Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Road trip

Greetings, dear readers, from my parents' home in Southern California. Getting here was not without its challenges.

On Saturday, Older Daughter and I went into the city to pick up a rental car, which turned out to be a smart little Toyota Corolla with all the modern bells and whistles. It sat low on the highway, but was a nice vehicle. We drove it home, planning to hit the road Sunday morning with a goal of reaching Reno for the night. (An advantage of traveling to gambling towns during "off" days is you can usually get screamin' good deals on hotel rooms.)

So off we went on Sunday morning, traveling and enjoying the sights. We were deep within the mountains of Central Idaho when suddenly we heard a warning bell from the car, and the check engine light came on. It seems the parking brake was malfunctioning. We confirmed the parking brake wasn't on, nor had we used it at all. So – since the car itself was running just fine – we kinda shrugged it off and continued our journey.

But the warning bells didn't stop. The next thing to malfunction was the cruise control – again, something we hadn't used, not while traveling the windy roads of Central Idaho. Then it was the pre-collision system, then the secondary brake collision system, and of course the check-engine light was on.

Okay. The Central Idaho mountains is not the best place to get cell service, so – since the car itself was running just fine – we crossed our fingers and continued our journey until we got out of the mountains and into the broad agricultural valleys of south-central-western Idaho.

Once we got cell phone service, Older Daughter (since I was driving) started calling the Hertz Rental desk and got nothing but a recorded message. We didn't want to risk driving a malfunctioning vehicle all the way to Southern California, since – with all the modern whiz-bang electrical systems in new vehicles – who knows how long before the steering or regular brakes malfunctioned? Nor did we want to backtrack a couple hundred miles to where we rented the car in the first place.

Older Daughter learned the nearest Hertz Rental place was at the Boise Airport. We had no plans to go anywhere near Boise, but instead planned to follow Hwy. 95 through extreme southeastern Oregon before dropping into Nevada. But, we reasoned, it was a better idea to travel to Boise instead and change out the vehicle.

When we finally reached the original rental agency and explained the issue, she confirmed that yes, thes the best course of action was to swap out vehicles in Boise. We called ahead to the Boise agency and confirmed. So we detoured into Boise.

The last time I was near this urban center was around 1989, when Don and I (we were still dating at the time) attended a wedding. It has, to put it mildly, grown. Everywhere we went, we saw vast apartment complexes, many actively being built.

We swapped out the car without much issue. For the same price, they upgraded us to a fancy SUV which sat us much higher (better view for short people like us!) and took us back onto the highway with style. On the downside, the vehicle drinks gasoline like a fish (or whatever mixed metaphor fits the situation), so our driving was pricier.

With that little glitch out of the way, we continued on our journey toward Reno. First we had to navigate the hundreds of miles of desolate landscape through the aforementioned extreme southwestern corner of Idaho and southeastern corner of Oregon. This landscape has to be seen to be believed – long, long, long stretches of rugged terrain without a soul in sight except those traveling the road.

Once in a while, we would pass a distant home of unspeakable isolation.

I confess that there's a certain appeal in this degree of solitude, but considering it would take hours of driving to get a quart of milk, maybe not.

Dramatic outcrop.

Inside Nevada, we passed a prison.

After about eleven weary hours on the road, we finally fetched up to Reno.

Our home for the night was the Atlantis Hotel and Casino.

Like all casinos, it was filled with garish colors and clanging slot machines, but it was otherwise a nice place. Besides, after so many hours of vast and empty desert, the colors and the noise weren't so bad.

And the view from the 17th-floor room in which we were placed was superb.

We hadn't eaten anything all day, so we had a late dinner, walked around the casino, then hit the hay.

The next morning we took Hwy. 80 over the mountains and dropped into Sacramento to connect with Hwy. 5. Older Daughter wanted to stop at a particular bakery chain some friends had recommended, so we found it off Florin Road: 85C Bakery.

