THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
My California is in their California
I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die

California steaming

 

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Speranza's last pose by the Pacific Ocean
I meant to get to Chester today. Not the original Chester in England, where Mrs P. and I had planned to retire had life dealt us better cards, but its 
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Big Tree, small blogger
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Big Tree with old (and I mean old) friends
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Got it? It's big, I tell you.
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Resting by Highway 299, before the heat became excessive
Californian namesake. I didn't make it. I ran out of steam at a place called Red Bluff. This sounds like a tribute to British Fabianism, but probably isn't. Maybe "Chester II, the Legion's Return", will still be on my route, but it's too close now for me to stay there. I shall be well on into Nevada by the end of tomorrow. As for Red Bluff, if the fates willed me here, they will be disappointed by the attention I pay to it. I am exhausted.

The day started well. Speranza and I were in one piece each and the "complimentary" breakfast in my motel was no worse than elsewhere. The other customers were friendly, took their pictures with my car and so forth as I have come to expect. I feel like the roadie for my rockstar car sometimes, but I really don't mind. I am, after all, her biggest fan. How can I criticise others for loving her as I do?

Loading my baggage was easy, as the boot/trunk was right by the room's door. Now I have tried one, I am surprised motels haven't caught on more widely in the world. Maybe the moteliers association (if such a thing exists) should sponsor a movie in which something good happens in one? Hitchcock and the rest of the Hollywood crew surely can't be allowed the last word on such a good little business idea?

I determined to do two things before turning eastwards. I wanted to see a redwood tree and I wanted to drive part of Route 101 in California. It seemed wrong, somehow, having brought my car to her namesake state, to leave with such despatch. 101 is "The Redwood Highway" for some miles south of Crescent City, CA. I drove along twisty, misty, chilly roads in the morning light, lined with the eponymous trees (there is a short video above). In between the forested sections, there was the Pacific Ocean, just as I had imagined it on my balcony in England when I formulated this - some would say - mad plan. This morning - as on most mornings of the trip - it seemed like one of the sanest things I have ever done, so to hell with the some who would say otherwise!

Belatedly, I discovered a scenic route through mature stands of redwood, snappily called the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. I joined it near its southern end however, so contented myself by driving a few miles north again to take in the majesty of these ancient trees and doubling back to resume my journey. On that excursion, I saw my favourite road sign of the tour so far, pointing towards "The Big Tree." Naturally, I followed it. Who would not? The Big Tree turns out to be a 1,500 year old specimen of a coast redwood measuring 304 feet tall and 21 feet in diameter. So then, exactly as advertised. I duly marveled, felt a little humbled to be in the presence of such ancient life, set up my tripod, photographed and - after a friendly chat with fellow-tourists who recognised my car from last night - moved on.

I became oddly sad when I approached the turning which would put my back towards the Pacific Ocean. I think I only really began to understand the magnitude of my own undertaking when I was driving in sight of it. It is, after all, quite an endeavour to have driven so many thousands of miles with no purpose but an interest in another people and their places. Humans are odd, and I may well be an odder-than-usual specimen. If the Big Tree could think, with 1,500 years of wisdom and experience, one wonders what she would have thought of me, pointing my gadgets at her and then hurrying away to the roar of a Maranello V8.

California Route 299 however, proved a distraction from my chagrin for the loss of something so recently nothing to me. It's just the kind of road I like. Mountainous, twisty, with forests and hills on all sides and occasional precipices (all the more exciting if you are driving on the side of the drop and can look down as you negotiate the hairpin bends). There were rushing rivers, sheriffs in cars straight from Hazzard County and sneaky California Highway Patrol men lurking in the shade of the forest to add to the excitement.

Why incidentally, are American policemen not allowed to drive attractive cars? It helps motorists to identify them ("all cars in sight are desirable, RVs, pick-ups, old, dirty or foreign, so no cops") but what does it do for the morale of these important public servants? But I digress.

Americans don't go in for safety barriers and other such nonsense as we do - or at least not to the same extent. There are flimsy looking rails around the actual curves, but on the straights they assume self-interest will stop you driving off the side. Mostly, this works, of course. The idiots in high-viz jackets don't really keep the British alive either. We do so ourselves because we mostly don't want to die, but you would never think so to listen to them.

I overheard - over lunch - a local girl telling her grandfather how a school friend's mother had fallen asleep at the wheel on one of those hairpin bends and died. She told him matter-of-factly, accepting that the lady in question had fallen short of every driver's basic duty to be alert. I was sorry for the lady concerned, of course. Accidents can happen to any of us and I cut my drive short today because driving in the afternoon heat had made me sleepy. But I was pleased that the youngster telling the story did not cry that the Government should "do something". The next generation of Americans seems sturdily safe then from the scourge of "something must be done".

As for sturdiness, I am feeling my age today. I drove with the roof down all day. I had a coat on through the redwoods, as it was misty and cold. I have changed Speranza's thermometer to Fahrenheit, the better to chat with the weather-obsessed locals, and it was - like me - in the mid-fifties. Then as I climbed up Route 299, it warmed up until I was happily t-shirted in the seventies. By lunch it was in the eighties and when I suddenly realised I was dehydrated and strangely tired I noticed it was 102℉. Not good. The water I carry in the car was soon gone, despite having warmed to an unappetising temperature.

I stopped, put the roof up and switched the air-conditioning on. Soon I felt better, but the tiredness persisted. By the time I hit the Interstate south I was using the satnav to scout for hotels. So here I am in Red Bluff, of which I had never heard until my satnav mentioned it. TV, air-conditioning, a spot to eat and a good night's sleep will fix these things unworthy-to-be-called ills. Nature has simply issued a timely and non-damaging warning about my approach to open-top motoring. I shall heed it carefully in Nevada, my next new state, and other desert spots to come. Especially as the weather service is issuing "excessive heat" warnings.

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