(first posted 2/1/12)
“There are no second acts in American lives.” F Scott Fitzgerald.
But what about second chances? We get those, right? I seem to be in the presence of one right now, and I hope to God I never have a third.
This is part three of an ongoing saga. Here is PART 1 and PART 2.
Twelve years ago mom called: “Michael, I have breast cancer.” The memory is vivid: A quiet shock set in, and I stared at the wall, speechless. Things had gotten strained between us after I left the house at 19. Religion was a major aspect of our lives, and remains so for a majority of my family, but had quickly faded from my life after high school. The tension from this became palpable, and my bad habit was to deflect attention when pressed; an unfortunate and unhealthy vein which runs in the male side of the family. One I am attempting to fix, lest I fall down the rabbit hole once again…
Mom and dad moved to Colorado in 97, and I stayed in Oregon but made yearly visits, mostly by car. One of those years I opted to take a new route, rather than the tired interstates. Highway 50 in Nevada was appealing: The Loneliest Highway In America. I knew little of Nevada, and what a lesson it was. Hour after hour in the 84 Camry through an otherworldly planet of rock, dirt, sand, and mountains. Basin, range, basin, range, basin, range; a taxing yet beautiful trip that must be taken more than once.
During my stay in Colorado those four months in 2010 I found myself bonding with a cousin whom I had only vaguely known in my youth. She’s fifteen years older than me, and had a much different childhood than I. While my family was, by all accounts, stable and happy, hers was far from it. Alcohol, drugs, divorces, poverty, runaways, you name it. We chatted for hours on numerous occasions, and the end result shocked me: how bloody HAPPY she is! Always a room-brightening smile, and a hug. I took to calling her “Chippy”.
Chippy and her husband are both nurses, and were a tremendous help during mom’s decline. Hospice was arranged, and provided vital assistance, but there’s nothing quite like family. The love and care on display was unlike any I had seen before, and still resonates with me.
The lunar landscapes of Nevada resonate with me as well.
Upon returning home to Oregon from Colorado in June 2010 I needed a car to replace my late Acura, and I found a one-owner 83 Tercel 5-speed on Craigslist. She accepted my $700 offer, which is what I paid for the Integra a few years before. I guess I’m on a roll.
The Tercel is about as basic as basic gets. Power nothing, am/fm stereo (one speaker blown), not even a passenger side mirror. The tires are straight out of the fine print of a “Blowout Sale! $29 each!*” advertisement. I figured it would do me well in getting re-established in Oregon.
However, fate intervened, and another roadtrip to Colorado was in store. Another chance at Highway 50.
Day 1 took me from Eugene, Oregon to Fallon, Nevada, which is essentially where Highway 50 begins.
The Tercel starts, and runs. Sure, it’s rough and about as refined as crude vomit, but it just keeps going. And it returns upward of 38 MPG, to boot. There’s not a lot of power to be generated from the venerable 3A-C engine (63 bhp, natch) but it will get up to speed and sip gas doing so.
Day 2 took me across 50 and down to Cedar City, Utah. The next morning I hit Zion Canyon National Park.
Zion is simply impossible to describe in words, so here a few more pictures. (click all pics for larger size)
Those cliffs go up some 3,000 feet from the valley floor.
Day 3 took me from Zion to Tuba City, Arizona, with a few nice views on route.
The Grand Canyon is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.
And now I’m back in Colorado Springs, which begs the question: why did I drive the Loneliest Highway In America alone on Christmas Day? Chippy called a few days before. She has breast cancer.
These tercel hatchbacks have incredible utility. My friend used to own one, that people often borrow for moving. With back seats removed, it can haul quite a lot of stuff! And they never die…
Man, those highways sure look lonely. Good choice on the Tercel then, not likely to leave you stranded by the side of the road…
Proof that one doesn’t need a brand-new car to have a dependable car (unlike what some posters over on TTAC would have one believe).
