across two hours
Recently I moved from Minnesota to California. I took the opportunity to see U of S by road. After spending 48 hours behind the wheel of my toyota corolla, I traveled across 9 states and 2 timezones to reach the sunny state. The journey was full of memorable experiences, mainly the variety of landscapes that drove past me. The first day through Iowa, Missouri, Kansas wasn’t very eventful. I enjoyed the ride down the I35 with lots of podcasts on my iPod. In Oklahoma city the route turned westwards along I40. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finally California were rich with variety of terrains.
Here are some of the moments …
… It was the evening of the second day. I was heading west through Texas on the endless road that was going through an empty landscape. Sun was about to set on my left below the southwest horizon. The brightness of the sky was dimming slowly. The gray grass on both sides of the roads was now shining in the orange light, which looked even redder through the tint of the upper edge of my sunglasses. Most of the sky was clear except for few clouds. They looked like some careless finishing strokes on an otherwise clear painting, put by the artist while cleaning up his palette. Suddenly I became aware of the stink in the air. It was hard to see on the left against the setting sun. But soon the source of the stink was visible - huge cattle farms. At a distance ahead where the road made a curve, sun’s rays reflected from several speeding trucks creating an illusion of orange squares hurrying towards the horizon. The drive felt more calm with John Mayer’s ‘Continuum’ in the background …
… It was in Amarillo, TX. I was 100 miles tired after my last gas stop. There wasn’t any bypass for this city, so I decided to continue on I40W through the city. It was 5 in the evening, the rush hour for the city’s commuters. I was in left most lane at 65 mph. All of a sudden the SUV about 15 feet in front of me glowed its red lights. Within fraction of a second slight smoke was visible around its tires and it came to a screeching halt barely avoiding to bump into the car ahead of it. Now it was my turn for a near-to-impossible halt. Assuming there was no one on my right I suddenly turned into the right lane and then adjusting the speed as soon as possible. Fortunately the assumption was right. But the moment left me totally drained off all energy. An exhausting moment …
… I was planning to reach phoenix on the second night, but it seemed impossible when I was good 300 miles away from Arizona border itself and it was already pitch dark. With shorter milestone in my mind, I started for the last leg of my second day journey. As I mentioned, it was pitch dark, so I had no idea if there were mountains on the sides or just miles of plain dry desert. From my experience with the terrain so far it was flat empty space. Another proof of that was very strong winds. That’s what made this segment of drive one of the difficult ones and also a memorable one. A ‘02 Toyota corolla is not that powerful a car, and that becomes evident when you are driving it up a steep slope. (Later in California I verified this when I couldn’t keep up with the aggressive traffic in the mountains) But here in New Mexico it was miles of level road. But yet I could not push my car beyond 60 mph at times. I suspected there was something wrong with the car. To make it worse, I was only surrounded by behemoth trucks that could push their way to 70+mph (the limit being 75mph, they could hurry). Sometimes I could push the car beyond 70 and overtake group of 4-5 trucks, but then later on when I couldn’t keep up above 65, they would pass me. Switching places with heavy trucks in such a way is annoying in a long journey. When they pass you or you pass them, there is some action in air pressure that needs your concentration on the wheel. It is tiring after a while. And it needs more effort in such heavy winds. What made this 3 hour drive memorable, was the presence of that enormous force of the wind with no visible signs. With the windows closed there was no indication of this force. This force only showed itself in the RPM meter and the speed dial in front of me and occasionally in the irregular swaying of the trucks around me. Hell of a windy moment …
… On last day I started very early in morning. I had to cross Albuquerque, NM first so, I started around 6. That plan worked out pretty well. Next 3 hours of drive and I entered Arizona, had red mountains at distance on both sides of the road. The sun was rising from behind. The peaks and troughs of the mountains were so smooth, they looked like orange red cover sheets covering the mannequins in a fashion store, that was yet to open for the day. These sheets had dull green spots in the form of sparse tiny bushes. Oddly enough it was so cold, some snow was visible on both sides of the road …
… The dusk on the last day had fallen and I had just come out of Mohave desert heading down I15 towards Los Angeles. I was getting my first few glimpses of california traffic. The I15 comes form Las Vegas and leads into Los Angeles while passing by San Bernardino. Just before San Bernardino the freeway runs down a big mountain. And it is one steep joy ride. Before the steep slope starts there are several cautionary signs for vehicles to check their breaks. Once the downslope starts you feel like one sitting in one of 100s of toy cars glowing their red tail-lights gliding down the curves at the speed of 65 mph. Even when you are in an enclosed car, in your mind you feel the wind in your face. As you descend down the mountain, you see San Bernardino city glowing with thousands of lights. In the dark dusk the hundreds of speeding cars look like, a stream of light points trickling through the mountain peaks heading to meet a huge lake of light. After that race down the mountain it is literally a breath-taking view …
It took 6-7 hours along I5 north from Los Angeles to San Jose. This last stretch was about pushing the envelope. It had been 20 hours of continuous driving with momentary stops for gas or food. I was desperate to reach at the final destination. The last hour was particularly worse. I chose to take a small highway to switch from I5 to Hwy 101. From the available map it wasn’t clear how long this highway was. It turned out to be the worst drive in entire journey. It was a 26 miles of road, going through pitch dark woods and hills, completely ill-documented - without any milestones telling how far is next main road, with no exits to anywhere at all, remote from cellular phone signals, with dense fog at places allowing only 10 feet visibility in some parts. I had really pushed myself to limits at the point, the car felt like just another extension of my body now. Fortunately I had had a cup of coffee so at least I wasn’t sleepy. I was afraid I had missed the 101 exit and was leading towards pacific. Fortunately it wasn’t true and after 45-50 minutes I successfully came out of those woods and back to civilization with 4 bars of T-mobile.
I concluded my journey at around midnight.
Needless to say, the whole journey was a memorable experience. It left me with an interesting feeling though…
… I had only “seen” all these places. I felt like, a lifetime is too short a period to experience what each of these towns, terrains, farms, roads, woods, hills, people would “feel” like. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to learn and I am so tiny a part of it. How insignificant one’s own worries are when compared to such a huge world. Aren’t they?