6000 miles of America
Author: Tal England, Photo/Video: BlendLine Magazine
April 2014, touching down into LAX, this time not in transit. It would be for the first time with intention to enter the United States Of America. Big Bro, was flying in from Auckland New Zealand and was due to land 30 minutes after my arrival. As I passed through a surprisingly light security, I wandered outside and towards the taxi rank. The heat from the Los Angeles sun hit my pale english face and I instantly cracked a smile. This was going to be a trip!
Soon after fobbing off a clan of over enthusiast taxi drivers, I saw Big Bro pop out of the automatic doors with a massive lemon yellow suitcase in hand. We exchange few words as though no time had past since we last saw each other even though it had been four years from memory.
So the road trip, We had hired a car where we would be picking it up in LA and dropping it off three weeks later in New York City. There was no strict route set out however, we had some basketball games to attend which would pin us in certain locations on specific dates giving us a pace to uphold while travelling across the country.
As we settled into our motel just outside Santa Monica, Big Bro cracks out and expensive looking bottle of Bourbon. My eyes lit up and I offered to do the honours. During my sudden influx of excitement I managed to break the cork into many pieces which instantly dropped down into the dark brown liquor. "Ah well done fuck whit", was an agreeable response from Big Bro and it felt like we were back in the days of growing up together.
"Here's to a good trip, Salute". We had a week in LA before the road trip began. We got stuck into the food, mainly burgers and got to see some quality stand-up comedy in the smaller venues.
Before we left the city for the open road we had to make a visit to the Petersen Automotive Museum! It is one of the largest car museums in the world. Situated on Wiltshire Blvd, we were just too close not to take a look. Specializing in automotive history, it showcases cars from through out the past century and offers something for everybody. The 1950's cars struck me the most. Their sheer size was hard for our British brains to grasp. There were some iconic movie cars dotted around the place as you would expect being within spitting distance of West Hollywood. These included cars from the films, Blade Runner, Knight Rider, Batman, Mad Max, and Back to The Future!
There were some damn good burgers in Jamm's!
An exciting feature of the Museum was the Vault that lay underground beneath the building. We were ushered into a small lift and asked to put away any cameras as photographs were strictly prohibited. Stepping out of the lift into the climate controlled basement (vault) presented an impressive slight! The guide slowly took us around the two hundred or so cars that sat in groups of genre. There were had famous peoples cars, classic and rare cars, racing cars and everything in-between.
One car caught my attention, mainly due to the story that was attributed to it. It was a bright yellow De Tomaso Pantera and no this is not a brand of pasta sauce. It is Italian however, the mid-engined sports car was owned by non other than Elvis Presley. The story was that Elvis had a fight with his then girlfriend Linda Thompson. In a fit of rage, Elvis stormed outside and jumped into his Ford V8 powered Italian exotic. With the intention of making a statement, he was going to perform an aggressive burnout before roaring off into the night. The Pantera was having non of it however and didn't obey the King by not starting. Frustrated and outraged, Elvis pulled out his revolver and fired several shots through the drivers door, somehow hitting the steering column and dashboard in the process. What made it a cool story and piece of history was that the pullet holes were still present in the car
Back to the trip in hand. The first leg of our journey would take us up the Pacific Coast Highway. This one thousand kilometre ribbon of tarmac is a must if you find yourself in California! The route also know as State Route 1, is located along the coastline on the west side of America and stretches all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We left the city to find the Pacific Ocean to our left as we pass through Malibu. The road started to snake along the steep rocky coast line and instinctively initiated the first proper shake down of the Chevrolet Impala. The car felt right for a General Motors commoner. Heavy, boaty and numb to the senses. On the other hand it was well insulated and comfortable with plenty of leg room. The air-conditioning worked like you would not believe and the speakers were crisp. This all added up to a sturdy road trip machine.
After a weekend in San Francisco, we head east and soon found ourselves at Lake Tahoe. From there we headed for Carson City to find a Motel for the night. The next morning after carb loading on vast amounts of complimentary waffles at the breakfast buffet, we hit the road. We were gunning for Nevada where we would have our first real taste of the wide open desert roads. Heading out into the unpopulated landscape on Highway 50, the sky seemed to wharf into widescreen movie mode and we sat in silence for while to soak it in.