I need to get out and drive Highway 50 sometime. Although there are some roads in Eastern Oregon that come pretty close in terms of spectacular long views and utter lack of traffic.
Warner Canyon! It’s almost wrong to call it a canyon; it’s far too wide and flat, but hot damn what a view. Here’s a pic I took there a few years ago:
Hwy 50 may have the longest stretch between towns, but for sheer absence of humanity I never found anything that topped Hwy 6 from Ely to Tonopah. Last time I was out there, I saw two cars. And one of them was a Caddilac hauling ass that passed me doing aobut 95.
I drove it twice, once at night. If it wasn’t for the CB we had in the truck and the skip running wild back then, so we could keep awake, I’m sure we would have wound up flipped over along the side of the road. We spent the ride talking to people all over the Midwest and East coast. I think we saw about a dozen cars on the daytime run, and maybe one car and a couple of Nevada state trooper cars at night. A lot more animals than people. We saw a skunk along the way at night, and I was surprised that skunks lived out there. We got gas on the night run out in the middle of nowhere, and a trooper came in and asked us why the hell were we driving it at night. We just told him the truth, we were night owls, and liked driving at night better. He heard the CB, and told us “That thing could save your lives out here!”. He made sure we had water, and we always did, two 2+1/2 gallon jugs of it, and a cooler full of ice and Pepsi. As big a POS as my truck was, it never broke down out in the desert, it constantly did in LV though.
“Although there are some roads in Eastern Oregon that come pretty close in terms of spectacular long views and utter lack of traffic.”
Youre right about that. Eastern Oregon looks NOTHING like the lush green rainforest you see along I-5. Moving out here, I trailered everything I owned in the world on a 4×8 trailer behind my Jeep. The drive was amazing and the scenery looked more like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western than what most people associate with the Pacific Northwest. You cant truly experience a trip by flying…driving it makes you a part of that landscape.
” You cant truly experience a trip by flying…driving it makes you a part of that landscape.”
It’s why I not only drive ancient vehicles , it’s also why I love to travel America so much .
I’ve driven it twice now, both times for work-related trips (transmission line routing gets lonely). Definitely a different place, and worth the trip. It took me a long time to fall in love with the west, coming from the southern states (LA, OK, TX), but living in Utah for 5 years and now Idaho for 6 years there isn’t anything better.
The highways have amazing scenery and stories to tell. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the mountains, the deserts, or somewhere in between. I just wish the Outback had longer legs for such trips, but it does rather well especially when you take off the pavement and go find a ghost town.
Touching story, Mike. All best to Chippy. You didn’t say if your mom had passed on yet or not. If not, best thoughts to her as well. And you. People tend to forget the ones left behind.
(ETA: Just read part two. My condolences on your mom’s death.)
If you ever get through southern Utah again, look me up and we’ll do dinner. I’m in St. George
I do wish you and yours the best, Mike.
I used to think I was somehow alone or of a few, who would tie such vivid memories, victory, disaster, crisis…to that time spent behind the wheel, hurrying along, with only a fading Top-40 AM station for company.
I was not – I was just one of a few who took the time to think about it and even scribble on it a bit. Here, we are mostly of that mind.
I’ve crossed U.S. 50 several times, under much different circumstances. Making a life-changing move, out of the Navy and into a place I’d never lived. Then, hustling a friend’s things out of that same Navy base – he’d been court-martialed, wrongly, charges were dropped, long after his discharge date, and when they let him go he ran like a scalded cat. I helped on his panic-move, Bay Area to Milwaukee.
But I do remember the road. I plan to ride out there once more before I die…this time on two wheels.
Mike, Sorry about the reason for this trip, but thanks for sharing it. Spectacular photos! I hope folks know to click them on for full size.
Hw 50 is a very special place indeed, one of the essential all-American experiences. The last time we came across, in our camper, I had the sensation of sailing the high seas, with each ridge being a giant wave on the ocean. The experience of being so far away from it all, bobbing on the waves…
All those beautiful photos are ruined by that piece of junk that keeps getting in front of your camera! Move over!
