Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Mad Dash Home

6/10/2018 – 6/12/2018

I sat out on the porch and had a giant slice of chocolate cake and a tall glass of milk for breakfast this morning.

And if I ended the post there, you all would think that my day had likely been idyllic, a nice tranquil day of leisure. But alas, it was not to be so. Today I had to begin my mad dash back to Austin, a trek that would require both Jane’s cooperation and a huge heap of mental fortitude from myself.

I said my goodbyes, loaded Jane up, and struck off south around the tip of the Sierra Nevadas. Once we hit open freeway, Jane’s “sheltered classic car” guise bled away, once more revealing the core of that car’s soul: that of a road warrior. Bryan Adams’ “Open Road” – or was it Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”? – rang out clear from the speakers as the world flew by, born away from me by the incessant drive of a half-century-old engine.

We didn’t stop for the huge Halos billboard.

We didn’t stop for the mountains.

We didn’t stop for the massive wind farms.

We didn’t stop for the towering tan cliffs.

We didn’t even stop for dusk.

It’s a bit bad, really, when you measure your life in tanks of gas. But that’s what I did. In the 700-mile run to Flagstaff, we stopped for gas four times. Four opportunities to get out and stretch my legs. Four opportunities to shake my head clear of road fog. Four opportunities to recover hearing lost to the pounding engine and the roaring wind and the crackle of the radio. Four opportunities to be something other than a force behind a wheel.

This is really when Jane shines her best. She is wasted on shows, on pomp and circumstance and the flaunting of ribbons and trophies. This is a car that is made to run, and a car that won’t be dramatic about it. A car I trust to keep me awake and keep us moving, even when I would have quit out of fatigue. But I am human, and so I stopped at a motel in Flagstaff after 12 hours of driving so I could catch some rest. Jane waited for me out front.

The next day, we did it again.

This time it was four tanks of gas, and 650 miles to Lubbock, TX. The weather in Arizona and New Mexico was lovely, from what I could tell out the window. It certainly wasn’t as hot as it had been on the way out.

Twin Arrows, an old Route 66 destination.

I wonder how many times I’ve taken a picture of these cliffs.

Around dusk I found myself sitting at a Sonic, propped up against Jane’s tire, stretching my legs as I ate some mozzarella sticks. Believe it or not, that was the most noteworthy thing that happened all day.

My god, do I hate Sonic. Except for their limeades. Man I love their limeades.

At some point in time a thought struck me: what must it be like, to be someone on the outside looking in on my life with Jane? What do people really see when they see that bright blue beauty race past in the left lane, engine roaring, kicking up a plume of dust in its wake? I’m sure that the majority of people I pass probably have no thoughts at all on the matter, having not even noticed the car. But I always wonder about the people who do.

I always hope that in seeing that violently beautiful car, they see the same thing I do: freedom. I hope that that car snags their imagination, cartwheeling them along into dreams of daring adventures and wild nights and infinite possibilities. Because part of what I do, I do to inspire others. Usually, in the rare moments when I’m stationary, people will approach me to ask about my car. And I always make time to tell them what I’m doing.

I’ve been road tripping with Jane for four years now, so I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the people who talk to me. Most just want to tell me they like my car – and I will always happily accept a compliment! But others are more than a little curious, and it is fascinating to me to find out what it is that catches their eye. Some are shocked, appalled, or overjoyed to see a young woman out by herself to see the world with no fear of the worst. Some are captivated by the idea of a classic Mustang, a longstanding symbol of America, out running freely on the roads. Some are absorbed in my explorations of National Parks and beautiful places. Others love to hear of the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. And in those fixations, I can see what people seem to need the most in their lives. I always hope that Jane and I can plant in them seeds of inspiration and the bravery to pursue their dreams. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. It’s just that every day I count myself as one of the lucky ones who found and attained my dreams through some combination of chance and hard work, and it seems to me that since I have found what I want, it would be helpful of me to try to provide a boost to others where I can. So that’s why even if it takes valuable time out of my day, I always take the time to get to know people and regale them with my adventures. You never know how much you help and in what unforeseen ways. At the very least I can be entertaining.

Anyways, I guess that’s why it takes me so long to get to my destinations, and that’s why it took me 11.5 hours to get to Lubbock when Google Maps tells me it should take 10. Ah, well.

Some nice amber waves of grain.

