THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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June 2013

I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die


Heading towards the Sierra Nevada
Chester, CA. Where are the Rows?
Lake Almanor
I have seen signs like this in many places. Americans respect their armed forces.
Having lunched in Chester, Speranza waits while I lunch in Susanville
The eponymous woman
Tomorrow's weather. Time to move on!
Well actually I didn't. I had planned to do so, with my camera of course, so that I could use that title. It's a reference as most of you will surely have recognised to Johnny Cash's classic "Folsom Prison Blues." When I got to Reno, however, I felt fresh and alert so I decided to shoot through instead and press on towards my next "big" destination - the Grand Canyon.

I had a great run on California State Highway 36 towards Nevada. I passed through Chester, CA. In fact I stopped to refuel there. The nice Indian lady in the gas station had no trace of an American accent. She sounded, as have other Indians I have met here, just like Indians in Britain. This briefly made me feel at home. Until, that is, she showed no interest in my banter about coming from the original Chester. She either didn't know there was one, or didn't care.

California's Chester is - to be polite - an unassuming town. On the other hand it stands on a spectacularly beautiful lake. It also has an "Air attack base". The last time the original Chester was in possession of such impressive-sounding capabilities was when it was the base of the XXth Legion. Actually the "attack" in question is on wildfires so the base is not air force, but park service. Still, it sounds good. And I had plenty of time to look at it as there were extensive roadworks on the approaches to town. Speranza was so low on gas at that stage I feared she might use it idling as we waited.

I stopped for lunch in Susanville, CA. One of my sisters is a Susan, so this amused me. There was a delightful Italian (ish) cafe on Main Street, where I was able to enjoy my first real espresso outside a major US city. This was such a delight that I ordered a second, which led to looks of concern for my health. I also had quite a good salad, having tired of the relentless carbs of the chain restaurants and their effect on my waistline.

I was personally greeted by the City Administrator and a councilman who came over to welcome me (or, in truth, Speranza) to town, saying there had never been a Ferrari there before. They also told me the town used to have a "Susans Day", in honour of the founder's daughter for whom it was named. There is a Janesville nearby, which led me to wonder if the founder had two daughters and set up a town for each. I didn't think to ask the Susanville dignitaries that and Wikipedia offers no help.

I bought a postcard and sought out the Post Office to stamp and mail it. On the way back I spotted an old-fashioned barber shop and thought I should take the chance to tidy myself up a bit. A lady reader messaged me recently on Facebook to say I was looking scruffy in the blog photos and I can take a hint as well as the next blogger.

The barber was fast asleep in his chair and woke reluctantly. Despite my best attempts at conversation (I know his marital status, how many children and grandchildren he has, where he's from and where he's going to retire, but he showed no reciprocal interest) he was probably back asleep again within 15 minutes. I have never had my hair cut so quickly. Checking the mirror in my hotel room tonight, I wonder if he ever actually woke up at all! Still, it was an (inexpensive) experience and Kevin in London can sort it out next month. I can hear him tutting already.

From the sleep-disordered barber of Susanville, I proceeded directly to Nevada, where his two daughters and one son live, as do his ex-wife (from whom he fled to California) and ten grandchildren. He plans to retire there one day, no doubt to recover from his life's exertions with a good long doze.

As the road ahead leads to more remote places than I have ventured so far, I queried the satnav for upcoming accomodation after passing Reno. There was a cluster of hotels 40-something miles ahead and another 80-something, so I decided to stop at the first place, Fallon, NV. That is where I shall lay my head tonight in the Holiday Inn Express.

I learned from yesterday's over-exposure to heat and drove the whole day in air-conditioned comfort. In consequence I arrived here feeling a lot chirpier than I did at my hotel last night. I suspect the roof will stay up now until the extreme heat of the desert regions is behind me. That should give my sunburned nose chance to recover too.

California steaming


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 
Big Tree, small blogger
Big Tree with old (and I mean old) friends
Got it? It's big, I tell you.
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.

My California is in their California


Your humble blogger on Route 101
Speranza by the Pacific Ocean
Speranza on Route 101
We arrived in the great State of California (with my California in a great state) about an hour ago. The young guys I asked for directions at a gas station enthused about Speranza and said they had never seen a Ferrari before; even here in my model's namesake state. I am beginning to think all of America's Ferraris live idle lives as mere trophies. Enzo would not be amused. He said his customers came in three categories; the sportsmen, the show-offs and the men in their fifties. I am trying, by this ambitious venture, to add myself to the first category as well as the third. Speranza is a Gran Turismo so I am attempting a grand tour. I seem to be doing more to promote the marque in America than the company itself.

