This morning I let myself sleep in after the long day of hiking. When I finally got out of my car, I was treated to a rainbow. It spanned the whole sky in front of me, enclosing the Teton mountain range. Sadly, I did not see any leprechauns prowling around, so I figured that the gold at the base of this rainbow must have already been taken.
After admiring the rainbow, I started driving. Today I was in search of the Internet and a quiet place to sit. I wanted to update my blog and find a place to stay on my way to Colorado Springs.
On my way south, I drove through Jackson, Wyoming, and found myself back in the middle of a familiar phenomenon – a traffic jam. This was a bustling tourist town and I must have hit it at rush hour. There were several coffee shops I could have stopped there, but I wanted to get further along my way than that, so I kept driving. After Jackson, I felt like I drove forever without seeing another car. The few tiny towns I passed through had populations around two hundred people. My phone had no cell service for over a hundred miles.
Eventually, I happened to look down at my gas gauge. Oops. I had an empty tank. I’d driven 440 miles so far and that’s at least 50 more than I have been used to letting it go. There was still nothing within sight and no data connection on my phone. No way to go but forward! I’m not generally a nervous person, but I started to become one at this moment. I decided that was silly though. Being nervous could increase my blood pressure, but not refill the gas tank. I was driving, and that was the only helpful thing I could do.
I got to 460 miles. Those nerves came back and were very unhelpful again. Finally, I entered the limits of Rock Springs, Wyoming. This was a real city, one with people and stores and traffic. I looked for the closest gas station found an Exxon to fuel up at. As I waited to turn left into the gas station, I wondered if my tank would last through the light. It did, and the tank only took twenty-five gallons, which meant that there had been three gallons left. I could have gone fifty more miles!
After getting gas, I went to a McDonalds – again. It’s becoming a familiar place for me on this trip. I did some writing there, though the slow internet made uploading the two posts I finished take forever. When it was time to move on, I found a campsite that was only about twenty minutes away.
The directions to the campsite took me up to my new favorite road. It carried me along the ridges of the canyon formations that surround Rock Springs. I passed the pull-off for the campsite I was looking for and kept exploring the road.
I drove to one end of the road and found a cool spire that projected out of the formation. There was a road that led out to it, so I figured I was obviously supposed to drive out on it. The drive out went well. Then I got out of the car and realized how high this ledge was off the ground, and what a relatively narrow space I had to turn around. It was probably twenty-five feet wide, and that would be lots of room – if my car wasn’t eighteen feet long. I’d have to make a really tight turn and be careful not to drive too far forward. I didn’t want to go plummeting to the valley floor. On the bright side (the very bright side), the sunset was gorgeous from that spot.
I could back up along the way that I had come, but I was not that confident that I could back up in a straight line for a hundred yards. I started to understand what cats feel like when they’ve climbed up a tree and can’t muster the nerve to come back down.
Turning around seemed to be the safest bet. I started the turn and went forward about a foot. Then I turned off the engine and walked around my car to see exactly how far I could drive safely in each direction. It looked like I had about three feet on each side. Past that, the ground sloped down steeply and disappeared. So I got back in my car and backed up two feet. Then went forward two feet. Again, I got out, checked, and got back in. Whew. Back up, go forward. Last time now, back up, and there we go… forward for the last time, leaving the precarious ledge behind.
That last episode had been enough adventure for one night, so I returned to the campsite I found and parked – leaving plenty of room between me and the edge of the canyon. I got out to stretch and play my guitar, then climbed into my cozy bed in the back and went to sleep.
I drove a lot yesterday. I guess I made it across Washington in one day – from the northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula all the way to the tip of Idaho. Then I drive some more trying to figure out if I was at the right campsite.
By the time I parked and calmed down and got into bed it was almost 2 A.M, so I decided not to worry about waking up early this morning. I slept in until 10 A.M. and then took my time getting going. I did find out that I had indeed wasted time driving in circles last night – this was (in the daylight) obviously the campsite I found online.
Once I was awake and mostly functional, I decided to find a Starbucks in Couer d’Alene and spend the morning reorienting myself. Last week was full of busyness and fun, but I didn’t make much time to update my blog or plan for this week.
