0 miles to go…

Ah yes… 8 weeks later and I finally arrived in San Francisco. Unfortunately 3 members of my crew perished along the way of typhoid, dysentery and other pioneer-era ailments.  Ok, not really – I ‘ve just been super busy and maybe *cough* a bit too lazy to get this travel blog done. Really, its one thing to cart all your crap in a truck cross country. It’s entirely another thing to unpack that crap and find places to shove it. This past weekend was the first time there wasn’t a  pile of random stuff in at least one corner of the whole apartment. That’s progress! But let’s back track a bit.


So when we last left off, our intrepid caravan had made it to the mountain metropolis of Salt Lake City. It looks like this:

Salt Lake City
This is not a model.


The journey in to Salt Lake City was probably the most terrified I had been on the entire trip. It is essentially one steady descent from quite high up for at least 15 to 20 minutes. That would be fine if Mr. Penske hadn’t decided to disable down-shifting in his fleet of moving trucks. I was forced to ride the breaks for the entire trip down. Do you know what happens when you try to apply the breaks for more then a few seconds on a truck that is hurtling down hill with an SUV trailing behind it? It felt like I was sitting in one of those machines that mixes paint cans. That was the only time on the entire trip that the truck got above 70 mph (the speedometer read 80) and I was applying the breaks the whole time! Meanwhile normal cars and trucks were zooming past me left and right. Thank Joseph Smith I arrived in SLC in one piece!


With my travel agent back on duty (love ya ma), I was booked in the lavish Shilo Inn downtown for a fraction of the price due to some internet blowout deal. I believe this caused the young man at the counter to take an instant disliking to me which was only exacerbated by the fact that I pulled my truck up under the awning that clearly said “No Trucks over 20 feet” or something. I fit… but just barely. As a punishment he made me park on the top of the back parking garage which could only be reached by a maze of small alleys. It took nearly 40 minutes and the help of a professional truck driver/innocent bystander to get ‘er done.

Rooftop Parking
It was harder then it looks!


Salt Lake City is actually quite pleasant and, much to my surprise, the bars and restaurants were open pretty late for a Sunday night. Mormons are very polite and certainly very clean but I always get the sense that they are judging me. They just have a way of looking at you that always seems tinged with pity. I’m perfectly capable of feeling sorry for myself, Thank You!


The next morning I headed out pretty early with the hopes of possibly getting to Sacremento by that evening. The goal was to get very close to San Francisco so that I could roll in to the city shortly after morning rush hour traffic, unpack and return the truck before the post-work traffic started. Unfortunately, while all this scheming was taking place the gas tank on the truck was getting closer and closer to the half-way mark. There was a moment, as I was pulling out of Salt Lake,  that I thought – I really SHOULD tank up – but I decided that I would just find somewhere on the road. Bad decision. In this part of America distances take on a whole new meaning.


Oh please let there be gas in Elko!


So the reason that Salt Lake City is named that is because the city is situated next to a giant Salt Lake. No shite, right?!! I’ve often thought of what a burn it must have been for those initial exploring pioneers. They finally made it over this giant mountain range and discover this beautiful oasis in the distance. I imagine them running down the hill toward the lake, thirsty as all hell, thinking they found the promise land. They fall to their knees in front of this giant body of water to slake their thirst and… “Wait a minute!? It’s filled with salt!! Can we get a fucking break, puh-leeeze?!?”


Possibly a lesser known fact, though, is that the lake was once actually much larger then it is today – a veritable salt ocean – and what is left of that ancient body of water is a Great Salt Flat. Driving through this Salt Flat feels a bit like you are driving on the surface of the moon. It is several inches of hard salt for as far as the eye can see, surrounded by majestic mountains. But what is even better is that their isn’t a gas station for at least 60 miles once you enter the Salt Flat! There isn’t even a way to u-turn!! Right after passing the last road sign for many many miles was when my gas tank reserve light decided to suddenly flash on. It was the perfect storm!!