The miles just trickled up as we passed sporadically placed tyre carcases. This was proper spirited road tripping! Hours later we decided to take a break to stretch our legs despite the immense leg room in the Chevy. We pull up on a large dusty dirt area on the side of the highway. As we got out of the car, a surprisingly cool breeze whistled along the straight road for miles in front of us. We looked in the opposite direction only to see the same with wind blowing in our face. "Doughnuts!" says Big Bro. It took no convincing me and naturally I got out my phone. I hit the record button so as not to miss the action. Big Bro excitedly jumped into the Impala and started the engine. Now I cannot exactly describe what happened as there was a large cloud of dust that instantly engulfed the hire car. All I could hear was lots of revving. The revving quickly stopped however and once the dust settled I walked up to the car. What happen? I asked. "Its not turning properly, its just understeering!" Once I had finished taking the piss out of his poor driving excuses I told him I would check to see if it is rear wheel drive for starters. It must be, its American! It turned out in the year 2000, the driving wheels where changed to the front, unlike the previous models. With the fun ended and a failed doughnut in the bag, we hit the road once again.
Hours later, the landscape started to change. Baron, rocky hills came into view and transitioned between different shades of brown as the clouds passed by. We arrived in the remote town of Austin, and no we were not in Texas yet! As we swung onto the main drag that ran through the town, I could hear the burbling sound of a V8 engine. Windows down, we rolled on through the sleepy town. Somehow we had stumbled upon a car meet. Fifteen or so muscle cars sat perfectly aligned down either side of the street. After parking up, we walked back down the hill towards the gleaming, brightly coloured automobiles. From chatting to the locals and owners that were all congregated around the street, it was clear to see the passion they held for their town and their cars. I asked one chap about the colour of his pride and job parked next to us. It was a deep blue, a beautiful colour. I forgot what he told me, but he was insistent on getting me the paint code for it and urged me to wait while he rang his painter. Nice folks in Austin [Nevada].
Leaving Austin [Nevada] we headed up Grass Valley Road that would bring us through Crescent Valley and onto Highway 80. We were aiming for Salt Lake City and on the way we could be passing the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was iconic to see the area and site where so many brave drivers have tested the limits of some of the fastest machines on the planet. There were no events on when we drove through unfortunately. Next time!
On planning this trip, I made it clear that I wanted to drive up Pikes Peak. Any Motorsport fan will have heard of this mountain and most likely will have seen the attraction. Stunning scenery, an amazing road with fast flowing bends and switchbacks that runs all the way up to the top of the mountain.. So jumping forward in our trip slightly, we left Denver and headed south towards Pikes Peak. The road in question winds its way up to the summit of the highest peak in the Southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. A mere 4.3 kilometres above sea level, only 500m lower than Mont Blanc! The road is no joke and there was still plenty of snow around in April. As we arrived at the foot of the mountain, we stopped at a barrier blocking the road. A man in a small booth to the left of the barrier lent forward on his stool. "Yes". What I did not realise at the time was that it is a Toll Road. The rather serious looking fellow in the booth handed us some brochure about the peak. He warned us there had been a heavy dump of snow and the plough was still working its way up the mountain clearing the road.. The man proceeded to inform us that we could drive up as far as we wanted until the point of which we should find a road block. Simple, yes let go. By this point the sun had burnt through the fresh morning fog and we started our drive up the road. As we did, I imagined how amazing it would be to drive up the legendary stretch of tarmac in a stripped out racing car.
We climbed higher, the view got even better and you could see how dangerous this road could be. Many of the corners were on crests with sky one side and hard rock on the other. With little or no reference points along the route, It quickly became clear this road when racing is what separates the men from the boys and I had even more respect for the drivers that lay it all on the line at hill climb events every year!
