h:mm) from departure the rest of the way, so just adapt.

+1:40: The turnoff at Gorst is actually pretty important at this point. Turning onto WA-16 here sends me to Tacoma, and the only toll I'll have to pay on the entire route at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. So if I'm short on cash, I may skip the $4 toll bridge and remain on WA-3 to its end in Shelton, where I rejoin US-101 (which slowly winds its way along the west side of Hood Canal to reach Shelton) and pick up Interstate 5 in Olympia, instead of in Tacoma, 30 miles further north. But I've got cash and cross the Narrows at about (+2:10). If I'm travelling on a weekday, I'll hit the morning commute in Tacoma as WA-16 crosses over Nalley Valley and intersects I-5.

+2:20 - 4:00: This is a pretty straight shot down I-5, passing through Olympia, Centralia/Chehalis, Kelso/Longview, and Vancouver before crossing into Oregon at Portland's Jantzen Beach neighborhood. Even though I'm in the midst of the morning commute, Portland's effective mass-transit systems have significantly reduced traffic levels on I-5 to the point where passing through Portland is of no great concern.

+4:00 - 5:30: Portland passes by, and I climb up to the broad plateau of the Willamette River Valley. I-5 takes me south through Salem, Albany, and finally Eugene. It's getting on towards lunch right about now, and some of my favorite joints in Eugene are opening for the day, like Three Forks Grill and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Also, Eugene is my last chance to buy any equipment I may need from Guitar Center (taking advantage of not having to pay sales tax in Oregon) before I hit Nevada. But instead, I pass straight on through, and take Exit 189 to get on OR-58 to clear Willamette Pass and cross into Central Oregon.

Now, I have to digress for a moment and talk about fuel. It takes a lot of gas to get me where I need to go. My redoubtable little Ranger gets about 26-30mpg, efficient by truck standards, but enough to make me miss my little Suzuki Swift hatchback (aka The Atomic Jellybean) and its 46-50mpg. But fuel stops still have to happen. I usually stop at AM/PMs and nothing but unless the prices are better somewhere else. So I should go back to the beginning and mention that while I'm online, I also check gas prices for pretty much every step of the way, which has a footprint reaching from Port Angeles to as far as Sacramento before landing in Reno.

+5:30 - 7:00: The deep forests of the Oregon Cascades are beautiful, but generally block the signal of my satellite-radio unit, which sucks generous amounts of ass. Clearing the highest pass in the Oregon Cascades (just past 5,200 feet) eventually drops me on to the high plateau above the Klamath River Basin, and OR-58 merges on to US-97 about 9 miles north of Chemult, where a Pilot truck stop frequently beckons to me to drain the lizard, grab a Subway sub and fill the gas tank. I hate gassing up in Oregon because you're not allowed to fill your own tank there. This usually screws up my gas-mileage estimates because of a tiny hole in the fuel-delivery hose prevents the pump-jockey from topping off the tank without causing a huge mess of spilled fuel.

+7:00 - 8:10: US-97 becomes a virtual dragstrip as police presence drops to almost nothing for the first 50 miles between Chemult and Klamath Falls, then the headlong rush becomes a sedate, no-I'm-not-doing-anything-illegal-officer 55mph from the McKenzie River Valley south to Klamath Lake, and eventually Klamath Falls itself. K-Falls is usually my last fuel stop of the trip, as what few hamlets I pass by along the rest of the way feature fuel prices that would bankrupt anyone short of a millionaire.

+8:15 - 9:15: The Klamath Basin gives way to the eastern foothills of the Siskiyous and Sierras, and the oddest thing that you might come across if you don't pass through this area very often: Fruit Inspection Checkpoints. Every highway has a booth alongside the road, a few miles in from any towns close to California's borders. Y'see, fruit and vegetables brought in from out-of-state could potentially harbor bugs, spores, and other pests that could potentially be a danger to the state's massive agricultural base. So they pull over every vehicle that passes through and ask the driver if they're carring any fresh fruit or vegetables and/or their destination. Since I generally don't do so, I usually tell the nice person that the only vegetable onboard is the one doing the driving. That never fails to get a smile and a wave through. A few miles past the 'fruit stand' on CA-139 (which started out life as OR-39) is my last real question of the trip. A turnoff only marked for the villages of Lookout and Bieber (Modoc County Road 85, I think) promises a shortcut of nearly 40 miles from staying on CA-139, turning east on CA-299 near Canby, then turning south onto US-395 at Alturas for the remainder of the journey. But the little county road is bumpy and narrow, and potentially icy and snowy in winter, whereas US-395 presents little hazard to me. But the weather is fine, so onto the County Road I go.

+9:15 - 12:45: The foothills are treacherous and windy, but of no great challenge through most seasons. The scenery is beautiful, but of little interest to me. Lookout passes by as no more than few houses on a hill near the road, and Bieber is a hamlet a mile or so to the west of me as I cross CA-299 and continue along the County Road to eventually rejoin CA-139, bypassing some nasty roads I'd rather avoid no matter the season. CA-139 passes through BLM land as well as the Modoc National Forest and skirts the eastern shore of Eagle Lake before eventually depositing me into Susanville and CA-36, eastbound for Reno.

+12:45 - 14:15: By this time, I'm pretty much running on little more than caffeine and willpower. Fortunately, the going is easy as CA-36 runs into US-395 a few miles east of Susanville, and the final 70 miles or so to Bordertown is uneventful, passing by little hamlets with names like Janesville, Milford, Herlong, and Doyle before blessed freeway returns at the appropriately-named Hallelujah Junction. Eventually my goal slides into view, the reflection of the lights of the Truckee Meadows off clouds and sky preceding the actual view long before then.

+14:15 - ?: Now it's just a matter of finding where the final resting place will be, but not before grabbing my gear at my storage unit, and maybe getting a quick bite to eat somewhere. In a few days, that somewhere will likely be in Carson City at the Carson Station. At least there, Lupe will make up a killer burrito for me, followed by a well-deserved slumber.

Well, there you have it. It's a long day. Ridiculously long. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do to make a buck. So if you happen to be in Carson City sometime between February 3rd and the 13th, come by the Station and tell me what a crazed maniac I am, willya?

1 comment:

  1. I used to commute in a Red Atomic Jellybean - 3 cylinders and great gas mileage! I took the passenger seat out and, with the hatch back, it had lots of room for my gear. A bit of a shock to the pocket book when its service life ended and I had to drive something else.
    Wow, Joe - that is some trip you have to take!