I spent another night in a motel, and Jane spent another night waiting for me outside. And then it was back on the freeway, this time hitting Texas-sized speeds. I was bone-tired and ready for a real rest, but Jane picked up the slack and hammered us home. I perked up a bit once we started getting into the edges of Hill Country – the one blessedly hilly, grassy, treed part of Texas, as far as I’ve been able to tell.

And then, in what felt like a blink of an eye or two, we were pulling into home base. The two of us were covered head to toe in west Texas dust but otherwise no worse for the wear, despite a grueling 30-hour drive accomplished over the course of two and a half days.

Roughly 3830 miles in 10 days - not bad.

I had deliberately front-loaded the driving so I would arrive earlier in the day on the third day, which would give me plenty of time to do laundry, clean Jane up, and put the house into order. So that’s what I did. But why the rush to do all this right away, you may ask?

Well…. that’s where Phase Two comes into play. I told you, at the beginning of this trip’s posts, that I had a crazy plan. All good crazy plans have multiple phases.

My Phase Two happened to be catching the 5AM flight to Raleigh, NC to go tool around while the Hot Rod Power Tour would be in town.

I figured that while it wouldn’t be as good as having Jane there with me, it would be a good opportunity to go scope out the ‘show’ while also visiting family and friends in Raleigh, which is my hometown. Believe me, if I had seen a good way to get to do both shows with Jane, I would have. But there’s a point when I run out of vacation time… so, you know. Sometimes I have to take the shortcut.

And so it was that I left for the airport at 3:30 AM, sans Jane, sans any sleep (of course), to arrow towards the next destination.

The true road trip part is done, now. A quick trip, sure, but one just as full of beautiful places, adventures, and fun with friends as any of my trips ever are.

I am surely one of the lucky ones.

Kelly signing out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Not Just a One Trick Pony


I dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn (or close enough to the crack of dawn for it to count in my book) and sleepily tended to Jane, swiping the last remnants of agricultural dust off of her paint and cleaning the sunflower seed kernels out of the carpet. I am always tempted to actually detail Jane top to bottom before a show, and that temptation never actually translates into execution. For us, “reasonably presentable” is good enough, even for a field of thousands of pristine show cars.

We had decided on meeting at a friend’s house near the show grounds at 8AM. Ken had hosted a few of us out-of-towners at his house, so as soon as we were all loaded we fired our cars up with much rumbling and grumbling from the motors. Jane’s long-expected mischief suddenly came to the forefront of my mind as the motor’s idle speed climbed… and climbed… until it sat at 1800 RPM, twice its normal speed. I blearily considered solutions to this issue and then resolved to just ignore my car attempting to drive itself and to keep my foot on the brake. Sometimes you just have to let Jane get her silliness out. I did wonder, though, how much fun would get poked at me as I made my way onto the show field with my car sounding like it was imminently going to take off down a drag strip.

Fortunately, she settled after we got to my friend’s house and met up with the others. And so five classic Mustangs puttered their way sedately downtown to the golf course where the show was being held, looking very much like well-kept show ponies.

A golf cart came around with fresh donuts and coffee, which was enough to perk me up and get me to look around. What I saw was another facet of perfection. Cars rumbled their way across the nice cushy turf, exhaust puffing lightly in the cool morning air. Participants settled themselves in, setting up pavilions and chairs, standing around in groups greeting long-absent friends, and giving their cars one last spit-shine. Spectators had already started to trickle in, all full of smiles and excitement and pointing fingers and speculative looks. And there sat my road warrior in the midst of it all, somehow blending into the show field effortlessly despite the dusty carpet and radiator plastered with an impressive collection of North American bugs. I take great pride in having a car that can do it all – Jane is definitely not a one trick pony.

Jane second from the right.

The crew already plopped down in chairs

The day was actually a remarkably chilly for Modesto – usually, it’s in the triple digits by June, but that morning temperatures didn’t even hit 80 degrees. That was probably a blessing, but at the time I was cold. Donuts appeased my grumpiness; the gathering crowd around Jane dissipated it entirely. There is nothing I love more than the opportunity to brag about my car to an attentive audience. I had set up my road trip map sun shade in the rear window, and people seemed to delight in tracing all of the paths I’ve taken criss-crossing the United States.