As we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, patches of snow started to appear around us. The altitude did not seem to affect the Chevy and we continued snaking our way up the deserted tarmac. From what seemed out of nowhere there suddenly appeared a number of red traffic cones placed in a line across the road. With no snow plough in sight and an urge to carry on with the adventure, I jumped out of the car and moved one cone just enough to allow the Impala to squeeze through. Yes it felt a little wrong but what was the worst that can happen. Soon we noticed considerably more snow around us. The road still seemed to be clear with no signs of ice, We drove on. After a couple more corners the road opened up and we entered a wide bowl shaped landscape. The mountain towered around the one side preventing the sunlight from hitting the deep snow that lay on what looked like a large carpark. There were several buildings on the mountain side clad with thick timber. At this point we pulled over to consult with anyone that may be around in hope of advise on whether we should continue. I walked through a corridor of snow piled six feet high and entered what seemed to be a gift shop and café. The door was wide open and the lights were on. No one to be seen. After performing a loud yet polite shout a couple of times I left and we decided to continue the journey.
We were now above the clouds and there was what appeared to be a white ocean below us. I felt a little un easy as we climbed higher, then seconds later we saw the snow plough. We both agreed it was time to turn around and head back down so we pulled over to take in the view before we did. I looked back up the road in the direction of the bight yellow snow plough. "Oh, bro the plough is reversing back down". Like a deer in the headlights we just froze and waited until the plough approached. The industrial sounding machine pulled to a holt with sharp screech just meters from. The cab window swung open. The chap within the cab sounded slightly angry. "You boys better turn around and get back down before the park rangers find you!" We smiled thinking he was just joking but agreed to head back down straight way. We started driving down the mountain considerably quicker that we had ascended. "You don't think he's serious", said Big Bro. I said nothing and resumed soaking in the views. We turn a couple more bends only to be presented by a full on road block! You know the ones in Hollywood movies,. three vehicles parked across the road with flashing lights on the top. Well yes it does happen in reality. We stopped the car in a panic and just sat there in silence. The only thing that was missing was the toothpick or stand of straw hanging out of the park rangers mouth as he slowly strode up the road towards us. He stared down the end of his large peaked hat and ushered us to lower our windows. Now I cannot remember exactly what was said, but it was along the lines of the fact that we were in a heap of trouble. I seem to recall "jail" was mentioned rather too early on in the conversation for my liking! The ranger continued to demonstrate his authority by accusing us of tampering with his road block, which to be fair was true. With the pleasantries out of the way, we then had to hand over all of our documents including our passports. In the end, the combination of a worthy paper trail and a huge amount of kowtowing from Big Bro and myself, we were finally sent on our way and encouraged not the return to Colorado. I hope one day I can return and whiteness some real motor racing!
Skipping forward again, we found ourselves leaving New Orleans and the the deep south. We were cruising towards the Blue Ridge Mountains that range all the way from south eastern New York to Alabama. I had heard that these mountains hosted some of the best driving roads in the states and was eager to take a look. We had an ever tightening time frame to get up to New York and this really meant only a few days on the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was overcast and raining. heavy fog engulfed the scenery and didn't allow us the get the full experience of area. However the road did not disappoint. Imagine designing a dream road. Smooth tarmac unveiling perfectly cambered switchbacks and longer flowing bends which cut through mountain sides shrouded in a dense array of oak trees. Well that is what we could see for a few hundred meters at least.
As we were passing through Charlotte, we had to go to the Nascar Hall of Fame! This facility located in North Carolina, celebrates the very best of nascar drivers and teams throughout the years. It is also a site where some of the race teams have working garages and maintain the current cars. We happened to be passing through on a Sunday unfortunately so I did not get to see the real grit and grime of their beloved American motorsport. Inside the museum however, there were plenty of large polished engine components to drool over and hosted a large collection of cars to walk around. The range of baseball caps in the merch section was biblical as you could imagine. All in all, a worthy destination to get your petrolhead juices flowing.
Days later we found ourselves in down town New York and at the end of our road trip. In three weeks, we had covered over 6000 miles hitting around 14 states. We got to experience some of the best roads on the planet in such a varying landscape. You could be driving through mountains, deserts and forests all within a few hours. America is an incredible country with stunning roads. Love the journey.
Photo Credit: @rolloengland [big bro]
Tal England: @talengland
BlendLine Apparel: @blend_line
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