A nice, long drive…

Somewhere in Nevada

Back in June of 2000, I joined my father in his then new-to-him Jaguar XK 120 for an absolutely looney car rally called the La Carrera Nevada. The year before we had driven through Nevada on the Cannonball Classic in the E-Type. Our minds were blown on US 50, as it traversed Utah and Nevada. I became enamored with the Basin & Range country and the delightful driving to be found there. Now, twenty three years later, I am living at the far northern edge of The Great Basin and take opportunities to explore it by car whenever possible.

There is an event I like to attend in Las Vegas every June and half of its appeal to me is the chance to explore new roads in this great American outback of the basin & range country.

I had hoped to once again traverse Nevada, but this time west-to-east on US 50, and then turn south on Nevada Highway 318 (Home of the Silver State Challenge) down to Vegas. 318 is a road I have never driven, especially the section where they run the SSC.

Well, fate intervened and as I was leaving Fallon east on 50 my TPMS light on the dashboard of my 2007 M Roadster lit up. Just a week and a half ago I had finally replaced the long-dead TPMS sensors in the car and now for the third time in three days the idiot lamp had lit. The passenger side rear tire had been losing pressure ever so slowly and I would just stop and add ~5-10PSI and keep driving. But now, my brain and the light told me “get this checked you idiot. You are about to head into a vast blank spot on the map filled with empty roads and sparse cell phone coverage!”

I hung a U-turn and backtracked through the town and went to a Les Schwab tire store. They diagnosed it as a leaking valve stem. Sadly, the delay was enough to put the kibosh on my Highway 318 dreams, as I was expected at a dinner in Vegas at 8:30 pm and it was almost noon. The margin was just too thin.

If I just went south on US 95 I would be in Vegas in around five hours, but I just couldn’t bear to do that. 95 is the main route between Nevada’s two population poles of Reno and Las Vegas. It is choked with truck traffic and of course I had driven it before. I’m here to explore.

I know that if I go east on US 50 there are several possibilities of highways heading south that will get me there with some wide open horizons. I have driven several, but there may be one or two new ones. Sure enough I see Nevada 361 and check my memory about if I have driven it before. I can’t recall if I have, but it seems like a good option, so off I go.

At first the asphalt is smooth as silk, clearly repaved within the past few years. I think I see maybe four or five other vehicles. Nice road to open the taps and let the S54 pull like it was born to do. Well, at least until I get about halfway, and the road surface gets as rough as a fifteen year old boys’ pimply face. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. And then 361 ended at US 95. I resigned myself to just loping along with the traffic on 95 from here to Vegas.

One moment of amusement happens along here. There is a long line of traffic with a slow truck at the head of it. At an opportunity where I can see for miles, and a break in oncoming traffic coincides, I drop down three gears and pull a long pass. A distance behind the slow truck is a Ford Explorer in dull grey, and sporting those swivel-spotlights on it’s A-pillars that scream “COP CAR” to everyone – except me. Why? The Ford has Oregon plates, but they are just regular civilian plates, not the orange ones they put on actual state fleet vehicles. I pass it, chuckling, and have to pull in between this fake cop and the slow truck several car-lengths ahead of it as oncoming traffic has returned. Laughing to myself as I pass the truck finally I vanish over the horizon amused at the dozen vehicles stacked up behind that Ford for the next 250 miles.


Continuing down US95, I resign myself to just riding the cruise control to Vegas, when my phone, who I swear now reads my mind says “this alternate route will only add 16 minutes”

I look and it is a string of small Nevada, and California highways that loop south and west in opposition to 95’s east and south route. I click it, and follow these roads. They are amazing. Utterly empty and with a stunning view of a snow covered mountain range that runs along the border, but mostly in California. At the apex, it runs through an agricultural valley, but the first and third thirds are delightful rolling hills. It is a wonderful alternative to the US95 slog. Despite Siri assuming it will add time, it actually ends up saving me quite a lot of time. Near zero traffic, I just fly along with my thoughts, once again experiencing the open roads that my father and I loved so much back in 1999/2000. It is appropriate to think of those great days with my father as it was five years ago today when he died. I was with him then, and I was with him again on these roads.

Rejoining US95 I again have to deal with other vehicles sharing the road with me. Oh well. I make it to Beatty, Nevada, which is a speed trap disguised as a town. I stop at a gas station to fill up the car, have a potty break, and refill my cooler with cold caffeinated drinks. As I’m doing this, the town cop issues at least three tickets, and has yet another pulled over as I leave the town. In Beatty, 25MPH means 25MPH.

