We have arrived safely at our two-week way-station outside Ukiah.
The last two days were difficult, particularly in the afternoons. Rain. Not torrential rain, but utterly miserable rain for driving. Dark. Gusty. Cold and sloppy. The roads didn’t seem especially slick, but then we’d go past flashing patrol lights where someone had taken out a road sign, or where two cars had assumed a pose from the Kama Sutra. The drive sucked.
Let’s back up a bit.
Despite our “no-stress” mantra, Thursday and Friday in Fort Collins grew increasingly stressful. Thursday was actual moving day, where the big, strong guys showed up to move boxes onto a big, strong truck, and Friday involved coordinating cleaners, final inspection, and closing. Heavy rain dumped on us Friday afternoon: combined with multiple trains running through town, and the beginnings of spring construction season, traffic was thoroughly snarled — the one day we truly needed to cross town multiple times. By Friday evening, we were all grouchy and mentally exhausted.
Our nephew, Jonathan, arrived Thursday morning to help with the driving, and he and I were agitating for celebratory pizza on Friday while Marta inexplicably dragged her feet. Then our friends, Mark and Deborah, showed up with steaks, potatoes, salad, and wine. Marta had known, of course: she and Deborah had arranged matters a week before. My son, Stephen, was in town and joined us. Deborah grilled the steaks over an open fire, and we all told stories and drank wine until it ran out.
We got moving by about 9:30 on Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Ever-Open Cafe on North College. It’s the first time I’d ever tried the restaurant — for some reason, I’d always feared it was a terrible little greasy spoon. It was not; I can happily recommend the food and the service.
The drive across Wyoming on Interstate 80 was uneventful; a bit windy in spots, which, if that surprises you, means you’ve never heard anything true about Wyoming. Toward late afternoon, the clouds started to mass over the western range that drops into Utah.
For those of you who have never been to Salt Lake, the eastern mountains rise like a wall, and portions of the city have built out onto some of the mountain spurs, making the descent into Salt Lake a decidedly three-dimensional experience. The sky was not blue as it appears in this stock photo, but black, filled with great boluses of darkness interspersed with sheets of pale rain and tides of steaming fog. You could see everything surge and boil, driven about by the winds. We raced along the highway, surrounded by trucks that threw up a blinding, greasy mist from the road. It was like descending into a playground of the gods on a night where they’ve had a bit much to drink and are growing belligerent.
We finally started to see light as we drove across the salt flats to the west of Salt Lake City, and by the time we reached Wendover, it was cold and windy, but clear. We actually felt the last few fingers of direct sunlight on our faces as we drove into the KOA and ran for the rest room.
I have not much good to say about Wendover: it’s someplace wedged between nowhere and nothing. It’s a casino town, the first (or the last) in Nevada along Interstate 80, a kind of run-down mini-Vegas like most gambling towns that aren’t Vegas. There is really only The Strip: a long stretch of garish lights each promising “better odds” than the next place along the strip. There seem to be no restaurants as such: only casinos, and the food is definitely an afterthought. I commented to Jonathan that our dining choice, which reeked of stale cigarette smoke and cheap perfume, sounded and smelled like a cross between a strip-joint and Chuck E. Cheese’s, and he thought I’d pretty well nailed it.
The KOA itself is a little patch of parking spots on rocky gravel, stuck behind one of the more garish casinos with rocky desert at its back. I went to sleep to the sound of wind rattling the canvas walls of the Casita, and the skeletal dance of tree-branch shadows cast by the ten billion watts of light from the nearest casino.
A word about sleeping arrangements: we had three adults, a dog, and two cats in our little 8′ pop-up camper. I’m not going to say it was comfortable, but it worked.
Nevada was an exercise in negatives. No one fell asleep at the wheel. We didn’t run out of gas. We weren’t stopped and robbed by any county sheriffs under the guise of “civil asset forfeiture.” We spotted no federal prisoners trying to hitchhike. No space aliens abducted us, no giant praying mantises devoured the semi-trailer in front of us, and The Mob stayed safely distant to the south, in Vegas.
The weather remained semi-overcast and cool through an uneventful day of driving, until we reached Reno and started to descend into California. Once again, clouds gathered and rain dumped, giant trucks threw greasy spray, and we once more despaired of ever seeing sunlight. Jonathan told me that he wondered if we, like those unfortunates passing through the self-same Donner Pass in 1846, would end up having to eat each other.
This, too, did not happen.
Just before reaching Sacramento, where the sun had begun to shine weakly through the clouds, we took a detour northward at the direction of Google Navigator. It probably added an hour to the trip, but it took us through very light traffic on rural highways. Our route took us up highway 20, through the mountains and around Clear Lake and Mendocino Lake, to drive into Ukiah from the north. Although we are only 2-1/2 hours north of San Francisco straight up highway 101, coming around the back way felt like we were in the opening scenes of The Shining, driving to a remote, remote, remote place far from civilization of any sort.
We arrived, again, right at sunset, which set the sky on fire in glorious oranges, reds, and magentas. I missed the photo-op. We fell into bed, too exhausted from the long drive to do anything else.
This morning afforded us the opportunity to finally look at the place we will call home until June 1.
It appears to be a house constructed to make it seem you are living outdoors, without the disadvantages of actually living outdoors. To which end, most of the walls are floor-to-ceiling windows. The living room. The bedrooms. The bathrooms.
I am surprised to find that I like it.
It does mean early-rising, because when the sun rises, it fills the house with light. There are no curtains or other blinds. You can pull the covers over your head, but nothing keeps the room around you dark. Nothing protects you from the steady gaze of the deer and the house wrens that stare at you from the outside, like you were the odd creature in a zoo. But there are no people up here, no neighbors within line-of-sight.
Today, after running some unavoidable errands in Ukiah, we visited the Montgomery Woods State National Reserve, just up one of the twisty roads into the mountains about a half-hour from here. It’s one of the few remaining Old Growth Sequoia forests, and the ancient trees are spectacular. These look like more-or-less ordinary mountain forests until you spot something — like a human body — that gives you a sense of the scale of these trees. These forests are silent, and dim, and cool, and full of living energy.
And now, sleep calls. It has been a busy day, and tomorrow, we have to supervise the unloading of the moving truck into local storage units, where everything will sit until June 1.