As I live in Cornwall where the temperature rarely gets into the mid seventies Fahrenheit and where , living as I do overlooking the English Channel, the ambient humidity levels are so high, 66% on a normal day, which requires the running of a de-humidifier 24/7, staying at Bestie’s in Northern California where the temperature was in the 90’s F and the humidity levels were in the low 20’s was a bit of a shock.
These high temperatures had been going on for days and days and I was a bit worn out when she bounced in at teatime on a Friday afternoon saying “Pack some things in your bag dear. We’re going off on a road trip”.
I didn’t think to ask where we were going and popped a few things into my holdall, thankfully including my mainstays wherever I am.
My voluminous cotton nightie, ocelot print dressing gown and sheepskin boots. As the Beachboys sang in one of their songs on their album “Holland”, “Always Take Care of your Feet”. Excellent advice.
We hopped into her trusty old Ford F250 with her Attack Dog riding shotgun and I just knew we were safe. I felt even safer when she said she had a “Cute little Glock 9mm under her driver’s seat”. I felt a little less safe when she informed me that the bullets were up in Oregon, where she’d left them on her land up there “But don’t worry dear, if I need to produce the gun on anyone, the dog will have already ripped out his throat”. I believed her.
Our destination that evening was the top of the Sonora Pass to see the sunset from the peak at around 11,000 feet, if I remember correctly.
At the bottom of the Sonora Pass there were some very large signs.
“No vehicle over 24′ permitted”.
“This Pass can be closed from October 1st due to early snowfall”
So many warnings.
It was October 8th and we were feeling hopeful as there was no snow and her truck was only 22′ long.
At the bottom of this pass, one is about 2,500′ above sea level and, as Bestie set off to get us up to the 11,000′ to see the sunset I had no idea of what exactly would happen. For a start, I was in the passenger seat on the right-side lane and there was no crash barrier.
As I looked down it was so scary that I decided that it really wasn’t a very good idea to look down as it was so far down my poor little brain really couldn’t cope.
Then there was all of the creaking and groaning of the water bottles as we gained altitude but, worst of all, was our belching and farting.
No-one tells you about such things. By the time we reached the summit, I had a nagging headache when we got out of the truck to snap the sunset over the Sierras, my camera went wrong or I snapped too quickly, the photos were double exposed but at least the colours were good on the snaps once I’d had them developed.
We set off again and, as it was dark, we needed to find a motel and somewhere to eat, get a drink or two as well as feeding the dawg.
We rolled into a place, left the dawg in the truck and went to the motel office to check in. The chap behind the desk didn’t look like Anthony Perkins but he was tall and stringy and he had an “Apricot” miniature poodle tucked under his left arm. We first asked if he allowed dogs to stay in the place and did he have a twin room. He didn’t answer us directly but looked at the poodle and asked it “Do we have a twin room for these ladies Peaches and can their dog stay?” Peaches said nothing but we realised that they communicated telepathically when he said; “Welcome ladies” as he handed over the key and we paid him what was due and skedaddled out of there to burst out laughing.
We found the room to be clean and comfortable thank goodness. We fed the Dawg and left him “On guard” and went out to find food, water and wine. Mission accomplished we carted it back to our room and consumed a fair bit. At that altitude a little wine gets you pissed very quickly so we giggled a lot before we got into our beds.
We awoke very early the following morning as Bestie had a plan. She went to the office to hand in the key and came back saying “It’s effing freezing out there put your jacket on” I looked in my bag and said “Shit babe, it’s back at the house”. There was only one thing for it and that was my ocelot print dressing gown over my long-sleeved T-shirt and my cashmere cardigan. We went out to the truck and it was so cold that it wouldn’t start being Diesel but another guest happened by, he was also setting off early, saw our predicament and used a device to warm up whatever need warming up to start the old F250’s engine and we were back on the road.
We arrived at Mono Lake at 8am. I emerged from the truck into the very chill air and marvelled at what I saw, the mountains in the distance, the colours of the aspens in their full Fall glory, the misty swirls rising from the lake, thousands of early birds perched on the tufas (huge towering mineral deposits left standing as Mono Lake has shrunk over the millennia from the ancient time when it was a mere part of a great inland sea, the Lahontan, approximately the size of modern day Israel) waiting for the sun to warm them up and BEST OF ALL this was where Clint built the set for his brilliant film “High Plains Drifter”. I wandered off with Dawg just to take it all in when Lo! I rounded a big outcrop of tufas and almost ran into a chap with lots of cameras. He took one look at me and said “You must be English”. I said “How on earth did you know that?” and he said “Only an Englishwoman would be wandering around Mono Lake at this time of day wearing a dressing gown”. Turned out he was working for a travel magazine back East and doing a photo shoot of these lovely lakes to persuade people from the Eastern states to visit the West. I wished him every success.
Dawg and I returned to the truck and Bestie was waiting for us. Her tummy had been a little upset so she’d had to find somewhere to go but she was fine.
We pulled into the gas station at Lee Vining to fill up and get breakfast sat at a table looking down on magical Mono Lake and I thought about Clint painting “Hell” red.
© Barbican 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file