rainbow in Saratoga
The bad news: Saratoga was rainy. The good news: There was a nice rainbow.

Random reflections on the road

The mind is a terrible thing to lose

It was time for my annual opthalmology checkup, so I got behind the wheel of Penelope the Prius for a quick trip to San Jose. You may well ask, "Are there no opthalmologists in Palm Springs?" and that would be a reasonable question. There are, of course, but I have been going to the same opthalmologist since I was diagnosed with diabetes, and it's a good excuse for a trip. But it's not like going to Ralph's to pick up a few groceries — it's a long drive, no matter how you do it, and from time to time strange thoughts do pop into one's head.

Pleasant Valley State Prison. How pleasant can the valley be if you're locked up in prison? Or, looked at another way, what made the folks in such a nice place so sour that they'd want to build a prison?

Sign on truck: "Trust Jesus." OK, but Ronald Reagan had the right idea as far as that goes: "Trust, but verify!"

Twenty Mule Team Road. Do they still make Boraxo? Powder, came in a black and white can, used to get grime off your hands when ordinary soap didn't. Of course, it took the skin, too.

Coalinga. Man, that place ought to be on the EPA's list of toxic sites! The smell assaults the nose. All those thousands of cattle standing ankle-deep in mud and manure with nary a blade of grass anywhere in sight nor a dry place to lie down — hold that image in your mind the next time you cut into a nice juicy steak. Enough to make a person turn vegan.

Sign on truck: Veritable Vegetable. Wonder what that's supposed to mean? Made sense in reference to Teri Schiavo, but on a truck!?!?

Later: It seems they mean "veritable" in the sense of "real" not artificial, as in organic vegetables, which is what the company produces. They have a pretty cool website VeritableVegetable.com.

Rocket Site Road. Aimed at what, specifically? There's weird s*t out in the Mojave. Sometimes it's best not to know.

Route less traveled

On the way back from our SuperBowl gathering in February, I had found a new and improved route between the desert and the Bay Area. This time I found further improvements on the new and improved route (GIF PDF). Using CA-46 to cut over to CA-99, before hopping on CA-58, cuts out surface streets in Bakersfield, saving time and irritation.

Prius tips and tricks

I love the navigation system in the Prius, especially when I don't know for sure where I'm going. But if offers you three routes: Quick 1, Quick 2, and Shortest. But, if you have some other route in mind and just want to use the system to keep you apprised of time and distance estimates, upcoming turns and whether they are left or right, and so on, I have found it a real pain in the butt to get Prius to use your route.

Previously, I've used the strategy of specifying a preferred road. But the system only lets you enter two such preferences (I think it's two). This time I got the idea of adding destinations to the route and making the destinations points along the various roads I wanted to take. But without an exact address to enter, I was forced to plot them by scrolling around on the map and pointing to them. Unfortunately, to do this for my trip up to the Bay Area took almost 20 really frustrating minutes. Then once I was under way, an unintended consequence reared its ugly head: all the time and distance estimates were just to the next destination, not the final destination, which is what I really cared about. % & * ! @ ^ + !

navigation screen
"Penelope, go home!"

For the return trip, I tried a new strategy. I went back to specifying a preferred road. But instead of starting with the first deviation from Prius' suggested route, I started with a road in the middle of the route. Voila! With just that one entry, Prius drew my route! 470 miles, just over 9 hours. (Time is based on Prius' assumptions, which are very conservative.)

I reasoned that it is like the old game where you have to guess a number between, say, 1 and 500, and will be told after each guess if the number is higher or lower than your guess. If you start guessing near the end of the range, it takes forever to zero in on the number. But if you start by guessing a number in the middle of the range, you can cut the range in half. By repeating this, you can get to the number very quickly. By giving Prius a road in the middle of my route, the problem for Prius became how to get most efficiently from that route to the start and end points it knew about, thus eliminating many more possibilities than when I gave it a road near the start point.

Weird happens

off the road
Apparently traveling off-road — who's confused, me or Penelope?

On the way up to the Bay Area, there was a time when Penelope appeared to be completely confused. On the navigation screen the icon representing the car veered off the highway and stayed off for quite some time. What was odd, however, was that it correctly showed objects perpendicular to my line of travel, such as the crossroad and railroad tracks in the picture at right.

When I mentioned this to my friends, I speculated that something — a force field of some kind — was interfering with the GPS system. Since there are many military installations out in the Mojave, I did not find this implausible. My friends, however, suggested that perhaps the system was accurately portraying my location while off-roading. They encouraged me to make a study of the phenomenon on the return trip.

Well, you know what? The same thing happened on the return trip and at approximately the same location!

This is no coincidence!

I decided to take a look at that area, through the magic of Google Earth. Aha!


Just as I suspected, there is a suspicious installation at that location, an airfield of some kind. Zooming in revealed many apparently identical airplanes, decidedly not private planes nor commercial airliners. See the slideshow for more tantalizing detail.


snow near Tehachapi
Snow near Tehachapi, around 4000 ft level

Mother Nature must have been pissed. It rained off and on the entire trip from the Bay Area back to the desert. In Bakersfield, lightning flashed and rain came down in torrents. I saw two cars that had spun out, testing the resilience of the median barricade. (The barricade always wins!) Nearing Tehachapi, the City of Four Seasons, Penelope began showing the icon for freezing road surfaces, and before long it was snowing.

Out in the desert, there were high winds and even stronger gusts. In the pass down through the San Bernardino mountains a big rig lay on its side at the edge of the embankment with its cab pointed into traffic.

Home again

navigation capture
Almost home

Eight hours after leaving Saratoga, I was back home in Palm Springs. Considering the inclement weather and nasty driving conditions at times, this was exceptionally good time. I attribute it to being able to avoid all the traffic congestion on the lower I-5 and on I-210 through Pasadena.

And 950 miles on 2½ tanks of gas ain't half bad either. Penelope averages 50mpg or better on long trips. It is a pleasure to be able to look at the energy monitor while coming down out of the high country and see long periods of 75mpg. I hasten to add, however, that I resist feeling smug (South Park reference).