Fourteen Hours

somewhere in northern california.

THERE IS SOMETHING MISCHIEVOUSLY satisfying about knowing you are one of the few people awake in a given city. And there is something absolutely cathartic about being able to roll up your tent, turn up the stereo, and blast past state lines.

And so that’s just what we decided to do.

Over the course of our southbound trip, Nick and I reevaluated our return plan. Originally we had settled on the notion of a slow meander back up Highway 101, but as time wore on and we increasingly had the itch to go back north, we decided to tackle the journey in one fell swoop. We would travel from Santa Cruz to Canon Beach in one day, mashing up through the center on Interstate 5 and totaling nearly 800 miles.

The day begins with our cellphone alarms ringing at 5 a.m. – the beeps are harsh in the quiet of the outdoors, and it’s still pitch dark. We quickly stuff the odd articles of clothing that haven’t already been packed, and turn the car lights on so we can see as we disassemble the tent.

We roll out of New Brighton State Park rocking to The Police, and cruise along the coast towards Highway 17. We merge, and slide in a new CD – Television’s Marquee Moon. The crooning lyrics and rhythm set the mood perfectly (we feel like we’re escaping under the cover of darkness, pursuing what author Calvin Trillin called the American goal of making good time), and shakes us awake as we head into the narrow bends that will wind us towards San Jose.

Highway 17 is seriously sketch. It is pitch dark save the lights of other cars, which spill onto the roadway at a harried pace in the morning rush through hairpin curves. The minimum speed is 60. There is no shoulder. There is a Hummer next to me. And all I can do is sing along: “I see nooo eviilllllll!!!”

(Nick will later tell me that during this time he could only think, Man I’m glad I’m not driving.)

Daybreak comes about the time we hit Oakland, the crack of dawn rolling over looming blue hills. We pass through downtown, and then up towards Berkeley. Across the Bay we can see San Francisco, glittering in the orange light of the new morning. A flood of fresh memories washes over Nick and I, and we share an unexpected pang of sadness as we take a last look at the city. It’s like we’re leaving home.

Heading towards I5, we pass through Sacramento, and then onwards north. We take a quick detour in search of McDonald’s, only to find that the billboard advertising its location gave us terrible directions.

We power through.

As we cruise through the emptiness of Northern California, we begin to wonder if we’ll be getting breakfast any time soon – the tiny towns we roll by are hardly towns, usually consisting of a solitary gas station and more farmland. Eventually we find what I previously thought was only a Midwestern Frankenstein: the gas station/fast food chain. This one has a Wendy’s, and we fuel up (both the car’s belly and ours).

Then we drive. And drive. And drive. We hit Redding, buy excessive amounts of Red Bull, get gas, and drive some more.

As soon as we hit the Oregon state line the speed limit slows from 65 to 55. We acknowledge this momentarily by going 70 instead of 80. Then we realize that we still have 400 miles to go, and kick it back up. We’re rolling up and down the foothills of far off peaks, surrounded by pine forests, ahead of us only road.

In Ashland, we stop for food (Wendy’s, again) and more fuel. We pass through Eugene, Salem, and finally are coming into the outskirts of Portland when we hit a snarl of traffic trying to merge onto westbound 26. By this point we’ve been on the road nearly 12 hours, and we’ve got the road-trip crazies. The traffic doesn’t bother us nearly as much as it seems to bother those in surrounding cars – after all this time, what’s an extra 30 minutes?

Finally on 26, we share a surreal moment. We pass the exit where this journey began (Highway 6), and are struck with how long ago it seems we took that road. We drive outward towards the coast, floating on freshly paved roads as dusk approaches. We’ve been listening to a mix CD, and when Something Corporate’s “I Woke Up in a Car” comes on – it’s entirely cheesy, but entirely perfect.


When we finally arrive in Canon Beach, we find to our dismay that there is no camping – no tent camping, that is (sleeping in an RV is not camping) – and so amid the weekend vacationers we struggle to find a room. We luck out (thanks to my girlfriend and her expert use of the internets) with a beachside room for $71 – not bad split between the two of us. We check in, exhausted, and then head out to get a bite and some beer.

At the Warren House pub, we look around feeling in awe of our accomplishment. It is an entirely different feeling from having taken a plane from point A to B – we felt those miles, one by one. We were there, and now we’re here. We cheers to that, and to our journey.

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November 2007