Journey From Hell Part 2

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

When we last left me, I was on US 93 a few miles from Interstate 40 after a half hour under police scrutiny. I would wind up seeing a lot more of US 93 than I thought. My goal was to reach Tonopah, Nevada, a town of less than 10,000 up at near 6,000 feet elevation, and about 240 miles southeast of Reno. My plan on Monday was to make the drive from Scottsdale, Arizona to Tonopah, a distance of between 500 and 520 miles, and then just have the four-hour jaunt for Tuesday. Well, guess again!

The encounter with the cops only made a half-hour delay, which was fine, for when I got to Kingman, the last major city in NE Arizona, it was noon and I was starving. From Kingman to Tonopah would be another 300 miles, so I could project getting to Tonopah around 5:00, which would leave me trying to figure out what to do in a mountain village for six or seven hours until I could crash out.

The solution was: Spend at least half of those hours driving! There were no problems between Kingman and Las Vegas, just over 100 miles, but as I’m cruising up US 95 for the remaining 200 miles, about 60 miles up the way, traffic was stopped, and I noticed cars were crossing the highway and going back the way they came. But not ALL of them were, so I thought while there may have been restrictions on continuing in that northern direction, maybe I could be immune to it. NOPE!

On Sunday, there had been a fire at the site of a closed radioactive waste dump near the Nevada town of Beatty, the first town you encounter when you travel east from Death Valley National Park. In the aftermath of this fire, it appeared that there may have been toxic air thrown into the atmosphere, which caused a 140-mile stretch of US 95 to be closed, and there was no certainty when it could re-open. The air quality needed to be tested for contamination, and this was a very tedious process, so the only vehicles going up ahead were those that were willing to gamble that this would be solved within a few hours.

The only alternate solution was to go back to Las Vegas, about 60 miles back, catch Interstate 15 north, and after about 20 miles, veer off onto my old friend I thought I’d abandoned, US 93. After about 50 miles on that road, I would take State Highway 375 to US 6 which would take me to Tonopah, another 148 miles away. Those had to be 148 of the most boring miles anyone could ever travel!

Until Alaska became a state, and before Las Vegas had its population boom in the 1960’s, Nevada was the least populated state in the Union, and on making this drive, you can be totally amazed by how much nothingness can be concentrated into several hundred square miles. There was a warning sign posted when I first got on 375 that said “No gas for 150 miles.” It should have said “No NOTHING for 150 miles.” On the map, two towns are shown, one is Rachel about 40 miles up, with only a trailer park to boast, followed by Warm Springs, at the junction of US 6, that was a complete ghost town.

Of course, after long hours in the car, my bladder was starting to wonder how long this torture would go on. By now it was dark, and since the lay of the land appeared to be just brush with the occasional Joshua Tree, and nothing resembling a turnout of any kind, I didn’t want to gamble on pulling over at the wrong spot and getting stuck, so the liquid had to just accumulate. It was at this former town of Warm Springs that I was able to find a spot off the road where I could deposit my own warm spring.

The other problem when you’re that far out in the middle of nowhere is the radio. I would have hoped that I could at least find either Monday Night Football or one of the baseball playoff games, and I would find an occasional faraway station where I could hear maybe 10 minutes of either match before static would take over again. Seems the only stations that came in clear were right-wing asshole forums. I was almost willing to listen to that, but the key word is almost. Instead of willing, you might also say forced!

Also on these two-lane roads, I had to be a bit aggressive. Few things cause my heart to race faster than that sensation you get when you’re passing a big rig and worried about whether you’ll get the job done before someone emerges from the other direction. This would be the case all the way to Tonopah, though I’m sure the truckers were just as anxious to get out of this Twilight Zone episode as quickly as I was. They’d probably done it before, and were certain to do it again.

At about 8:00, I arrived in Tonopah, never so happy and relieved to see such a hick town. The hotel I’d booked was certainly less glamourous in the flesh than all those online ads depicted, but by then, all I cared about was giving the car a rest. My total drive time, counting lunch and police, was 12 hours when it should have been less than eight. My total mileage was about 700 miles, or almost the distance between Phoenix and Reno. It was certainly my all-time record for distance traveled in one day, besting my 2001 trip from Elko, Nevada to LA by about 50 miles. I was also informed at the hotel that the road closure on US 95 was still in effect, beginning only about five miles south of Tonopah, and possibly lasting as long as three days. It actually re-opened at 7:00 the next morning.

Thankfully, my trip from Tonopah to Reno, while the first 100 miles or so were pretty much a carbon copy of State 375, went without a hitch, and I got to Reno shortly after 1:00. It was interesting to see on this leg of the trip how badly the recent recession had hit the State of Nevada, as the few towns I went through in that first 100 miles seemed largely abandoned. There were cafés with big “Yes, we’re open” signs that clearly weren’t, and looked like they hadn’t been for awhile. Reno, while it’s a city with problems of its own, at least has some life to it. Hopefully, my road woes are over for this trip. I’m back in UK next Thursday, god willing.

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