July Adventure, Homeward Bound

The SAAB gets its fuel pump and we get on back to SF

In Reno, days passed and Brian went to work and we shopped and read and caught up on writing and ate some food and reveled in the usually perfect July weather experienced for the most part on Brian’s back deck.

At the Spa up north, Brian was reminded of the wonderfulness of his hot tub, but it has been out of order for a while. Brian so loves his hot tub. He gave me the job of finding a guy to fix it, and I made some calls. Yes, and there was a rainstorm…

and a spectacular sunset the day before the day of.

The day of was Thursday. I called Walton Car Care and they said they were installing my fuel pump and we could come for the car at any time. That’s just when the hot tub guy came to take a look at the offending tub. I hung around, standing in for Brian. Carol and I scheduled ourselves to leave at 10am for the 8 hour pick-up trip — three hours north, one there, three south and one whatever. Leaving a little later won’t kill us. The hot tub situation is fixable, not dire, but there are parts to order and what not.

We were on I-395 before eleven and after the hills and dales and wide roads getting out of Sparks and Reno, we settled on the straight and narrow to Alturas. Brian’s plans changed slightly… he’s going north on Friday, so Carol and I took his Sabaru and will leave it at Walton’s for him to pick up on Friday.

In these wide open spaces, it seems that the road is always straight, the land is always vast and the mountains are always in the distance. When you think you might get to the mountains, the road might bend a bit and go straight on by. This road is on the California side of the border. On the Nevada side, the sensation is similar, but the vast land is white and tan over there, as opposed to greenish and reddish over here. Empty, is what it’s like. We could go nearly an hour without seeing another car, or a person working in a field. On the other hand, its not the Wild West anymore. We travel about 200 miles, one way, seeing essentially nothing, but we do it in about 3 hours. Its not like traveling ten miles a day, walking behind a Calistoga wagon, or two or three days by horseback.

This is what I came for, these wide open spaces. When Brian showed me his Study Sites on a map, I was challenged to get up there and get away and see what the unknown, northeastern California is all about. I’m a trip guy… I love driving trips. The trick is to package a driving trip so Carol wants to go along. It would have been nice had the car not broke, but hey — more driving. I also wanted to see Brian’s actual field work, and accomplished that… its interesting and all, and about what I imagined, but more harsh and harder and even more remote than imaginable. The big thing is the idea of creating a better environment for the ranchers and their animals in this unforgiving land. For me, the big thing was the opportunity to get a guided tour of these lands by someone who knows them and works with them.

About 20 miles before our destination, it’s likely we will pass through Likely CA (population 200 elevation 4447 feet).

I should have taken a picture of Alturus. It’s the biggest deal around, but still, only about 4 blocks long on US-395 and another 3 or 4 blocks on the east/west CA-222. It does have a stop-light. And it does cost $65 to tow a car from one end to the other.

The SAAB is a welcome sight, although I couldn’t help but think, “Can it make it all the way back to San Francisco?” Ban that thought, just get on the road back to Reno.

Heard’s is about a mid-point on the drive. Let me put it this way, its THE ONLY place to pull up to and get a sandwich or something. “Hot Dogs 79 cents or two for $1.25.” Can’t pass that up. I asked for a hot dog and the guy sitting on the front porch went inside, got a hot dog and a bun out of the walk-in cooler, wrapped the bun in a napkin and the hot dog in plastic wrap and microwaved their ass. I slathered on some mustard and chopped onion and damn, that was good. Good white, squishy bun and a really hot hot dog, all for 79 cents and a few gallons of gas to get there. Carol had a ham and cheese sandwich prepared by the lady of the house in the conventional manner. By the way… Heard’s is for sale.

The road up is now the road back...
I paid a visit to Cal Neva to cash some tickets (sadly, not all tickets) and purchase a few for the future.

Linguine with clams — that’s 2 1/2 dozen clams — at La Fornaretta, our favorite lunch stop in Newcastle, about midway between SF and Reno.

Back on I-80, its almost as if  we can see the ocean down that long, straight road, but all we can see is the flats of the Central Valley leading to Sacramento.

We’ve been driving a lot, me and Carol. When we’re in range of KNBR in SF we listen to the Giants or sports talk on the radio, otherwise, we have the blessing of silence or talking with each other. We’re not much for books-on-tape or music CDs for that matter. We can get down with the sights and the road noise and the joy of traveling.

