Road Trips are not really vacations. They are a lot of work. This is especially true if you are out to find the unusual and off the beaten track sights. The last road trip my daughter and I went on, we hit all the UFO hot spots in the country and we found ourselves in the middle of deserts or forests in the middle of the night wondering just where we might be. This one was going to be different. Armed with GPS, laptops and cell phones (along with some camping and emergency gear) we thought we were very well equipped. We were wrong. This year’s theme is sacred sites and power spots.
The last road trip we spent many days routing and rerouting the trip with detailed maps of where we going with alternative routes and definite places to stop and refresh ourselves. My navigator daughter really hates reading road maps. The last time it really didn’t matter because we could always just pull off and review the paper work. The comparison between paper work and computers has actually become the overarching theme of this trip, starting with the fact that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has a computer glitch that says my paperwork in my glove compartment is invalid and that my registration has been cancelled due to an insurance lapse which never happened. So starting in Pennsylvania, and following us across the country, were troopers wanting to ticket us and impound the car. We now have that almost corrected. We still have to get the paper work printed off the computer to put in the glove box stating that this glitch is fixed and the original paperwork is correct the way it reads after all, but this is a story all by itself. The main point here is that the GPS is not a map, or more generally, the map is not the territory.
We first encountered this problem of maps, or lack thereof, in Arizona near Sedona where we were headed for Jerome in the middle of the night to get some much needed sleep. I had been driving continuously most of the time since New Orleans, and the hotel we had set the GPS to navigate us to was located on the top of a “hill.” It was called Mile High Inn. Now, given we are two moderately intelligent people, you would think we would understand that the Mile High Hill Inn was on more than a hill, but no, in the fog of war where it is just you against the road in multiple days of continuous driving battles where you are winning, you get cocky. So when the GPS said to take the next left onto a blind dirt road, you don’t think twice. A bit farther in you see the road narrows and starts an upward incline. You say that this cannot go on much longer. This is in the middle of a town after all. As the incline gets narrower, steeper and potholes threaten to engulf the car, you find yourself saying that at least it is not raining or snowing and thinking the wire you put on the muffler is holding up well. The edge which we thankfully could not see over just beyond the rider’s side wheels of the car was just an empty blackness as we hit the hairpin turn at a seventy percent incline, perhaps near the top. This was supposed to be an Inn known for it’s ghosts we were headed to and the road was now covered on both sides with exotic tall plants which were reminiscent of a corn field at night. If this was the only way to the haunted Inn, then this was a great set up. Finally we reached the top of the road only to find it paved and the GPS had routed us up a local dirt road too steep to be paved. We vowed not to take another dirt road and not to blindly follow the GPS again.
Now mind you, at each state I would attempt to get off at the welcome center and get a map. My navigator wondered why I bothered. She was beginning to stop wondering. The Inn was closed and we found a wonderful lady across the street that had rooms too expensive for our budget. She directed us down the road to a wonderful place called The View, and we went down the hill by way of the main road which we should have come up. We passed the road we came up on the way down. Here it was well marked as a road for ‘local traffic only.’
So after another marathon drive we made it to California and embarked on a number of day trips. The most ambitious one was to finish going up the Pacific Highway into Oregon and then cut over and come down Interstate 5 to revisit Mount Shasta. The night before the expedition, I dutifully reviewed the Google Maps from many angles. I also did maps for the trip back across the country, but for the next day I was interested in, Gold Beach and Gold Mill in Oregon on the way to Mount Shasta, California. I briefly noted that the middle of Oregon and California had this collection of National Forests covered with mountains and thought no more about it. The printer was dead, so I had no paperwork to confirm the route. My navigator had tossed the maps I had dutifully collected in a folder, who knows where, for some future recollection of our trip. So off we went in the middle of the night to catch the first rays of the sun in Eureka, California. We arrived right on time to see the ocean before departing California. My daughter’s boyfriend reluctantly came with us this time, thinking we were just going on this long boring drive up the coast and down the other side of the mountains.
After a bit of sight sighting, we drove past Gold Coast wondering where we might turn off to go inland. We set the GPS to an address in Mount Shasta and it dutifully spit out an answer, but in a few miles totally reversed its answer. Now we were in the vortex capital of the country and thought this might be what the pilots were talking about when they came in for a landing here, but we passed it off as another bit of moronic chatter from the GPS which says things like bear right and keep left (for the next hundred miles). We got to the turn off and it was closed due to construction and we had to take a detour. This was all fine. It was well marked and paved road, but then off in the wilderness it tells us to turn off onto a gravel road. We had noted that the paved road was oddly often covered on the edges with overgrowth from the forest, full of sink holes and repaved washouts, but this made it rather quaint. The gravel road looked pretty grated. So it did not look much worse than the paved road. Forgetting our resolve and in the fog of war with the roads, we again took the gravel road, perhaps with a nudge from Robert Frost. It was a beautiful forest with mountain views in every direction. Taken with the sight seeing the gradual increase of incline in the road was barely noticed. There were potholes here and there, but we were in no hurry. We had all day. The road had occasional rock slides, but that was also not much of an obstacle. The GPS had us turn a few more times from gravel road to gravel road. The signs ahead said to watch for logging. “Was this just a logging road?” I thought to myself.