Right now, she is parked outside the door of my first ever motel room. It's disturbingly like the ones the good guys hole up in when the bad guys in their thriller are hunting them down to kill them. I don't think I have ever seen a motel room in the movies without something seedy or violent ensuing within minutes but the other guests seem relaxed so perhaps that's just Hollywood. The room is clean and pleasant and the service includes as standard what I have tried to negotiate at numerous hotels - a room with a view of my car. At the other end of my accomodation is a view of the Pacific Ocean, so it's "Azzurro California" in all directions.

My run down from Astoria, OR was great. No Insterstates this time, although Oregon has designated its section of the tedious I-5 as the official "Pacific Highway," This, though it has no better view of that great ocean than the M6 in England. I much preferred the "scenic byway" I took instead, Highway 101. The Pacific Ocean was to my right at regular intervals throughout, which was always my cunning plan. By driving an RHD car north to south, I get to sit on the right side (in both senses). Everybody loves a good ocean view. There have certainly been some spectacular ones today. I particularly enjoyed the wonderful old bridges I crossed, mostly long and some at great altitude.

Part of my enjoyment of today was due to the relaxation conferred by the arrangements now agreed for Speranza's return to England. I will finish the tour on Sunday 23rd June at Liberty Park in New Jersey - near to the warehouse where she will be packed and shipped. My East Coast support team is organising a "chequered flag" to greet me as I cross the finish line and we will then have a celebratory brunch. Speranza will either be dropped off with the shipping company that afternoon or early the next morning. This should get her back in time for her repairs to be done under warranty. If not, my service guys think Ferrari will authorise it on a "goodwill" basis given that the fault occurred - indeed re-occurred three times - during the warranty period.

I set off in high spirits with the trip back on course and knowing that, while I will still have to shave off most of the California section, I can go back to my maps and put other things back. I am particularly glad to have the option - if my timings now suit them - to meet American friends en route in Atlanta GA, on the North/South Carolina borders, in Virginia and in Washington DC.

The motel for the night happened by accident. Crescent City, CA is not well provided with hotels of my usual kind so I thought I would try the B&B route again. I have had some good B&B experiences on this trip, but the model doesn't usually sit well with my modus operandi. I like to have the option of driving as far as l like and then booking something when it's clear where I will be when my energy runs out. Most B&B owners need more notice than that and are understandably less flexible than the hotel chains about cancellations if my assumption about the day's destination proves to have been optimistic.

Sure enough, the promising-sounding B&B I called was unable to assist me. I asked the polite lady there to recommend somewhere and she named an "inn". Rather than being her kind of "inn" however, it proved to be this classic, if not classy, motel. Maybe she was making a point about my arrogant assumption that anywhere nicer would be available on an hours's notice?

So far it's exceeding my (admittedly limited) expectations. The internet is fast, if nothing else. If Speranza and I are in one piece each in the morning, and if the matrimonial dispute the other side of my wall calms down enough for me to sleep, I shall just call this an "on tour" experience!

As for the movie at the head of this post, welcome to my life. It's less than thirty seconds of a drive that took rather longer, but it may give you an idea. 

Some of the tour's supporters were concerned about last night's post. I am pleased to report that, following a flurry of emails between Oregon, London and New Jersey overnight that the tour is back on track. I have to sacrifice only 5 days to get Speranza back to London in time and there is a fall-back plan in place in case of any delays in shipping.

So we will, deo violenti, take the chequered/checkered flag in Liberty Park near Bayonne, NJ on Sunday 23rd June. This still means sacrificing most of California, but I can now still spend time with friends I am hoping to see en route and continue to proceed at my planned - already not so leisurely, but thoroughly-enjoyable - pace.

Timing issues

Leaving Vancouver this morning (c) JMB
JMB's rather cool vanity plate
Entering Oregon
Entering Oregon
Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 22.08.15
Where the above photo was taken
Slow but adequate progress - at the old rate anyway

I collected Speranza from the Vancouver dealership this morning, settled my modest bill, thanked the team there for their prompt assistance and returned to JMB's to repack and set off. We said our goodbyes on her driveway in glorious sunshine. I really enjoyed my interlude in Canada. It was great to see JMB again, to meet her husband for the first time and to spend time with doughty contributer here, Cascadian.

My thanks also to Meg, JMB's friend who was drafted in to help with cooking etc as JMB was not fully fit. That she was not really up to entertaining without help had been concealed from me as she knew I would have checked into an hotel instead. I enjoyed Meg's cooking and it was kind of her to weigh in. 

Speranza was in fine fettle today and we devoured the miles well enough. That we didn't cover the usual distance was to do with the late start and waiting to cross the US border. Having said that, the border guard was friendly, courteous and curious about my trip. Once my eccentric plan was explained to her, she wished me well and waved me through. My concerns about issues reimporting the car were misplaced. As promised by my shipping and insurance agents, it was straightforward. In fact I took no longer to go through the border controls than the more typical visitors in the same line.

