(From Boise to) Winnemucca and the Sea
I have the clicker!
Good things happened yesterday on the road from Boise to Corte Madera, along with a few bad. Chief among the good, after a month of cooling my jets at home in Boise I headed for the open road again and the 31st annual Travel Writers and Photographers Summer Camp, er... Conference.
There was a handful of bad too. As I drove south on Hwy 95, I remembered that my friend's young daughter went missing near Jordan Valley more than a month ago (htttps://findgwen.com) while driving this same stretch of highway. Where is Gwen? What happened after she was seen at a convenience store in Jordan Valley and the time that her car ended up without her, abandoned on a little side road? How did she feel as she passed this creek, that ranch? And most importantly, where the hell is she?
Gwen's father, Andy, worked for the US Forest Service most recently, and before that Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. I served on a board with him. He's a smart, quiet lion of a man who with his family is now trapped in a long, slow nightmare, the likes of which few of us can imagine. I thought about them a lot. And prayed.
It was overcast when I left Boise. I love this drive for the broad vistas, the muted greens, purples, and grays of sagebrush country. I invariably see myself riding Chula out there. Smoke from forest fires west and north of me hung in the air but it wasn't as bad as it has been in recent years. Yet. That wasn’t so good.
Also on the bad side of the ledger, I ate poorly: one Lunchable between Boise and Winnemucca and Mini Tacos between Winnemucca and Corte Madera (they took so long to cook that I considered them “slow food”, actually. In between, I ate red licorice. I craved coffee, but knew better: safe places for a woman to have a rest stop are few and far between out there.
Oh and one more bad. Due to the Professor's last-minute misgivings about the tires on our car, I drove the truck. Ruby, maybe you remember stories about her and a previous roadtrip to summer camp? I didn't mind. I always feel safer driving a truck than a small car. What I didn’t expect was the cost at the pump for a single fill up: 150 smackeroos.
Now, on to the good.
There’s no bettter feeling than being on the road by myself. I enjoy traveling with the Professor, but going alone is the epitome of self-indulgence, not unlike being in possession of the TV clicker. I go when I want to go, stop when and where I want to stop, and I’m free to think all the thinks I want to think.
I did a lot of that yesterday.Thinking, that is. I had a ten-hour drive so I didn’t stop much except to gas up and rest. Mostly I marveled that I was out in the middle of such glory that I could hardly take it all in.
I grew up in Northern California not far from the redwoods. I’ve seen beauty, but these wide open spaces of Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada get me every time. I want to take all the bumpy gravel roads to distant communities and faraway craggy mountains. I want to stop and put my feet in little creeks that run over rocks and between clumps of grass. I want to stop at every abandoned house, mine, and restaurant, take melancholy photos, and learn about their past. But I didn’t. Not yesterday.
I drove all day to get to the state where I was born and there’s nothing compared to the feeling of crossing the state line into a place where I have memories, many of them good. I know how to pronounce the names of almost every town. Here I am a native, even if not a current resident. For a moment I could see us coming back some day, before the political realities reminded me I’m better off in Idaho for now.
As I drove down the busy I80 grade, through the forested foothills, past dry golden grass and countless green shade trees, across the Sacramento River and over the Yolo Bypass, I thought about the excitement I still feel when I think about the Capitol, the seat of state government. People like John Sutter, the Mills brothers, Pat Brown, and Dave Cogdill shaped the state from here. Arrnold Schwarzenegger (like him or not) and Jerry Brown (like him or not) did too. And now Gavin Newsom (and that’s all I’m gonna say about that).
I took the Vallejo Cutoff over to Hwy 101 (I never say, The 101, that’s so Southern California), past Mare Island where naval ships and subs went to die but are now, apparently, dust. I remember riding past them many times in the backseat of my parents’ Ford station wagon. I finally arrived in Corte Madera a little before dark.
I have memories here too. Memories of the hotel (I’m staying in the same room where I did last year), Book Passage, the wonderful little bookstore that attracts all of us each summer, and of sitting out on the patio with my people. They have become my people over time and I can’t imagine not being here.
This morning dawned as it usually does in the North Bay in summer, overcast with a fine drizzle. I made a pot of coffee, ate my Grape Nuts, and sat to down to download my thoughts before I got out and gather more thinks.
The conference doesn’t start until Thursday. It’s Tuesday and the next two days stretch before me like golden rings on a carousel. What will I do? Visit Sonoma, head for Bodega Bay and the Coast? Go north to Mendocino County where I was raised? All of the above, or none?
After the conference, I’m thinking about a quick trip down to Merced County, then up through Snelling to Tuoumne County, Kennedy Meadows (oh, Kennedy Meadows!), and back up to Reno to stay with an old friend (and maybe go to a play over on the Lake, Tahoe, that is). If it sounds excessive, I’m trying to cram as much in as I can before I return to Boise and work. And speaking of cramming things in…
Yesterday, passing through Winnemucca, I chanced on a story begging to be written about some folks who in 1950, with Crescent City and many other communities, tried to jumpstart the building of a new highway from the Nevada desert to the Northern California coast. It was never built, but by tracing existing highways one can imagine it had been. Man, I want to drive it.
But that can't happen this trip. Next year? Could happen. I’ll have the clicker.