"I don't like parking next to you Kelly, your car draws too much attention away from mine"

When I’m at shows like this, I often feel as if I’m 50% ambassador for the national parks, and 50% ambassador for the use of classic cars as daily drivers and road trippers. I end up dividing my time pretty evenly between talking to people about how I built and maintain my car for the kind of heavy duty use I put it through, and talking to people about awesome places in the United States that they really need to get out and see. I’m more than happy to do both. I’m a big believer in expanding your world, getting out of your comfort zone, and learning new things. And, of course, I have a huge appreciation for the beauty of this country that is so often overlooked. If I can even convince one person that these things are worth pursuing, I consider my day bettered.

Eventually I pulled myself away from our little posse of Mustangs and ventured out to check out some of the rest of the field. I love visiting Californian car shows because you see really wonderful rare cars that are rarely preserved in the rest of the country. Things rot quickly in the rust belt and on the East Coast, so rare or undesirable cars are frequently lost to the crushers. But out in California, cars don’t really rust, instead lingering patiently until someone decides to pull them back out of the weeds and put them on the road. There’s some fascinating stuff out there. Of course, I’m not going to post every photo I took at this show, but here’s a sample of some of the stuff that caught my eye:

Interior of the bus, complete with disco ball

"No freaking" 

"Beware the Devil's Harvest"

My favorite pair of chopped hot rods. Low, mean, cruising machines.

"1 Bad Bee"

All dressed up with 1400 HP and nowhere to go...

A Thing!

Mavericks are suddenly popular again

 I won’t bore you further with the details of the show – after all, car shows are pretty boring if you’re not there in person. Truthfully, sometimes they’re boring when you’re there in person too. Suffice it to say that I had a great time hanging out with friends and talking cars all afternoon, but that I was glad to get back to the house and get cleaned up for dinner at the end of the day.

Here's me, cheerful but hungry and kind of ready to leave

The rest of the day wound down peacefully, as long days spent among friends tend to do. I tried hard not to think too much about what tomorrow would bring. Because tomorrow I’ll be back at the grind, but I won’t be headed to any more national parks stops or peaceful campground. No, tomorrow I will begin the 30-hour drive back to Austin, and I’ll have to hoof it. You see, I have a flight to catch early Wednesday morning, which means I’ll have to make that drive in 2.5 days. Solo. In a 52-year-old monster of a car.

Easy peasy.

Kelly signing out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Good Ole Days


Well, today’s my birthday. I am, as of the date that this post was supposedly written, 27 years old.

For some, birthdays are a time to moan and groan about your age. I’m more of a glass half full kinda gal. So for me, my birthday is a time to celebrate another successful revolution around the sun without kicking the bucket! I mean, I’m a geologist, a scuba diver, a hot rodder, a road tripper, an adventurer. In other words, my occupational hazards are more than a little high. I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course. I’m just always a little surprised when my birthday comes around again and I’m still all in one piece. Just lucky, I guess.

I awoke nice and snug under my makeshift fender gripper insulators and huddled in my sleeping bag for a while, waiting for the sun to burn the chill out of the air. I am really not one for cold weather, even if I have just undergone several days in 100+ degree temps. Eventually it was warm enough for even me, though, so I had my leisurely flame-grilled poptarts breakfast (yes, you can grill poptarts over a fire…), packed up, and hit the road.

We took CA Hwy 190 west out of the forest, and discovered a delightfully twisty, technical, challenging road. Truth be told, we discovered it very abruptly, as the last posted speed limit had been 60 MPH… and the first warning we got of a twisty road ahead was a giant yellow warning sign saying “HARD RIGHT AHEAD 100 FT, 15 MPH LIMIT”. Some judicious use of the brake pedal later, we had adapted to the slower speeds demanded by the road and settled into the contented swing of the steering wheel back and forth as we wound down endless switchbacks.

Last year Jane’s steering system was really on its last legs, having endured over 40,000 miles of abuse on top of initial install difficulties that prematurely wore the system down. Fortunately, Unisteer, the manufacturer of the rack and pinion system, warrantied the parts out and so this year I’m running with a brand new setup. It was a pleasure to sweep through those wide turns without the pump howling its pain and disapproval at me, and again I was reminded how well this quick steer system is suited to canyon roads.

But alas, all good things must come to an end, and so Hwy 190 dumped me out onto Hwy 99, a much less friendly interstate beleaguered by ever-present California traffic. I do, however, really like the bushes that they planted in the median of this highway.

I spent about three and a half hours staring at them, which was one and a half hours longer than I should have stared at them.

