Michael Totten

Road Trip Advice

If you want to drive from Portland to Las Vegas on back roads through the hinterlands in January, don’t go thinking you can get there in one day. You can do it — on paper. But the icy roads in the high desert have agendas of their own.
If you’re going to get your jeep stuck in a ditch on the side of the road, don’t do it on the top of Blizzard Pass (elevation 7,000 feet) on the Oregon/Nevada border as a winter storm rolls in. Traffic, such as it is, consists of a car every three hours. The nearest sign of human civilization is a telephone pole fifty miles down the road. Punching 911 into the cell phone is as likely to get you rescued as jumping up and down and waving your arms at passenger jets. If a truck driver comes along in a semi and can pull your sorry vehicle out of the ditch with a tow chain, consider yourself one lucky bastard.
If you expect to get a decent hotel in Las Vegas without a reservation on Superbowl Sunday while an auto convention is in town, don’t be surprised when you end up “downtown” in a creepy motel with signs on the bathroom mirror saying you’ll be charged if you stain the sheets or the bath towels.
If you make a detour into Los Angles to visit a friend (in my case, Roger L. Simon) and you get driving directions to the house, don’t get cute and cut across town looking for “shortcuts” with your low-resolution gas station map. Follow directions!
If you’re driving from San Francisco to Portland in one shot, try really hard to leave the Bay Area before it gets dark. It’s traffic hell all the way to Sacramento.
Oh, and if you like deserts and you’re anywhere near Death Valley in January, go. And take a long walk through the sand dunes at sunset. It is glorious.