Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 2: Not Abducted By Aliens

Sonora, CA
Rachel, NV
~400 miles

Bagels for Breakfast

We woke up sometime between and 9 and 10 o'clock and got ready to get back on the road again. We ate bagels, lox, and cream cheese for breakfast on the tailgate of the truck, in the parking lot of the motel.

(We'd meant to eat the lox for breakfast the morning of the wedding, but we forgot it at my parents' house. We thought briefly about trying to pick it up before doing our pre-wedding errands, but it was so chaotic and rushed that we realized it would be more trouble than it was worth. We ended up eating loxless bagels and Starbucks coffee drinks instead.)

After eating our bagels, Forrest repacked the back of the cab and bed so that it was much more sane. I'm pleased to report that everything fits pretty neatly. He did a great job designing the bed platform where we store most of our camping things, and the four milk crates behind the seats in the cab fit like they were designed for it.

Taking Photos

Last night, I saw my mom's first blog post about the Arizona road trip she and my dad are (finally) taking, simultaneous with our own trip. She had taken several photos and uploaded them. I may have gotten a little jealous and defensive, but I'm not admittin' to nothin'. However, you may notice that more photos are getting uploaded to my Flickr honeymoon photo set since my mom's post. ;)

Note, though, that the photos I'm currently uploading are just from my iPhone's camera, which is decent but not really a good camera. We're also taking a bunch of good photos with Forrest's fancy new micro four thirds camera. However, it's not as easy to upload photos from that camera — the photos are in Panasonic RAW format (we're not shooting in RAW+jpeg format for SD card space reasons... despite having gigs of space...), and also we need real internet, not just phone-based 3G that suffices for uploading cameraphone pictures. We probably won't upload any of the better-quality photos until we get home in mid-October. You'll just have to wait. :P

Sonora, CA

We did some more last-minute shopping at the WalMart in Sonora, CA. One thing WalMart does have going for it, is that it has a little bit of everything, making it a good one-stop shop, which matters when we want to just get on the road already. Also, the parking lots of WalMarts can be entertaining in their own right. For example, we saw this crazy DIY camper shell on a pickup truck. Incredibly1, the owner thought he could get $1,000 for it. (Just wait until we upload the photo of this thing. It really is unbelievable1.)

We gassed up at the Shell across the street. One of the pumps was out of order, and Forrest realized this was the same pump that had been broken when he and his brother Ari had driven through on their backpacking trip, in the beginning of August!

A couple other things we saw: a business sign that read "Viruses, Trojans,and Spyware (bad stuff) REMOVED"; and a sign for a quilt show this weekend, which my mom is missing by going to Arizona; I'm sure she's so sad she missed it. ;)

Outside of Sonora, we drove past city limit signs for several little mountain towns. As we approached another one, he apologized and blamed his brother. Confused, I asked him what was up. "Can I tell you something... in Confidence?" he said, just as we came in sight of the city limit sign for Confidence, CA. While I was glaring at his puntastic self, we drove past the sign. "Something," he said. I hated him some more. :P

Through the Western Sierra

We headed out of Sonora on CA-108. Driving through the mountains that are so familiar to both of us, we talked about how we wanted to share this area with our Seattle friends, most(?) of whom haven't really been camping before. Next spring, we may try to round them up for an easy camping trip in the Sierras.

We drove past Relief Reservoir, which Forrest thought had some interesting pioneer story of a wagon train running out of supplies and needing to be rescued. As he recalls, some guy was in Carson City, NV, promoting his new route over the Sierras. A wagon train decided to take it, but the route turned out to be terrible; they got stuck, and started running out of supplies. They sent out some of the men to go ahead over the pass without the wagon. The men returned with a relief party from the western side and helped the party the rest of the way over. When we have internet for long enough again, maybe I'll even fact-check this story. ;)

Weather continues fair. (According to Forrest, a more accurate weather report would tell you of the proto-thunderheads forming over the next ridge, and the 4/8 cloud cover. But that doesn't pay homage to the wagon train diaries full of terse entire-day entries like "Weather continues fair," now does it?)

Just over the summit of Sonora Pass, we pulled over to look down on Levitt Meadow, the jumping-off point for Forrest's own Sierra adventure (with his father and brother) this past August. It was cool and breezy at the lookout point, with no sound but the wind rustling through the aspen and pine and, in the distance, the muted rush of a waterfall over granite. I was glad I got to see where Forrest had been on his backpacking trip, since I hadn't been able to go and he had told me about his trip. Now I have something specific to picture in my mind's eye when he talks about it, that I've seen myself rather than just from photographs.