Interstate 5 - even apart from the current fallen bridge near Burlington, WA - is the worst road I have driven so far. It is utterly tedious and crawls through Seattle and Tacoma - even at an off-peak time. I could not wait to get off it, but didn't succeed in doing so until the last leg of my journey, when I turned onto US 101 and headed down the Pacific Coast.

My entry into Oregon was spectacular. The state line where I crossed it was is in the middle of a channel crossed by a four-mile long bridge. I am now comfortably ensconced in the most comfortable chain hotel of the trip (I have a two bedroom suite, for what it's worth - though I only plan to sleep in one of the beds) underneath the bridge.

I had the best restaurant meal of my tour at the bistro around the corner and settled down, before writing this post, to replot my return journey on a worst case scenario, given that the relatively minor issue with Speranza (a) will be expensive to fix because it involves a lot of dismantling and (b) is covered by a warranty that expires in the middle of next month. The sudden time pressure is to do with getting her back to London (as the warranty only applies in Europe) in time for her to be fixed at Ferrari's expense.

By making enormous sacrifices - including some of what were to be highlights of the tour - I can get it down to 12 days. It will involve more than 400 miles a day (as opposed to my planned rate of 260) and leave very little time for tourism. I will drive by the Grand Canyonl but it's to be doubted if I will have time to pause and look at it. The trip may turn into a task, which is the very opposite of what I set out to do.

Even that is as nothing to giving up on driving the Pacific Highway, doing the 17 mile drive near Pebble Beach, visiting San Francisco (or indeed anywhere much in California) and driving through Death Valley.

The revised schedule will be exhausting and - given the daily mileages - not particularly pleasant, so I hope it can be avoided. I have asked my shipping agents if I can deliver Speranza later, or if there is another ship that can still get her to London on time. I have also asked my service guys in London if there's any way she can be booked in for a warranty repair (on something - after all - that has been unsuccessfully "fixed" before and has gone wrong again during the warranty) even if she arrives for the work after the warranty expires next month.

I hope I can get one or more positive answers overnight so that the trip can be rescued. I will proceed at the increased pace while it's under discussion, but I doubt I can sustain it long. I will have no time to spend with the friends I was meeting along the way and will be able to drop in for coffee at most. The whole thing begins to look very different from the plan I have been happily executing to date. So here's hoping....

A Canadian interlude

Local transport
Trade in the offing
Stanley Park musician
Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games logo in stone
Horseshoe Bay
Yacht Club flies the flag
MB and "the old scientist" (as she always refers to her life partner on her blog) gave me the tour of Vancouver yesterday. It's great to see a city with native guides.

We began by dropping Speranza off with Ferrari & Maserati of Vancouver so they could check out the "engine management system" errror message. Then we drove around, visiting various locations including Stanley Park. We met Cascadian for lunch on the terrace at Bridges Restaurant on Granville Island. The sun shone, the food and the margaritas were excellent and the marine traffic provided an engaging backdrop to a pleasant meal. This was a very classy blogmeet.

As Cascadian headed for his home and the data started to come in by email and telephone about Speranza's issue, JMB, OS and I went out to Horseshoe Bay for a walk on the West Vancouver shore.

This is a beautiful city and seems like a very civilised place to live. I had visited before on business but it was good to have a chance to enjoy it at leisure. I am very grateful to my generous hosts for their hospitality. I am living happily on the road in hotels and b&bs, but there's nothing like home comforts occasionally.

The news about Speranza is mostly good. The issue is exactly what I thought it was and she and I will be back on the road today. There is work to be done under warranty back in England but the Ferrari guys on both sides of the pond are comfortable with me continuing the tour. Her performance is entirely unimpaired. I was confident that this was the case, but it's reassuring to have it confirmed by the experts and I will continue the tour even more relaxed (if that is possible) than I was before.

The only bad news is that I may need to get her back to England earlier than I planned in order to have the work done under warranty. Discussions continue with my shippers about that. I really don't want to cut the tour short if I can avoid it so will have to give this some serious thought.

In an out of state state of mind

The 48 state US road trip is suspended for a day or so. I am, after a short interrogation by a surprised but unruffled Canadian immigration officer, in British Columbia as a grateful guest of JMB. I had a pleasant and uneventful trip from Wenatchee, WA today to Vancouver and am looking forward to good company and home cooking after a long time on the road.

Way to go Washington

Formerly the world's greatest waterfall, far bigger than Niagara
Your humble blogger
Americans messing about in boats on what remains of the primieval flood
My route so far. The current status is always available to you by clicking the link in the "held" post that will remain at the head of the blog while the journey continues
Targets met. Fun had.
I didn't know what to expect of Washington State, except perhaps a disappointment after the Dakotas, Montana and - to my surprise - Idaho. I didn't get one. Yes, there was a long drive through wheatfields that set me up to think I was going to find it hard to stay awake, but then I gained some altitude again to visit the Dry Falls in the State Park of that name.

