When you have trouble choosing an option, look to the sky. That will often push you in one direction or another. In my case it was the weather that convinced me to go west on the shortest path to California, rather than south through Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. It looked like cloudy skies in Arizona, so that made camping with my telescope not as attractive. Also, it was too late in the season to camp in New Mexico, which would have meant breaking ice in my water jugs in the morning.
Interstate 80 seemed like the best choice for a western route, since all of the secondary roads through Colorado and Utah were impacted with the latest snowstorm. That meant trucks passing me, since my pickup is low-geared and only goes 60 MPH or so. That is, it used to say 60 when the speedometer worked. That has been broken since my last attempt at going south in the truck two years ago. Despite a new speedometer cable and gear, the pointer still stays on zero. There is a worm gear inside the transfer case that is also worn out, but that would be a major repair.
So for now it is just go with the flow of the traffic, and be conservative in urban and residential areas. It was difficult to calculate fuel mileage, though. What was much easier to measure was the amount of money it took to fuel the beast. Andy had given me cash for the trip, in payment for helping him with his Power Wagon project, and it took about $50 to fill each of the two fuel tanks, depending on the price of fuel ($3.09 in Laramie with a Safeway card, $3.39 in Las Vegas, and $3.99 in California).
Of course it didn't help that the truck developed a fuel leak in the diesel injector fuel return line circuit. That became obvious when fueling in Las Vegas, upon backing the truck up to reach the opposite fuel tank. Imagine laying on the concrete under a truck at 3:30 AM with a flashlight, reaching up between the exhaust pipe and oil pan to replace a tiny fuel hose on one side of a fuel injector, and you can understand my plight. Actually, it was relatively warm and the concrete was relatively clean, and there was just enough room to reach the clamp with some pliers, so it really couldn't have been better.
It probably was leaking slowly before the gusher at the fuel station, since the bottom of the truck was wet with fuel, but even with that the truck got somewhere around 16 to 17 MPG. That isn't bad for a fully loaded ¾ ton pickup with low trailer-pulling gears. Wound up at highway speeds, the engine roars just as a seven year-old boy would growl when driving his wagon around, making you think you are driving a big rig. Actually, that isn't far off when you have to make sudden stops, as my somewhat ill-chosen detour through Palmdale in California demonstrated with its changing stoplights and my panic attempts at not overshooting into the intersection at a red signal.
It irks me to pay big bucks for a motel room when my mind won't let me sleep anyway, so parking in a rest area for 3 ½ hours provided enough semi-conscious downtime to keep me going without danger of falling asleep while driving. The cookies that my friend Scott gave me also helped. My reasoning was that the brain needs sugar, right, so why not dose myself with sugar whenever my brain threatened to shut down? At least that was my logic at the time, and now that my brain is somewhat rested, the flaws in that logic are more obvious. So now that the cookies are gone, it is time to wean myself from sugar again.
Actually, traveling at night has its advantages. If you have to get lost in Las Vegas, 2:30 AM is the time to do it. The streets, at least in the southern outskirts where the “last chance to fuel up before state line” ARCO station was, were completely deserted, so there was nobody to honk at a disoriented driver from Wyoming. To add to my frustration, the ARCO station didn't sell diesel fuel, so cruising the empty streets to look for the Interstate on-ramp on two empty tanks made it even more exciting. Finally, it occurred to me that the TracFone Andy loaned to me might connect to Google Maps, and suddenly it was like the break of day, with the streets and nearby fueling stations laid out on the display. The world seemed manageable again.
Back on the road again at 4:00 AM and headed for the state line, the bag of onions and butternut squash on the floor under my cooler filled with fermented food started weighing heavily on my mind. California inspection officials would probably ask me if there were any fruit or vegetables in my vehicle, and lying to them would be unethical, but hey, there was probably $10 worth of produce there. My plan had been to cut them up and ferment them before leaving, as there was no way they would bother me at the border for onion sauerkraut and soured shredded squash.
