I’m pretty sure I was a roadrunner in a past life. Between my daily commute from Fayetteville and back and at least one solid road trip per year, I spend a ton of time on the road. Like a roadrunner, I love the American Southwest - the sandier and drier the better. I, too, like to go fast, although I prefer to do it behind the wheel instead of on foot. Heck, we even have the same haircut.
Six months ago, right about when we got home from a 2,600-mile road trip to Breckenridge, CO by way of New Mexico, my wife and I started planning another trip. After three trips to New Mexico and Colorado, this would be the farthest West we had ever been together. We started saving for our trip to California.
As the departure date got closer, we debated whether we wanted to fly or save some money by driving. Based on what I heard from everyone I talked to, I would assume most people would have chosen to spend a little extra on a pair of round-trip plane tickets. More time on the beach, right? More importantly for most, less time in the car dying of boredom.
My wife and I are weird, though. Since we first got married, some of the best times we have had have been in the car. Being “stuck in a car for 12 hours” on the way to Albuquerque has become the new drive to Dallas for us. It’s amazing what you can get used to if you do it enough. After five years, road trips are our new normal.
Selfishly, I also just wanted to see more of the Southwest from behind the wheel. I had never driven through Arizona, Nevada or California. What’s more, flying is the absolute worst. I would rather cruise through the desert for hours on end in my car, constantly scanning for decent local radio stations, than spend two hours going through security and waiting in the terminal only to be in a cramped coach seat for a few more hours, landing in Vegas or wherever while my bag ends up in Portland. Plus, the road trip is almost always a more interesting story. A movie like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” wouldn’t be half as funny if it were just called “Planes.”
Add hating flying to that roadrunner thing. We loaded up The Rallenium Falcon (my 2015 Subaru WRX) and headed out WAY too early on a Sunday morning. Still dark kinda early. “My favorite coffee place down the street isn’t open yet” early. “McDonald’s is the only place to stop for breakfast” early. “The low tire pressure light just came on less than a block from our house” early. “Okay I’ll stop here and put some air in the tire and, yep, there’s a nail right there in the tread and thankfully it’s a slow leak but Walmart is the only lube and tire shop open on Sunday and they don’t open until after eight o’clock” early. “Whatever I’m going to drink this gas station coffee and eat this McDonald’s breakfast burrito and we’ll hit Oklahoma City at about eight o’clock and we’ll get it patched then” early.
It wouldn’t be an adventure if something didn’t happen to slow you down right out of the gate. What’s an adventure without adversity, right?
We took a detour to Hollis, OK after we got the Falcon’s tire fixed and played an entertaining people watching game at the OKC Walmart. My parents grew up in Hollis, and my wife wanted to take a few photos of my father’s old service station. Seeing Hollis for the first time in over ten years was bizarre. Nothing much had changed, but seeing the town as an adult was just different. We stopped at my grandfather’s old airplane hangar, now owned by my aunt and uncle, and took a few photos there, too. The 30-minute stop was the shortest trip I had ever made to the small town, but we had some serious ground to cover, so we gassed up and moved on West.
Albuquerque has become kind of the gateway to road trips, largely because there is NOTHING to see and very little to do between home and there. Everything starts getting interesting once we get into New Mexico, and we have a couple of wonderful friends who put us up for the night in their downtown, loft-style apartment whenever we are passing through. A free bed and, often times, free dinner are very welcome after 12 hours of driving and eating nothing but fast food along the way.
The drive through Arizona was mostly uneventful. The impressive parts people think of with all the cacti and red rock formations are further South than our I-40 route. That said, Flagstaff was a highlight of our trip. The surprise mountain town in the middle of the desert felt like home roughly 1,000 miles from our house. Shooting North toward Nevada was more interesting, seeing the glow of Las Vegas from many miles away in the night.
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After two nights in the time warp that is Las Vegas, we continued West toward California. My only regret about our stay was that I didn’t end up going back to the gift shop for the gold plastic Elvis sunglasses that had fake sideburns glued to the earpieces. We all make mistakes on these trips. That just gives us reasons to go back.
As we drove, we saw more desert. More mountains in the distance. Cruising along the outskirts of the Mojave desert with the windows down was a weird dream come true that included interesting terrain, skyrocketing gas prices, and my left arm turning at least two shades darker than the rest of my body. At one point, about 100 miles outside of Barstow, I’m almost certain I saw the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson - a bright red Cadillac Eldorado convertible, complete with giant fins, heading back toward Vegas and trying to make good time in Bat Country. We stopped for a few pictures, but made it quick and continued toward the coast.
We stopped in Bakersfield to give The Rallenium Falcon a break and grab some dinner. After some looking online, Lengthwise Brewing Company seemed like an interesting place to cool our heels/wheels. Great food. Cool atmosphere. Really nice people. I recommend stopping there if you’re ever in the neighboorhood... you know... on the other side of the country.
An important side note: never underestimate the importance of a goodnight time radio DJ. “The Real Bruce Wayne” on 98.5 out of Bakersfield kept me going once it got dark and there was nothing else to keep me entertained. Nothing like hilariously offensive between-song commentary that, hopefully, the FCC wasn’t listening to.
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Multiple time zone changes had me waking up earlier and earlier the further West we went. Even after having driven late into the previous night. waking up just after sunrise in Santa Cruz was refreshing. Our hotel was right on the beach, so sleeping with the sliding door cracked let in the sounds and smells of the ocean. I got up and made a cup of free coffee to enjoy on the balcony while my wife slept in.
Before our adventure would end, we would get to drive up Highway 1 to San Francisco, bomb around Santa Cruz for a few days enjoying the mild weather and laid-back feel of the relatively small surf community, and head South toward Carmel. I even got to surprise my wife with a detour to Pasadena on our way home for lunch with a good friend of hers.
As always, the time to drive home came too soon. Aside from hitting Flagstaff after midnight on that Sunday, and experiencing a drop in temperature from 90 degrees outside L.A. to 28 degrees there, the drive home was uneventful. We went to the end of the road and back, and I’m already itching to get back to running on the highway.
Story: David Rath Photos: Kala Rath Photography