Not long after leaving Beatty, I once again pass that Oregon Ford Phoney Cop car. It must have passed me while I was filling up with gasoline. Yep Siri, I gained sixteen minutes!

The rest of the run to Vegas is uneventful, beyond one wild donkey who crossed the highway in front of me. I even pick up a “rabbit” in the form of a Mazda minivan and a Toyota Camry who want to use the long divided section of 95 to travel at autobahn pace into the city. I let them pass and then pace them, but we’ll behind, to let my Valentine1 warn me if they get painted with radar. I pull into my hotel with almost two hours to spare before the event kickoff dinner. Time enough for a quick nap, and dreams about Highway 318 on the return voyage.

Saved again by Mike Valentine…

I was heading down to Bend last week to meet Linda to watch the latest Bond flick ‘No Time To Die’ at the McMenamins Old St. Francis theatre. Zipping along on US97 southbound, which while not a freeway in the traditional sense, it is as close to one as we get in Central Oregon. I was in the Z4M, enjoying the last few drives before it is put away for the winter. (Every time I drive this car I think “I should drive this car more often!”… it is the much fun to drive.) For the past year or so there has been some roadside construction on 97 on the north end of Bend. No idea what the project might be, it’s not actual road construction, but something alongside it that has taken quite a long time to complete. So for a long while the speed limit has dropped from 65 MPH down to 45 MPH through said construction long before you reach the usual traffic clusterfsck that is the north side of Bend around Cooley & Robal lanes.

So I’m rolling along all by myself with no traffic ahead and none close behind for the whole section from Tumalo to Bend, and as I’m approaching the construction warning signs I get a STRONG Ka Band signal on my Valentine1 radar detector. A glance shows me that it’s signature arrows are showing me the signal is behind me. I glance in the rear view mirror and all I see is a Subaru in the left lane coming up fast. I’m in the right lane already, but knowing that the construction zone is coming up AND there is an L.E.O. behind me with active radar, I come off the accelerator and begin slowing to the construction zone speed of 45 MPH. Sure enough the Subaru blows by me at likely 75 MPH as we enter the construction zone. I glance in the mirror and see the unmistakable outline of a Dodge Charger in dark blue and yellow. The Oregon State Patrol. As he passes me he lights up and accelerates to what is likely well over 90 MPH to catch up to the Subaru. (oh the irony!)

I can only imagine what the cost of that ticket must be for the Subaru driver. 20+ over in a Construction Zone. Oh boy.

What were they thinking?

Engineering Idiocy. I know I’m late to this particular party, but I had not encountered this until today. Several years ago, after picking us up at the Houston airport, Linda was riding in the rear seat of my father’s BMW 535i, and casually said “Charlie, I love your car. If you ever think about selling it, I’ll buy it from you.”

Long story short, we bought the car from my mom not long after he passed away last summer. We drove it home last autumn, where it spent most of the winter parked in my shop as it isn’t really an ideal winter car. For that we drive her old Subaru.

This 5-series is several years old, but has very low miles. We literally doubled the odometer driving it from Texas to Oregon. It is likely overdue for an oil change in time more than distance. I looked up the oil required and bought two large jugs of it yesterday. I had stocked up on filters from BavAuto (R.I.P.) soon after we bought it. I opened the hood in the shop to be presented with…


I recall lots of complaints in Roundel (the BMWCCA magazine) about this issue back when BMW started doing this, but I didn’t give it much thought.

So I was sort of stuck. The owners manual doesn’t list the engine oil capacity(!) and everything BMW presents you with basically says “bring it to the dealer for oil changes”… grrr.

I’ve been changing my own oil since I was a teenager. It was the first thing I learned about automotive maintenance. For me it is almost a therapeutic action. It is good for the car, it is good for me. I drive away with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But now I’m just confused.

Thankfully I have the Internet. The Internet tells me I need 6.5 Liters of oil for this engine. Typical of how I’ve always done this I’ll fill it a bit short of what should be “full” and then top it off in small increments to avoid overfilling the engine.

However without a dipstick, there is no way to actually do this. To measure the engine oil you have to be in the car and use the onboard computer. Not only that, the car has to be on level ground, engine on, and UP TO OPERATING TEMPERATURE. ????