Now the National Forest is a land of many uses. It was quite one thing to allow cattle grazing, hunting and fishing, but quite another to allow mining and logging. Some of these “hills” were clear cut. We were quite outraged. Then, as we saw the logging equipment, my daughter’s boyfriend said it was a matter of concern that the tires were starting to sink into the mud. I speeded up in the hope that the forward motion would negate the downward motion, physics not be my best subject. It worked anyway, despite my flawed science, and shortly we out of the mud and onto solid gravel on the side of a narrow mountain pass snaking up the mountain. The rock slides and potholes began to increase again, but this time there was no where to go but down. I began to consider my wired up muffler again and decided it was not going to make it without more care.
A brief respite was found when a paved road returned for all too short a time and then an actual campsite was found. We walked down into the campsite and found it empty. This was no great surprise. Who in their right mind would be camping in the mountains in the middle of March? It was pretty. It had a little lake by it that would soon infest with mosquitoes later in the year. We noted the outhouse door had been used as target practice from what looked like rifle fire and the park bench was covered with 12 gauge shotgun shell casings. So much for allowing guns into the National Forest.
Returning to the road, the GPS directed us through a few more turns until we got to a road that started to show some snow. What had I said the last time we went up a gravel road before our resolve? “At least there was no snow.” The snow gradually started to build as the incline increased. We briefly discussed turning around. To where? Back through the mountain passes and the logging roads? Surely this must end soon. The snow got too deep. We were stuck. We rocked it out and cursed that we did not bring the shovel my wife wanted us to take. We actually turned the car around in the snow on the side of a mountain. So much for a dull boring drive through the countryside.
Back on the road we looked for another route out of the National Forest. Soon we found ourselves on another mountain with the snow getting deeper. I decided to speed up to make it up the hill, forgetting that under that snow was rocks and potholes. The left front tire went flat many yards before I knew it. I thought the road was just rougher, but after the car would not make it up the last hill and I backed it down, I discovered the tire was flat. We changed the tire in the snow, on the side of a mountain, in the middle of the road, unpacking all the stuff covering the wheel well and putting it out in the snow. This was done amidst discussions of walking out of the mountains.
The tire change went well. We had a real spare tire. A doughnut would have been useless. We were back in business. On down the road we went. We had a few more hours of daylight and had about all the sight seeing we could take for the day. The incline increased again on the next turn off, the snow returned and we stopped. When we attempted to move the car, it just slid sideways this time. Now you have to understand that my front wheel drive Honda Wagon has very poor pick up and we had been switching on and off getting out of the car and pushing it up the hills. This time my daughter was out of the car watching it slide toward the edge and was not very happy at the thought of it going over the side. I would back it up over and over toward the mountain, until it could be backed up no more.
As we pondered our fate my daughter was praying for an angel. Now mind you, we had no human contact for many hours. Yet, almost immediately, up the road came an angel in the form of two gentlemen in a pickup truck, Bill and Virgil. They had no tow rope, but in the last minute decisions before we left declining the shovel, I had tossed a tow rope into the car repair box. We hooked up the tow rope and were pulled to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, the muffler now was wedged under the rear of the car. After some tugging and wrestling in the snow, the pieces of the muffler came free. It looked like it was toast before it came off ,so it was not much of a loss, save for the fact that we would now be attracting more attention and the trooper issue may not be resolved on the computer yet and it was clearly marked in Oregon that you could not drive without a muffler. I wondered how many mufflers these road ate.
We went down the road as directed by our angels and hoped to find the pavement soon. We turned off the GPS and we were in luck as two ATVs passed us to clear the tracks in the road for us. The pavement did appear. We turned the GPS back on and carefully ignored all unpaved roads it directed us down. We had learned from the two angels in the truck that the flat tire was a blessing, since the road we were on was the one that made the national news. This very road was the one that James Kim’s family got stuck on. If we had made it over the hill and further into the forest we might have been beyond any help.
So to say we were blessed with a flat tire is an understatement. It is true that we had plenty of emergency equipment and food. We could have held out for quite a long time, but then we also had few people waiting for us to return and we may have waited a very long time indeed since no one even knew we were in the forest. As I said, a road trip is a lot of work. It is not a vacation. It is not for the faint of heart. It helps when you can stay out of that fog of war with the roads. My annual National Forest pass hasn’t even got much real use yet, but the first thing I bought when we got out of the forest was a shovel and a hatchet for the next time.
Three more weeks to go and we are looking for more positive energy from these power spots.