And that is why I uploaded dozens, if not hundreds, of full size photos of the trip, most of them without the jalopy.
Set 1: http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?p9b48vkk7z1zyjr
Set 2: http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?fbr5jsjjetglx88
Just unzip and view full screen.
Of course I was teasing you. I put my cars in many photographs through the years. Looking at your photos above, I was thinking back and had a funny idea of pasting a photo of our ’76 Gremlin over the Tercel!
That would result in an immediate permanent ban from the site, of course. 😀
Nice photos Mike! Thanks for sharing them.
My paternal grandparents spent the last three decades of their lives living right on US 50 in California. The original two-lane, now called Pony Express Trail, ran in front of the farmhouse and later the freeway cut through in back. They are buried only a few feet from the old highway.
Ive driven only the part from its western end in Sacramento to Carson City so many times I cant count, but never east of there. One of these days I need to drive the Loneliest Road.
Wulf Berg has a great website dedicated to US 50, route50.com
I’ve driven that part, Carson City to Sacramento – most recently when wifey and I were out in the area on our 10th wedding anniversary in 1987. I’ve also driven U.S. 50 through Missouri. A lovely drive if you have/make time. I want to cruise it between Cincinnati and St. Louis someday…
Thanks – you’ve planned my route. I’ll shoot from the Eau Claire area, where I’m at now, to St. Louis…and just ride west. A side trip to Denver, revisit old haunts; then through the Rockies on the narrowest roads I can find…and then back onto 50, from Salt Lake on.
Love to see the Pacific Northwest once more, also…lived there, very briefly, in 1990. Would have loved to stay, but I couldn’t get a toehold.
I’ll have to see if I can combine vacation time with unpaid leave and make a month of it.
Going through Missouri, take a side jab up North Highway 19 to Hermann, Mo., right on the Missouri River. Good wineries there plus lots of railroad action.
Once you crest the Sierras out of Carson City to Sacramento, hope your brakes are good, because it’s literally downhill all the way! You’ll also see CHP’s taking radar in places where it’s impossible to speed, especially going east!
Enjoy your trip and be careful out there!
Ha! I’ve made that run before…
…in an 18-wheeler. Drove tractor-trailer for a year in 1991; and had the honor of getting busted by the Chippies at the Truckee inspection station.
Overlength rig…kingpin to center of the sliding tandems. Two inches off. $600.
You’re right about the brakes, though. Pavement’s a little hairy, now, too…I was through there this spring. Not sure how a bike would ride on it.
I-70 through the San Rafael Swell in eastern Utah is pretty awesome.
I was all set to buy a used BMW roadster in Denver and drive it home to the Seattle area via I-70 to I-15 to I-84 to I-5, but that car sold before I could book a flight. On my bucket list someday.
I hope Chippy & your Mom are OK. Sad reasons for the trips.
I haven’t done hwy 50 in Nevada, but have done old hwy 60 across New Mexico/Arizona/Texas several times. Most trips were in my 1952 Ford pickup; no radio, but it turned out that when I drove across in a car with a radio, there was no radio reception.
The Ford was not my first choice, but car I first tried crapped out at the end of the first day & I nursed it back & started the Ford & went.
I confess, I had movies rerunning through my head about when I went through the engine with remarks to self about “yes, I tightened that, and that, I remember tightening that…”
Due to time considerations, I had a new pair of Chinese 6.00×16 tires, but only time to put them in the back & leave. I didn’t have any trouble with the truck until I got to Socorro, NM on the way back & had the Chinese tires put on the front. I didn’t make it out of town before the first one blew out. Other one waited until a bit later, first getting into the desert. Those Chinese tires made several other attempts to kill me on the way back. Turns out that, even they looked good on the outside, the insides had lumps that ground holes in the tubes.
The west has been the big gaping hole in my roadtrip experience. We have covered the eastern half of the country reasonably well, but we need to step it up out west.
