“You probably shouldn’t eat stuff you find on the floors of public restrooms.”
* * *
I am behind the wheel of my pickup truck. It is a reliable American made diesel truck that can haul people and things. It is roomy and powerful. Sometimes I take time off-work, borrow a trailer, hook up the trailer to the truck, load my four-wheel drive jeep on the trailer, and go to the desert, where off-road enthusiasts come together to enjoy time away from ordinary. Away from ordinary is also subject of this story, the story about something that was planed long in advance, and for something I can hardly wait to start – the tour of the Rockies.
Idea behind the tour of the Rockies is simple: begin in Sothern California, load the truck with gear and supplies, drive north, see places, meet people, and then come back. To make something like this work you need traveling companions; one would do, but the more the better. You could, most certainly, travel alone, but travel is not exiting all the time, there are boring parts, and nothing makes going through boring parts seem shorter than a good conversation with a traveling companion.
A most natural pool of candidates to select traveling companions from consists of people around: your friends, your colleagues at work, your Internet palls. Now, go ahead and ask your friends whether they’d like to take a couple of weeks and go traveling. You are very likely to find that nobody really wants to travel with you; no, they love the idea, but they have families, they have work, they have cows to milk, their suppose would kill them, or there are a million of other things. Things that keep people anchored.
But, fortunately, there are people who like to travel. So, let me tell you a little bit about my traveling companions. Lucky me, I got two this time, and one of them is a lady, a charming Australian-born copywriter from New York. Her name is Noodle, she runs marathons, she is not afraid to leave everything and move to a different country of residence every once in a while, she publishes her own newsletter, and she will win the Pulitzer Prize one day for the book she has yet to start writing.
Noodle grew up on a farm, but she likes big city life. Noodle loves New York and she fits right in with people getting ‘two dogs and a coffee’ on the way to work. If New York didn’t exist, Noodle would live in San Francisco or probably in some other metropolis that can offer smells of sewage and packs of honking angry motorists.
My other traveling companion is my old friend Matt. This is our second expedition together. Matt lives in Australia, and likes to travel. He goes on world tours, and he goes on short trips such as hiking on Fraser Island. Matt is very good with graphics design work; sometimes he gives me lessons on how to do something fast and easy. For some reason when I try to follow on my own, it is never fast or easy, that’s probably why the media industry pays Matt big bucks for what he does.
So, how did I end up in the company of two Ozzies? — “Ozzy” is a nickname for an Australian, because when somebody says “Australia” with an Australian accent it sounds like “Ozz-Stralia” — I met Matt for the first time when he was on one of his world tours and stopped by my Sothern California friend’s place where a bunch of us were working on jeeps. Another time Matt joined us for a week of off-road adventures in Johnson Valley, California; when Matt invited everybody who was present to visit Australia, I was the one to quickly accept the call.
Matt had done excellent job planning our first trip, which we called “The Incredible Tour of Australia.” In about three weeks we covered roughly six thousand miles of rugged Australian Outback and lavish coastline. After the first expedition we decided to go on another one, this time in North America, it was now my turn to make the plan. With help of Microsoft MapPoint, Internet, and most importantly friends who suggested cool places not to miss, the rough schedule was done, and we started inviting people to join us on the trip. We got three who’d meet us short term, and Noodle, who would fly in and join us when we are about halfway through our tour.
* * *
It is Monday morning. Most of the stuff has already been loaded in the truck; I stack final pieces and hookup laptop computer to my old trusty GPS receiver. The laptop is running a mapping program that prompts on occasion, in female voice, when it is time to make a turn or when we are off-route. Later we will christen the voice “the lady.”
Finally, months of preparation and anticipation are over, and I am on the road. Oh what a wonderful feeling it is, the first day of the trip, you feel freedom, you heart is filled with joy of finally getting away from ordinary, and you know that soon you will be seeing things you haven’t seen before, meet people, and go places. I drive away from San Diego, with Pacific Ocean, where we were yachting with friends just yesterday, on my left side; my first destination is a couple of hours away, that is where I pickup Matt.
The computer lady shouting driving directions leads me to a suburb of Los Angeles where quiet maze of houses and green streets are neighboring a railroad line. I hit some traffic on the way, and I am a little late when I back the truck up the driveway of a friend’s house where Matt is staying. Matt hears grumbling of the truck’s engine and opens the garage door.
“Hello, Matt… Are you ready to go?” — Matt is ready. We load more stuff into the truck, including a blow-up Mr. Incredible, the mascot of out expeditions, and a large radio-controlled jeep model, and decide if we need to borrow anything from the waist collection of camping equipment our friend, where Matt was staying, has. We pass on a foldable dining table, but we take a box full of plates, bowls, and silverware. Mat has also geared up an impressive collection of snacks: 10 packs of tuna salad, beef jerky, potato chips, cereals, and various bars and munchies. All that food nicely complements more abnormal provisions that I packed: dried salmon, coconut water, Steven Seagal's Lightning Bolt energy drinks, and a selection of military issue meal ready to eat (MRE) pouches.
Everything looks superb, let’s get the show on the road. We drive off and navigate to a local freeway, then to the Interstate 15 towards Las Vegas. Scenery starts to look deserted, with hills covered by sparse brush. Our plan calls for the minimum amount of stops until we hit Idaho; we want to drive quickly through familiar territories down south, so that we have more time to spend in the regions farther away. But, a number of stops we will be making in the beginning of the trip as well. The first such stop is Baker, California.
