Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tumbleweeds are smarter than squirrels...

It's weekend number three in a row of being out of town. Weekend one was a wedding, number two was a knockdown, drag out "fight" with a hoarding mom of a relative of mine. Number three would be a quiet, jaunt with two of my three kids and mama to Tahoe. A lazy drive through tired towns full of whimsical motels and mom and pop shops. I was looking forward to a packed car and random acts of random tunes from random compact discs picked randomly from my collection of randomness. A road trip in its purest form.

Things started off great. "Ah. Check out the cute little town. That's a neat motel," we consistently chimed. "Look at the cute cows and cute horses, etc, etc." Things were chipper, the weather was good and the miles ticked by. Our kids are used to travel, to the car, to being out and about. We never think twice about packing up and taking off. They can handle it. They've both been to Europe, around the country and the eight hours in the car would be a cake walk mixed with stops for grub and leg stretching.

Our first stop would be Bishop, CA. With references carefully constructed by my newbie-to-the-internet father we pulled into Erick Schat's Bakkery. When my dad recommends an eatery, you know it must be good. We walked into the place and immediately we were in pastry and bread heaven. They are known for their breads including the Sheepherder's style. Armed with cheese bread, the aforementioned Sheepherder, some cookies, and a couple of sandwiches we all agreed that grandpa's suggestion was spot-on.

Onward. Back in the rig and more free-spirited miles to come we continued on the 14 until we reached the death march of winter storms on the 395. Now it was dark and windy. Real windy. In fact, today the 395 and the surrounding areas would experience some of the worst winds in a long, long time. Combine darkness, cold weather, 100-mile-per-hour winds and mix in a large helping of snow flurries and soon the carefree "Kumbaya" road trip got very ugly. The flurries began in earnest and while mama and I thought it was just dirt and dust from the Biblical winds we soon discovered that the horizontal onslaught was indeed snow. Because the wind was blowing so hard it didn't stick to the car or the ground or to anything. It just flew by on it's way to nothing but the town of Evaporation.

Then relief. We came into another town and things subsided. Just the visual of motels and shops and people relieved my nerves, but soon it was back onto the lonely stretches of what is normally a beautiful, scenic drive. More horizontal madness. Driving a square SUV under normal circumstances is an exercise in concentration, but under these conditions, this box of metal makes me think negative thoughts like "This road is stupid," and "Why did Nissan put a First-Aid kit in that little nugget of space on the rear hatch of the Xterra?" Was it telling me something?

The white knuckle driving continued. Soon it was just wind and tumbleweeds. All shapes and sizes of tumbleweeds, lifting up and scurrying across the road. Hit one and it does two things: either instantly evaporates, or gets lodged under the front bumper. What's amazing is that the weeds seem to know when to scurry and when to turn back, unlike a stupid squirrel. Some tumbleweeds would time it and get across without getting squished, while others would get one-quarter of the way across and turn back. Some would bolt across like the medium sized ones. They were lean and quick and somehow saw a need to get to the center parkway. The large one's "Weebled" along, stopping when they sensed a car, then continuing. Occasionally they would get lodged or flattened but most made it. They were used to this and used the Biblical winds to their advantage.

This continued for hours: wind, wind and snow, more wind, etc., tumbleweeds, more towns with neat motels and hollowed out old gas stations. I am wondering at this point where Tahoe is. Does it still exist? Did it just vanish? White knuckles and sweaty palms, head in the windshield to see; it all made me think of how nice it would be to be at home with no wind and sun!

Eventually we made it to Gardnerville. It's the town just before our ascent up the 207, which would spill us out to the 50 for a second and South Lake Tahoe. The sign read "Chains Required." It was the end of our journey for the night. We turned back around and shacked at the Holiday Inn Express. The next morning the sign read "Cold and Icy, Drive with Care." An interesting sign that spells dread and positivity at the same time. We ramble on in the metal box, up the pass. Soon the boy from sunny Southern California has a parade of "mountain-types" behind him. I pull to the side, let the experienced drivers through and get back on path. No wind and sun means we'll make it, though slowly to our destination. We do. Pheww.

This year I have done some pretty big drives like from Italy to Austria on my own in a rented stick- shift Citroen, but nothing compared to this spellbinding, sweaty palm adventure. Now some chill in Tahoe.