Monday, September 4

Diners & Disasters


We returned from our road trip last night. Man, was that a good time.

Several months ago, Shandon and I were discussing our long time obsession with The Donner Party. We decided then to drive up to Donner Lake, some time, to check it out for ourselves. In California, the Donner Party saga is one we're taught in the fourth grade as part of our state's history. I've been fascinated with the story ever since I first heard of it as a kid. If you aren't familiar with this story, or don't know the details, you should really check out The Donner Party or look them up on the many web sites out there. This is also an excellent read if you're so inclined. (Ignore that first review. That wannabe has never read the book.)

Shandon, Norman and I met at 8:30 am Saturday morning and began our journey. We had been tossing around different route options but ultimately decided to take the scenic route of the 395 up and the anti-scenic (but "quick") route 99 back home. It's the journey not the destination, right? We were going up in one day and driving home the next. The trip was going to be a quickie but a goodie.

We set out with the intention of sticking to diners and independent restaurants for the trip. No chain restaurants allowed!

Norman was our navigator and DJ, Shandon read historic and fun facts from our guide books while I drove. By the way, I highly recommend The Lonely Planet California edition. They do a great job of listing good places to see and where to eat.

The 395 is truly beautiful. We knew it would take about an hour and a half longer than the 5 or the 99 but we learned it's worth it. I'd never been to Lake Tahoe and was terribly impressed. I had no idea how big and beautiful that lake is. I knew it would be gorgeous but...wow! I plan to go back.

We made it to Truckee around 7:30 pm. It, too, was beautiful. We had dinner in downtown Truckee then went back to the hotel for a good sleep.

We woke up the next morning and had another good meal at the Truckee Diner. We then headed for Donner State Park and The Emigrant Trail Museum. I kept thinking, and saying, "it looks so harmless." It's all so beautiful up there. We took a tour of the area, saw the monument and the site of the infamous Murphy cabin. We then made our way to Donner Lake. This may have been my favorite spot.

I don't think I had an appreciation for how impossible that pass must have been to get over until I saw it. It's not so much that it's the highest peak, it's that it's made of granite boulders. Boulders that aren't' terribly stable, I imagine. Drop 5 feet of snow on them overnight , ask undernourished, exhausted pioneers to cross them and you have The Donner Party.

It's no wonder California has a reputation of being made up of crazies. You had to be a little nuts to make the journey out. In the beginning, folks came west to outrun disease and unsteady futures. A couple of years later, after the Donner Party ordeal was made famous, miners struck gold and the rest was history.

I've always been a little defensive about California's history. The East Coasters have lots of buildings and monuments to brag about. True, they kicked off this country but the really cool ones made the unbelievably daring decision to head west. The thing to keep in mind is that California is separated from the rest of the US by the Sierras. They were, and remain, a bitch to cross over. (I'm a fan of any highway that has "Runaway Truck" ramps.) Those who managed to do so, long before the highway system made it reasonable, were remarkable. As for old buildings, well, everything the native Americans/Mexicans and emigrants built has had a tough time surviving the earthquakes and sun. (Take that, you snooty East Coasters! We take our severe weather with a healthy does of frequent earthquakes. Not so tough now, are you?)

People have been in, what we now call, California, a heck of a long time. Because so many of those people weren't white, history books tend to pretend they never existed. None the less, I'm fascinated by our country's "history" and California's in particular. I picked up a book of historic sites and plan to look them up every time I'm wandering around the state.

If you haven't been on a road trip in a while, I highly recommend you do so... immediately. Forget Vegas and those roads most traveled. Look up a cool bit of your state's history and go check it out.

Lessons learned:

- Fast food chains have the best bathrooms on the road
- Until they clean that toilet bowl, avoid Gus' bathroom on the 395
- Sweet meat is gross, no matter how nice it sounds
- Laughing so hard that you cry is super fun, unless you can't see through the tears and you happen to be driving.
- Despite his unfortunate name, Eric Schat's Bakery, also on the 395, makes amazing cookies
- Lake Tahoe deserves a nice long stay
- Ironically, Donner Lake is now a great place to vacation
- If the 99 isn't the ass-crack of America, it's certainly the ass-crack of the state
- That being said, the US highway system is amazing. How they got one up and down the Sierras is beyond me
- Small diners and family-run restaurants are closed on Sundays (Foiled again!)
- Although I haven't listened to it in a while, really good country music makes for the best road music. Wanda Jackson and Kasey Chambers are good to start with, Waylon Jennings will see you past the State Pen on the 99 and Alison Krauss and Union Station are great when night falls and you're approaching the Grapevine. (Even if you think you "don't like country" you're going to have to give it a try some time. That Waylon really kicks ass on the road. Trust me.)

After I dropped off my fellow road trippers, Ella Fitzgerald sang me all the way home. I had no idea 88.1 did a Singers segment 'til midnight on Sunday nights. Lucky me! (For more reasons than I can count.)

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Chris said...

Wow! I can't believe you made that trip up and back in two days. Our family used to go to Tahoe all the time when I was a kid...we would drive up and stay for a week at a time. Great place. I love Truckee as well...it's such a great town! Donner Lake IS gorgeous. Wow, you're actually making me miss a few things in California!

BTW...you're right...Hwy 99 is for the birds!