This is sort of stupid. I let the oil drain out overnight. The engine is cold. In fact it got below freezing last night, so the engine is about as cold as it will ever be. I feel stupid starting a cold engine with at least a half a liter short of the correct amount of oil… then letting it idle for long enough to warm it up.

The dipstick is a perfectly adequate tool for this task. It takes seconds to measure oil levels with a dipstick, and it poses ZERO risk to the engine to use it. While I’m not really scared of damaging this car, doing this for the first time ever does make me feel… mild trepidation mixed with annoyance for some engineers in Munich.

So here I KNOW I shorted the amount by 500ml, so I expect the car to tell me to add that after I perform the check…


Now I’m REALLY annoyed. How can I trust this thing? It’s like those temperature gauges they program to stay right in the middle unless something really bad is happening. I know I’m 500ml short, but the car tells me “I’m at 100%” (note the lack of actual measuring units).

I guess I’m going to have to check often to see if it changes.

So happy that all the other engines I care for have dipsticks.

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Two, the actual Cannonball part)

So I’m alone, in Albuquerque, with a nice car and no co-driver. Our plans have gone awry, and I have a few choices of what to do next. One is to just continue on to SoCal and visit friends. I’ve already seen the Grand Canyon, so no need for that side trip. Another option is to drive straight home by the most direct route. It’s between 1200 & 1400 miles, depending upon which “direct” route I choose. But here is where I have to admit a personal quirk: I like to drive on roads I’ve never driven on. I’ve been wandering all over this continent in a car since I was a kid, and it never ceases to amaze me at the wonders one can find by taking a road you’ve never been on before.

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Two, the actual Cannonball part)”

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part One)

My brain is fogged. I’ve been driving for two days straight with minimal sleep, after two previous days of driving as well. I’m only ~250 miles from my journey’s end, but I really felt the need to get out of the car.

So here I am, sitting in a Burger King somewhere west of Boise, Idaho, sipping on a cold coke zero, munching on some terrible onion rings, and scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed to just give my brain a rest. How did I get here?

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part One)”

Thoughts while driving home at sunset…

Late today I had some errands in Bend, and did not get back on the road home until right around sunset. It has been rainy and grey all day, but just as the sun set behind the Cascades, a break in the clouds appears in the lee of the mountains and bathes Central Oregon’s high ground and low clouds with a reddish golden glow. My route from Bend to home is the Powell Butte Highway… a highway in name only. It is a narrow two-lane through Juniper and Sage. For some odd reason tonight it is utterly devoid of vehicular traffic, save me. Back in 2010-2013 this road was my daily commute, and after decades of Seattle’s stop-and-go it was a pleasant change of pace, and most of all I relished the drives home heading into the setting sun. Tonight takes me in the opposite direction, allowing me to soak in the light reflecting from the hills, the clouds, and most interestingly, from the windows of every home on the butte, including mine. These reflections were so strong as to appear to be very bright electric lights, as if every home was wearing its Christmas best finery.

Between the light show, and the absolute absence of any other cars on the roads the whole experience begins to take on a dreamlike quality. My mind starts wondering why I am so alone. Is something happening of global importance that I am blissfully unaware of?
But still, the amazing light show keeps me enthralled as I drive. Pulling through the penultimate corner and up the steep hill going up the butte I can see the light is no longer blazing off the windows and I put my foot into the accelerator to try and get home a few seconds faster to watch the last of the dying sunset…

That’s when the full-grown Mule Deer prances onto the asphalt about 15m in front of the car.

Reverie vanishes in an instant. Full on the brakes and horn simultaneously. The deer stops(!), rotates back around and bounds back to the right. Following it with my eyes, I see the inevitable herd (there is NEVER just ONE deer!) One of them is just off the road, just outside my passenger window.

I feel like an idiot for not seeing them earlier. The groceries (including a dozen eggs) are remarkably intact given that they launched off the seat, off the dash, and onto the floor.

Self-medicating with a vintage Bordeaux as we speak.

Imagine what we can do!

Perhaps the finest achievement of mankind, other than the chairlift of course, is the silicon transistor & integrated circuit. When you process it at a base layer we have taught rocks how to think.


Place that now smarter rock into a powered device, with input/output systems, storage, memory, and a connection to all the other thinking rocks we’ve created and the potential is truly unlimited. I get very excited when I think about all we have created and my very small role in making it all happen.

Imagine what we can do!

Then I go out into the world and look around, only to see my fellow humans using these amazing devices…

…to play solitaire.