May 12, 2005

Route 50 Road Trip: Day 12, Nevada to California

Of the two Best Western's in Carson City, NV, one is a multi-story with casino attached and the other is a traditional two-story 'motor court'. I went with the lower-key motor court last night and hit the Chinese place next door for dinner. Today's breakfast is at Heidi's Family-Style Restaurant, which has an alpine theme that seems out of place with the western glitz of Carson City. Makes sense, though, considering all the different nationalities that helped to settle the "Wild West". This was clearly pointed out yesterday in the Comstock Cemetery. A large percentage of the headstones included a line naming the country of which the deceased had been a native. I saw quite a few naming England or France, so a Germanic alpine place in Carson City is really just as authentic as any other.

Today, of course, is bittersweet. As much as I'm looking forward to seeing California, crossing that state line is just a reminder that the trip is over tomorrow night. There've been times when I was tired from driving all day, and there've been places where I wish I could've spent more time, but overall I've been very comfortable with the nomadic lifestyle these past two weeks. And I'm gonna miss the hell out of the Pony.

Roughly 200 miles later, I'm sitting in Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto (a subsidiary of McCormick & Schmick's, I later learned), on 4th Street in Berkeley, CA. Back in NV this morning, I had stopped at the forest service office in Carson City to ask about places to hike around Tahoe and been told that all of the trails were most likely covered in snow. I headed toward Tahoe in the hopes of finding a trail at a lower elevation that might be clear. Route 50 around the lake reminded me of Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, MD-- A beautiful place overtaken by lakefront homes, commerce and tourism. I did find one little strip of shops that included a hemp store (which wasn't open that morning, unfortunately), a bagel/coffee shop, and a natural foods cafe, where I picked up a smoothie. Everything else, though, was geared towards either seasonal tourists or the yuppies who can afford to live there. The town of Stateline (on the state line, of course) was like a mini-Vegas, with a half mile or so of 20-story casino hotels. I had been hoping to find at least one of the state parks located in Emerald Bay, but when 50 turned to head away from the lake I still hadn't seen any signs for parks. So, the habit of following those 50 West signs thoroughly ingrained, I just headed on.

The road climbed up a series of tight curves, the sort with which I've become so familiar over the past week or so. I did pass a few recreation areas, but every one of them was still closed for the season. I also couldn't take as many photos as I wanted to. Whoever planned 50's route through the mountains of Tahoe wasn't smart enough to include 'view areas' like the ones in Utah. There were small areas to pull off here and there, but the amount and speed of traffic made it unwise to step on the brakes when a turnoff came into view just around a curve.

By the time the road descended from the mountains, I was thoroughly disgruntled by the quick pace of the traffic and the commercialism of Tahoe, so I stepped on the gas and pushed on to Sacramento. Unfortunately, my mood continued to disintegrate as my time in 'civilization' increased. As 50 approaches Sacramento it turns into Route 80. I have to admit that I became a bit emotional when suddenly all of the highway signs read 80W and I realized that 50 had ended with no recognition of any kind from the CA D.O.T. After 12 days of adventure all along the same road, this was just too unceremonious for me. I spent the next 90 miles towards San Fran trying to block out the eight lanes surrounding me and to re-live the calm and intimacy of two-lane 50.

A stop in Sacramento's old-town district could have been interesting if I weren't already cranky when I got there. I'm sure there was fascinating history to be learned in the preserved waterfront area, if one could dig through the tourist shops and eateries to find it. A sculpture of a galloping rider denoted Sacramento as the end of the Pony Express route and further drove home the fact that my own trip was just about over and I would soon be parting from my own Pony.

Rather than barreling straight into San Fran, I've stopped in Berkely for lunch and to hopefully find some information about the Bay area. I'd still like to squeeze in a hike before tomorrow night's flight home, but first need to decide where the heck to stay tonight. Some funny (or not so) observations came to me while having oysters in Spenger's:

- By and large, 50 is definitely a rural route in spirit. In many of the small towns along the way, 50 becomes Main Street as it passes through. As it approaches larger cities such as Cincinnati and St. Louis, though, it joins up with larger highways to take a by-passing route around the edge of the city, until it can split off and become two lanes again on the other side.

- I saw a homeless person for the first time in 12 days, today along the riverfront in Sacramento. Granted, I by-passed Cincinatti and spent little time in St. Louis so I'm sure I missed the homeless populations there, but the sight was still unexpected after so many days in more rural atmospheres.

- In the family-style restaurants in which I've eaten most of my meals, I was generally seated in the middle of the restaurant, often at tables meant for several people. Here, at swanky Spenger's in Berkely, my lone, hiking-booted self was seated at a tiny little table in a corner by the fire exit. I may be reading too much into that, but considering that it's 2:30 in the afternoon and the lunch rush is clearly over, maybe I'm not.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I'm suddenly wishing I were back in eastern Nevada, with only ravens and golden eagles for company.

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