After a great visit with my cousin and her family, time spent with Nick, and a day in San Francisco, it was time to say goodbye to the fabulous West Coast where I had spent most of my summer and head for home. Up until this point in the trip I had friends and family to visit, short drives, good food, comfortable beds, and was generally living pretty large. For the cross-country trip back to Austin, however, I had slim prospects for company or amenities of any kind. I was trading in welcome and luxury for twelve hours of driving a day, total solitude, and sleeping in the car. I had that mix of “sorry to be leaving” and “anxious to get home” that one so often feels coming home from a long journey.
My first goal from the Bay Area was Phoenix. I actually have a few friends in the area, but one is in between residences and the others were likely just getting home from Burning Man with a truck full of dusty camping supplies. On the way west at the beginning of my journey, I had driven almost entirely on the Mexican border, through blazing heat, in a constantly over-heating car without even being able to *think* about using air conditioning. The air blowing in from the open window often felt more hot than the air already in the car, and I spent as much for many miles on coolant as I did on gas. Although I hadn’t had an overheat since I replaced the radiator in Portland, I still seemed to be losing coolant, and the entire route home is generally known for its arid hotness.
My first bit of good luck was cooler weather coming out of the Bay Area as I drove south to LA. Closer to the coast this is more likely, but I was grateful for anything I could get. The car had no problems, the cruise control worked, and I ended up firing up the C-Realm Podcast, which was to be my near constant companion on the way home. I often meditate while driving, and I certainly had a lot of sub-conscious flotsam percolating beneath the surface, but I yielded to the temptation to listen to a droning, pre-recorded voice coming from my iPhone instead of working on myself. I’m sure KMO would be horrified. 🙂
I ended up heading south on I5 toward LA, probably due to the wildfires happening directly east of San Francisco. I managed to skirt the north end of LA without too much traffic, for which I was profoundly grateful. The rest of the drive was beautiful, with lots of mountains and forests eventually giving way to desert. The car and weather behaved, the cruise control relieved my spine, and I was back up to an average fuel economy of 42 MPG. I averaged 50 MPG last year, but I’ll take it.
I stopped at a truck stop in the Phoenix area around 2 AM. I had previously planned to drive through the night to take advantage of the cool weather. Even if it doesn’t overheat, the Metro gets at least 5 mpg less with the AC on, and after having gotten stuck in the desert and mountains on the way out, I figured it was safer driving at night. I realized that trying to check into a hotel just a few hours before check-out time probably wouldn’t work, however. I was also working to save a much money as possible, as I went over budget a bit in Portland, Land of Temptation. So I decided to sleep in the car again.
Sleeping in the Metro is pretty involved. First I have to find a somewhat-safe place to sleep. This is usually a large truck stop like Loves or Pilot. They have good lighting, 24-hr traffic, and showers. Then I find a place that’s close enough to be safe, but far enough to reduce noise and light. Then I move about 50% of the stuff I’m carrying from on top of the yurt into the driver’s area. Last year this took about 45 minutes, which is hell when it’s 2 AM and you’ve been driving all day and just want to *sleep*. This year I got it down to under 25 minutes, largely by putting the easier-to-move stuff on top of the yurt. I also put the roof ring of the yurt on top of the car. Who would steal a roof ring? Then I unroll and inflate my 30′ x 79′ Therm-o-Rest mattress, which is *way* more comfortable and reliable than a normal air mattress. This goes on top of the yurt. Last year there was nothing in between, and the yurt roll is round, so it was super uncomfortable, and I hardly slept. This year I manufactured a wood platform that goes on top, and on the way back, found a way to pack stuff underneath it so it stayed pretty level. I then take a final trip to the rest room, climb into the Metro from the hatchback, and close it down. I crack the widows to get some air, cover up as much of the windows as I can to prevent people seeing into the car, and try to sleep. I usually wear a eye mask and sometimes earplugs. Both things make it easier to sleep in well-lit and noisy environment, but they also make me less secure.
