August 28, 2021.
Eight o’clock sharp. That’s when we left, exactly one hour after we wanted to. But a change of route decided the night before allowed us to sleep in a little so it was ok. Besides, we were in no hurry with three weeks of travel ahead.
Exactly two hours later after climbing 6,000 feet, we stopped at the Donner Pass rest area at about 7,500 feet, which we knew would be close to the average elevation in much of Colorado, New Mexico and parts of Arizona where we were heading. When we left, it was very smoky at home and had been for almost a month due to the largest wildfire in the country, only a few miles from us. We could see the giant plumes of smoke during the day that collapsed and spread more smoke every night. Some mornings the sun was hardly visible and shone a faint sickly red as it rose. The air was so unhealthy we had to leave if we wanted any outside time. And the smoke forecast maps were not promising – we’d have to go pretty far to find clear air. How far we didn’t know.
Driving across Nevada on the interstate the speed limit was 80, but because the heavy smoke made the various mountain ranges we were driving through nearly invisible, I had a lot of time to think. I started by thinking about how stupid conspiracy theories are and how random unconnected things seem to become important to some people. It went something like this in my head: Let’s say I’m a conspiracy theorist and I’m going 80 miles per hour on highway 80. Whoa, that’s a coincidence. But there’s more. It’s also exactly 80 degrees outside according to my truck’s thermometer! Coincidence again? How about this: the speed limit sign I just passed also says 80! Spooky! Now here’s where it gets super weird: if I add up every one of those 80 numbers and then divide by how many there are, I get …80! No way that’s a coincidence! Also, we’d left home at 8 am and planned to drive 10 hours, and 8 x 10 is, you guessed it, 80! And, a few days ago, I was watching a very highly respected YouTuber who broadcasts from his mom’s basement (he says it’s for his safety) and he has all kinds of numerology that he claims prove a lot of what we all suspect is going on. Moon landing? Debunked with prime numbers. Round earth? Disproven with real scientific numbers! Goosebumps. Once he showed how he disproved a popular myth with numbers—he said he interviewed 100 people who played Russian roulette. One hundred percent of them didn’t die, proving that Russian roulette is perfectly safe!
Don’t laugh, some people believe this stuff. We really need more critical thinking education in our schools.
I also thought about how the wildfire smoke is really getting us down. We drove across the Sierra Nevada range past Truckee and couldn’t see the mountains, and then past Reno where the skyline was barely visible. From there, we drove east for many hours across Nevada and into Utah, barely seeing any of the gorgeous high desert landscape the entire way.
As we crossed the salt plains before reaching the Great Salt Lake, something unexpected happened. It rained. In fact, it rained a lot. We hadn’t seen rain in months and sure didn’t expect to see it here in the desert.
The rain continued for at least an hour and a strong wind blew the truck around. The windshield wipers were surprised to be called into duty and chattered all across the windshield until they woke up from their months-long slumber.
As we drove past Salt Lake City the rain and the wind intensified. I remembered the last time we came through the area and found then (and now, even in the downpour and wind) that the drivers here were the fastest of any area in the U.S. we’d been to. Boy do they go fast. Driving 80 in a 70 zone will get you run over by the 100-mph club.
The rain stopped as we approached Provo, Utah and when it did something else amazing happened. There was no smoke. It had taken us 720 miles to finally get away from the smoke!
Once through Provo, we turned off the interstate onto a small highway that led into the hills. After we rounded a couple of curves, civilization simply ended, mountains began and we exhaled.
Susan had a place in mind for us to camp and eventually we turned onto a paved forest service road, then eventually a dirt road. Within a few minutes, we found a beautiful campsite located at the end of a ridge overlooking several mountains. It was just the right size and we easily found a level spot. A strong wind sprang up from a big lightening storm in the distance but we had no rain, not that we would have minded. We both love being in the truck during bad weather. No soggy flapping tents for us.
It was a long day—we’d gone a total of 740 miles. Tomorrow we would slow down.