Scott Laronge

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9.5 Hours, 400 Miles and $825 later…

July 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Some background.  Andrea is my best friend from Sweden.  We met 10 years ago when she lived across the hall from me at Berkeley for a summer sessions and we get to see each other every couple of years due to our travels.  Since this was the first time she’d been back to California in a few years, she wanted to do the quintessential roadtrip.  Her original preference was to see the desert.  In California.  In the summer.  But I got her to change her mind to go north and up CA-1 and US-101 to the Redwoods instead.

Andrea came into Sacramento via Amtrak from Berkeley last Tuesday morning and I was a little late because one of my tires had sprung a leak at the stem and I needed to get it replaced before picking her up.  To maximize her roadtrip experience, we stopped off at an AM/PM to get some junk food-soda, chips and the like.  Around 1130, we stopped off at a diner for lunch then made it to Redding around noon and cut over on CA-299mach zehnder modulator over to Arcata so we can pick up US-101 north to the hostel.  I thought the hostel was in Arcata, but it is actually an hour further north near the Trees of Mystery.  We stopped off in McKinleyville for dinner supplies and I found a fireworks stand so we could celebrate the 4th a bit early and blow shit up on the beach.  We got to the hostel a little later than we wanted, mainly because 299 took longer to go over than I thought, but the drive was incredible.  I think the best part was the weather change right before getting to the coast, there were around four ridges we had to get over, and after we went over each one, the temperature dropped 10 degrees.  Went from 102° to 65° in 20 miles.

So the hostel is across the street from the beach, and they have EVERYTHING you need.  Except for cell reception.  But don’t really need it.  We didn’t get the chance to hike around that night since we got in later.  Had dinner, then went across the street where they had some firepits and I had a trunk full of wood.  Plus some fireworks.  Spent a couple of hours watching the flames then headed to bed.

Got up early and hit the trail head right next to the hostel.  Two hour, four mile loop that went up a hill, down to the beach and looped back.  Took off semi-early with the intent to get to the Tall Trees Glade in the Redwood Park where they have the 1st, 3rd and 4th tallest trees in the world.  They’re something like 900 years old too.  But we hit the visitor’s center to get a permit and learned it would take 4 hours to do it.  Unfortunately that would’ve taken too much time as we wanted to get Andrea back before 11 in Berkeley.  Since it was still 7-8 hours back to Berkeley, thought it best to head down.  We ended up going down 101 and going through the Avenue of the Giants at the Humbolt State Park, spent most of the time looking up through the drive.  Thankfully I didn’t crash.

The plan was to take CA-1 and go down the Pacific Coast Highway as much as possible.  So at Leggett we took 208, and was fully of twists and turns for 20 miles.  There were mad elevation changes, hairpin turns and absolutely no cell phone reception. Then we got to the coast and watched the fog roll in for the next 20 miles before getting to Ft Bragg.  The idea was to stop for a gnosh and perhaps a chocolate malt but we saw a farmer’s market and made that the first priority.  Couldn’t find anything so we kept on the road.  Then the fun started.

The car made it about two blocks before the check engine and oil lights came on.  Pulled up to a stoplight and the car died.  Dead. Not running.  I was first in line at the light and had to hit the emergency flashers, the guy behind us helped push the car over to the corner and out of traffic.  This was on Laurel and Main, right outside the mall in the area.  Andrea stood guard and I went inside to get information for a tow and a garage to take it to.  The car just wouldn’t turn over, the starter tried but the engine wasn’t catching. Electrical was ok and it wasn’t overheating.  The time at this point is 1645.  Luckily there was a Chrysler dealership in town that the folks I spoke with said was a good place to go so I called them and they said to just bring it over.  I called the tow company and they told me I had to call AAA directly so they could dispatch a truck to get me over.

The truck came over at 1705 (an important time).  In the interim, I called my Dad to get information on rental companies because I wanted to make sure Andrea got back that night.  Also checked in on other places to service the car.  I mentioned to the truck driver that I wanted to get a rental, and he told me the one Enterprise in town closed at 1700.  The other place that rented cars was all out. The two thoughts that went through my head were LOVELY and GODDAMMIT at the same time.  There’s a Skunk Train in Bragg but it’s a local loop, no Amtrak service.  And no bus service either, so we were without transport.  The tow took us four blocks to the dealership where they were about to close.  So all I could do is dump the car there and get our clothes out.

The mechanic on duty was incredibly helpful, Dave called around a couple of places to stay.  The first was 100 down from 130, the second was 80 down from 95.  We had passed something called either the Sea Breeze Inn, the Ocean View Inn or some other derivation of that with a special of $49 for 2 people.  They were out of those rooms, and the next level up was $69 a night but they only had smoking rooms with 2 beds.  Thankfully they had a 3 bed non-smoking room available and she was kind enough to give us that room at the 69 rate for the night.  During this time, we were reminded twice that Ft. Bragg is a small town and was invited to the 4th of July parade/fireworks show.  We walked up to the Safeway and had three thoughts on our mind: food, booze and chocolate for dessert.  If we’re going to be stuck in a small town for a night, we may as well be happy and buzzed while we do it. She had a red wine, I had two bottles of beer…I’d suggest an Apricot Ale from Pyramid Brewery.  Watched America’s Got Talent and fell asleep around 10pm.

Day 3-The day that shouldn’t have been, but was.  We started by going over to the dealership to see if they were able to look at it early, but they couldn’t.  Ended up at the Enterprise-Rent-A-Car two minutes after they opened where they had all of one car available.  A 2008 black Ford Mustang.  Be-you-tii-ful.  This little buzzer could handle the curves of a chick with 40-DDDs without missing a hair and the drive down the Pacific Coast Highway was damned nice.  Drove down through little seaside hamlets and cliffs (from what I was told) that looked like the Irish seascape.  Didn’t see any whales.  Turned in towards Petaluma and got back through 101 and 580 into Berkeley around 2pm.  The 90 mile drive to Sacramento took 2.5 hours because everyone decided to drive 35 mph…grrr.

So other than the fact my car broke down the trip was awesome.  I wish we hiked more, but the drives through the trees (literally once too) made up for it.  Andrea was a trouper…she rolled with the punches and while not happy about the extra day fucking up her schedule, made the best of it and enjoyed the trip.  It always is a nice feeling to know that sitting next to someone for 3 days isn’t going to totally screw up your friendship and this will be one of those great stories you can tell when you’re drunk and in need of a laugh.

As for the car, I picked it up today after having the rental for 5 days total.  The timing belt up and decided to not work, so that was $50 for the part and $550 for the labor.  I didn’t have much choice unless I wanted to tow my car 100 miles towards Sacramento and then wait 24 hours to tow it again (AAA gives you 100 miles a day.)  The round trip back to Ft. Bragg was 9.5 hours, 400 miles and cost $825 for repair and rental car.  However, the squiggly little roads on the map are damn fun to drive in the Mustang, though I do need some CPU opponents and a voice shouting “CHECKPOINT” every few minutes.

And lastly, I should feel good that we broke down in the middle of a town that had a tow on hand and some service bays around.  There were some dead zones on the drive down 266, 101 and PCH that would’ve left us stranded for some time if no one else came by.  I do now wonder though why there are plenty of call boxes in areas with excellent cell reception and none in areas without any…

So that’s this year’s 4th of July story and I’m stickin to it.

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