This was a recommendation from a reader, AMB, to whom my profound thanks are due. It was an educational experience. It was also a beautiful drive. Route 2 (on which I shall continue my journey West tomorrow) was very pleasing. The locals at the park, several of whom I was chatting to as they took pictures of themselves posing with Speranza, encouraged me to believe there were very few cops in the area and that I could "open her up". This, as a respectful guest, I didn't do, but I did have a more relaxing drive because of their reassurances.

No new state tomorrow. Washington is it for a few days, because tomorrow it's a whole new country. I have never driven in Canada before and I am looking forward to it. I am visiting JMB and meeting "the Old Scientist" for the first time. She and I will also meet Cascadian for coffee on Monday. So it's to be a Last Ditch blogmeet in the Great White North.

Speranza had done 20,688 miles before she came to America. She has added almost 9,000 to that total already and I am not yet at the half-way point. It seems my calculations of a total trip of 12,500 miles were a bit awry. She is booked in with Ferrari Vancouver to take a look at her at 0830 on Monday and I shall discuss it with them.

I will complete this expedition, deo volenti, but I may need to build an extra service stop into it at some point. In the meantime, back to the only downside of the whole affair; doing my own laundry.

Advice please?

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 08.03.41 Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 08.12.47Can anyone with local knowledge advise me please? Is it worth the investment of an extra hour and a half to take the scenic light blue route to Vancouver tomorrow? Given the terrain I am traversing, will it even be any more scenic? [As usual, click the image to enlarge to a useful size].

BTW, thanks to my local advisors, I am aware of the bridge collapse on Interstate 5, but there is now a diversion in place that should, on a Sunday at least, cause only a short delay. So I don't think that's a factor in the decision.

The best road in America and the ninth life of Nemesis

The best road for a Ferrari?
Speranza at rest by Lolo Creek
These guys also got about a bit
I know it's too soon to declare which road in America is best. I am only coming up to roughly the half-way point of my journey, with about 8,500 miles on the clock so far. Based on my experience to date, however, I am provisionally confident that US 12 in Montana and Idaho is the best highway anywhere on which to drive a Ferrari.

Why Americans sing about Route 66, rather than Route 12, I cannot say. A song needs to be written and soon. Highway to Heaven might be a good title. Oh wait, that's already taken. Besides, it would set Montanans and Idahoans arguing about its direction.

My part of US 12 today ran through a wooded valley via a steep mountain pass formerly inhabited - together with a lot more of America than is now their lot - by the Nez Perce nation. Much of it is close to "the Nez Perce Historic Trail", which follows the route taken by the tribe in fleeing from the US Army. They fought rearguard actions the whole way in which 100 of each side (including women and children of the Nez Perce) were killed. They finally surrendered just short of the Canadian border in Montana (they were fleeing to join Sitting Bull under the protection of the Great White Mother) with the dignified words of the now-much-memorialised Chief Joseph;

Population trends in Lowell
The salmon-fishing grounds of the Nez Perce
My view as I blog

Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.

I crossed from Montana into Idaho at the Lolo Pass, where I stopped at a "welcome center" prudently shared between the two states and doubling as a National Parks information station. It was unmanned when I was there, but was a charming place.

A local who had spotted me earlier at the welcome center came to speak to me later in the day as we waited to be allowed onto a section reduced to a single track by roadworks. When he told me he has a house at either end of US12 and drives it regularly, I said that he was living the life I had been fantasising as I drove. What a lucky guy. I swear if I were him, having changed his enormous 4x4 for something sportier, I would chuckle with delight every time I drove that route, particularly at the road sign that says "Sharp turns ahead - 99 miles".

I stopped for lunch at Lowell, ID, which has a population of 23. Until recently, as the town sign shows, it had 24. I hope the former inhabitant did not suffer the same fate as Nemesis, a black cat of the village which finally settled the question of whether they are lucky or not by running in front of a truck and dying while I was eating there. His poor owner was distraught and my waitress was planning to give her a hug once her shift was done. I hope it helped.

My hotel room in Lewiston has a back door onto a garden which overlooks the local State Park. It doesn't quite have any of the spectacular views from Speranza's windows today, but it comes pretty close. And it cost me a premium of $10 for the night. I am typing this with my "garden door" open, enjoying the late afternoon sun. A pleasant end to a thoroughly enjoyable day.

I expected a "check the box" crossing of the state of Idaho today. I have been surprised to find it the best run of the tour so far. To echo the compliment paid by a young man I photographed with his camera phone in Speranza's driving seat at a gas station, it was "righteous".

Amen, my Idahoan brother.