I started out by reviewing my week in Washington. I finished up my blog entries and tried to upload them. I ended up spending several hours trying. At this Starbucks the coffee was good but the Internet was unbelievably slow. Updating my website felt like trying to drink a Java Chip Frappuccino with a stir straw.
In frustration, I moved onto my next problem. How would I get to Yellowstone? I had planned to drive straight east, through Montana, then turn south and drop into the north entrance of the park. The forty-two fires currently burning in Montana made me hesitant to continue that way. Already, in the tip of Idaho, I could see, smell, and feel the smoke. I didn’t want to drive into more, and I didn’t look forward to getting stuck on a highway waiting for a fire to be put out.
I called home and conferred with my dad. He advised me to take the much longer route, south on several Idaho state highways, to arrive at Yellowstone’s west entrance. I decided that was the way I would go.
I had to backtrack about sixty miles, across the state border again to Spokane, Washington. That gave me a chance to look for a sporting goods store where I could purchase a new cooler. I had brought a cooler with me – or at least I thought I had. It turned out to be rather bad at keeping things cool (which is, I believe, the primary task of a cooler). Since I planned to spend a few days away from civilization while in Yellowstone, I knew I’d need to make an upgrade to keep my food fresh.
I found a Sportsman’s Warehouse in Spokane. After shopping around, I found a good cooler – an electric Coleman that I read good things about online. Amazon sold the same item a bit cheaper, but since I don’t have a real home address at the moment, buying things on Amazon wasn’t an available option.
Because of all my scrabbling around in the city, I got a late start on my drive for the day. It was about 4 P.M. when I was finally ready to leave. Since I did start out so late, I picked out a campsite not far from Washington’s southeast border. If I could just drive through Washington and a little bit of Idaho, I’d call it a day.
On the first part of my drive, I saw a cool bridge and waterfront. But all the way through both Washington and Idaho, the smoke stuck with me and turned the sun into a fiery ball of diffuse orange and red.
Today was another good driving day – like most of yesterday had been. It was nice to be getting somewhere. Not messing with slow internet or trying to figure anything out. Just going forward. In no time at all, I arrived at my campsite. I had been following the Clearwater River for quite awhile, and this spot was right in between the river and the highway I was driving on.
Without the sun, it was difficult to see the campsite clearly. Now it’s two nights in a row that I’ve come into camp after dark. The headlights of my car showed me what was right in front of me and dimly outlined the rest of my surroundings. To my right, I could distinguish a dense thicket of shrubbery and a picnic table underneath a wooden trellis . There was a circular iron fire pit by the river, a pile of driftwood, and a piece of trash blowing around on the ground.
The lake that I had seen beside me as I drove looked like it would be quite beautiful in the day. A large dark shadow on the far bank appeared to be a mountain.
I opened my door to get out and then left it open to transfer some things from one of my car to the other. I made a tiny fire with some trash that I had collected, then sat back down in my car to write about the day. That’s when I started to hear a quiet buzzing sound. It was very high pitched – like the old TV in my parents’ room. Whenever my dad would turn it on, I could hear the buzz even though he couldn’t. That’s what this was like and I couldn’t figure out what was making the sound. Then I turned the inside lights on.
My ceiling was speckled with flies. There were at least thirty of them sitting on and around the lights. They were the small type of flies – the ones that seem too little to do any real harm, but are extremely annoying – and gross and disgusting and revolting.
I didn’t want to stay at a fly-infested campsite. I put the keys back in the ignition, started up the car, and drove away as fast as I could. As soon as I was away, I opened my windows. I hoped that the flies could take a hint. “Not wanted here, please leave now. Or die.”
Most of them figured it out. I pulled over ten miles down the road to take care of the rest. They weren’t incredibly smart and I easily disposed of all but one of them. The last fly seemed to have a charmed life. I tried to pin him down several dozen times before he tired of showing off his evasive maneuvers and hid in a corner I couldn’t reach into. I drove on until I found a larger highway pull-off where I could wait him out. I parked and pulled out my computer to write all this down. Every few minutes, he buzzes briefly before quieting down again. Oh well, I’ll just keep driving and forget about him for the moment.
And I did keep driving, even though I wasn’t sure where I would stop. I knew where I was and where I wanted to go, so I just kept following the route I had planned. About eighty miles from where I stopped to write I found a rest stop, just as I started to get desperate for a place to sleep. There is a sign that says visitors are welcome to stay for fifteen hours. I won’t be here that long… just need to sleep through the night. And off to sleep I go, goodnight!
