- Where We Started: Sonora, Calif.
- Where We Ended: Reno, Nev.
- Miles Driven: 248 (12,836 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 19 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Since we left Virginia on March 6, we've been asked a number of times when we were planning on returning home. Truth is, we didn't have an answer. We wanted to be on the road for at least a month, and knew we needed to back by June 1 at the latest, but that left us a lot of wiggle room. But we finally reached the point on Thursday where we had to make some hard decisions about the future of the FHMA tour, specifically when to come home and whether to mush our way to Alaska.
As much as we'd both like to stay out until June 1, I've been asked to do some consulting work that I'm excited about, and I can't wait that long to start. So, after much discussion, we've decided our return date will be March May 19. Once we made that decision, I started researching whether we could still fit Alaska into our trip. Going to Alaska is something we both really want to do, since we've each been to the other 49 states. So I managed to work out a schedule that had us driving the 1,750 miles from Reno to Prince Rupert, B.C., and then taking the ferry to Ketchikan, Alaska. That schedule was extremely tight, and upon our arrival in Ketchikan, would have left us 3,328 miles from home and about 10 days to get there. But we were still up for it.
Unfortunately, it isn't to be. In all the research I'd done on the ferry from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan -- rules. prices, car fees, etc. -- I'd never actually checked the schedule for dates, since we didn't have a firm date we'd be there. I assumed, like most ferries, this one would run daily. It does not. So, even if we killed ourselves to make it the 1,750 miles to Prince Rupert by the time of the May 3 ferry to Ketchikan -- a very iffy proposition -- we would have needed to wait until May 7 to return to Prince Rupert. We also could have ferried to Ketchikan on May 7, but then could not have been back Prince Rupert before May 10. On top of that, when we checked the ferry pet regulations, we found we needed a statement saying the dogs were in good health that was signed and dated within the past 30 days. Yes, we could have made a vet appointment and gotten that. But having already discovered the sporadic ferry schedule, and not knowing what other issues we might encounter at the Canadian border, we decided not to push our luck. Instead, we decided to make Alaska our next big vacation, either this summer or next summer. It will not stand as the only state we have not been too for long.
Being the type who likes goals, the loss of Alaska meant I needed a new goal. So we decided that we would, over the next 19 days, hit each of the 29 states we have not hit thus far on this trip. So that means we will indeed be able to hit some places we thought we'd miss on FHMA: the Badlands, Yellowstone, Chicago, New England, etc. Yes, we will be moving fast the rest of the way, and yes, we won't be doing much in some of these states (though we will stick with the rule that you have to do something in every state to be able to count it, i.e. a meal, a tourist stop, etc.). But the 48-state mission now gives me the goal I needed. So that's the plan, though this plan remains subject to change.
While trip planning did dominate Thursday, we did still see stuff. We began the day by visiting an old Gold Rush town, then toured Lake Tahoe before ending the day in Reno, the self-proclaimed "The Biggest Little Town in the World."
The first stop was Columbia, Calif., which has preserved an old California Gold Rush town at the Columbia State Historic Park. There are a lot of activities for kids, such as "panning for gold," and a whole Main Street lined with old buildings. The main street for the town was used for scenes in two excellent westerns, the classic "High Noon" and the underrated "Pale Rider," with Clint Eastwood. The dogs, however, were not cooperative in Columbia, pulling on their leashes at every opportunity and making life generally difficult for us. Fred was the worst-behaved of the two, which left us with only one option.
After that brief stop, we hopped in the car and headed to Lake Tahoe, smack on the California-Nevada border. At 1,645 feet, Lake Tahoe is the second-deepest lake in America. The deepest, Crater Lake, at (1.945 feet), is on the agenda for this weekend.
I came to Tahoe without Joan on the Fred Takes America tour, since she had flown home for her monthly visit with her mentee. But I thought it was beautiful, and wanted her to see it. We arrived to find that a few of the parks along the lake's rim were closed for the season, but there were still plenty of overlooks to get a view of the lake.
The Emerald Bay portion of Lake Tahoe. The lake's only island, Fannette, is bottom left. At the top of Fannette Island is an old, castle-like tea house that -- obviously -- can only be reached by boat. (Photo by Jim)
The dogs were also big fans of Tahoe, and -- despite his orneriness earlier in the day -- Fred finally decided to get into the spirit. But not before he jumped off the wall to chase another dog at the overlook, of course. Here's our second attempt at the photo op.
Of course, those of you who followed Fred Takes America in 2003 might remember Lake Tahoe as the site of that trip's most remembered photo, my brilliant and utterly accidental "Fredzilla."
Soon, the nice weather gave way to fog and more drizzle, preventing us from getting some of the great sunset photos I got at Tahoe the first time around.
