Fear and Loathing Outside of Las Vegas

The Daily Post, Topic #52: Describe the best road trip you’ve ever taken. Bonus: If you’re feeling all glass half empty, the worst road trip.

I don’t know quite where I land on the idea of fate, but I’m certain that I believe in serendipity. When my alarm went off at 5:30 this morning and I saw this topic, it seemed a most serendipitous occurrence. I knew immediately which road trip qualifies as both the best *and* the worst, and given that I spent my morning on a very different kind of road trip (half marathon time again), I had plenty of time and miles to think back and get all the details straight in my head.

Before I could get there however, I spent the first few miles this morning getting settled and sizing up the situation.

-The good: I remembered my inhaler this time! The Boss, Florence + The Machine and a Storm Large song not suitable for a family-friendly blog are perfection to run to.

– The bad: Sub-freezing weather was the wrong time to forget gloves. Aimee Mann, Bright Eyes and Sarah McLachlan are less than perfect to run to.

There was also the truly awful – my brand new Garmin telling me I had hit 8 miles at the exact moment a Mile 7 race sign appeared. Then the truly awesome a mile later when I looked up and saw Mile 9. Maybe double check your signage next time, race officials.

Anyway, in between all of that, I thought back across the years to August, 2003. After watching our friends Megan and Drew get married, Jason and I took off on a trip to Las Vegas. The drive down was mostly uneventful, save an unfortunate incident just outside La Pine, OR where my snack pack of carrots and ranch jumped from my hands and right down between the front seats. That really did a number on the new car smell and even now I can spot a 2003 silver Toyota Corolla from a mile away – always with a mix of nostalgia and extreme guilt. The Motel 6 in Reno where we stayed along the way was terrifying enough that we hit the road at 6 a.m. and Tonopah, NV (already a pretty nonsensical name) goes from hilarious to not so and back again if you say it 100 times in a row. Other than that, easy breezy all the way into Vegas.

Las Vegas itself was pretty great. I think we both made some sizable deposits into the Bank of Vegas, but we also picked up this little pal while we were there. Nicholas Kripsy Van Hedgehog – named for former NBA player Nick Van Exel and also because I tipsily demanded one night that we go get some “Kripsy Kremes.”

Nick

On the whole though, good times in the Vegas. It was once we were outside the city limits that stuff went bad. We got a late start the day we left and only made it as far as Bakersfield, CA. We were also not helped by a wrong turn somewhere along the way that took us through country so dusty and barren that I thought maybe we were making our way to California via Texas. By the time we got to Bakersfield, it was getting late and we needed to eat. We did that always fatal thing where you drive past every open restaurant thinking that something better is up ahead. Then, when it isn’t and you turn around, all the stuff you passed previously is closed. To this day, I have still never eaten at an In-N-Out Burger. All apologies to anyone who has called Bakersfield home, but that place is a hole of a town.

Had I known that it was going to be the first of four fast food meals in a row, I would have vetoed the KFC run we made before leaving Bakersfield the next day, but I didn’t. The plan was to take I-5 north a ways and then hop over to 101 and drive up the coast and back to Oregon through my birthplace – Crescent City, CA. We called our friend Mike (a native of Sunnyvale) and he recommended that we stay in Santa Cruz that night. A walk on the beach in Monterey was gorgeous and things *seemed* alright when we hit Santa Cruz, until we started trying to find a place to stay. Apparently lots of other folks find that town a nice place to visit in the summer as well – who knew? We could not find a room for less than $200 a night, and even those were hard to come by. Everything was booked. I called my mom from a pay phone in a Taco Bell parking lot (meal #2) and asking her to look up motels for us. I remember looking out into the parking lot, seeing a rat scurry by and thinking, “This is probably going to get worse before it gets better.”

