With the Mustang running strong again, thanks to the good people who helped put the Humpty Dumpty ignition switch back together, I enjoyed a great cruise through the Lassen and Shasta National Forests to Oregon. My visit to the lovely city of Ashland was a most worthwhile detour from the Kerouac trek, as it gave me the opportunity to visit several relatives I hadn’t seen in decades.
Another benefit came at the conclusion of the visit. On Sunday, September 30, I headed up to Grant’s Pass, where I picked up US 199 for a winding, inspiring drive through redwood forests to the coast. The temperature was warm enough to put the top down, so I could easily smell the pungent evergreens as I drove through enormous stands. Shafts of sunlight resembled overhead Klieg lights, illuminating some of the giant trees while keeping others in deep shadow. Route 199 terminates at Crescent City, California, just a few miles below the Oregon state line. And there, after visiting the harbor and watching commercial fishermen unload their catch, I started down US 101 for a coastline cruise to Fortuna.
My schedule for the next day, Monday, called for an evening presentation at Copperfield’s Books in Napa. I had the whole day to get there from Fortuna, a distance of about 300 miles, but you know what they say about the best laid plans…
Thanks to some of my choices, the journey took more than seven hours; and for much of that span, I despaired of driving the poor Mustang to ruin.
The drive started out well enough as I wound through more redwood forests on US 101. I thought about taking US 1 at the famous “Drive-Thru Tree Park,” but was somewhat apprehensive about the warning signs regarding steep, winding roads for 22 miles. The brake repairs in Denver and the ignition repair in Susanville made me question the wisdom of driving a demanding road. So I continued on US 101 and took a different cutoff, CA-20, to the coast. Little did I realize there was construction underway, which resulted in several stoppages. Also, numerous tandem-trailer hopper trucks filled with asphalt crept slowly up the highway’s steep hills. It took well over an hour to cover just 30 miles.
Once on US 1, I realized the wait was worth it: the coast of Northern California is mostly remote and wildly beautiful. The rocky shoreline was an attractive nuisance, making it hard to concentrate on the road—a two-lane filled with sharp curves and steep hills. After about 40 miles of following the coast, I realized that the slow pace would make it difficult to get to my hotel in Petaluma early enough to prepare for the event at Copperfield’s. This notion precipitated my second bad decision of the day.
How many opportunities do we get to drive one of the country’s most scenic routes? There I was on US-1, worrying about my schedule, and I talked myself into crossing the mountains to gain access to US-101. Both my Garmin GPS and my Rand McNally printed atlas showed a connector near Manchester, CA, called Mountain View Road. It looked like a smooth road, so I turned east and figured I’d make up some time. Boy, was I in for a surprise. A few miles inland, I saw warning signs that mentioned steep, winding roads for the next 28 miles. In hindsight I should have turned around, but how was I to know that the warning signs were an understatement? The road snaked through remote and incredibly rugged mountains, with double-digit gradients and numerous switchback turns. I saw one road sign warning of a 16% grade—by far the steepest I’ve ever seen on a public highway. The pavement was extremely rough and patchy in places, and the unseasonably hot temperature, well in the 90s, put an additional strain on the Mustang. I could hear the engine protesting and feel the brakes going soft, and became seriously concerned about the torturous conditions I was putting my 45-year-old car through. I shifted the automatic into second gear for the slow climbs as well as the seatbelt-straining descents. At its most remote center section, the road was more of a goat track than a highway, and by the last few miles I was literally talking out loud to the old girl, coaxing her up each precipitous slope and down the opposite side. When I at last saw some residential properties and the road smoothed out again, I felt tremendous relief. I’m absolutely convinced that the Mustang did, too.
We made it to Petaluma, where I had just enough time to get prepped for the evening’s event in Napa. I had a wonderful time meeting Drury “Mac”McCall, whom I had talked with and corresponded with for years, but never met face-to-face. We presented an informal discussion on Swashbucklers and Black Sheep, my new book on his famous Marine squadron, VMF-214, for a small but enthusiastic audience at Copperfield’s Books.
The next day, I stayed in my hotel room to get caught up on work and pay a few bills electronically. But most of all, I wanted to give the Mustang a day of rest after putting her through the wringer. That afternoon, my only trip of the day was to a local carwash that offered hand-washing, drying, and a complete interior cleaning for just $25. The Mustang shined like a new penny, inside as well as out.
And I honestly believe that she performed better, thanks to her “spa day” in California. I’ve written before about the concept of machines having a mechanical soul. Maybe I just project my own emotions onto a hunk of steel–but then again, maybe not. If you’ll spend a few minutes reading my earlier posts and get to know the car’s history, I believe you’ll see the Mustang as I do.