After dinner, we decided to make a little progress and drove 40 miles through the middle of nowhere, finally turning a corner on Interstate 80 and being greeted by the bright lights of Reno, Nev., where we put down for the night.
The strip in Reno. A quick Google search cannot turn up why exactly Reno calls itself "The Biggest Little City in the World," but it apparently adopted this moniker sometime around 1910. Here is a blog post about the slogan that also can't seem to track down the answer.
- Thursday marked the first time since April 16 that the official FHMA tour had left California. We'll make our final appearance there today, as we'll cruise through The Golden State our way to Crater Lake.
- We almost got ourselves trapped again on Thursday, though this dilemma would have been more "Keystone Kops" than "King Lear." At about 6pm, while on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, we decided to take a spin through Sand Harbor State Park. In the midst of a massive road construction project going on outside the park, we spotted an open park gate, and after waiting for a construction vehicle to enter in front of us, we headed on in. A quick spin through the park made it clear it wouldn't work for us. First off, there were no dogs allowed, and we just don't frequent places that are anti-canine. Second, it was starting to drizzle. Third, we were getting hungry. But when we got to the exit, we encountered a closed and locked gate. Now, this was a different location from where we'd entered, so we pulled a U-turn and headed back to where we'd come in. It was now also closed and locked. Perplexed, a little research helped us put it all together. Apparently, the park had closed at 5pm, and the only reason the gate had been open when we happened by was that the park was being used as an overnight parking lot for all the construction vehicles being used outside. So someone had apparently opened the gate for the guy we'd followed in, and either didn't know or didn't care that another rat had gotten into the maze. Of course, understanding WHY you're locked in doesn't make you any less pissed off THAT you're locked in. So we drove back to both entrances to see if there was any way to get out, and I discovered that furiously shaking and rattling a locked gate generally does not make it open. I also checked to see if there were any off-road options to get out of the park, and soon confirmed the entire park was fenced in. We hadn't seen anyone in the park other than the guy we followed in -- and he was now nowhere to be found -- so we decided to go to the park office to see if we could locate someone would could let us out, lest we have to spend the night in the park. So we drove over to the park office, which we discovered also closed at 5:00, and behind it, I spotted a road we hadn't previously seen, so we decided to see if we could escape that way. We immediately encountered a big "Do Not Enter" sign, but that sure as hell wasn't going to stop us. So we headed the wrong way down the one-way road, eventually found the main road and our escape from Sand Harbor. Turns out we'd escaped via the boat ramp road entrance. While Joan and I certainly do our best to provide entertainment for all of you, we were glad to have made this escape, with little incident. It's one thing to get a flat tire in the emptiness of Death Valley; right from the start, you know you have to keep it together to figure out how to get out. It's quite another to be trapped in a small park a stone's throw from ritzy Lake Tahoe with a fully functioning car. I'm relatively sure I would have eventually lost it if we'd been stuck there much longer.
- Reader Mark Potts reminds me that the strange gas station/church combo we saw near Yosemite also exists right in our backyard. The Arlington Temple United Methodist Church, in Rosslyn, Va., has a gas station right below it. Check out a photo of the site and get some history of the church. It used to be an Exxon, and was alternatively called "Our Lady of Exxon" and "St. Exxon." It's now a Chevron.
- While at Lake Tahoe, we took a short hike to see Angel Falls, right near Emerald Bay. While we were there, a woman wandered over and asked us if we'd seen two men who she thought were also checking out the falls. Joan had gone down the staircase on one side, and I'd gone down the staircase on the other side, and neither of us had seen them. The woman seemed concerned. I probably didn't help when I told her that, as far as I could tell, there were only three ways to get off that overlook: via the two staircases or via the falls. Since we'd already told her they weren't on the staircases, this probably wasn't my best-timed joke. The woman then said, "I don't know where they could have gone... I swear they came down here." Trying to make up for my earlier faux pas, I tried to comfort her, "I'm sure they're around here somewhere." She slowly looked at me, shook her head, and said, "They are such dumbasses." Soon, the men appeared above us on the overlook, and the woman was happily reunited with her dumbasses.
- One of the sites I wanted to see in Lake Tahoe was the home that was used as the Corleone compound in "The Godfather Part II." The home that was used, Fleur du Lac, was the summer estate of legendary shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser. While, in the film, the home was on the Nevada side of the lake, in reality, it's on the California side. Unfortunately, the only structures from the film that still remain are the boathouses, and what's left is on private property. So we were unable to visit the site of Fredo's demise. Needless to say, it broke my heart. It broke my heart. (Those last few lines were a bonus joke for fans of "The Godfather" films.
- Interesting pass-bys on Thursday:
- The Heavenly Mountain Resort, on the California/Nevada border in Lake Tahoe. This is where Sonny Bono's fatal skiing accident occurred in 1998.
