Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Last leg of the First Journey

  Topeka Kansas to San Diego California in 50 hours in a school bus - I do NOT recommend it... That's the short version.  Here's the longer recount of what I recollect.

  After giving the workshop I finally had enough funds to get back home, so I decided to shoot straight for home - partly because the area that I was to travel through is extremely hot and I wanted to get though it as fast as possible and partly because I have a feeling that that is the same area which has the least possibility of generating random interest in this project by just showing up.  People in New Mexico and Arizona (especially the low-lands) are, in my opinion, not the most artistically-inclined.  I may yet be proven wrong on this during my future journeys there, but I know for a fact that during the hot parts of the year (and those account for 80-90% of it) it's hard to see a single soul on the streets there because residents just want to get from their home into the car, then from there into the place of business where they were going and then back in the same quick fashion - the ticket there is to spend as little time outside of an air-conditioned environment as possible.  So I decided to make the 1500mi (2400km) drive in as quick of a time as humanly possible.

  I left Topeka at about 5pm on Saturday and arrived to San Diego Monday at about 7pm - that may be some sort of a record considering the vehicle and that there was only one driver.  If commercial drivers licenses were given out simply by judging how numb someones gluteus maximus muscle is after a drive I would definitely easily qualify.  The drivers seat in Gilli is original and was not designed for long stretches of driving - 2-3 hours I can do easy, but after 4-5-6-10 straight hours of bouncing up and down in it I found myself having to stand up while driving, which is actually kinda fun and feels a little like surfing a giant metal board down a freeway.

  Kansas was nice and flat and not too hot and I drove well into the night exhilarated by the fact that I'm going home and hopped up on a major amount of coffee.  Still, I couldn't do the all-nighter and soon after I crossed into Oklahoma I started to doze off and pulled over somewhere either in Oklahoma or Texas.  Both of those states have parts dubbed Panhandle because of their shape and those parts are very similarly flat, boring and desolate.

  I woke up at 8am because the air was already starting to get hot and stuffy and proceeded to drive all day down to I-40 and then on in through New Mexico, past Albuquerque and into the northern part of Arizona before finding myself not being able to go on any further.  I fell asleep right after getting off the big highway just 40 miles or so into Arizona.  I think I did about 550 miles that day - knowing that my average speed is about 50 when on the flats that's 11 hours of pure driving time.

  In Arizona I chose the route that would avoid Flagstaff and at the same time would avoid the very low and hot I-25 that I had to deal with before (that's where Gilli overheated that one and only time and I have a prejudice against that road now).  So, after looking at the topographical maps I decided to go with a series of small one-lane highways thinking that it'll be relatively flat and not too extreme when it comes to elevation changes.  Somehow I must have miscalculated because soon after I started driving I found myself on a pretty steep incline.  Gilli does not like hills and I was going 25mph for abut an hour until I reached a 7000+ foot plateau.  It was a gorgeous drive up there and here are three images from that part of the drive.

  There is a national forest there and someday I'd love to go camping in it, but this was no time to stop - I was determined to make it back to San Diego by Monday night because one of my favorite bands plays very Monday in my favorite bar in the town of Ocean Beach, so that was the major incentive driving me forward. 

  When I got off the plateau it immediately got to be close to 100°F, which made me ever so more determined to keep driving as fast as possible.  The tough part was just coming up though and I was not looking forward to it.  There is a mountain pass in California just west of El Centro and I know that road all too well.  Back about 10-12 years ago I worked as a photographer for a portrait company that would frequently send me on shoots to Yuma and even a light-weight car that I drove back then did not like that climb very much.  I knew I was in for a slow ride, but I had not anticipated exactly how slow.  In a few parts of it I slowed down to 15mph and it was pure hell.  Going so slow did give me plenty of time to contemplate every boulder, dust off the dashboard and admire the glistening of broken glass on the freeways shoulder.  Here is a quick little snapshot to give those of you who have never been in this part of the country an idea of the landscape.  Elevation - 3000ft.

  It was still close to 100 degrees and Gilli was close to overheating for about 2 hours.  I watched the thermostat closely, but there are no marks between 180° and 240° and the point of no return is 220° - the needle must have hovered somewhere around 215°...  Tense! Thankfully she pulled through like a champ and soon I found myself on the wonderfully speedy downhill part barreling down toward San Diego.  

  I can't tell you how excited I was to see the sun go down into the ocean as I was approaching Ocean Beach.  It was very unfortunate that I was just about 5 minutes from the actual ocean and had to take this sinking sun photo from the freeway, but I think it was still worth it.  San Diego river can be seen on the bottom right and Pacific ocean is just beyond the background trees.

  Driving into Ocean Beach, my old hang-out, in a school bus was very surreal to me, but I did not count on there being still so many tourists and locals out - I completely forgot that it was indeed Labor Day holiday and people come out in droves for that occasion.  I barely found parking, stepped out of The Photo Palace and breathed a deep sigh -  the first trial-by-fire journey was over and Gilli and I were back in one piece!  Amazing...

  I am going to take a short break from posting updates on here and allow a little time to separate myself from that experience in order to write a fair and balanced recollection report.  Meanwhile I will develop the rest of the film shot, make some contact sheets, clean up the incredible mess that is currently my San Diego darkroom space, dig out the scanner to make some scans and, of course, print print print.


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