So sorry to hear about Chippy. I have taken my share of family illness roadtrips and they can be bittersweet.
Im sorry to read about your mom and Chippy. Those photos remind me of Kingman and the road trips I’d take through Searchlight, NV to Las Vegas. I fly many patients to and from Farmington, NM to Tuba City, AZ. Those desert road trips can be both beautiful and sad and lonely, a wistful yearning if you will. Beautiful photos! Oh, BTW, did you stop at that Jack In the Box and get an antenna ball?
Thank you for the fine photographs and the heart-wrenching personal tragedy you shared with us. Please accept my best wishes on Chippy’s behalf.
Surprisingly, the Tercel looks at home in the pictures. There is nobility to be found even in a Tercel, if one looks for it. Thank you for expanding my perspective about cars.
Shame about the reason for your trip but great scenery thanx
Mike, sorry to hear about your Mom and Chippy. Thanks for a neat story that makes me wish I could drive that same highway someday.
The only Tercel I ever was exposed to was owned by a girl I used to work with. We came out to the parking lot one day after work and it was gone. Apparently someone stole it.
As far as I know, she never got it back. Myself, I always wondered why of all the nice cars in the lot that day someone stole a ratty old Tercel.
My condolences for your mother and best wishes for your cousin. I’m in a similar loop these days, my own mother is in hospice at an Alzheimer’s care facility in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio area. For me, it’s a rather unremarkable trip across lower Michigan into Ohio that I could probably do in my sleep.
Sometimes on the rides to and from, I just turn off the radio and let the memories guide me home.
One of these days, I will get out West and go to all of these places you folks have shown this Midwestern boy…
Put it on your to-do list…pass on that curbside classic if you must, but you’ve gotta see the West. Like you, I grew up in Cleveland; and up until I was 24, my whole world was between Cleveland and Buffalo. First I ventured to Texas in search of a job…was unimpressed…but later, I arranged a two-month trip out West; I was an adult college student on summer break.
Did the trip in my Yugo; THAT I do NOT recommend.
But if at all possible, find the time. There’s so much to see, I don’t know what to recommend…the Rockies; the Bitterroots; the Great Southwest and the Grand Canyon. But get in your ride of choice; or on it, preferably…and GO!
It is always enjoyable to read about someone else’s despair. If you have had enough of your own, it’s cathartic, if not, it’s simple schadenfreude.
Thank you all for the kind words. Chippy is doing well in her treatment and the prognosis is positive. And for God’s sake get out west and drive around, it’s fantastic out here!
Has anyone taken Hwy 50 on a motorcycle? I almost did, but chickened out and took the interstate instead. I was afraid of running out of gas, as the farthest I can go on a tank is about 170 miles. My cheap highway map didn’t give me much confidence that there’d be anything on that road.
Thanks for sharing this with us, Mike. I too am sorry for the reason behind the roadtrip, but years from now it will be the best memory of this terribly sad moment.
I too will be embarking on a road trip in the next week. I”ll be starting a not so temporary assignment in Tallahassee FL. ATM I am plotting the trip to incorporate a drive thru Shenandoah Mts/Skyline Drive and thru the Carolinas and Georgia.
I’ll be armed w/ a mountain bike and cell phone to report my roadtrip and upon my arrival to the Florida capital I will have ample evening down to put together a bit of a travelogue. I’ve been meaning to put together a CC and this exercise will help me from missing my 3 yr old and pooch. I’ve not embarked on anything like this since my 2001 wedding and I’m a bit apprehensive over what awaits—- but maybe that ‘s just me growing a pair after being married for a decade 🙂
Thanx Mike ;
I too love the wide open spaces and empty roads of the West……
The last time I drove Rt. 50 was in a 1953 VW ‘ Zwitter ‘ Split Window VW Beetle in December , bitterly cold but the car buzzed right along @ 65 MPH over hill and dale .