Today, I am proud to announce, I succeeded in pulling myself out of bed before the sun crested the trees on the far bank of the river. Admittedly, that doesn’t happen until 8 A.M. or later. But still, I was up and ready to go by that time. Last night, I made a reservation for the ferry that would carry me from the Olympic Penninsula back to the mainland of Washington. After making the reservation, I read that I was supposed to arrive at least a half hour before the scheduled departure time, or my reservation would be void. Driving across the peninsula would take at least two hours I knew I’d have to wake up early and get going.
The drive and ferry ride went smoothly. I started my drive across mainland Washington around 1 P.M.
My destination for the day was a campsite I found in the middle of the Cascade Mountains. I arrived, as planned, around 4 P.M. Well, I arrived at the place where I thought I wanted to be – the GPS coordinates of the supposed campsite. There was nothing was there. Bummer.
After circling around to confirm that I had not missed anything, I just kept on driving. Several miles further on, I found a viewpoint parking lot to take a break in. I got out of my car and stretched, then took a few pictures of the Cascades.
When I returned to my car, I decided to keep driving some for a while. Since I couldn’t find the campsite I had planned for today, why not just drive to the place I had planned to stop tomorrow? Great idea! So I drove on, headed for Couer d’Alene, Idaho.
I did have a really fun drive. Today has been the best driving day I’ve experienced so far. Maybe it’s because I had such a restful time in Washingtion, maybe it was the lack of traffic, or maybe it was the interesting book I was listening to (The Dream of Enlightenment). Maybe it was all three.
I stopped once to take a short hike while I was still in the Cascades. There was a “scenic overlook” sign on the highway, so I followed its arrow and found a perfect place to stretch my legs and admire the mountain view.
Back on the road, I got through central and eastern Washington quickly. Maybe a little too quickly. That’s certainly what the police officer thought.
I’ve heard the phrase “speed trap” used before – even read it just yesterday in a book – but I’ve never experienced one. Until today.
I was driving along a one-lane road, perhaps a little above the speed limit. I caught up to a car which turned out to belong to a highway patrol officer. I slowed down, because, well, I had that kind of remorse we all have when we are caught stealing cookies. Remorse for being caught doing something wrong, and maybe even a twinge of remorse for doing the wrong thing itself. I drove peacefully behind him for about two minutes. Then the police car pulled off to the side of the road and let me pass. And as I passed, he turned his lights on and followed me. Uh oh.
I pulled off to the shoulder and he pulled up right behind me. He waited for a minute before getting out of his car. Then he walked up to my passenger window.
“Do you have your license, registration, and insurance?” He asked sharply.
“Yes, give me just a moment to find them.” I reached in the glove box for the registration and insurance. I handed them to him. I had several things piled on the seat next to me, so finding my wallet was proving to be a challenge. “I’ll have my license for you in a minute.”
“Hmm. Who is Donald?”
“That’s my Dad.”
Silence. Finally, I found my wallet – right in front of my eyes, of course. I picked it up, pulled my license out and handed it to him. “Here it is.”
More silence. Then he asks, “Where are you headed today?”
“I left the Hoh River this morning and I’m driving to Spokane.”
“What is the speed limit here?”
“Were you driving the speed limit?”
“That’s exactly right, you weren’t. I was driving the speed limit and you caught up to me real quick. Now you sit here and I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
So I sat there as he walked back to his police cruiser. It only took him a minute. He came back to my car, the driver’s side window this time.
“Here you are.” He held out my license and registration to me. I took them.
“Does this car have cruise control?”
“Does it work?”
“Alright, now let me tell you something. Driving over the speed limit will only save you a few minutes getting to Spokane tonight. So you put that cruise control at sixty and it’ll do two things for you. One, it’ll keep you safe, and two, it’ll make sure you don’t get pulled over by another cop. Understand?”
“Okay then, you’re free to go.”
And I was. He got back in his car and turned it around, getting ready to catch the next lead-footed young driver taking their parent’s car for a tour of the country. I turned on my engine, got back on the road, and set my cruise control at sixty. All night I kept it there until I crossed the Idaho border. There, the speed limit fluctuated from sixty to seventy-five, but I watched it carefully and followed it religiously.
