Road Trip Journal: Busted – For 60 Over the Limit

While I was sitting behind the wheel here, on the shoulder of Hwy. 95 about ten miles south of Goldfield, Nevada at 9:20 this morning, two highway patrol officers in their car behind me were debating my fate: will I go to jail and have the TSX towed for reckless driving, or will I just get a fat speeding ticket, for driving 60mph over the limit (70)? 

It’s been a fantastic road trip. Every so often it’s highly therapeutic for me to get off into remote high-desert highways and exercise certain muscles and reinforce long-established neural connections; the ones associated with brisk driving. It had been too long.

I picked a route that looked to have a lot of what I was looking for, by heading over the Cascades from Eugene and then south on 97 into CA and eventually eastward into Nevada, via Gerlach, close to where Burning Man is held. We had a clear and sunny day leaving Eugene, and it was a splendid drive.

And once we left 97 and headed into Nevada, we were on very deserted roads, and  for most of the rest of the way on day one (Monday), I had the cruise control  between 90 and 110 or so. Of course there are lots ridges and curves between the long flat sections, so it’s not just continuous flats. For the next several hours, we encountered only a handful of cars. Sometimes it would be 20 minutes or more before another car was seen. This is my kind of driving country, and higher speeds keep the mind engaged and the risk of getting caught is extremely low, as these small roads are just not patrolled normally.

We spent the night in Tonopah, NV, a former mining boom town and ate supper in the Mizpah hotel, which was once the tallest building in all of Nevada. It was restored to its splendor and re-opened in 2011 after several decades closed. Of course this isn’t the first time it has been restored and re-opened.

The next morning we took Hwy 95 south to Goldfield, where we drove all over the spread-out little town that is the ultimate CC location. I took a lot of pictures and will give it its due justice when I can get to it.

Goldfield sits quit high, some 5600 ft. As soon as on heads south out of town, the arrow-straight hwy drops steadily into the much lower valley ahead. I wasn’t really thinking as I took off, but the next thing I knew, due to the down slope, I was already cresting 100. I could see the road miles ahead, and there was no one in my side, and just a few cars and trucks way off in the distance coming up the other way. I decided to take advantage of the situation and just let it roll. So we rolled down the highway at 130-135, which felt to us more like 80, given the car, the smooth road, and the perfect conditions.

But I should have known better. Unlike much of the stretch the previous day, Hwy 95 is actually a major highway, the key link between Las Vegas and the north, including the Reno area. Which means it is likely to be patrolled by police. I let my impulse and over-confidence win over rationality. I had told myself earlier to keep it down on the major highways, but didn’t follow through this time.

And sure enough, as I’m rolling down the road at 130, there comes the distinct outline of a black Explorer with a light bar. I knew instantly I was busted, and confirmed it when I saw them turn their lights on in my rear-view mirror, and pull over to turn around. I slowed down right away and pulled over, and was long stopped and well off the road before they arrived. I did not want them stressed from a high speed chase.

The driver was a young guy, and seemed intelligent and, ah…not at all hardened. He seemed downright sensitive, actually. I told him right away that I knew I was driving way too fast, and was guilty. But I also assured him that I was not a danger to myself or others, as the conditions and our car were able to support a speed like that, and that I had decades of experience driving fast, including on the autobahn in Germany. He genuinely seemed willing to listen to my spiel, but I never tried to suggest that I was anything but guilty of breaking the law.

Then his partner joined him at our passenger side window, and he was in every way the polar opposite. He was older and had a scrunched-up face that didn’t look….at all promising. He said he didn’t give a hoot that I’d driven fast in Yurrup; this was rural Nevada, and folks here don’t get away with driving like this (apparently he was ignorant of Nevada having no speed limit at all until the mid 70s or so, due to the national 55mph speed limit. And that driving fast was in Nevada was a common pastime back in the day). He said he’s never pulled over anyone going as fast as I was. He said they could arrest me for reckless driving and tow my car. He was not amused.

They went back to their car and I saw them on the radio and talking. I was a bit worried as to my fate. And it took close to half hour before that was decided.

Fortunately, the officer who was more sympathetic to my side presumably won the debate, or maybe it was up to him to decide my fate perhaps because he was in charge? In any case, he came back alone after a good 15 minutes or more and told me that he was only giving me a speeding ticket and that I should feel lucky that the charges were not more serious. I was very thankful and apologetic.

Well, it’s the most expensive ticket I’ve ever gotten, but Stephanie put it in perspective: “Paul, you always say it’s better to spend money on experiences than on stuff, and you’re going to remember this one for quite a while”.  True that. And here’s the even bigger perspective: I’ve been enjoying driving fast for…as long as I’ve been driving. I first (almost) broke the century mark in a friend’s ’62 Cutlass, but the 4 barrel aluminum V8 overheated just as I was about to break that hallowed barrier. I didn’t even have my license then.

But in all these decades of driving fast (having always done so quite deliberately and conscious of my location and risks), I never once got caught driving really fast. I’ve had a sprinkling of speeding tickets over the years, but always when I had somewhat absentmindedly drifted over the limit by 15 -20 mph or so; enough to get a ticket. But never once when I was really going fast, which used to be very often in pre-radar California, as it was pretty easy to spot cop cars, and they had to follow you and time you visually back then, the good old days of good sportsmanship.

But that’s long gone, with forward facing radar that works in the opposite direction. There’s just no way to mitigate that; well, except to stick to deserted roads. My bad. I had it coming, for a long time now. But that $740 spread over 5 decades of driving comes to some $15 per year. Peanuts, for all the enjoyment I’ve derived from my dirty little habit.

As a parting word, the patrolman politely warned me to stay at legal speeds the rest of my journey through Nevada, for if I was to get busted again, I would be hauled off to the slammer. Yes sir! 80 mph (a safe 10 over the limit) suddenly felt like 40.

Fortunately, it was only another couple of hours before we left 95 and took a very deserted road to Death Valley Junction and down through the Mojave. And we have arrived at our destination in Morongo Valley, CA. And tomorrow we’re going hiking; enough of this driving stuff. Of course I tend to walk fast too.