On this leg of this trip it seemed important — but not urgent — to discuss the future of our 10-year-old SAAB. Now ten years isn’t really old and it only has 97,000 miles and it looks great and we love it, but… lately, it breaks a lot. And when it breaks, it’s not cheap to repair what Ken Walton called “an exotic car.” He said this fuel pump is the most expensive he’s ever seen. But it’s not really that, when I get in, I really, really hope it will start. That’s not something one wants to live with, especially on a long trip, miles from nowhere.

So we talked about what we wanted in a car. Four doors, small but big enough for a comfortable trip, leather seats, automatic transmission to cope with Russian Hill, quick, not clunky; something we look good in. Mini Cooper, and VW GTI come to mind; Carol says Subaru Impreza. I looked on autotrader.com, but I’m a guy that needs to see and touch. I don’t even know what an Impreza is and pictures hardly help. I know what a GTI is, but I haven’t sat in one, maybe ever.

back home on Union Street

So Saturday, I went to Francisco Boulevard in San Rafael. Just about every make of car in the world is there to be seen. Carol opted not to go. She doesn’t have the patience to shop for cars. Also, in her absence, I can’t be impulsive.

First stop, Sonnen Motorcars, VW and Audi. I’m met by Peter. “I need to look at VW, especially GTI, let’s start with used.” Peter turned out to be a very professional car salesman, easy to talk to and with a good sense of humor. The Sonnen dress code seemed to be shirt and tie with no coat.

He went to his computer and pulled up five or six cars in the 2006 to 2009 range. He retrieved their keys from a magical, computer controlled key box on wall of a showroom alcove. Out on the lot — it was a perfect day, low 70s and sunny — they were all within a stone’s throw of one another: two New Beetles, two GTI and a Jetta GLI, which has a GTI engine and suspension in a Jetta body. (Kinda like having Marilyn in a Bette Davis body; not tragic, but…)

The Beetles; no thank you. I sat in the Beetle. Yuk. Don’t like, just doesn’t feel right and it definitely ain’t me. It felt like the cute, functional car of old all puffed up and streamlined for nostalgia sake. Looks good, sits bad.

LUV at first sight.

The red GTI was love at first sight. I kinda wanted white, but the white one is 2-door and the red is spectacular. While Peter went and got the dealer plate, I looked at the GLI and sat in it. Like I said…

I drove the GTI. Fabulous. Hot. Quick. Doesn’t have leather, but sits well. “What can I do to get you into that today,” Peter intoned the car salesman mantra.

“Peter, I haven’t been married 50 years because I made impulsive decisions. I have to bring Carol to see this tomorrow,” I said.

He asked, “Does she like to drive?”


“She’ll love it.” He then allowed me to get in the SAAB and leave the lot. I still had the duty to look at the Impreza.

Marin Mazda and Subaru is not impressive; it was hard in the jumble of the lot to find a legitimate place to park. Irwin, the salesman at Marin Subaru wore a white, open collar shirt with the sleeves turned up. He showed me a black 2010 Impreza, but was way more focused on showing me the new one. You can be the owner of the only Impreza sport sedan in California, he touted. It was in the shadows of the enclosed parking area and I took a look, but couldn’t see much. It looked OK.

Subaru Impreza

We went for a drive. This is Brian’s car with more power but no quickness. Boring. Behind the Impreza in the showroom, a Mazda 3. Same engine as Impreza but a lighter, FWD rather than AWD, way better looking than the Impreza and it has a turbo. Never mind, I’ve found my car.

I went home and showed the pictures to Carol. We went back Sunday and did the deal.

moving stuff car to car

Dang all. We loved that SAAB.

beauty shot

So that was a trip I won’t soon forget. A little something to remember it by.


3 thoughts on “July Adventure, Homeward Bound

  1. Forget what I said about being stranded. I figured out how to maneuver your new website and found “the rest of the story.” I can breathe easy now.


  2. Not that it means much to you city slickers but Alturas is fully 12 blocks long and features several shops (some even selling new merchandise) and restaurants, Modoc Co. High, a splendid BPOE hall (may be converted depot), and a national wildlife refuge (lotta wetlands draw lotta migrating birds to the area from snowmelt of surrounding mountains in spring/summer). And the east-west hwy is CA 299. It’s also the reddest county in California, bar none, altho they recently held their collective noses and approved a modest local tax to prevent the only hospital within 100 miles from closing. They surely low-balled the amount of money that would be required to keep it open and will just as surely attract only the least qualified doctors to go live and work there — a glimpse of the future, America!


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