By on September 25, 2010

[Ed has flown the coop for a week of R&R, and I know he has a number of Ur-Turn submissions in his inbox. Normally, we wouldn’t be running a piece from a prior Ur-Turn contributor, but these are not normal times. Mike George sent me this, and its a fitting finale to Panther Week. PN]

My auto insurance bills remind me of two things:  how old I was when I got my drivers license, and how much older I have become since .  You see, I got my license on my eighteenth and a half “birthday”, so the first due date of the year reminds me of the license, the second of my graying hair.  Oftentimes on paying the first bill I think back of my first Road Trip, which took place no more than three months after Oregon gave me the go-ahead.  My best friend Matt had moved to Culpeper, Virginia to drive a snowplow for his uncle.  I wanted in on the action.

At that point in my life I had been drumming for three years, and wasn’t about to leave my prized pawn-shop Tama kit on the left coast, so I packed all the drums and cymbals and hardware into the trunk of my red ‘85 Town Car.  Also my 60’s Silvertone guitar with matching tube amp/case.  Oh, and my first bass guitar and small amp.  And a suitcase or two.  This left ample room in the cabin for my box of tapes:  King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Rush, Yes, The Who.  All of which would suffer the dreaded right-channel scratch, meaning I had the Ford Premium Sound System.  Fortunately the FPSS had an auto-reverse feature that would play side two automatically, which in turn would then scratch the left channel evenly, balancing out the audio burlap nicely.

In those internetless days, one had to use an actual “map” to plan their “quest”.  I chose familiarity:  Coos Bay to Portland to Wyoming for the first leg.  This would allow me to revisit a revered drive from my youth, (recounted here), and to keep on to the flyover state of my birth to leech a room at my paleolithic great aunt and uncle’s trailer near St. Louis.  Cough.  I covered the 21 hours to Rock Springs, Wyoming with little issue, save a $325 speeding ticket for doing 80 in a 65 near Irrigon, Oregon.  I hadn’t yet been introduced to the delights and frugalities of tent-camping, so a hotel room was secured.  There was a music store down the way where I purchased King Crimson’s newest tape, “THRAAK”, which I played so much on the ensuing journey the FPSS treatment erased Bill Bruford’s cymbals.  Robert Fripp should drive a Towncar…

Day 2 saw me on to Denver, where I joined I-70 eastbound, which takes you by exactly nothing of interest until Chesapeake Bay.  Culpeper, Virginia surely doesn’t count as interesting, especially when you went there to drive a snowplow and it was June.  After 3 weeks of mostly smoking cigarettes in Matt’s apartment, I was offered a drumming gig that I was very interested in.  It was precisely the type of loud, lewd, lascivious funk-rock gig a wannabe Keith Moon like me would love.  Only it was my friend’s band in Coos Bay, meaning another 3000+ mile trek across places only a mother could love.  (I’m looking at you, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois.)  Oh, and the gig didn’t pay.  So I did the obvious thing and accepted it.

I decided to sight-see a bit on the way back, which meant an entirely different route.  Some history teacher/propagandist from my youth had made Mount Rushmore a must-see, so I set off in a northerly direction after visiting family in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Part way along the 465 Indianapolis by-pass I noticed the engine temp gauge was reading abnormally high.  All else seemed fine, so I kept one eye on the temp, one eye on the speedo, one eye on the road, and drove on.  My plan was to drive all day and get a room somewhere near the giant bureaucrats and see them the next morning.  I wafted imperiously, a/c keeping me cool, Bill Bruford fading away.  Every so often I would roll down a young Jack Baruth’s favorite partial window and have a smoke.  That IS what it’s there for, after all.

The odometer spun along, mile after interstate mile.  Set the clock ahead an hour for Central Time.  Tolls in Chicago;  bad traffic snarls.  Illinois gone;  Wisconsin comes and goes.  Into South Dakota to find a roo…   SHIT!  Minnesota???  I pulled over and consulted my analog map, and the results were ugly:  an 86,943 square mile oversight had added over 4 hours to my granite-faced destination.  I had already driven over 11 hours;  now what?  Keep going, that’s what.   Hell, I had done 21 straight on the first day out here, I can handle this 10,000 lakes nonsense just fine.

