I am sitting next to the boyfriend on the front seat. We have been driving for a while now, that is, he’s driving, and I am just looking out of the windows in amazement. Outside, the landscapes of the western United States keep passing by. Every once in a while, another car advances ours and disappears in the side mirror a minute later. Somehow, our Chevrolet Cobalt feels very small. Back at home in Europe we drive cars that are even smaller. But then again, our countries are smaller, too.
Through the mirrors, we can watch the sun descend slowly behind us, tinting our surrounding in bright yellow, but daylight is there still. We are slowly approaching evening. We have put a Guns N’ Roses CD into the player and set it to repeat. Both of our stomachs are beginning to rumble. We did not eat anything since our self-made hot dog dinner at Yosemite Park. And that was like hours ago. We had to change plans, instead of taking the Tioga Pass we are now going a long way around. We have to. Tioga Pass is closed. We knew the road would not be open in wintertime – which can well mean from the beginning of October to the middle of April. But in late summer, it should normally be open. When we checked on the internet in a motel two days before, there was no notice of closure. We only got that info on an information board in the National Park. Luckily, we read the signs. Otherwise, we might have driven into a dead end.
I am reaching behind to get some of the crackers we bought yesterday. Stopping somewhere to get food is no option at all as we are running out of time. And besides, I did not see any restaurant since we left Sonora. We will have to rely on our diet of crackers and cookies. The Sonora pass stretches out in front of us, an area that is very sparsely populated. We are crossing the Sierra Nevada 50 miles north of the Tioga Pass, putting up with a detour of 150 miles. We are passing some houses on our way, but no motel seems to be near by. As it is slowly getting dark outside, I am reading our map, figuring out that we have to drive on until Bridgeport on the other side of the mountain range to find a place to sleep. Originally, we had planned to spend the night in Bishop, 90 miles south of Bridgeport.
Our situation could be worse, but it could also be better. We have to get to Las Vegas the day after as we have booked and paid for a hotel room on the strip. I usually do not book rooms in advance but the discount offer was too good to resist. So we are actually running on a schedule – and we want to have at least a peek at Death Valley National Park instead of only driving through it in a rush.
As the sky turns dark and we have satisfied our hunger with loads of cheese crackers and cranberry cookies, I gaze into the side mirror and watch the road behind us. There are no more cars. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. For the first time in ten days of driving around the United States, I realize the adhesive label and the warning that is written on it. How, I do ask the boyfriend, could you ever get an idea of closeness in this vast country? We laugh, and all of a sudden, cheerfulness is coming back to us. Although we are both tired and desperately longing for a place to eat and sleep, or at least, sleep, the monotony of driving is comforting us. The music is still playing. Mile by mile, we drive up the Sonora pass, and our surrounding falls pitch dark. I would not dare to get out of the car right now to pee as I can barely see anything.
Our gas is beginning to run low.
The turns get sharper as we come close to the top of the pass. Nobody is out here but us. It is far after 10 p.m. when we pass the top of Sonora Pass and start our way down. Bridgeport is not that far away anymore. Our gas, however, is beginning to run low and we are happy to see a gas station at the entrance to the village. Next to it is a motel, the last room being left a family’s suite. We take it nevertheless. Without eating anything else, we go to sleep, keeping in mind the distance we will have to cover the next day.
We get up early. 360 miles separate us from our destination, to be covered until the earl afternoon – and some sightseeing is on our list, too. Driving down south all the way, we enjoy the beautiful views on the mountain range and finally, the desert. Only a handful of cars are passing us on our way. Apart from that, there are no signs of life. Mile by mile, we follow a linear slope that is highway 395. No distractions. No clouds in the sky. Infinity stretches out on the horizon. There is a reason that the Lonely Planet USA cover is photograph of a car on an empty road. Because that is freedom, American style. We are on the road again. Living an American Dream.
Our trip to Las Vegas has begun. But that is another story.