Summer Odyssey – 2002 VI

I split off of Hwy 93 onto NV 375 and drove north, stopping for gas in Rachel (not even on the map) where they were pumping for $1.80 a gallon! The tank was getting low and I was about 90 miles from the next “larger” town. I put in five dollars worth and said sarcastically, “That’s all you’re getting.” She asked where I was headed and I told her, “Tonapah.” “Gas there is $1.90,” she retorted. I thought, “Yea, right. We’ll see.” Just down the road I saw an ominous sign reading: “Next Gas-110 Miles.” Uh-oh, maybe I had underestimated the distance a little. At the junction with U.S. 6, I turned west and made a spontaneous stop at Warm Springs, an obviously abandoned town. All that was left was a boarded-up café/bar/gas station. I walked around the premises, surveying what at one time had been a thriving little oasis. It was rather depressing. Nevada was such a land of extremes, from the glitter and glamour of Vegas and Reno to the disused and forgotten towns that littered the state.

It was now up and over the cordillera (parallel mountain ranges) that looked as if giant caterpillars had crawled up from Mexico and come to rest in the Silver State. The gas needle was dipping down towards empty. I would coast down into one valley only to see one more excruciating climb over another mountain range in the distance. It was getting to be white-knuckle time. I had never run out of gas in Ol’ Blue, coming close one other time in, wouldn’t you know it, Nevada between Austin and Ely. With every click of the odometer, I would say to myself, “That’s one less mile I’ll have to hitchhike for gas.” Eventually, the lights of Tonapah (elev. 6080 ft.) appeared, looking like the proverbial “Seven Cities of Gold.” I coasted into a Texaco station where the rate was $1.85. The old saw about high gas prices being in direct proportion to high elevations was certainly holding true. The lady back in Rachel wasn’t far off, I had to admit. Oh well, it was my first chance to use the credit card – $38.00 for 20.5 gallons. After all that, I still had one and a half gallons to spare!

I asked the lady behind the counter about a safe and legal place to park overnight. With somewhat of a cockney accent, she mentioned the casino at the other end of town and a parking lot for truckers across the street from the Scolaris Market. “What part of England are you from?”, I inquired. “I’m from Australia, my dear,” she replied. I put in a quick, “I knew that. Thanks for the info.” I opted for the trucker’s lot since it was close to the grocery. There were several semis and a RV (with all the blinds closed, of course) already in the unpaved lot. In fact, it was a major dust bowl. Every time another rig pulled in, a cloud of white powder would enshroud Ol’ Blue. Never mind, I could let it slide. I was thankful to be where I was, safe and sound.

The next morning, I patronized Scolaris for a batch of grapes (finally!). Back in the parking lot, I noticed an elderly lady sitting in an old 1970s Chevy van. I figured she was waiting for her gal friend who was behind me in the checkout line. It looked so incongruous to see an old, gray-haired woman behind the wheel of a van. Sure enough, out trundles her companion behind a grocery cart, and as they were loading up the van, I approached them, saying, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing how strange it looks seeing a senior citizen driving a van.” She said, “That’s okay, sonny. I bought this baby back in ’78 and loved it ever since. Wouldn’t have anything else.” Well, that was a fun time, and with that, I said goodbye to Tonapah.

I exited U.S. 6 at Coaldale and headed north on U.S. 95. I had entertained thoughts about continuing on west to U.S. 395 in California and then drive north to Carson City. At the last minute, I changed my mind. The usual route was shorter and I now wanted to be at Donner Lake by mid-afternoon. I stopped at a familiar rest area near Hawthorne, one which I liked because of its panoply of elms and cottonwoods. A Nevada patrol car pulled in and the officer escorted his handcuffed felon to the restroom. While the patrolman waited patiently outside the facility (I was fantasizing his prisoner escaping out a rear window), I approached him, saying, “Gosh, that has to be a terrible feeling being handcuffed. I kinda feel sorry for the guy.” The patrolman, with the usual potbelly and sunglasses, said, “Ahw, he’s harmless really. I’m just transporting him from Vegas to a minimum security in Reno.” Suddenly, I felt so thankful for my freedom.

Just outside Mina, I noticed several luxury sedans parked in front of a trailer home. I figured some fat cats were being “entertained” by the ladies of ill repute. It was a familiar scene in wide-open Nevada. I passed by Walker Lake, an immense treeless body of turquoise-blue water which seemed like such an anomaly in the middle of all that arid terrain. Into Fallon where a sign proclaimed it to be the “Oasis of Nevada”. I could buy that. With all the fertile fields that surrounded the town, it made me feel like I was in California. I finally had to succumb to a stretch of interstate and breezed through Reno, stopping in Verdi at the reliable Arco station, renowned for the cheapest petrol in a 500 mile radius – $1.38 per gallon! I don’t know how they do it, but they do.

I climbed up the helter-skelter, fast-paced I-80 to the Truckee exit and made my way to the railroad station. After photographing the immaculately preserved 1896 wooden structure, I struck up a conversation with an elderly couple from Tahoe City waiting for their daughter on the 2:45 from Napa. It was now 4:30, so unfortunately typical of AmTrak. They had the prescience to bring some reading material. We had a pleasant talk, which just so happened to center mainly on railroading. I said, “You know, there was a time when people would set their watches on when a train arrived.” The gentleman said, “Yeah, I can remember those days.” I went on to say, “It’s a relatively unknown fact that our present-day time zones were originated by the railroads.” I loved throwing out bits of trivia like that. I hung around until the train finally arrived about two and a half hours late, watching from a distance the parents greeting their daughter, vicariously enjoying their reunion.

I stopped at the familiar Safeway for an eight-piece chicken bag and some milk and orange juice. I reached the Botkin house just before sunset. I had driven exactly 1900 miles (200 miles farther than the I-40 route) at an average of 270 miles a day. It had been too long since I had last biked, so I immediately set forth on the velocipede, panning the neighborhood for any new construction. Back at W. Tamarac, I sat at the dining table updating my journal. I opened the window and felt the cool night air drift in. I turned on the BOZE radio (a new supplement to the place) and what should come out, but soft cool jazz, just like the station back in Dallas I always listened to. What a coincidence! I was back in Paradise, my adopted “home” away from home. I felt so fortunate that Bill and Lynn would let me have access to their Donner Lake house. I was remembering that I had sat at this same table two years ago, designing and drafting out a carport extension from the garage, free of charge, of course. It was like we had a bartering system going. So, on this occasion, I laid out a present for them on the dining table – a collection of prints of watercolors I had recently done, just as a “thank you” for letting me stay there. Actually, I retired to Ol’ Blue in my “reserved” parking place under the pines next to the house. The temperature was about 52 degrees as I crawled under the covers. I was in Seventh Heaven. I thanked the Lord for getting me home safely.