Free fruit with gas

Highway signs: is it just me, or does this sign need some revision?

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays

‘Cause no matter how far away you roam

When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze

For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home!

Despite the incredulity of southwest friends — “You’re driving north now?!” — yes, it was true. I was heading Pacific Northwestward into tornadoes (Port Orchard!), cold temperatures, snow in the mountain passes, 75 mph gusts at Cape Disappointment, king tide advisories, and rain/rain/rain. And trading all that for the warm sunny climes of Arizona. Well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do at the holidays.

So I packed the car — and I mean every square centimeter of it — grabbed Jackson and jumped in for the long West Coast drive.

The truth is, I like to drive; I find it calming and meditative. Sometimes I listen to books on tape — I like good story and a good reader. I checked out 12 items from our Timberland Library but rejected most of them. The one I landed on was the compelling autobiography of long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad ( and her goal to swim from Cuba to Florida. It’s a classic quest tale in every sense of the word. In her fifth attempt, at 63 and after 53 hours non-stop in the water without a shark cage, she made it. Never give up!

Road rage

Another aspect of driving I like are the slightly nerdy moments of strategic decision-making.

Interstate 5 is a long, straight highway so you’d think there wouldn’t be much to do. But, no, I’m constantly calculating as cars approach in my rearview mirror. How fast are they going? Are they going to disrupt my steady pace? Do I pull to the left to pass this truck now, or can I let this car pass me first? One of my aggravations is those drivers who don’t plan ahead when they’re behind a string of trucks; then they pull out in front of me and completely disturb my cruise control setting.

Then there are the subtleties of auto-etiquette: how do I get this slow car hogging the left lane to pull over? Flash lights? Beep? Or just pull around them on the right delivering the appropriate hand signal? That other bugaboo is drivers who leave their blinkers on. How do you let them know? (My sis is working on a flashing neon display atop her car to be programmed with appropriate messages like “You’re an idiot!”)

I witnessed one egregious example of road rage so rude I wanted to take the guy’s license plate and call the state patrol. A small clunky truck pulled over into the fast lane when the car in front of him suddenly slowed. Then the guy just in front of me in an enormous black truck with chrome wheels as big as my station wagon honked his horn — and no ordinary horn but a personalized-high-decibel-freight-train-barreling-down-the-track horn. Then the Black Knight truck slowed in the fast lane, pulled adjacent to the broken-down truck, rolled down the window and threw something at the driver before zooming off at macho-speed. Wow, it was off-the-charts testosterone rude.

That was really the worst case I witnessed. Most drivers are polite, follow the rules, and give way whenever they can to make driving pleasant for everyone; especially the truck drivers who can’t help it that they are carrying around stuff we need — loads of roof struts, cattle, wheel axles, new cars, bales of hay, enormous machinery, stacks of dry-wall, and mobile homes cut in half.

Parade of ecosystems

After the intricacies of driving, the landscape flowing by is my next favorite aspect of autobahn adventure.

I’ve driven the same route from Washington to Tucson, Arizona for many years, but I never tire of watching the ecosystem change as one moves north or south. Going down I-5 through the Paradise/Camp Fire smoke was no fun this year. (One researcher discovered that the poor air quality was responsible for a 20 to 30 percent increase in emergency room respiratory and cardiac visits.)

After turning east at Bakersfield, California, I mark the Tehachapi Pass as the beginning of the desert. Suddenly there are cactus and acres of enormous turbines. It’s one of the world’s largest wind farms, started in the early 1980s by James Dehlsen and Zond Corporation. This area represents wind energy history as newer and more efficient turbines are installed over the years. As Wikipedia says, “The area has multiple generations of wind turbine technology including both single and double-blade turbines, as well as the more modern three-blade horizontal axis design. The older generation turbines generate kilowatts, and the modern turbines generate up to three megawatts each.”

Once I pull my eyes away from the majestic turbines, I’m reminded why I call this the beginning of the desert: the landscape is decidedly different on the Mohave side of the pass. So heading east, I say hello to desert country; and coming west, I bid it a fond farewell.

A traveler’s journal

Along the way this year, I took note of other aspects of travel that caught my eye — or nose! Just past Coalinga, California, and all along I-5 for miles stretches the Harris Cattle Ranch, which produces 150,000,000 pounds of beef annually (info here: I was sick to my stomach miles before I saw the ranch when my nose alerted me. The sickening smell clung to my clothes and filled my car with an acrid and stupefyingly rotten stink for miles after. To see the tens of thousands of cows standing in their own excrement and mud was upsetting beyond words. Though animal behavioral expert Temple Grandin says the company does “a great job” of keeping its animals, Michael Pollan in “The Omnivores Dilemma” has prompted many to dub the ranch “Cowschwitz.”

I admit it made me reconsider eating beef. And the stark contrast to the smaller ranches further north, where cattle roam free on rolling green hills, was eye-opening. Is there some middle ground for meat production?

Then there were all the signs along the road: “California Running on Empty — Build Dams,” or, just passing Mount Shasta, “World Famous T-Shirts — I [heart] Weed!” Or the sometimes appropriate, sometimes crazy names: at Sunny Valley, California the sun did indeed break out of the grey clouds; but Drain, California? — I would propose a name change to the public relations committee of the local city council.

I love the first view one gets of the Castle Crags just before Dunsmuir, especially when they have a dusting of snow; but the Delta Fire adjacent to I-5 burned over 60,000 acres and has devastated that once beautiful area.

Then it’s the “State of Jefferson,” the Siskiyou Pass, Mount Ashland, and the long fertile plain of central Oregon. Traversing our Mighty Columbia from Portland to Vancouver, Washington, I know the end is in sight. Time to grit one’s teeth at the ever-zany and worsening Tacoma/Olympia/Seattle traffic.

Now my problem as I unbend and emerge from my driving capsule after three days on the road — where did I stuff all those Christmas presents?

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