Baker is a small community, a so-called gateway to the Death Valley, Baker is a very popular tourist stop, in large part due to a big thing it has. That big thing is the world’s tallest thermometer. The thermometer is 134 feet high, symbolizing 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.6°C), the hottest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley and in the entire United States.
We park out truck and go to take a look. Buildings surrounding the thermometer are reminiscent of public shower buildings in Innaminka, the place with population of 14 in the middle of nowhere in South Australia we’ve been before. It is hot in Baker, and we try to determine how hot it is. Standing next to he world’s tallest thermometer you think it would be very easy to determine current temperature, but the numbers on the thermometer are so high, that, with the angle of view we are at, Matt and I have an argument about what temperature we see. I think the temperature is 101 degrees, while Matt thinks it is under 100.
On the back of the parking lot some agricultural implements are located for tourist pleasure. We, off-course, go play with those implements, and imagine that we are farmers, farming the land. Very good for our first stop, let’s keep on rolling.
* * *
Several casinos just showed up on the horizon of the Interstate cutting through the desert. That’s the Nevada border; a little later we are in Las Vegas. Our original plan called for lunch in the Luxor casino, the one that looks like pyramid, but my brother suggested before the trip that we instead go to the Mirage. So that’s were we are heading.
Here is the casino, standing on the busy strip surrounded by other casinos. Now we need to find a place to park our 30-feet long, 8-feet wide (with mirrors folded) truck, antennas sticking up high. Fortunately, there is a parking lot for oversize vehicles on the back, accessible by running over a curb. We park, and get out facing the searing heat of the sun; we walk up to what looks like an entrance. That’s an entrance, all right, but only casino employees may use it, so we walk around the complex and use one of the front doors.
Our mission is to find the buffet. Casinos in Las Vegas are usually built in a way that in order to find something you are looking for, you have to walk through many slot machines and gaming areas. We fight the temptation to gamble and navigate the maze of carpeted walkways between flashing lights and wheels spinning and levers being pulled. Finally, we locate the buffet with the clever name “Cravings.”
In the buffet we get a table and find ourselves in the middle of food kingdom. All around the dining floor are serving stations divided into sections: Italian food, salads, Japanese food, desserts, barbecue, this kind of food, that kind of food; you name it, and chances are they have it. We order our drinks, and go around to pick the eats. Fresh crab goes very well with Portuguese sausage. Soon after our first plates we go for the second round. Matt plays it smart and saves room for dessert, I on the other hand, by the time I get to coconut gelatos, hurt from overindulgence.
We walk slowly out of the buffet. On the way to the casino exit we bump into two young ladies each carrying a 24-can case of beer.
“Are you getting ready for a big party?” I inquire.
The ladies seem to be friendly, but we weight how long two cases of beer would hold us over, and decide to keep moving before we blow our schedule so early into the trip.
We have to leave Las Vegas behind, except first we need to fill up on fuel. Our computer is programmed with gas station locations, and we go from one to another until we find a station that serves diesel fuel. This station has bio-diesel, something we haven’t encountered before, so we study all the warning stickers on the pump and decide to give it a try. With full stomachs and full fuel tank we are happy to continue our journey.
* * *
Traffic on Interstate 15 moves fast; past Mesquite, where Casablanca casino is located, we cross into Arizona. The Arizona part of our expedition is very short, we don’t even stop, but as we approach mountain ranges we start acceding through picturesque canyons of the Virgin River, probably the most gorgeous stretch of the Interstate 15 of our whole trip.
Next state we enter is Utah. Originally, we planned to spend the night in Cedar City, which we reach soon, but we feel good about continuing driving for a bit longer. We keep driving until we are in Beaver, where we get a room in the Motel 8 on the side of the freeway. As we unload things from the truck, Matt decides to take our radio-controlled jeep for a spin on the parking lot.
This jeep is amazing for a toy. It’s big; it has real soft rubber tires, dual range transfer case, differential lockers, and flexible suspension. We find all kinds of rocks and obstacles on the parking lot to make the jeep crawl over. It looks like Matt has been practicing controlling this jeep, which looks pretty easy when he does it, but when I take over the controls, I find the jeep helplessly stuck several times, and even roll it once or twice.
When we are done with parking lot crawling we decide to see what is happening in town. It is already dark, and driving slowly on the main street we pay attention to the little town’s features. Matt spots a motel that looks really nice on the outside and says, “Oh, we should have stayed there.” He is right, but such is life, something better may come along in the near future, and you never know if the right thing is to wait for it.
Then, sparkling display of lights on top of a one-story building on the side of the road catches our attention, it’s a café. We take a note of its location, and keep on driving. When it looks like we have reached the end of the town we see a door in the wall with no windows and no signs but one bright red neon sign that reads “Open.”
Also available, “Noodle's Road Trip through Oregon and beyond” is a very humorous and true account of the second part of this expedition. Read it in three parts:
Noodle is an inspiring writer currently residing in New York, publisher of the “Subterranean Homesick Noos” newsletter, and one of the core participants in the Tour of the Rockies by NoNo Expeditions Australia.
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