Now, after a long day of driving and an exciting adventure like the one I had, most people would have a simple strategy for finding a campsite. Most people would think to themselves, “Well, I should just find the quickest place to get some sleep.” That would be quite a reasonable way to approach the subject. However, I found it necessary to pioneer a new approach. I call it, “Drive around in circles indecisively for awhile.” From my experience with this new style of travel, I can confidently say that it will not appeal to most people. It really adds nothing positive to a journey – it is not entertaining, it brings one no closer to the intended destination, and does not provide any edification either. If you don’t trust me and want to try out this new system for yourself though, I will understand. That’s how I spent my night.
Here’s how it happened. I got to Spokane without incident, then crossed the state border. I passed through Couer d’Alene on the way to my intended campsite. I found my exit and got down the road to the destination. Everything was fine, up to this point. Then, I saw a sign on a side road that said, “Private, Do Not Enter.” After that, I saw something that looked like it might be a reasonable campsite. But I couldn’t quite tell if it was or not. I did know that it was eleven o’clock. It was pitch dark in the area. There were obviously houses on either side of the road. I couldn’t see anything very well and I didn’t want to turn on my high beams. After my experience of the non-existent campsite this afternoon, I didn’t fully trust the website I’ve been using. The reasonable way to solve this quandary would be to turn off one’s engine, walk around the site, and come to a conclusion.
But for some reason, I have this fear of disturbing people. Part of it is respect for other people – I think that part is good. I don’t want to lose that and become inconsiderate. But sometimes (translation, at least half of the time), I go a little too far, and I think that is bad. Like in this instance. I didn’t want to walk around and wake people up and I didn’t want to turn my engine off and back on. That’s a little overly considerate.
So instead of just plunging ahead and exploring the area, I decided I would go back where I could find an internet connection and figure this thing out. I would try reading the comments on the website I used and see if I had found the correct campground.
On my way back to the freeway, I changed my mind. I thought, “Why not just drive around this desolate area, looking for a magical overnight parking spot to appear?” So I did. None appeared, and I only prolonged my already exhausting day. To shorten the story, I eventually realized my error and simply drove back to where I could get cell reception. I looked up the campsite, found that I had indeed been at the right place, and returned myself there promptly. I just drove up to the same entrance I had seen before and parked before pulling out my flashlight to explore. Then I plopped my car down in the middle of what I had originally suspected was the campsite. I am still a little unsure about this place, but I am in need of sleep right now. When I wake up tomorrow morning, I’ll see if I made a mistake.
Today, August 7th, was a trial run for the road trip I have planned. It started off well enough, as I got everything packed into my car and started my journey to the Sequoias around 9:30 a.m. Traffic on the 57 and 210 Freeways slowed me down, but I was having a great time. I had an audiobook to keep me company, food to snack on, and an open road before me. I transitioned to the I-5 Freeway, and got over a few hills – then my check engine light went on. When I noticed the light, I pulled off at the closest exit, which turned out to be in Santa Clarita. My clock read 11:05 a.m. Only an hour and a half on the road. I turned the engine off, then turned it back on to see if the light would go away.
It didn’t. The light stayed on and the engine barely started, while the engine’s heat gauge suddenly spiked up. I popped the hood and got out of the car to check on the engine. When I saw the green liquid that had spilled on the ground, I knew immediately what was wrong. I must have run over an alien who had been using an invisibility shield, and its acidic blood had eaten through to my engine. Whew, it’s a good thing I was blessed with such excellent deductive skills.
Despite my excitement over the possibility of an alien encounter, I soon realized that the car was simply leaking engine coolant. I started the engine again to see if it would run now after having cooled off for several minutes. It was a little better this time, and the radiator gauge had fallen slightly. The check engine light was still on though, so I was stranded for the moment.
Now for the phone calls. Will Dad’s answer his work phone? Ring… nope. His cell phone? Ring… Nope. Is Mom at home? Ring… and she answered. My call interrupted her talk with a friend, but I made it brief – just telling her where I was, what had happened, and that I was going to call AAA.
But then I sat around for awhile, not wanting to call AAA. This trial run had sounded so fun, it couldn’t just end right now. If I called a tow truck, I’d have to go all the way back to our mechanic in Brea and then my trip would be over. Boring.