I started an "adventure list" for ourselves on the back of our shopping list at this point, to have a ready inventory of future trips we'd like to take together, be they simple weekenders or more month-long vacations.

On the Eastern Side of the Sierras

Once we crossed over into Nevada, we were about ready for lunch. We stopped in Bridgeport. As tempting as the seafood place was, we just didn't feel like trusting a restaurant with fish, so far from the ocean. Instead, we ate at the Bridgeport Inn, which has been around since the 1800's. The soups there, both the split pea & ham and the clam chowder, were excellent.

Back on the road, we passed by June Lake, where we had hunted for open campsites on a previous trip. Ugh, I remember those hunts: no reservations, sun setting or already dark, getting increasingly late and dark and tired, finding full campsites and no-vacancy motels, worried about where the heck we'll sleep or how long we'll have to drive through the night to find a place.

I am soooo glad that we don't have any of that on this trip. Or rather, not nearly to the same extent: we carry our own little "motel" in the pickup bed, so our worst-case scenario is just to pull over on the side of the road or in a WalMart parking lot and sleep, in our bed with our own supplies, just as comfortable as in a campground, if not as picturesque.

In a more amusing vein, we saw one of those Adopt-a-Highway signs on CA-120, just off of CA-395, that had been made possible by "one of those June Lake liberals." Someone has a sense of humor.

After much driving through surprisingly monotonous, straight-road-out-into-the-distance Nevada, we got to the town of Tonopah. Between California and Tonopah, we saw only two burned-out motels. Between Tonopah and the next one-motel town, there wasn't even that. The sign on the highway out of town warned, "next gas 163 miles."

Rained Out of Camp

Driving down US-6, watching the fuzzy-bottomed clouds that mean rain following along to either side of us, we realized that neither of us had umbrellas or ponchos. We have an EZ-Up for shade and some weather protection... but it's not a great idea if it gets windy. Forrest got that cute, sheepish "uh-oh, we were dumb" on his face as we thought about our lack of rain-preparedness. We figured we had better find camp and cook our burrito dinner quickly, before the weather caught up with us.3

There was a beautiful sunset while we were passing through Tonopah (which we tried to get a photo of, with us in the foreground, but we mostly failed at that). Sunsets mean that it will get dark soon thereafter. And we hadn't decided on a place to camp for the night.

But as previously mentioned, that's no longer a huge issue for us, because we carry everything we need for a basic camping experience right with us. So we looked at the map, saw that the Toiyobe National Forest was only about 30 miles outside of Tonopah and along the route we wanted to be following, and drove out into it looking for a suitable campsite.

It was deep twilight by then, getting on to full dark. After the second unmarked intersection of the dirt roads in the national forest, I started sketching a map so we wouldn't get lost. On top of that precaution, I declared that we would only take right turns — a rule I learned from playing in this cool old labyrinth amusement park thing that my dad took me to somewhere out by Vallejo, when I was little. In a labyrinth, it means you never backtrack and always find a way out. In our situation, it was a little more simplistic: right-turns-only heading out means left-turns-only heading back.

We started setting up camp in full dark, with few stars overhead as the rain clouds moved in. I normally hate setting up camp in the dark, just because it's a pain when you can't see more than your flashlight's area until the lantern is going. But with the imminent rain, I was also worrying about that. So I started stressing and generally being no fun to be around.

Forrest finally put me to work chopping an onion for the burritos, which helped me calm down and focus on something besides our impending doom. :P Forrest cooked up the ground beef, plopped the can of refried beans right into the same frying pan, and drained the ground beef grease into the now-empty bean can. We set it on the ground to let it congeal, so we could throw it away later without it spilling all over the truck while in transit to the nearest garbage can.

A little while later, Forrest asked me if I felt "uneasy." I agreed. I attributed it to the ancient human fear of the dark and unknown outside the light of the fire. Neither of us could put our fingers on anything specific making us feel uneasy. We wonder now if it was the weather, and our relatively isolated situation, weighing on us.

Forrest was making the third (and final) burrito when we felt a couple rain drops on our heads. All at once it was seriously raining, big fat drops soaking anything exposed. Since we had neglected to set up the EZ-Up, "anything exposed" was in fact everything, including the foot of the mattresses and the outside edges of the seats.

