LA 500

The night sweats came on about a week before Mother’s Day. I don’t have a blood pressure monitor, but I’m pretty sure my vitals were all over the map. I made last-minute preparations, tied up some loose ends at work, and pre-paid the bills I knew would arrive while on the road. Still, something about this trip was deeply troubling. I had a great plan, but I just didn’t trust it.

Leg two would take me from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where I would collect the next victim for a trip across the rugged southwest. Coast Guard Commander John Sifling, a long-time friend and former office-mate of Diana’s at the Graduate School of Oceanography in Rhode Island, agreed to right-seat the trip from Pasadena to Albuquerque. 

I flew back to Oakland on Saturday the 8th to spend Mother’s Day with my folks and hit the road first thing Monday morning. After so much time on the shelf riding out the Pandemic, it was great to be with family. We had a fun dinner with some neighbors who were curious about my route, and jokingly offered help in Arkansas where they had some family in the auto industry. Sunday evening, I double checked my packing, looked at weather forecasts, and tried to get a good night’s sleep. My target to launch was 6:30 am. Thick traffic in the Bay Area rarely falls into remission and I didn’t want to begin this 500 mile leg on a choked stop and go artery.

Loaded up with homemade chocolate chip cookies, cheese wheel, and sandwiches – thanks Mom – I pulled the Jeep away from the curb and eased on to California 580 East. This is my first solo leg of the trip and it’s oddly quiet. The Jeep feels ok, but I hear and feel sounds real and imagined. As I slip past massive wind turbines over Altamont Pass, I see signs for I-5 and merge south. This stretch of road is competitive. The speed limit is 75 and I can comfortably cruise at 68, so I’m being passed by horses and carriages. 

Southern California is foreign to me. I’m a fourth generation Northern Californian, and the divisions in my home state have been seething for more than a century. I’m reminded of why as I pass over a giant aquifer carrying water from the North to the South. Lifeblood. I-5 is a bit mind numbing and I do my best to not get run over by semis. Occasionally I find a giant box going close to my pace and nose into the draft shadow. A skill I picked up in college to save gas while commuting to ski races between Reno and Salt Lake City. It’s a dangerous but welcome relief from the noisy wind. 

Eventually I find the Grapevine. Climbing from 1,499 to 4,144 feet, this stretch of highway originally built in 1956 has claimed many unsuspecting vehicles in its 65 years of service. Today, I would not enter into that statistic. Getting bounced around in the right lane I pass the elevation milepost marking Tejon Pass and breathe out a full chest of depleted air. The Jeep quiets down on the descent as the sky fills with marine haze and exhaust particulates. Blue sky turns to brown and I pull off the highway in Santa Clarita for gas. 

The 405. The 5. The 205. The 15. The 210. The 605. The 10. The 605. The 710. This is the language of Southern California. I take a quick look at the map on my phone and choose between the best available “The’s” with the least amount of red and plot my course to Pasadena. The lanes narrow, traffic thickens, and speeds accelerate. It’s a terrifying exchange of corridors and I move at top velocity inches from steel and wheels vying for the checkered flag. I hear rubber lock up behind me and see a black Chevy Yukon fishtailing in my rear view. This allows a necessary vacuum to fill the space off my tail and I’m able to trade the The 210 for the The 134. I exit at Colorado Boulevard, twist though leafy upscale neighborhoods, and safely back into John’s driveway. I’m given the tour de Pasadena, we catch up over a pizza, and pull up an itinerary that will take us through Joshua Tree National Park, Sedona Arizona, and Santa Fe New Mexico. Leg two day one in the books. 

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