Daybreak came and bore bad news:  the lightning storm to the south I had been admiring was getting closer.  As the morning rolled on, the rain began.  By the time I hit the exit to Route 16 and the manly slab the storm was on me.  No real point in going to see something you won’t be able to see.  So, after setting the clock ahead an hour for Mountain Time, I kept going.  Mapquest is telling me this was around the 21 hour mark, so I must have felt a touch of motivation to best my own three week old record.  Not long after this, I saw something astonishing:  a giant green alien of some kind up among the clouds!  Fortunately I looked back at the road in time to avoid a crash.  When I looked back up to the skies, the q-bert looking creature had flown off.  I began to feel a tad sleepy.

Sheridan, Wyoming seemed as good a place as any to get a room.  After all, I’d been driving 24 hours at this point and could use a nap.  I don’t remember the exact price the desk maid quoted me, but it woke me up and convinced me to keep going.  So I kept going.  Right into the curb behind my parking space.  Fortunately it only bent the bumper down an inch or so to the left, so again I kept going.  Crossing into Montana brought another astonishing vista:  a cosmically sized oil tank aloft the mountain range 50 miles ahead.  It had to have been 100 miles wide, and 20 high!  I had no idea Montana was such an oil-based economy.  I then nodded off, and started dreaming that I was driving into Montana and was about to rear-end a U-haul.  Fortunately I woke up in time to pass the U-haul safely.  By this time the oil tank, like the alien,  had vanished.

The hours rolled by.  As I wound down I-90 towards Idaho and daylight waned, I saw something astonishing:  a marathon runner jogged past my car as if I had been standing still!  He even had a number tag on his back.  I kept taking the increasingly sharp turns at increasingly fast speeds trying to catch him, but to no avail.  Shortly after this I saw what he was running from:  herds of gigantic elephants in the trees to my right!  Stampeding maniacs trumpeting their way down towards Lake Coeur D’Alene for water!

That must be what they’re up to.  I was stupid tired by now, but kept going to avoid being trampled.  Fortunately I made the long downgrade without further incident, and headed towards Spokane.  No way I was stopping until I was safely past the lake.  I set the clock ahead an hour for Pacific Time.

I cruised through Spokane at the 38 hour mark.  The astonishing sights had juiced me up a bit, and I was pretty certain I could make it to Seattle to visit a friend.  That would only be 5 or 6 more hours.  Back on I-90 in the dark of midnight, I saw something astonishing:  a giant checkerboard-patterned cloud, lit by the moon!  I began playing against some unknown, and probably gigantic, hand, but was so tired I couldn’t play well and resigned after a few moves.  I also had to pee badly, and fortunately there was a rest stop ahead.  I woke up in time to navigate the exit safely and parked the car.

I then saw something really astonishing:  I don’t recall what it was, but it must have been in the box of tapes because I woke up four hours later with my head in the box.

I made the remaining ten hours to Coos Bay without incident.  Just like in my recent Nevada escapade, the next day the car made an odd noise.  I took it to dad’s trusty mechanic, who put a long metal bar up to his ear and touched various engine parts, ending with a diagnosis of a failing water pump.  That explained the high temp readings I had seen on and off.  Fortunately the old 302 held up long enough for me to get home.  If I had overheated, those elephants would have gotten me for sure.

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7 Comments on “Ur-Turn: Trippin’ In A Panther For 39 Hours...”

  • avatar
    H Man

    Hate first-posting my own damn article, but I should have written about putting the clocks BACK an hour, since I was driving East to West.   The 39 hours is accurate, however.

  • avatar

    I can remember doing many a nighttime road trip between Atlanta and Quantico, VA when I was a new 2nd Lieutenant USMC at TBS (The Basic School) in the late 80s.  I did my share of hallucinating when beyond stupid tired on I-95 & I-85.  I would see people standing in the interstate and start to brake and swerve just as they disappeared.

    During one trip when I was going home to Atlanta, at about 3 AM I passed through Greenville, SC.  Next thing I saw was signs that said “Welcome to Georgia”, about 40-50 miles later.  I must have been asleep and was able to drive on I-85 with it’s share of curves and construction without running off the road.  I also fell asleep during many night humps in the USMC – forced marches with pack, flak jacket, helmet, weapon, etc.  I would wake up while marching, staring at a line of bobbing helmets in front of me.  Weird.