I am glad you re connected with ‘ Chippy ‘ because adversity allows one a choice : to embrace life and make the best of it whatever it is , or not .
Persons like her are wonderful and I am pleased to know many .
Thanks for sharing, Mike. Hope Chippy pulls thru, and in my experience attitude is EVERYTHING when it comes to health challenges like this. Sounds like she already has the best tool possible to kick cancer’s ass.
First, my prayers for your cousin, and my condolences for your mom.
I’ve lived in the west all my life and hadn’t been east of Fallon (50 miles east of Reno) on U.S. 50 until this summer, when we took an 8-day camping trip to Utah. From Sacramento, 50 is the only road that makes sense. I was pleasantly surprised. While lonely, I was expecting truly barren landscape. It isn’t. There’s a lot of simple and subtle beauty. I’ll take it over the run up U.S. 95 from Beatty to Tonopah, Nevada any day.
Nice writeup. US50 is on my bucket list, preferably on my Harley but my Vic or Fairmont would fill in nicely. Never been that far out west…
RE: ‘ Bucket list ‘ ;
FWIW , a nice modern with AC is very nice indeed but , I have done this on a Honda 90 too , my old battered BMW’s , a raggedy & suspect Ural 650 Solo , old VW’s Et Al ~
ALL of them are great , don’t waste too much time worrying , just GO before Big Brother decides is not P.C. or whatever to simply waste Gasoline and tires enjoying your self .
I need to get out west someday. Wide-open spaces like these just don’t really exist back east…I’m sure the experience would be amazing. And, it’s true, we only have a limited time to make these memories.
Even though it’s almost three years after this was originally posted, my condolences on the loss of your mom, and I hope Chippy was able to prevail in her struggle and is still with us today.
I just now saw that this got re-ran. Chippy has indeed kicked cancer square in the nuts and is doing very well nowadays, with no discouraging signs.
Thank you all for your kind words, and have a great new year.
Really happy to learn she is doing well. Great stories. Happy New Year.
I’ve done a lot of solo motorcycle touring and moto-camping from coast to coast and Alaska to Mexico, and US 50 (aka The Big Lonely) between Carson City and central Utah is one of my all-time favorite roads. That being said, I understand that it’s a tourism marketing thing, but I’m not sure I’d call it the loneliest road in America, certainly not if you count Alaska. If we limit the competition to the lower 48 however, I’d say it’s a tie between US 50 and dozens if not hundreds of other routes in the wide open West. For that matter, it doesn’t look or feel any different than any other remote US route in Nevada such as US 6 or 95, and the US routes tend to be a cut above the state or country roads. At least it’s paved and on the maps, which is more than can be said about so many other remote roads out there.
For maximum effect, US 50 or similar roads should be experienced by solo motorcycle, where the solitude and environment are magnified and you’re completely exposed whatever extremes the weather can throw at you. Even more so, on several occasions I’ve even been out in the middle of nowhere on remote western or Alaskan roads and passed someone on a bicycle with all of their gear lashed to the bike or a small trailer (US 50 is very popular for that). Seeing someone out there on a bicycle makes doing it by car or even motorcycle seem like a ridiculous luxury.
Also, I once passed on westbound US 50 in the middle of Nevada two people in an open Model T Ford with signs on it that said it was attempting a coast to coast run. Now that would be an adventure.
Just So ! .
Those Nutters on their Bicycles , ‘T’ and ‘A’ Model Fords , Citroen 2CV’s Ural Side Car Rigs etc. , all of them having the times of their lives .
Lots and lots of Baby Boomers who made it and are enjoying that fully restored thing too .
Me , I like to rattle & wheeze my way across America’s Blue Roads in whatever I have On Hand ~ I retire next year and am thinking of taking my still in tiny pieces Morris Minor two door to New England to visit the areas I grew up in .
West By God TEXAS is also wide open and simply wonderful to tour in , maybe not in August when I always seem to get there but it’s nice and well worth a look .