Some may call it crazy, including myself, but yesterday I flew from Vancouver to Houston to start a road-trip which will end up… back in Vancouver. My friend wanted to move his car up, so we figured it would make an adventure.
The goal: To make from Houston, TX to Vancouver, BC (2882 miles/4638 kilometers) in time to have a few days rest before classes start (September 2).
The car: A souped-up Honda Civic, designed for racing, not for coast-to-coast marathons:
The planned route:
This page will be updated (hopefully daily) with the progress, but I am also chronicling the adventures with Flikr and Twitter:
Yeah, we’re crazy.
Arrived yesterday evening after flying from Vancouver. The flights were great. I had a really enjoyable conversation with a girl from Florida on the flight to Denver. Denver to Houston was slightly delayed, but I got in in a reasonable time.
We had a choice to make for day 1: take it easy on the first day and go only to San Antonio(3 hrs), and relax, or go all out and push on to El Paso(11hrs). I say these were our two choices because, as we were to discover, theres is NOTHING between these two cities. Of course, since we are already crazy for setting out on this trip, we took the latter option – the rationale being that one fewer days in the desert is one extra day on the beach in LA!
We set out on a sticky morning in Houston – it was like a greenhouse. The sun was shining though so all looked good so far.
The drive to San Antonio was pleasent enough. There is alot more vegetation around Houson than I was expecting. The real desert was (and is) still before us. We arrived in town around noon.
In San Antonio, we made what must go down in history as the quickest visit to The Alamo of all time. We power-walked to the front, snapped a few pictures, grabbed a Subway, and were back on the road. We still had about 8 hours of driving to do!
And what an 8 hours it was! The car was running hot the whole way – I guess street-racers don’t like 12 hour drives with boxes of clothes and books in the back seat. Between the beating sun, the long drive, the extra weight, and the air conditioning, the heat gauge was near the top the whole way. This was reaping havoc with the gas mileage – one stretch we were only getting 18 miles to the gallon. So changes had to be made – we opened the windows and drove with the heater on, pulling heat from the engine and cooling the heat gauge down to about half. This had the effect of almost doubling our gas mileage!
If complete empty nothingness could be described as an interesting feature, the stretch between San Antonio and El Paso was very interesting indeed. We literally drove for over 100 miles without seeing a building, and only a few cars. Luckily the car held together, because breaking down in such a place would be… not fun.
But eventually we made it into El Paso. We’re in a hotel for the night, to rest up before setting out again to brave the Arizona dessert tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s goal: Phoenix.
We woke up early in El Paso and headed for Ihop for a healthy and nutritious breakfast before setting out once again through the desert. The destination for the day Phoenix. And out we set into desert. And more desert. And then, for fun, yet more desert. We made friends with many a cacti.
Stopped for lunch in Tucson, which I could report is a lovely, vibrant city full of life and interesting sites. I could say that, but I would be lying. In truth, Tucson is the world’s armpit. We made the mistake of having lunch at a Ling John Silver’s which was the worst restaurant I have ever been in.
But I don’t want to give the impression that the entire day was terrible. I was interesting to see the cacti. And we were in 3 states over the course of the day, starting in Texas, going through New Mexico, and arriving in Arizona.
Leaving Tucson, the I-10 was at a complete standstill. Luckily, we had our trusty Tom Tom to plot an alternate route, which took us on a slight smaller state highway before meeting up with the I-10. We were rolling without AC again, and we achieved experimental confirmation of the theoretical Planck temperature around 1:30 pm.
We eventually got into Phoenix at about 5:30. We stayed at the house of a friend of Alex’s who goes to ASU. They took us around to various parties at houses. All the college kids have huge TVs, which must be the result of the low beer prices. Or that their parents are loaded.
Went to bed far too late, with the prospect of getting up at 7am the next day to head for Los Angeles.
Woke up with my face stuck to a leather couch, and very dehydrated – perfect conditions for a 6 hour drive through the desert. First stop was the restaurant where we had eaten dinner the night before to pick up Alex’s credit-card, which he had left there as we made a break for the exit following an embarrasing stand-off regarding the waiter’s tip. For breakfast we sampled the unique regional cuisine, nestled within the idyllic scenery of the area (McMuffin at MacDonalds attached to a Wal-Mart).
And so once more into the breach. By breach I mean desert. We decided that due to our delicate state we would risk the gas mileage and use the AC for the first part of the journey, which made the heat only mildy excruciating.
Despite the fact that we were still cruising through desert, it is surprising the difference one sees travelling west. In Texas it was mostly brush and grass, then onto cacti in New Mexico and Arizona, and as we made our way into California the flora was palm-trees and wind-turbines.
I can’t understand why so many of the turbines were inoperative. I imagine it has something to do with power demand, but it seems that with all the air-conditioning people must be using, there would be more in use.
After 3 days driving in the desert with the windows rolled down, my right arm is a deep shade of red. My left arm, however, remains a pasty Canadian white. Hopefully a day or two on the beach in California will help to reestablish the equilibrium.