After pondering my dire situation with a suitably anguished heart, I tried to reach Dad again. This time he was there. We tried to figure out what the problem was, and I called our mechanic to see if he could help. No luck, I would just have to get it towed. Ten phone calls and thirty minutes later, I was sitting in a parking lot with my car. I had talked to Dad, our mechanic, AAA, and Mom. In the end, I got to the parking lot by moving my car, which had cooled down sufficiently, and was waiting for AAA to come. I still harbored the hope that I could get my car fixed and continue to the Sequoias.
When the truck arrived, a little after noon, the driver got my car hooked up with only a little difficulty. The driver was polite, and I liked getting to talk to him. His name is Pete. Pete drove us to the nearest auto repair shop, so I could get the problem diagnosed and see if it was anything serious. The attendant told me very nicely that they wouldn’t be able to check on my car until tomorrow. Not exactly what I was hoping for.
I rushed back outside, hoping that Pete had not unhooked my car yet. He had not. I told him that I didn’t want to wait a whole day to get my car checked out, and asked if he happened to have an error code reader – the simple device mechanics use to read what problem the engine has reported – so that I wouldn’t have to go all the way back to Brea. He did not have one, but he offered to take me to the central AAA hub for Santa Clarita, where the mechanic could probably help me pretty quickly.
On our drive, I kept talking to Pete and found out that he’s only been towing cars for a few months. Before that, he drove big rigs for twelve years. He went through a driving program right out of high school to gain the qualifications he needed, and after the usual tautology of beginning employment problems (need the experience to get a job, need a job to get experience) was able to keep steadily employed. He said that driving trucks pays better than towing, but he wanted to change jobs so that he could stay in one place and spend time with his wife and three children.
We arrived at the AAA hub, and the quick diagnosis ended up being rather slow. It was certainly better than waiting a day though. I waited from 1:30 p.m. until about 3:30 p.m. for the mechanic to figure out what was wrong. While I waited, I had a wonderful educational experience. I got to learn about the inner workings of AAA (don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you, or I’ll be convicted of espionage), and I got to learn about the Middle East from someone who grew there.
First, I found out that the place I was at (Lyon’s Towing) gets extremely busy in the afternoon. I sat in the office, and in the room next door was the “dispatch” station. It sounded just like a superhero movie. The dispatcher got direct calls from clients and assigned clients on a computer system from AAA headquarters. The dispatcher had to keep track of all these clients, assign them to one of the eight drivers who were on the clock, and call the driver to verbally confirm the “target.” Sometimes the drivers would call in and ask for specific directions when a place was hard to find. “Turn left at the light. Right at the next light. Your pickup is in the shopping center ahead of you. Wow, watch out for the machine guns! Spider-man and Iron man are cutting off their escape. Fly out of the sun at them! ” Well that’s how I heard the conversations. Maybe my imagination ran a little past the facts.
I found out that Lyon’s Towing works as an independent contractor with AAA, which didn’t enlighten me too much since I was foggy about how independent contracting works in this industry. I learned that they take care of all business with the client/member – battery service, towing, and sometimes repairs – then send the charge tickets to AAA. So basically they do all the work, and AAA sits around making sure that they maintain high standards of customer service. Their performance is measured by surveys that are sent out randomly to a small percentage of the members that they help. These surveys are essential to them – they mean the difference between survival as a contractor, and getting completely cut out of the system. The survey asks three questions, with one point possible for each question – and thus a perfect score of 3 points. If a member marks anything less than “Totally Satisfied,” they get zero points for that question. Lyon’s towing keeps their average score around 2.72. If it falls below 2.7, they get a severe warning from their regional manager who is suddenly grumpy over losing his pay bonus for the month.
I learned most of this from talking to the manager of the shop. His name is Sam. In addition to talking about business, we also talked about religion and his own life. We started off by talking about my college plans, and he ended up telling me about his experience with college.
Sam grew up in Iran. He watched the Muslim revolution that took down the King of Iran when Sam was 13 and saw them shut down all the universities in the country. He turned 18 at the perfect time, right when the schools were reopened. His entire university class had only 128 students, 20 of whom were girls. The girls and boys sat in separate sections during class and could be suspended if they were seen talking to each other – inside or outside of class. Sam graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, then completed his master’s degree also. He got married, then immigrated to Canada to pursue a Ph.D. program. His plans were interrupted when he went on an emergency visit to his brother in California, who was running a successful towing shop but was experiencing health problems.