This is what we call foreshadowing


At this point, things became very tense. I had no idea how much gas was in the reserve tank but I imagined it couldn’t be a lot. I had 60 miles to go till the next town and all I could think was that a stupid bumper sticker I read once said something about how driving too fast burns more fuel. Well who’s stupid now!? So I planted the speedometer at a blazing 45mph and time began to stand still on this desolate patch of earth (except for the other cars and trucks zooming past me, of course). It felt like I was in Mad Max. I kept waiting for a legion of motorcycle riding bandits to appear on the horizon, making their way to pillage my caravan and scalp me in the process.


I managed to make it almost 50 miles when I finally saw another road sign that indicated a town in 12 miles. I was almost there. I made it one more mile and then *cough* *splurt* *cough*… dead. I could even see the town in the distance! I forgot to mention that there isn’t any cell phone reception in this part of the world either. So what did I do?! Well, I had the brilliant revelation that I’d been trailing a car behind me for 2000 miles, maybe I could use it to go get some gas. So that is what I did. I unhitched my 4-runner from the trailer and drove to the town I saw on the horizon, bought a gallon of gas and a tub to carry it in and drove back. It involved a bit of  off-roading (probably illegal), but I managed to get the truck started again and tanked up at the gas station in under an hour. It was then that I decided that I would never travel long distances by vehicle again unless I’m towing another emergency vehicle behind me 😉


It has been said that at some point in your voyage through life you will ultimately run in to yourself somewhere along the road. Well that happened at the gas station just outside the Great Salt Flats.  There was some guy on the other side of the gas pump who was filling up a similar big yellow Penske moving truck and he was also trailing a 4-runner behind him. He was leaving California for the East Coast. An inverted doppelganger essentially. We exchanged pleasantries about our similar circumstances and how it’s funny that we both arrived at the same gas pump. He said something like, “Well when I get to this part of the States, I’m sure to tank up every time I get near a half a tank.” Now you tell me, ya douche!?


My Inverted Doppelgagner
My Inverted Doppelganger


With that valuable lesson under my belt (along with an Arby’s turkey sandwich which is surprisingly good actually), I made my now slightly hastened journey across Nevada. Nevada can be summed up in four words: Gambling at gas stations. There was this rather lovely sunset, though:


The Sun Also Sets
The Sun Also Sets


And just when it seemed like Nevada couldn’t go on for any longer, I came upon this small sign on the side of the road:

Welcome to California
The end is in sight


It seemed like I was finally home free! Unfortunately I was forced to stop at a roadside check point first where they make sure you’re not smuggling foreigners in to the state. By foreigners I mean non-native insects and other assorted pests, of course. I happened to have a few plants from back east and the socially-awkward, but very nice, lady at the booth proceeded to up-end them all in search of the dreaded Japanese Beatle (that’s just how I spell it now thanks to Sir Paul). It’s actually no joke – those beatles are everywhere in the North East. The whole time she was digging through my plants I kept thinking, “Imagine if thousands of people died of starvation because my crappy bonsai tree unleashed a plague of beatles on the California plant life. That would suck.” I had two big bags of delicious Riiska Farm Massachusett’s apples with me that I had carted all this way and the officious lady went through each and every apple VERY closely.  After, like, the 40th apple I said something like, “You could have one if you like, you know? There quite delicious.” She just looked at me stone-faced and said “I would just bring it inside, dissect it and inspect it under the microscope”. Ok, byeee!

Sorry Mr. Appleseed but were going to have ask you to bend over (rubber glove snapping)


So after 6 days, 3,220 miles, $1326 in gas, countless cups of coffee and this last hurdle passed, I finally manged to roll in to San Francisco.

San Francisco
Rice-a-roni here we come!


With the help of my lovely sister and her boyfriend, we managed to unpack the truck relatively quickly. Everything was stacked  in a nice orderly maze of boxes and thus began the next exciting chapter in the great American Moving Novel entitled,  “Where is the damn can opener!?”