We skipped lunch and pushed on to LA, stopping only to stare agape at the gas prices we encountered over the state line. Suddenly the reason for the long lines at the gas stations near the border came into sharp relief.
Speaking of sharp relief, the cooler temperatures and wind once we crossed the mountain range and came down into LA was hugely exciting, as was our first view of the ocean. We are staying at Alex’s grandparents’ for the next two or three days and will take some time to enjoy LA before setting off once more.
Apologies to all my ardent fans for the few days downtime. We’ve had a hectic couple of days with no internet (or too tired to post).
Spent the day exploring LA. We started out by cruising through Beverly Hills and Hollywood. There are some amazingly audacious houses thereabouts, although they don’t look out of place. You can get away with Roman columns and 4 car garages in 90210. We saw the walk of fame and the Chinese theatre.
I bought me some flip-flops so I wouldn’t look like a tool walking around in shorts and shoes anymore. At this point I was introduced to In-N-Out Burger, which is awesome. Or at least it seemed that way after all the junk we have been eating on this trip. I guess there are different levels of junk-food, and you have to appreciate what you can get.
After this healthy and nutritious meal we headed down to Venice Beach to get our work-out on… where we were faced without our own inadequacy. There’s nothing like seeing guys with arms as big as your waist to make you feel the effects of 5 days traveling with no exercise.
After scurrying away with our proverbial tails between our not-so-proverbial legs, we headed to yet another beach where we got some much needed R’n’R. Then it was back home to change before going out to dinner with Alex’s cousin at a cool South Hollywood restaurant.
After dinner we headed decided to go bowling – partly because 10-pin is a rarity in Canada. The first place we tried, on Hollywood and Vine has got to be the only bowling alley in the world with a bouncer out front. Since we are not of age in this crazy country, we were turned away… from a bowling alley… This conjured up emotions somewhere between amusement and bemusement. Eventually we found a place that was not so exclusive, where I proceeded to score the worst game of bowling ever recorded.
Once more on the road, destination San Francisco. We had heard good things about the coastal route along Big Sur, but nothing could properly prepare us for what we were about to experience. You know those racing games where you tear along fantastic roads perched impossible on cliff faces beside the naked sea? They are neither entirely fantasy nor impossible. What they are is exhilerating.
Pictures can only capture a pale shadow of the experience. We’ll have a video up as soon as we get a chance to edit it and overlay a soundtrack to censor the less-than PG commentary which it inspired.
We had the fun experience of running the car right down to the E line, hoping desperately that there would be a gas station along the way. Fortunately, there was a gas pump. Unfortunately, it must be the most expensive gas pump in the mainland US at 5.80/gal. Nothing like desolation for 80 miles in either direction to create market leverage.
Luckily the car behaved itself for the journey, or it could have made a harrowing experience… harrowinger. By the time we got into San Francisco it was already dark, so we were guessing at which lights were the Golden Gate bridge. We spent the night at family friends’ of Alex.
The finish line is in site. Modus operandi for the next two days – drive as far north for as long as we can before resting each day. Of course, it wouldn’t be that simple…
We started out the day cruising around San Fran, seeing Alcatraz, the Golden Gate bridge (which we would cross on the way out of town), and the impossibly slanted streets, which caused the car to look at us incredulously and chuckle quietly to itself. Fortunately, it obliged.
After crossing the bridge, we set out north full speed ahead.
And that, as they say, is when all the trouble started. The car has been running hot all trip, which we assumed was the combination of extra baggage and the high temperatures through the desert. Today, though, something was different. The engine temp was spiking at odd times, almost red-lining, then crashing back down. At first we thought the problem was a coolant leak, and we were able to get by by adding water ever 60 miles or so. But things were getting worse.
We finally limped into a (not-so) charming little place called Willits… a name which will live in infamy. There we found a garage who looked at it and replaced the radiator cap and thermostat for a cool $130. We reasoned that the money was well spent if we could make it the rest of the way without trouble. That probably would have been reasonable if it had worked.
The about 40 miles out of town (too far to turn around and go back to the garage) the problem returned. The symptoms are strange – revving the engine cools it down, while coasting heats it up almost to the red line. Also as if that wasn’t enough, Alex’s window broke, and required emergency road-side surgery. Also, the starter has stopped working and the car requires a rolling start… good exercise for me I suppose.
3 hours after the trouble started, we made the decision to just go for it. The night was cooling off, and Alex was able to keep the engine temperature reasonable by modulating the engine. We got the biggest cup of coffee ever seen and pushed on for about 200 miles, finally making it into Oregon and crashing in a small place called Grants Pass, rolling in at about midnight. All the troubles of the day were almost worth it when we saw the night sky in the forest. We have about 550 miles ahead of us tomorrow, which will bring us into Vancouver. FSM willing, we will make it there in one day and in one piece.