We scrambled to throw everything in the truck before they got truly sopping. I jumped into the passenger seat with things tucked under my arms, not taking the time to kick the mud off my newly-muddy shoes. My fleece got pretty damp; I was cold and wet, which means I was miserable. Again, no fun to be around.

Worse, my muddy shoes started getting me worried that the warren of dirt roads we had followed leading in to the national forest would become impassable mud tracks if we took too long to get out. We had picked this spot to camp precisely because we couldn't see anyone anywhere around. The isolation had seemed like a desirable thing at the time, but now it meant that we wouldn't have any chance of outside help without walking back the, oh, mile or so? to the highway.

As soon as the lantern was cool enough to pack (or else it would melt through its plastic case), we got the hell out of there.

Luckily, the dirt roads were actually pretty solidy packed and did not instantly turn to mush. We got back to US-6 without any further incident. We did a "post-mortem" of the incident, going over what signs we missed and what we should do differently in the future.

The obvious answer is that we should have looked at the forecast to have a general idea of the area's expected whether, and we should have hedded the very rain clouds we commented on ourselves earlier in the day. We might still have safely camped, but we should have chosen an organized campground, not a mile out a dirt road out of sight of anyone.

So it ended up being a "lesson learned" type of experience, but it could have been much worse. We're glad we we able to walk away with it with "feeling really dumb" as the worst thing that happened to us.

Little A'Le'Inn near Area 51

With our mattress wet from the rainstorm, we wouldn't be sleeping in the back of the truck that night after all. So we went back to Tonopah where we figured was our best chance of finding a motel. But when we drove the half-hour back to town, we found that everything was booked — there was some big solar plant event, plus a couple other smaller gatherings, taking place that weekend in this middle-of-nowhere Nevada town.

The night clerk of one motel listed the four or five events going on that weekend to explain the lack of rooms, but frankly my eyes glazed over after the first one as I realized we might have to drive the three hours south to Las Vegas, off our route, before we actually found rooms. It was exactly the desparate hunt for lodging that I thought we would be able to avoid on this trip.

Forrest thought to text Google Search to try to find a closer motel. Just when we thought there wasn't enough signal and the text wouldn't go through, we got back three search results. One of them was the Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel, NV, a "town" whose only claim to fame is that it's the nearest civilian dot on a map to Area 51.

I called them. When they told me they had just one queen room left for the night, I said we'd take it. They didn't ask for a credit card number, just my name. They told me that if we got there after the front desk had closed for the night, they would leave a map(!) to our room and a key and we could just pay in the morning. Strange; shouldn't they have worried that we'd be adbucted by aliens during the night and not be available to pay our bill? ;)

I fell asleep for half an hour on the ay over; Forrest drove in the dark and silence, until I woke up again. Then we had some good chatting until we finally got to the Little A'Le'Inn. It turned out to be a handful of single-wide mobile homes coverted into a motel, and by "converted" I mean that they rent out the bedrooms of each mobile home as though they were each a motel room unto themselves. Pretty damn weird, but hey, it means everyone gets a (shared) living room and full kitchen.

The walls of the common rooms and our bedroom were covered with framed color inkjet print-outs of "famous" UFO photographs, à la the X-Files "I want to believe" poster. What else would you expect from such a place, really?

So we ended up in a warm, dry bed for the night. We were not, in fact, abducted by aliens, so I'm going to declare that a win for the day. :)

  1. Ever think about how "incredible" is in-cred-ible, like the Spanish creer to believe, thus making the word "incredible" the literal Latin-root equivalent of unbelievable? I think about things like this. I may be on my honeymoon, but that doesn't stop me from being a lingweenie. ;)

  2. The astute readers out there might realize that this isn't really a plan. It's more of a "let's get ourselves stuck out in the middle of nowhere without the proper gear" type of thing. But that would be getting ahead of the story... ;)


Shelley: the Dread Pirate Rodgers said...

"She [i.e. me] had taken several photos and uploaded them. I may have gotten a little jealous and defensive, but I'm not admittin' to nothin'. ..."

You may cease feeling defensive, as I have stopped uploading & posting. It just took too doggone long. I was spending more time doing the uploading thing than spending time with yo' Daddy. I will postdate and publish the daily blogs upon our return.

""Can I tell you something... in Confidence?" "

Oh yes! Give that man a big hug for me! :-)

as for the rest of the post ... I am *so* glad that I know you are currently safe-and-sound (thank you, FB) and that I can continue to read the post without feeling the need to panic that my firstborn will never been seen again. :-)

Enjoy your trip ... we are FINALLY on the westward route of our trek. :-)