I think it’s somewhere in the box on the bottom of that stack.


The View from our new place
Our new view


And the final tally is...
And the final tally is…



1,242 miles to go…

After the previous day’s unfortunate events I was ready for my luck to change and it started as early as breakfast with the discovery of the “make your own” waffle machine.  I helped myself liberally and was only slightly perturbed when I noticed the attendant refilling the machine from a giant slop bucket of batter they stored under the counter. No refrigeration necessary apparently.

The filet minion of continental breakfast


Wow. Nebraska is a very long, very flat, very corny state. I mean it grows a lot of corn of course. It would be difficult to define an entire state as being corny in the other sense but, if I had to, those cheese-hat wearing  folks are making a strong showing.

King Corn


This has been the most difficult part of the trip in terms of staying awake and focused. With nothing to distract your attention you tend to drift off in a haze only to be jerked back to consciousness by the growling of rumble strips or the blaring of oncoming traffic. Occasionally you happen upon something exciting like this arch:

Nebraska Arch


But mostly it just looks like this:


I can see for miles and miles


Interspersed between fields of corn you may encounter alien machinery whose purpose remains unclear.


"I will build an onion so big and powerful that no one will be able to stop me. I will rule the whole stinking world! mwahahahahaaaa"


Then after hours of driving through what seemed liked endless prairie I stopped in the small town of Ogallala, NE and found this beautiful lake McConaughy – no relation to Matthew although he is beautiful too 😉 – nestled amongst the corn fields. Looking at the map it seems to be one of about 5 lakes in the entire state but it is quite large.

Secluded beach front property available in Nebraska. Great views, plenty of parking and all the corn you can eat.


This is where the landscape really started to turn prehistoric and I snapped a whole bunch of shots. I think I will wait and put them all in a nice little photo gallery so as not do disturb this riveting narrative. This also happens to be right around where my progress really started to slow down – like when i just left my truck here for an hour and a half.

Loitering allowed here


It was in Ogallala that I stopped at my first truck stop diner for lunch. Its always a fascinating experience at these establishments where pie is considered a main course. The portions are just enormous and the waitresses always treat me like I’m malnourished when I visit them. “Hon, for an extra dollar you can get the all you can eat chicken friend steak-chicken!” Often times they will give me a free piece of pie or giant beverage on my way out the door because they don’t want me to starve before I reach my destination.  Really just the sweetest folks and I do love being called honey.


At this point I have to make up for some lost time so I peel out and hit the road. Its about now that I realize that no matter how much gas I apply I can’t seem to go beyond 75 miles per hour. I determine its a safety mechanism built in to the truck. Denied.


A full day of driving and I’m near the end of Nebraska. This is where the wild west really seems to begin.

Not an ATM for miles


Shortly after seeing the first majestic rock formations, I enter in to Wyoming and am faced with the following dilemma: The sun is beginning to set. Do I get a cup of coffee, tank up and muscle through for another 200-250 miles like a real trucker or do I stop in Cheyenne once the sun goes down and go out for a nice dinner and a stroll around town? Let’s just say the trucker union revoked my sleeveless button down when they heard of my decision.


Watch yourself boy. You're in Cheney country now.


Due to a lack of cell phone reception, my travel agent was unavailable to book a motel for me so I was left to my own devices. I chose poorly. The place was a veritable roach motel but I was too tired to be bother arguing with the woman for another room or my money back, especially since she was an older Asian lady who didn’t speak English very well.  I had asked for a non-smoking room but there was a definite odor so I went to the front desk to ask her about it. She came with me to the room with a can of Lysol and said “Oh, no smell of smoke. Last person here truck driver. Very bad BO. I fix.” and she proceeded to empty a 1/4 can of Lysol into the air. Sweet dreams!


