Monday, September 01, 2008

Road Fest, Part 3: The Drive Across Mars

Fallon, Nevada to Kingman, Arizona:

I have been all over the world, and have seen some interesting terrain in my travels. But the landscape of western Nevada was just, well... eerie. The outside temperature was 110 degrees and rising, and it was only mid-morning. I had cast a lot of glances out of the side windows for the first 100 miles of this leg, but as the environment became more barren and forbidding, and the atmosphere thinner and drier, I found myself retreating inward with a strange sense of isolation and vulnerability. And that only caused me to become more aware of my injured toe, which seized upon the opportunity and commenced to hurt like hell since it had no competing distractions.

I concluded that whatever it was that pressed down upon me and triggered my brooding thoughts, it was certainly not the sense of being at great personal peril. Having nothing better to do, and rather desperate to get my mind off that damned throbbing toe, I cast about for a single word that most accurately described the sterile nothingness across which I drove. Looking out at the vast, gray-brown, treeless valley over which loomed a jumble of distant hazy and sinister-looking mountains, I found the word: Desolate. All that was needed was a big sign that read: SAURON WAS HERE.

I nodded to myself. "Desolate" covered it. I sped up a little without really thinking about it, and yelped a startled Whoops! when I looked at the speedometer and found I had reached 110mph. I prudently curbed my urge at that point-I say prudently, because as I rounded a curve at a more sensible speed I passed a Nevada State Trooper going the other way- a trooper who was clearly giving me the Evil Eye as we neared each other. I guess a lot of drivers get a little "goosey" out here. I took a deep breath and shook off the spookies as I pulled into Hawthorne.

Hawthorne, Nevada: an idyllic paradise where one can find a girl behind every tree- provided one can actually find a tree. The place is notable for being home to a US Army munitions factory and depot. I imagined that its placement in the middle of frigging nowhere was probably due to the nature of the munitions being produced. Just a guess, mind you. But think about it...

I gassed up, grabbed some hot chow and high-tailed it out of town, eager to get to my next stop on this traveler's paradise: the teeming metropolis of Tonopah, home of the Fighting Muckers. (It's a good thing that the sign over their high school wasn't painted by a person with dyslexia.) Tonopah is basically Nome, Alaska at 6,100 feet above sea level: Dusty, tiny, and wind-swept. Except for being about a hundred degrees hotter, I could swear I was in Nome again. (I made a vow that the next time I saw Nome, it would be through a bombsight. But that's another story.)

I had droned through half of my day already, and I felt somewhat peeved that I still had a long, long way to go to get to Kingman. This would not do; it was time to push things a bit. When Tonopah had vanished from my rearview mirror, I decided to see if Baby-san felt as inclined to kick up some dust as I did.

She did, in fact, feel so inclined. I accelerated through to fifth gear and when I hit a long, long straight stretch, I gradually opened her up as fast as I dared. My engine has a rev limiter at 6,000 RPM, and I buried the needle at 120MPH before I hit 5,000RPM, and I was still accelerating. In this realm of her performance envelope, Baby-san's voice was no longer the sultry resonating rumble for which I loved her- it became a malevolent, tooth-rattling bellow that vibrated the mirrors and drowned out all thought. From this, I understood her answer to be It's about damned time, loverboy!

Having successfully scared the crap out of myself, I backed 'er down to just under 100 and started breathing again.

The Pirellis were loud as hell at this speed on the baking asphalt. They were nice and hot and sticky. Baby-san and I ripped through the gently banked curves and long straightaways, howling through unpopulated central Nevada like a hellbent banshee. I flexed my fingers around the wheel and, wearing a truly wicked grin, danced with Baby-san right along the ragged edge.

I reeled in my evil twin long enough to gas up and snack in Death Valley, and then let him out to play some more until a little north of Nellis Air Force Base. I droned on into Vegas at a sedate 90MPH, but sensed from the number of cars that passed me that I was actually being a little pokey. Still, I felt that I had tempted fate sufficiently for one day. Deafened slightly from the engine noise, I stopped to recover and eat at Vegas before heading to the second item on my list of Landmarks I Have Never Seen Before (Lassen Peak was the first): Hoover Dam.

It was really big. I took lots of pictures. My foot hurt a lot. Okay, time to go.

The drive to Kingman took place as the sun began to descend towards the horizon. The desert was a most incredible shade of red, the sky was clear, and my backside was ready to call it a day. My injured left great toe was beginning to throb from being in a dependent position, in spite of the ibuprofen and tylenol. I was ready to be done.

I pulled into the hotel, paid for the room, then went across the street to a Sonic Drive-In that beckoned me. I gorged myself on a coney, fries, sundae and root beer. I ate at an outside table, massaged by a hot desert breeze as I watched a distant thunderstorm light up the eastern sky, it's towering cumulonimbus clouds painted a shocking pink by the setting sun.

I hobbled back to my room and examined my seriously hurting foot. The toe was bruised and swollen. I took some more ibuprofen, applied ice, propped my foot up and I pulled out one of the bottles of a very potent Belgian ale I had stocked for the trip and pulled out my laptop to post my experience. At that point, I discovered that the infernal thing had decided to eat its operating system and become an expensive paperweight. Cutting my losses, I pulled out my summer book and was asleep within seconds.