FIRST EPISODE IN THE TALE OF THE
ROUND TRIP TO THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA
FROM RICHLAND, WASHINGTON
A trip to California was necessary for me to figure out my articles on the Internet so I cleared my calendar, packed up my computer, mouse, and keyboard and headed for Thousand Oaks. Daniel, who has twenty five years experience with software, hardware, and programming, put the Sherer's into cyberspace. I needed some coaching and flat out help with the websites I work on for the McNary NWR, www.nwr.mcnary.wa.us; Atheists of Washington State, www.atheistwa.org; Feminist activism, www.fire.benton.wa.us/; news and views of the Pacific Northwest, www.salmonriver.com: and this one of the family, close and extended, www.sherer.org.
I am an early riser and planned to start as soon as I could shower and pack my cooler. That turned out to be around six am. Dan had driven from his home in Thousand Oaks in June a year ago when he joined his other siblings to construct a security fence for me around my back yard. On his return trip he decided that taking US 97 across Oregon would shorten his driving time and suggested I use it. I cut across Kennewick on back streets with as few stop signs as I could find and headed up US 395 to I-82 going to Umatilla.
My favorite route from there is Washington SR 14 following the north side of the Columbia river with Lewis & Clark pointing the way west along the way. There are scenic ups and downs and gentle curves above the railroad on which hundreds of freight cars behind multiple diesel engines chugged, some westbound some eastbound, taking turns on the same tracks. The west bound ones I passed were loaded with two containers per flatbed with names looking suspiciously like Japanese. Eastbound trains on August 19 were struggling with a quarter mile of boxcars labeled with many rail lines from all over the US. Crows guided me through the sunbaked and sometimes burned hills. Mount Hood and Mount Adams beckoned me westward. Occasional rectangles of green marked orchards carved into the hillsides relieving the ripe grasses on which a loan Basque herder watching thousands of sheep prospered one hundred fifty years ago.
I was nearly alone and from one hilltop to the next I could see the road for several miles. Incredible. There is a bluff above the Goldendale aluminum plant where I stopped for a snack and a moment to enjoy the clear view up and down the mighty Columbia. I carry snacks and munched fruit. I had oatmeal and toast at home so I needed an apple and water more than heavy food. At the junction of US 97 I turned left, took a steep downhill to Maryhill State Park and stopped for a potty break and a welcome stretch.
The first few miles on US 97 out of Biggs was slow behind several semi trucks - long trailers with heavy loads. The grade was uphill and turnout lanes for slower traffic were frequent. Traffic on these US highways are two-way so turnout lanes kept me moving smoothly. Soon I was cruising along the level plateau that is central Oregon where fence posts are anchored in rock piles. I could see for miles and the major peaks of the Cascades shown beautifully in the rising sun that soon began to caress my glassed-in Ford Probe far too lovingly. The air conditioner puts out cold air that freezes my knees and elbows but cannot keep the car interior at a consistently cool temperature. I reached for my ear plugs, rolled down the window, and abandoned the air conditioner. I was too hot to stop in the rest areas so I pressed on even at the Ogden canyon where the cliffs are straight down for hundreds of feet. Must have been a miserable sight to the pioneers who were headed for paradise. From the new bridge it is magnificently awesome.
Mount Bachelor is a familiar name to those who ski the slopes but Bend is the town where folks come to retire. There are a cluster of peaks, three sisters and Jack that rock climbers find fairly easy to conquer. Friends of Tom's came to live in the area when they retired from jobs in Connecticut. Tom and I visited them years ago and walked up the South Sister, a mountain of 11,000 ft with easy trails, at least they seemed easy back when I was only 65. On the way down my knee caps filled with crystallized minerals and made for a painful descent.
I stopped for gas at the outskirts of Klamath where Emmy lives but couldn't spare the hours I knew we needed to play cards and catch up on gossip. The view of Mount Shasta was breathtaking and the temperature finally cooled some when I reached I-5 at Weed, California, around 2 pm. Timewise it was evident that I could drive many miles before stopping for the night. The rest areas bathed in the lowering sun were too hot for lingering longer than it took to eat the stir fry and pea salad stowed in my cooler. I did lay back and relax for a few minutes but hurried on to get through Sacramento before dark. It is a terrible place to go through on the freeway but I missed commuter traffic and sighed with relief. I didn't think traffic could be worse any where else but I was mistaken.
Stockton was. I guess I really hit the home from work force and that was pickups and trucks of every size. Farm country no less. Well I had to have gas so I filled up and stopped at the first rest area after sundown. It still hadn't cooled off and there was little breeze so I only stopped long enough to let Danny know where I was and that I probably would arrive sometime mid morning the next day, August 20. Dan and Deb would both be at work but Ashton would be there. I decided not to waste time in a motel but I intended to get some rest before driving the next 300 miles. A shady rest area encouraged sleep and I did, for 2 hours. Wonderful rest stretched out on my laid-back seat with a towel hung over the visor to keep the security light out of my eyes.
Out in this flat farm area the speed limit is seventy mph but luckily vehicles can't read signs so traffic moved briskly. Trucks lined up in the "slow" lane. They were required to go 5 mph slower so I did have to pass them. Very few passenger cars or vans ventured out from 2 to 4 am but the ones that did whizzed past with frightening speed. Trucking is big business as I said before and big polluters as well. I counted only 15 cars/vans in those two dark hours but the line of trucks made a red necklace on the road ahead of me. Many took off for San Francisco which was a relief and it was better yet going over the "grapevine" into Los Angeles where there were three lanes for trucks and three for passenger vehicles.
Dan urged me to cut across to Thousand Oaks on SR 118. Interstate 5 merged into the San Diego freeway, the place where I turned off suddenly 2 years ago and promptly bounced over a curb. The car withstood the stupid move but my back complained for a long time. At the time I couldn't believe I should be going south so I had to wander around for an hour before I got on US 101 west to Thousand Oaks.
Well I found a similar situation at the end of SR 118. It magically turned in #23, the Los Angeles freeway and I went west. Wrong. Five more miles toward Ventura and I knew that was not right. I filled up with gas at Moorpark and asked directions. I had to stay on the Los Angeles freeway and go east. The highly accented gas attendant assured me that Thousand Oaks was in that direction but couldn't help me further unless I knew which exit to take. So I took the exit after the one announcing the Ronald Reagan Library. But I had to stop again. At 5 am it is not easy to find a pubic phone. McDonald's was not open and the gas station did not have one. The attendant let me use his cell phone and I called Dan. It tirned out that I was not many blocks from his house and he came to my rescue.
Whew! I had arrived about 23 hours after leaving Richland.
If you're ready for the next episode go to Four Days of A Welcome Vacation, or if you're only interested in the return trip go to The Third Episode of the Round Trip. They will be uploaded in a day or two.