We finally called a place that had a room for maybe $120 and we decided to take it, until we drove up and saw a giant hole in the building. Literally, we pulled into the parking lot and were looking into someone’s room, and not through a window. So, we started driving. Which means, of course, that Jason kept driving. We decided to head north and hope that things would be less packed there. J had friends outside of San Francisco that we were possibly going to stop and see, so getting closer seemed a good idea. We were passing through Half Moon Bay sometime around maybe 11 p.m. and we saw a bunch of people getting camping gear out of their cars. We made some jokes about how we could just camp on the beach, and then kept going. We really should have just stopped then. I honestly can’t remember who (probably me), but one of us turned on the other many hours later and used that as ammunition.

North we went, stopping at every hotel and motel along the way, with not a single goddamn room available anywhere. It wasn’t even about price at this point – we would have paid *anything*. There were simply no rooms. We drove for hours. Sometime near 2 a.m. we were in San Francisco – the first and only time I’ve ever been there, still. We had been hopeful that we might be able to find a place near the city and then come back in the next day to visit friends and maybe see a Giants game. As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, I burst into tears for the first and certainly not the last time that trip. I just knew that there was no way that was going to happen. Another hour or so down the road, Jason pulled into an office park, turned the car off and put his head on the steering wheel. “Jij, I just can’t. I can’t do it.” Friday Night Lights was still a few years away, or I would have mustered my best Coach Taylor and given him a pep talk to end all pep talks. As it stood, I’m pretty sure I started crying again and told him that he had to hold it together because I sure as shit wasn’t going to be able to.

Shortly after, we found a Motel Six with no rooms (obviously) but a parking lot that we decided was the loveliest thing we’d ever seen. We conceded defeat and settled in to sleep in the car. With a benevolence that I imagined rivaled Mother Teresa, I handed Jason the travel pillow that I’d been hogging the whole time and Nick, the hedgehog. Then I went and peed outside. There is nothing like realizing that a Motel Six parking lot has become your bathroom to really humble a person. I woke up a couple of hours later to Jason peeling out of the parking lot with a wild-eyed look that I had never seen on him before. He couldn’t explain why, but he just *knew* we had to get out of there when he saw people start leaving in the early morning. We talked later about how we could have maybe asked one of the nice, departing guests if we could use their room until checkout time, but we were looking awfully sketchy by that point, so probably best that we didn’t try.

By 7:00 a.m. we were eating breakfast at McDonald’s (meal #3) followed by a trip to a carwash. Jason was on some kind of crazy train at this point and as I watched him frantically washing the car from the pay phone booth where I was yet again calling my mom, it seemed clear that something had to change. God bless my mother for recognizing that as well. She had reserved a room for us in Crescent City – all we had to do was get there. And we did, somehow. But not before another stop at McDonald’s for lunch (meal #4) and my own descent into semi-insanity when I marched back to the car from the bathroom telling Jason that I wanted to “bust some shit up.” After all this time, I have no idea what it was that set me off, but I think some poor woman in the bathroom must have said something – likely innocuous – that hit me the wrong way. It wasn’t too long after that this godawful picture was taken.

We ended up spending a couple of days in Crescent City taking full advantage of running water, restaurants that served salad and bizarre tourist attractions.

Even though Crescent City is a strange little place that sort of feels like the town that time forgot, it truly is a beautiful stretch of Northern California and I was able to bring things full circle and write my name on the same beach where my parents got the idea for my name in 1978.

It was with a collective sigh of relief (Nick included) that we crossed back over into Oregon a couple of days later and from then on, we flew to Las Vegas.

It was fun to remember that trip this morning while I ran; I haven’t thought about it in a long time. It also proved surprisingly helpful when I started shutting down somewhere around Mile 12. I had realized I wasn’t going to finish in under two hours (my goal) and was feeling pretty demoralized. I gave myself a version of the pep talk that Jason deserved in that parking lot in the middle of the night all those years ago and kept running.

In just under eight months, I am running the Portland Marathon. I may have a new best/worst road trip story after that.

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