This had actually bothered me from the beginning of my trip, and made me consider going 100 miles out of my way through Nevada toward Death Valley to sneak into California through a back door, one without an inspection station. The dark and snow in Utah, plus road construction on Highway 6 in Nevada made me reconsider, though. It wouldn't do to break down in the middle of the night on the Loneliest Highway in America. Actually, that wasn't exactly true, since my route was not Highway 50, maybe 50 miles to the north, but it was close enough, going through Nye County in central Nevada.
Here's a smuggler's secret: the inspection stations on the state line between Nevada and California, at least on a Saturday morning at 5:00 AM are unmanned. You can bring whatever contraband you want into California in that case, be it onions and butternut squash, or even grapes and bananas. The grapes and banana that Scott gave me had long since vanished down my throat, but try that with 10 pounds of raw onions and you will be sorry later, if not within seconds. So it was a huge relief to sail through the gate with the flashing yellow light and continue into the Mohave desert of California.
What a delight it was to be back in the desert! The early morning sunlight lit up the cacti and hillsides, putting everything in high relief, with crystal clarity. This was especially beautiful to my eyes after a long night of snow and dirty road spray coating my windshield. The air smelled good, too. It seemed like homecoming to me, after two years of frustrated attempts to return during the winter. The sky was boundless and beckoned to me and my telescope.
My route now included finding the backdoor way to Ventura and Ojai, where Sylvia waited for my arrival. Driving through Los Angeles in an overloaded 34 year-old pickup wasn't a good idea, especially after driving since 10 AM the previous morning. The tricky part was finding the right cutoff to get to Highway 4 heading south to Santa Clarita, which my map showed the Palmdale highway as a possibility. It did get me there, eventually, after much two-way roller-coaster whoop-de-doos in the undulating desert terrain between Victorville and Palmdale.
Despite the narrow roads and stoplights, the landscape was fantastic, and justified my choice to come this way. There were numerous big saguaro cacti, like a forest almost, and lots of signs advertising land for sale. Of course, there were also shacks and trailer houses out there too, with the lowlife that inhabited them. Living in an RV myself in Wyoming, they were just my kind of people. That might have been the area where my uncle Johnny bought a lot to store his treasures from all the swap-meets he would frequent, lovingly preserved by the dry desert air.
All of my effort in finding Highway 4 came to naught when the turnoff to the Fillmore and Santa Paula Freeway eluded my attention. Actually, it seems that my mistake was in not taking the I-5 North exit at the southern end of the triangle at Santa Clarita. It must have seemed wrong to me to go north, so my choice was to take the I-5 south to Los Angeles, believing the turnoff to Santa Paula was already behind me somewhere. Actually, it was still ahead, but by then all that was for map-maker academics to debate. Los Angeles was coming at me, like it or not.
Staying in my lane became my primary focus, and somehow getting on the freeway to Ventura the imperative, so when the turnoff to the 405 to Santa Monica came, that seemed right. After a while, the 101 to Ventura appeared, and even though the person behind me in the exit lane didn't want to yield, my old truck against a newer model sedan was no match, a gap magically appeared, and soon the off ramp led me to the final leg of my trip. Along the way some familiar sights came back to me from previous trips with Sylvia, and my memory served me well enough to find the right exit to Ojai and the Tico Road cutoff to Sylvia's house in Meiner's Oaks.
What a relief to turn off the motor and press Sylvia's doorbell! She came to the door, surprised and happy, saying she expected me to show up that afternoon. It felt like afternoon to me, somewhat time-lagged by the night driving and time change, so it surprised me to learn that it was only 11:30 AM. We had a nice lunch of soup and later Sylvia fixed a celebratory meal of salmon, baked potato, squash with melted butter, and a side dish of avocado, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. It seemed like a feast, and a great reward to all my efforts in getting here.