Eventually I turned off onto the road to my friends’ house, and I found myself smiling once more. I stayed with Ken and Gayle last year during Jane’s starter fiasco, and earlier that year when I flew out for American Graffiti Festival (sans Jane). It was really nice to turn onto that familiar road, knowing that friends and good times were sitting at the end of it.

I guess now would be a good time to mention that the American Graffiti Festival – known for its huge Friday night cruise full of rare classic cars, and its huge Saturday car show similarly full of said cars – fell over my birthday this year. So I arrived in Modesto just in time for the festivities to begin. As soon as I reached Ken’s house I hopped out and started cleaning Jane up. You can’t just put your classic car in a massive cruise when it’s covered with road grime, you know. Especially not knowing that car is your pride and joy, and that it just reliably dragged your butt across half of the United States with nary a complaint. Fortunately I’ve got a really good detailing product, Chadwick’s Triple Play, which takes care of the job in less than half an hour. Which was good, because half an hour is pretty much all the time I had to get ready.

The city of Modesto graciously closes down a 3-mile stretch in the heart of the city for the Friday cruise, ensuring that the roads are filled only with thousands of classic cars reliving their glory days. It’s wonderfully nostalgic – just a lot of cars puttering around, their owners checking out other cars and hollering out the window at one another and looking for the next big modification to do on their vehicles while desperately keeping an eye on the temperature and fuel gauges. My friends and I headed down to the cruise around 6 – Ken and Kennan in their ’65 Mustang, Jeff and Diane in their ’69 Mustang, and me in Jane, of course. Since the organizers treat it like a parade with a definitive start time, we pulled up behind the last people in line, parked, and got out to wander around the impromptu block party that had started in the road.

Around 6:30, the loudspeakers announced that the parade was under way, and that we should return to our cars and get ready to move! But since the front of the line was nowhere in sight, we figured we should just keep hanging out. So we did. And another 20 minutes later, the front of the line finally passed us going the other way down the street.

And another 20 minutes after that, everyone in our vicinity made a mad dash for their cars as they realized that the line was finally moving. You could almost hear the desperate prayers rising up in a cloud above the parade: “PLEASE let my car start.” Dozens of tired, worn starters cranked over, and motors eventually sleepily coughed to life. Others wrestled with motors that roared and raged, clearly built more for racing than slow cruising. But eventually move we did, miraculously in time to set off without delay. And so we made our way down the boulevard at a sedate pace, basking in the sounds of a long-gone time.

(or, you know, the dulcet tones of Bret Michaels and some good ole 80's hair metal)

The Push of Shame

Pursued by a piss yellow 32 deuce coupe

It took us a full 2 hours to do a circuit of the town, and every minute was wonderful. Long as the cruise was, it was a chance to relive a better time – or, in my case, to live it for the first time. I had plenty of time to reflect on the nostalgia that drenched the cruise. For a lot of people, I think that this cruise was akin to taking their elders to a place of their childhood for a brief visit. Cars that sit in the garage most of the year are finally given a chance to emerge and remember what they once were. And their stewards baby them along carefully, recalling their long histories. But the stewards themselves get swept up as well, remembering a time when life was as simple as driving endlessly up and down Main Street and excitement was just a car length away.

I wish that I had been there. But the American Graffiti Festival cruise at least gave me a glimpse into that life.

As Jane puttered along contentedly, for once happy to scoot along at barely parking lot speeds, I wondered if this was a thing that her original owner did. I’ll never know what this car has seen in the 52 years it has existed. In over half a century, it’s sure to have seen a lot of changes, good times and bad, dozens or hundreds or even thousands of passengers. It is strange to try to imagine those who might have sat in the driver’s seat before me. In a way I myself am also a steward of my own little piece of history, though I don’t have the benefit of the long memory of some of the other owners on the cruise. The difference is that for us, history is still being made. Where many of the cars on the cruise – not all, but many - would go back to their garages after their one weekend of fun, my car and I would go on to seek more. We prefer not to become ghosts of the past.

After departing the cruise, we headed back to Ken’s house and met up with some other friends for a barbeque and some birthday cake. We laughed long into the night, talking cars and people and travel and life. It occurred to me that today while others were reliving the good ole days, I was having a blast making new memories, with nowhere else I would have rather been. For me, the good ole days are now.

Happy birthday to me :)

Kelly signing out.