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SLO to LV

People often ask me how long it takes to get to Las Vegas from San Luis Obispo. I feel tempted at times to answer, "How long do you bake a potato?". The correct answer, of course, is "until it's done". Because many aspects of the trip are beyond my control, I can't give an accurate answer that will be good on any given day. I have made this trip in just under seven hours, and can imagine doing it in a little less time than that (with a cast-iron bladder, that is, and speeding as usual), and I have done it in over nine hours, like yesterday.

I got out of the house at about 8:45 a.m. yesterday. I knew that I was in for a great deal of heat and was prepared, mentally, to live with that. Oddly, it didn't occur to me that the physical effects of this heat may be more than I could handle. I'm still here, so it wasn't too much, but it could have been.

The highway 166 portion was beautiful, as always. The dryness means it is less colorful but the shapes,the curves, the views, remain. I had my personal sound track going, adding to the experience. I got behind large trucks a few times, but overall made good time, and hit Bakersfield pleasantly surprised at how well it was going. I cut across 223, as usual, landed on highway 58 amidst the usual array of tractor-trailers. It occurred to me then that maybe fewer people were on the road than usual. I don't know how many people travel on July 4, but during this part of the trip it seemed like not that many.

The whole picture changed when I hit Barstow, where I got onto I-15. I-15 was trying to be a parking lot from Barstow to well beyond Baker, a distance of maybe 80 miles or more. The number of vehicles on the road was the largest I have ever seen. Many families, many large vehicles towing boats or other vacation equipment. The temperature, by then, was about 105 degrees. During my trek up I-15 I must have seen at least fifty cars overheated, by the side of the road.

Good little Hilda Honda, though, did not overheat. There were two times when I noticed the temperature gage nudging a teeny bit higher than the normal low, but it never got anywhere near the hot zone. Not so, clearly, for many many others, vehicles of all sizes, shapes, ages, most of which appeared to be relatively new, in good shape, only a few looking like they were used to sitting it out.

A few years ago, after I bought Hilda, I wrote a little piece called "Moving into respectibility". In part, this piece noted how different my trip to Las Vegas was in my safe, comfortable cocoon of a car, compared to the many other cars I have driven over the years. With air conditioning, a comfortable seat, a reliable engine, music, I have been able to make this trip isolated from my surroundings, surrounded by waves of good vibrations. I compared this experience to those when I worried if the car would overheat, when I had to keep the window open for adequate ventilation and what coolness I could get, when I sat in a seat that was permanently unadjustable and therefore not comfortable. When I drove these other cars I knew where I was, I was in touch with the road and the surroundings. But when I drove Hilda, I didn't have to be. I felt, at the time, a wisp of a sense of loss, but of course just a wisp.

All that changed yesterday on I-15.

We inched along, reaching breakneck speeds of 15 miles per hour at times. I pulled into a rest stop between Barstow and Baker, needing the bathroom. But the line outside the women's room was the longest I have ever seen it. I decided to wait until Baker. Even getting into Baker was a trial, and I noticed that every food and service place on my way to The Mad Greek was filled.

The Mad Greek was busy but no more than I have seen before, thank heaven. The kitchen was turning out meals at breakneck speed, and the entire pass-through, which is long, was lined with plates piled high with food. I wanted something cool, and I wanted it quickly. My first choice, a "caffe frappe", I think they called it, was not available. So I went for yogurt. They make fresh Greek yogurt there, and I have a hard time passing it up. I got a little dish of it, with strawberries on top, and I asked for some honey. I thought they might have jars of it, which I could use with the plain yogurt I brought with me, but they didn't. Instead, the woman poured some honey into a styrofoam cup for me. I had a bit with some yogurt and it was just delicious. I brought the rest with me to Elaine's house.

I went into the bathroom there, of course, and had a look in the mirror. My face was beet-red. It occurred to me that I might be headed for some kind of overheat condition. I was feeling good, though. Feeling strong, handling the heat surprisingly well. I was not looking forward to getting back into the parking lot situation but felt there was nothing for it.

As we edged away from Baker I was getting hotter and hotter. I had the window open, I had the fan going. I had brought many bottles of water with me and had been drinking them from the start. By now, the water in the remaining bottles was hot. I drank it anyway, and poured it on my head and body, and it burned! It soon cooled, though, so I kept doing this, splashing it on my arms, down my back, getting my jeans and T-shirt wet. I realized that I should have gotten a bag of ice while in Baker, but once I was back on the road there was nothing I could do about this.

It was on this stretch of road when I started to feel a little worried. My body was heating up, I didn't have any ice, my water was almost boiling, and there was nothing but desert out there. If I personally overheated I might have become delerious. I worried that the stop-and-go traffic - we were now averaging about five miles per hour - would put too much of a strain on my system.

Fortunately, no such problem for Hilda, good little reliable Hilda. I didnt have to worry about the car. And if she did overheat I did have water. I also had my cell phone, which was rapidly losing its charge. Later I mentioned this to Elaine, and she suggested that the heat might have affected this, too. I spoke to both Elaine and Mary, and both were worrying about me, expressing sympathy for my situation.

Oddly, in spite of this situation, my spirits were still high. I had enjoyed trekking along with music, was listening to Missa Luba at the time - seemed somehow appropriate, African mass in the desert - and I was taking it one clutch move at a time.

When I started out yesterday morning, I estimated that I might get in by four p.m. By this time, I figured it may be seven or later before I hit Las Vegas. I switched the radio to the "highway stations" to hear a traffic report. The announcer said it was a parking lot all the way from Baker to the state line. I didn't particularly want to hear this. But right after he said it, there was a small break. At first we made our way up to about 40 miles per hour, and I dared not hope that this would last, then gradually traffic smoothed and I was sailing at 70, even 80, and with one small exception, one slowdown, I made it into Primm at these speeds.

Really, I think, none too soon. I got a parking space at the entrance visitor center, went inside. I bought a bag of ice. I wanted more, something cool, preferably in a cup or a dish, wanted a Starbucks frap, but the lines...everyone had the same idea. So I left with my bag of ice. I think the ice made a big difference the rest of the way.

As I drove I lodged ice under my T shirt, front and back, rubbed it over my arms, piled it on top of my head. I filled a coffee cup with ice, poured hot water over it, and drank and drank. Poured more water over my head, replaced ice when it melted next to my skin. This seemed like exactly the right thing to do. I made it into Las Vegas, at Elaine's apartment, at about ten minutes to six, over nine hours after starting out. I was very tired but wholly conscious and alert.

If ever I want to make this trip on July 4 again I must remember to start at two in the morning, or the day before. I have driven here for many holidays and the roads are never really clear but I had never seen anything like this before and would like to avoid seeing it again.

Oh yeah. We didn't see any fireworks...

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