His brother ended up in the hospital before Sam arrived, with only two weeks left to live. Sam had planned on making this a short visit and a quick return to Canada, but during the visit, his brother begged him to take over Lyon’s Towing instead. After thinking it over, Sam agreed and set his whole mind to the task of learning how to run an auto shop. He left behind Canada, his Ph.D., and his pursuit of a career in engineering. Now, about twenty-eight years later, he told me that he is happy with his decision. He is married and has an adult son.
I mentioned that I am planning to go to a Christian college, and that got us started talking about faith. Though he came from Iran, Sam is not a Muslim. He believes that there is a God who has designed the world we live in, that we should all treat each other fairly, and that all religious scriptures are wonderful sources of wisdom. But he saw evil in the Muslims who took over the government in Iran and suppressed education, freedom, and opportunity. He does not have a problem with organized religion in general as long as it does not attempt to rule a nation, but he has no personal use for it.
And that was how I spent my time while I waited for the mechanic. I found my second interviewee. When at last the diagnosis was made, I learned that the engine was fine. The only problem was my cooling system. In some way which I don’t understand, the fan and air conditioner that cool the cab off are also connected to the radiator. And in my car, the fans were sending little bubbles of air into the radiator instead of sending them into the cab. That’s what the smart people said. So theoretically, the car was safe to drive, the problem would just have to be taken care of soon.
That was the only permission I needed. I drove around town for a few minutes to ensure that the car was not going to overheat again and then decided to continue my journey. I called Mom and Dad to let them know that I would keep going, then I stopped at Starbucks for a shot of happiness. I ended up paying for one cup of unsweetened iced coffee, and receiving that, along with a free cup of sweetened iced coffee which the barista had made on accident. Sweet! I also got a cup of ice and used that to chill some pure cherry juice and mineral water that I had in my car.
Now armed with enough fluids to… well, *cough. Now resupplied for my journey, I started off again. I drove from 4 p.m. till 8:30 p.m., stopping several times to give the engine a break. Most of the time, I listened to my audiobook – Our Oriental Heritage, book one of the Story of History series, by Will Durant. I’d already gotten past the introduction of the book and its discussion of pre-civilized cultures, so today I listened to the sections on Sumeria, Egypt, and Babylon. I took a few breaks to listen to music when I got tired of hearing about people that lived and died five thousand years ago.
At 6:30 p.m., I pulled off the road to give my engine a break and talk to my family. Past that break, I started going uphill. For awhile my car did well, and I was thrilled that I would actually make it to the campsite for the evening. Then the radiator gauge started rising again, and I pulled off to wait it out. I waited five minutes, then drove for a minute. The gauge rose again, so I decided it would be safest to give the engine a break. 280 miles on a hot day is a lot more work than I usually put it through. Hopefully in the cool of the morning, after it gets to rest for the night, it will feel better and be willing to take me home.
So I found a nice little pullout on the side of highway 180 and spent my evening in bliss. It must have been around 9 pm when I finally settled into my spot and started enjoying the night. I took out the physical copy of Our Oriental Heritage and went back over what I had listened to, highlighting the things that had stuck out to me, and thinking grand thoughts about civilization, people, and adventures.
As the sun disappeared and I started thinking about my situation, I will admit I was a little creeped out. I was stuck on the side of the road, after dark, surrounded by a strange forest. With no cell reception. With coyotes searching the spooky forest for an easy meal, bears lurking behind every tree ready to smash through the thin sheet metal of my car to grab me, and vampires just waiting for the last shaft of sunlight to disappear so that they can drink my blood!
Okay, I was actually about a hundred yards from a farmhouse, surrounded by tame cattle that were safely fenced inside their owner’s property, with cars driving by every two minutes. But it was still a little creepy.
At the present moment, in case you couldn’t figure it out, I am journaling. This has been a crazy day. It’s fun to look back over it and to think about the people I met and the stories I heard. I am still super excited for my trip, even though this day didn’t go exactly – or at all – as planned. It still turned out to be an amazing day, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.