I’m happy to report that sleeping on this trip went much better. It was still a bit uncomfortable in Phoenix that night, but I was tired enough that it didn’t matter. I didn’t actually get to bed until 3, though, so I only got about 4-5 hours of sleep, leaving me like this the next morning.
The next morning I reverse the procedure to re-enable Drive Mode.
I Yelped for a local place to eat and drove into Phoenix. The rain continued, which was fabulous, because I love driving in the rain, and it helped me keep the AC off.
The Metro parked in Phoenix beneath the “Westward Ho!” sign.
The Grateful Rain that kept me cool for nearly the entire trip home!
After a fairly mediocre-but-healthy meal, I stopped by Costco go re-up on driving food supplies. I then headed out toward my next destination, Ft. Stockton, Texas.
The driving that day was more of the same. Great weather, nice, more deserty scenery, and this fabulous rest stop, which had some spectacular views. I climbed up on top of the large rock formation seen here to get some panoramic shots.
It was nice to get some air and exercise, but Austin was a-callin’, and it was time to continue home.
I arrived in Ft. Stockton around 3 AM local time, having lost two hours to time zone changes in route. The good news was that this was the best sleeping set-up yet. I actually managed to get the entire 30′-wide Therm-o-rest flat, and so had lots of room to spread out. With the addition of some window curtains and a second battery to run the fan at night, I think I can make sleeping in the Metro pretty posh. This is critical to my mission, because I want to be able to travel cross-country cheaply and without having to camp or use hotels. It’s also an excellent example of how things improve if you stick with them. Last year sleeping the car was a total nightmare that I only used as a last resort. At the end of this year it was pretty comfortable, and I can only see it getting better with time. Go Metro!
I treated myself to my first shower of the trip, and I think, due to either generosity or cashier incompetence, I got it for free!
One reason I had wanted the shower was that I had some kind of rash on several parts of my body. I initially thought it might just be bug bites, but I’m realizing now that it was probably poison ivy left over on my camping gear from Flipside! It was originally either on my tent, or, more likely, the therm-o-rest! I had some on my face, my arm, and one of my wrists. So as I unpack the car, I’m going to clean those fuckers off as best I can to prevent future problems. I *hate* poison ivy with an unremitting passion, and am super-annoyed at how long the oil sticks around.
Scrubbed clean in Ft. Stockton, my Spider Sense starting tingling. It coincided with being hungry, and then I thought “what was that little family barbeque place I stopped at on the way up?” I managed to pull up “Wagon Wheel” from my subconscious, and found it in Ozona about 100 miles away. I ate a small breakfast of apple and seaweed, then headed that way.
No sooner had I arrived and open the door at The Wagon Wheel I had a dog head in my lap! So cute! I still really miss my dogs, and I realized in Portland that I still had some unresolved grief around giving them away, so I really cherish doggie energy whenever I can get it. And here it was! I gave her a vigorous under-the-collar scratch, then headed inside.
I went inside and said “hi” to everyone. Kirby was out back working the pits at the time, so I sat down to a plate of fabulous sausage BBQ. This place is truly amazing, and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, I can’t recommend it more. It’s some of the best barbeque I’ve ever had, and the owners couldn’t possibly make visitors feel more like family.
I eventually managed to get in some conversation with Kirby about the trip, and then accidentally left my drover hat there! I guess I’ll have to pick it up on my way through town next year.
I wanted to get some small travel gifts for my roommates after being gone so long, so I stopped in Fredericksburg on my final push home. I got some salt-and-caramel fudge for Joseph and Echo, and a small slinky for Chris.
I was *sorely* tempted to hit the Pacific War Naval Museum on my way through, but I wanted to get home too badly to check it out.
It was a gorgeous sunset as I trucked down 290 through Dripping Springs and the old Flipside site on my way home. I pulled up to the house shortly after dark, and was happy to be home. It’s been an amazing journey, but I’ve missed Austin and my peeps here, and I’m glad all 4400+ miles of my trip this year are behind me.