- The Cal Neva Resort in Crystal Bay, Nev., a casino owned by Frank Sinatra from 1960 to 1963. It is said that the ghosts of Sinatra and one-time guest Marilyn Monroe sometime make appearances at Cal Neva. First off, we all know Sinatra's ghost would only play Vegas. And isn't it odd that so many of those who allegedly make ghostly appearances seem to have been famous in life? It's like people who claim they've been reincarnated. In their past lives, they were always Queen Elizabeth or Abraham Lincoln. No one was ever a hotel maid from Salinas.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Tiger Love and Turnip Greens," by Duane Eddy. You may not know the name, but you've heard a lot of his work. One of the most successful rock instrumentalists of all time, Eddy had 15 Top 20 hits between 1958 and 1963. The most popular of these is "Rebel Rouser," which was used in the film "Forrest Gump," when the rednecks are chasing young Forrest. His songs all fall into a pretty narrow range, which I discovered when I bought a double album of Eddy's work and listened to 40 of his songs as once. But, independently, he made a lot of good, twangy tunes, and clearly influenced the work of the Beach Boys and other bands of the 1960s.
- Here's how Day 2 of our A-to-Z iPod Exploration played out:
- First song: "Ain't That Unusual," by the Goo Goo Dolls.
- Last song: "All I Really Want," by Alanis Morrisette.
- Best Songs: "Air Batucada," the Thievery Corporation; "All Along the Watchtower," by Jimi Hendrix; "All Day and All of the Night," by the Kinks; "All I Want Is You," by U2.
- Pleasant Surprises: "Airlane," by Gary Numan; "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast," by Pink Floyd.
- Guilty Pleasures: "All by Myself," by Eric Carmen; "All for You," by Sister Hazel.
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Air Blower," by Jeff Beck; "All Fired Up," by Pat Benatar.
- One of the cool things about going through your iPod in this fashion is that, since its plays songs in alphabetical order by title, you get to hear covers of songs right along with the original. That happened for "All Along the Watchtower," since I have Dylan's original and covers by Hendrix and U2. To me, Hendrix's version isn't merely the best of the three, it's one of the rest rock songs ever. Dylan's version is solid, but lacks the punch of Hendrix's, though I guess you have to give him extra credit for, you know, writing the thing. But every time I listen to U2's version, off of "Rattle and Hum," I just say, "Why?" It isn't very good, and trying to top Hendrix's version seems impossible. Then again, on that same "Rattle and Hum" album, Bono stated that Charles Manson had stolen the song "Helter Skelter" from The Beatles, but that U2 was stealing it back, so it's not like U2 is short on confidence.
- Lunch: Pine Tree Restaurant & Lodge, Sonora, Calif.: We went back to the Best Western's restaurant for a late breakfast/early lunch. Joan's eating frenzy seems to have ended, so she had chicken and rice soup and the salad bar for lunch. I had a meatball sandwich and fries. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). We were both happy with what we ate, but my chicken and rice soup never arrived, so I'll dock a half-star there.
- Dinner: Lanza's, Kings Beach, Calif.: Since there were no Roadfood places in Lake Tahoe, and I'd forgotten to seek recommendations via Twitter, we went with an Italian place recommended by our Lonely Planet travel book. Now, using Fodor's or Frommer's or Lonely Planet for food recommendations is always a gamble, as we discovered back in 2003, and we were soon reminded of that limitation. While our salads were both good, we should have fled before the main courses came. Joan's penne was overcooked and flavorless, as was the marinara sauce. My pizza was fine -- I was excited to see they had Sicilian style -- but the sausage that topped the pizza and Joan's penne tasted horrible and soon became dog treats. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 2 stars (out of 5).
- After some more feedback in the comments area, Five Guys holds a 5-4 lead over In-N-Out Burger in the Great Burger Battle. Any other takers?
- Quality Inn South Reno, Reno, Nev.: We wanted to stay at a Choice Hotel to build up our stays for some free nights ahead, but after Joan made the reservation on the phone, our expectations had been diminished greatly. First off, only the lower-scale Quality Inn took dogs. The price was only $59, and that wasn't because Joan negotiated it down much. They also said they didn't have wireless, the first time we've heard that on this trip. So, upon our arrival, we fully expected an OUO (odor of unknown origin) and wouldn't have been surprised to find SUOs (stains of unknown origin). But there's something to be said for low expectations, and we discovered only a faint odor of smoke in the room. In addition, the room was huge and we even had a balcony. Ah, the soft bigotry of low expectations. Hotel rating: 4 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale). We have to dock a bit for the smoke smell, and also because we couldn't seem to change the temperature in the room, despite much fiddling with the thermostat. Luckily, the temperature wasn't too bad to start with.
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