We purchased a few treats, and then hit the road for another loooong drive. Except for the few urban areas through which we passed, most of this area is dominated by crops, notably vast orchards and vineyards. Everything, of course, is irrigated.

It was also easy to see what happens when the water stops.

We paralleled the Diablo Range for hours.

Older Daughter was able to snatch a photo of the prickly pear farm I noticed the last time I traveled this way.

Here's an enlargement.

We pulled off at a vista point perched on top of a small hill to see the view of the California Aqueduct as well as the surrounding land.

Then it was back on the road, stopping periodically to fill up that bottomless gas tank. We drove mile after endless mile until we were numb with the monotony. In fact, we were so numbed that we completely passed the exit we were supposed to take, and didn't notice for about twenty miles or so. We were obliged to turn around and take a slightly alternate route over the coastal range as a result.

This alternate route took us through some oil fields. Later (no photos, sorry) we passed some huge solar farms.

We connected to Hwy. 101, which hugged the coastline a mile or two inland.

It wasn't until we hit Pismo Beach that the ocean was visible.

And I'm sorry, but I will forever associate Pismo Beach with Bugs Bunny.

After this, we had another weary two hours of driving before we were able to fetch up to my parents' house.

As you can imagine, we've had a joyous reunion. My older brother is here, and my younger brother and his wife will be arriving later this afternoon. We're also celebrating my dad's birthday, as he turns 88 today.

We'll be here through next weekend, when we'll head over the mountains into Las Vegas, which now promises to be a dazzling 118F on Sunday. (By contrast, it's about 68F here on the coast.)

It's a good thing this fancy SUV has air conditioning, since we'll be traveling up through central Nevada through the massive heat wave.

Thanks for following our road trip!


  1. Thanks for taking us along. I once rented a van for a trip to Tucson. I put something like 3000 miles on the truck in about 1 week. It was the best couple of hundred dollars I had ever spent.

  2. Ah yes, been on I5 many many times; the boredom and monotony of driving is why so many of us opt for old 99. It is farther inland, but at least you pass through cities and they have restaurants, 7-11's, and lots of gas stations. Of course, over a recent 5-year span, this highway had 62 fatal accidents per 100 miles. I usually do 99 to the Bakersfield/Grapevine, and take the plunge into LA. Either way, you need snacks, a rest area, and patience. Have a good visit with your family and enjoy!!

  3. You might want to consider getting another AC for backup just in case ya'll get that nasty heat again once you get home. Don't count on there being one available for purchase if a heat wave arrives . Just a thought in case you pass the usual box stores on your way home.
    Glad you safely arrived and can enjoy relaxing with loved ones.
    Am also glad you got that vehicle upgrade. You deserve it to celebrate your recent successes. Also, those small cars , Corolla included, can get terribly uncomfortable when you're driving a long ways, not to mention feeling cramped even for a hobbit. So if it was going to break down, it's good it was sooner rather than later. Your butt and back are silently thanking you.
    Happy birthday to your dad. My mom turned 96 yesterday so their birthdays are 1 day apart.

    1. The reason I had posted about the ac is because mine had just died while being cranked to the max in what was then a current heat wave, and I was able to hook up an old window unit right then.
      News is ac sales are up 248% over last year.
      Window units ok, but they don't tend to live long lives. Still, they are an affordable option or back up when it's so darn hot.

  4. Imagine my surprise that you mentioned Florin Rd. When I first got married over forty years ago we lived in Sacramento and I worked on Florin Rd. I loved growing up in California surrounded by orchards in the Bay Area. It was wonderful. Breaks my heart what has happened to it. Enjoy your trip.

  5. Enjoy your time with your family! I'm glad the road mishap was easily remedied.

  6. Thank you for another travelogue. Even though we’ve never met, I’m sure your dad had a wonderful birthday just knowing the fine daughter he raised, and the good family she is a part of.