Getting in a car and driving through a chunk of American nothing has always had some huge appeal to me. I loved American road movies like ‘Convoy’, ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Vanishing point’ – I especially loved the comedy ones like ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ and the ‘Cannonball Run’ – but maybe the biggest influence was Jack Kerouac’s book – On the road. The book that made me hit the road in the first place.
So with a little bit of courage and a lot of naive romanticism I hit the road heading south from Vancouver to the American border. My route was simple – First drive through Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah to the gambling and entertainment paradise of Las Vegas, Nevada – Then return back through California to Oregon and Washington. I’d brought camping equipment, cowboy boots, and a tub of Kimchee given to me by a Korean friend. The only map I had was an A4 size one that came free with the Lonely Planet which didn’t exactly provide the level of detail needed – In fact I spent quite a bit of time driving while trying to read the inside maps of that massive edition – though I never got lost once.
Anyway, driving through northern Washington past Seattle it wasn’t long before the green northwest gave way to an endless landscape of dry grass and rocks. My first stop was the town of Yakima, home to much of Washington’s wine trade and apparently the Palm springs of the state. Here I fill up on a massive, tasty pulled pork sandwich at the Lariat before heading on and climbing up onto the central plateau of the rocky mountain states. I made pretty good time, stopping in Dunkee – where a plump gas station attendant, wearing a t-shirt that says ‘freedom Isn’t free’ fills my car while telling that his cousin speaks seven languages. I eat again outside Boise, Idaho. Filling up on a huge club sandwich.
Just before Utah 1372km in, as the sun is setting, I stop in ‘the middle of nowhere’ to get gas – the attractions here are two alpacas, and being the only fuel in miles. At this point I’m ready to sleep and decide to stop in the first town over the state line. The road around here is just one straight line to nothing. At one point my car begins to shudder and shake. What’s going on? I realise I’m sitting at 185kmph – I haven’t turned for 45 minutes. I slow down pretty quickly.
After 1559km and 16 hour driving, I stop at some town 160km from Salt Lake City. A couple of beers in the bar across the street – only 3.2% in Utah!!, and I retire to my motel – car parked outside the room, just like in the movies.
The next day I’m glad to have made a big push the day before. I only have a seven hour trip today, nothing! First I stop in at Salt Lake City, visiting the religious centre for the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints. Its a nice if pretty bland town, but definitely worth checking out if you happen to pass. The central cathedral is pretty impressive and the people are as nice as you’d ever meet.
I roll on, hammering down the road stopping at the eagles landing service area and Beaver, Utah – birthplace of Butch Cassidy no less, just after here I break the 2000km mark and I know I’m close. Listening to Right wing radio talk shows is great around here – they really love Obama these guys!!
Just before I cross the border into Nevada I drop through the Virgin river gorge. Dropping straight off the edge of mile high Utah is an experience I won’t forget. Red sandstone walls on either side, foot heavy on the brakes as I’m going down so fast. The bottom is the desserts of Nevada. Its pretty flat from here on in.
As soon as you cross the border the casinos begin. Big grassed areas in the middle of arid desert – pretty surreal. Surreal too is at the moment I’m seeing Vegas in the distance on comes the Who’s ‘Who are you?’ – CSI anybody??
I drive straight into my hotel, Circus Circus, and get ready to hit the strip. What a trip 2320km, two days, five states and a shitload of fast food…
Next part 2 – The City of Sin