  • avatar

    Road trips are awesome. Me and the family went from Jupiter, FL to Tallahassee, 6 and a half hours worth, to go to the Florida State campus for my sister’s graduation. Good times.

  • avatar

    Man, I hate it when the bunnies start jumping in front of the car.  But it’s a clear indication that it’s time for some more coffee!

  • avatar

    I remember one time after 27 hours on a road trip to Mexico I started seeing green chinese dragons writhing in a long stretch of pine trees in Arkansas.  I pulled off and dozed for a half-hour, felt better and made it back home.

  • avatar

    Wow, 39 hours driving with no sleep.
    King Crimson… The first concert I went to after coming to Canada. But I still think their best tracks were written pre 1984.

  • avatar

    I spotted this post a few days late but anyway, I have done road trips of my own, the first one was for an interview in Klamath Falls Or and I was heading through the Rogue Valley to get there as this was pre internet days and went with what I knew since I kind of was familiar with the route to Grants Pass even though I’d not driven there but my parents did and I rode along when we visited some in-laws, anyway, it was August 1990 and a heatwave was hitting the valley and I didn’t have AC in my 78 Ford Fairmont so took Dad’s ’83 Chevy Citation which did and it had a tape deck in it, the trip itself was largely uneventful, driving down I-5 from Tacoma Washongton but on the trip back home, the tranny decided to spring a leak and begin slipping so with the sun setting, I found a gas station out in the middle of nowhere just off the freeway and was able to get it filled back up and it got me home. Dad got it fixed shortly after I got home. He gave it to my oldest sister and her second hubby in 1997 and it was STILL going then.
    My second trip was to Bend Or for another job interview, this time in MY car as it was Sept of the same year (’90) and THAT car had a slow transmission leak and it’d drip onto the cat, causing smoke whenever I stopped while heading through the mountains from Eugene/Salem circumventing the northern border of the Deschutes Ntl Park and on into the town of Sisters before dropping into Bend and there was construction along that route on the way down. Coming home, I went up Hwy 97 that goes up through Bend from California and Klamath Falls before going through Bend and continuing north and I would take I think the 26 that took me into Gresham and ultimately into Portland where I rejoined I-5 north home to Tacoma.
    Summer of ’95, another job interview, this time in Medford and I had my little ’83 Civic hatchback and it did the trip down and back, TWICE (the first for the interview, the second when I moved down for the job) with no discernible mechanical issues of any kind other than it barely passed state smog testing in Medford and I loved driving that car at speed on the freeway as it just did so well at cruising speed. Needless to say, the job lasted barely a month and I lasted in Medford about 2 months before my parents came and got my things, I packed up the car and drove home. That trip made me realize that small towns like Medford while pretty and nice and all that just weren’t for me.
    The last major road trip was with the ’88 Honda Accord LX-I 4 door I had gotten in ’98 from my late father and was going down to LA to find work during the dot com/9-11 downfall in June 2002 and that trip was the most memorable for various reasons but the big thing was I was going to CALIFORNIA, my first time IN the state by myself, let alone driving IN the state and again, coming down from Washington via I-5 and having to traverse not 1, not 2, but 3 mountain passes to get there. I remember screaming along I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley doing upwards of 100mph in places, as it got hotter and hotter and hotter and the AC didn’t work so I closed up the sunroof and shut the sun shade and that helped and yes, I had the windows up front open some and had the vent on full tilt, the old beast just kept on going.
    Since I was late leaving Mom’s at the start of the trip, I had a room reserved in Medford, making it literally the halfway mark and got in at 11PM or so if I recall and the next morning was able to see some of the town and what if any changes since 1995 and by 8:30 was back on the road, fast approaching the California Border and the highest point in the whole trip, and the highway even, the Siskiyou Mtns and then the descent down into the Sacramento Valley to some of the more remote areas of the state that the highway goes through before hitting the San Joaquin Valley mid afternoon. I would arrive in LA at my destination by 8:30PM and part of the trip was splitting off of I-5 and taking the 405 to Slausen Ave in Culver City to get to the huge apt complex where I would live for 6 months.
    Needless to say, never found perm work and ended up packing my car back up and driving back to Mom’s in Jan of 03 and I’d crash with her for a year before I was able to resume home making back in Seattle with perm work where I’d been living before closing up my apt and putting stuff in storage back in ’02.
    I would love to do a good road trip like that but not until funds let me.

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