1,732 miles to go…

Day number 3 began sunny, warm and full of promise. I took a leisurely romp through the continental breakfast area at the Super 8 motel,  loading my plate with an assortment of breakfast items I would never normally consider ingesting except for that they were suddenly “free”.  A half eaten plate of pop-tarts, lucky charms and waxy apple later, I was ready to hit the road again. Small word of advice: hold on  to that plastic motel key card till the bitter end because once you return it there is no going back  even despite the lack of a public restroom.  After some pleading, the woman behind the counter reluctantly gave me the card back, all the while eyeing the road donuts in my hand suspiciously. Apparently the Continental breakfast isn’t “to go”.

That jackass is taking up four spots!


So already this day was starting out somewhat ominously. The monotony of the landscape continued. It began to seem like there was some correlation between topographical blandness and religiosity,  for the amount of churches, religious themed billboards and evangelical radio was increasing dramatically. “Blessed are those with faith for they shall inherit wide expanses of nothing.”


I hit Illinois only to encounter my first traffic jam since leaving New York.

Part of this traffic jam MAY have been caused by me taking pictures


Minutes stretched in to hours.  Hours stretched in to days. Foot is locked on the gas peddle. Eyes are locked on the white lines of the road. Body is shaking from the ceaseless vibrations of the truck. Weariness, hunger and boredom set in. The only reprieve is the occasional stop for sustenance at a roadside convenience store in some small town when who should appear from nowhere but this beautiful specimen of humanity. And suddenly everything is right with the world again (unfortunately I couldn’t get his facial hair in this shot but  it was done in corn rows)

The Lebanese John Wayne


So with renewed hope I plunge headlong in to what is to be my most challenging experience yet. I decide to take a break and eat my sandwich on the banks of the Old Mississippi. I cross the bridge in to Iowa and find a cute little town on the banks of the Ol’ Miss called LeClaire – home of the Buffalo Bill Museum. The museum is great, not only as a tribute to William Cody – once the most famous man in the world – but also as a relic of 1950’s  American interior design. Unfortunately I did not have a lot of time to explore the museum because the only reason I went in side was to borrow their phone to call someone to help me get back in to my truck. It seems someone had locked the keys inside it. Whoopth.


I knew when I first saw the non-power locks on the door of the truck that this was but an eventuality. I called a few garages from the phone book but they were all either closed or too far. When the one guy who WAS nearby found out they were non-power locks I could practically hear him salivating through the phone receiver. “I’ll.. uh.. call you back”, I said. I called AAA but they were acting cagey due to some mix up with my account and the fact that I was registered in New England but was in Iowa. They said they would call me back.


Meanwhile a group of people had been watching me from their balcony overlooking the river and once they were aware of my predicament they jumped at the occasion to help me out. Mid-Westerners are super friendly. They had the brilliant idea to call the police. Coming from the New York you’d never think to call the police about something like this for fear they would show up, break your window and then write you a parking ticket for standing too long. But in other parts of the country this is something the police do.


So a police officer shows up and he is quite friendly. He phones another plains clothes officer who shows up with a bunch of tools including a long wire with a hook on the end. They wedge the side of the door open with what look like door stops and the first officer spends a while with the wire trying to flick the unlock switch inside the door. The sun is beating down hard and after a while he gives up and spits on the ground. “Ok, you try it.” The plain clothes officer steps up to bat and in a few minutes – pop – the door is unlocked. The first officer grins a big old grin and says, “When in doubt, call a Mexican!” I kid you not.

What has four eyes but cannot see?


So I thank everyone profusely and hop in to the truck. I need to make up for some serious lost time so I jet across Iowa. For those of you who have never been it looks like this:


Imagine my surprise when I come all this way to find myself here:

Shit. I’m going in circles.


Around 10pm I make it to Omaha, Nebraska and decide to call it a night. I pull into another Super 8 and have dinner at a Village Inn, home of the famous pie. I crash hard ready to start it all over again tomorrow.