For the past 18 years, I’ve spent a couple of weeks of April and the first part of May in California visiting family and friends. In order to see everybody that I want to see, I drive. But this year, due to January knee surgery, I could not drive that 2,000-mile round-trip at this point in my recuperation. I had planned to fly to Bakersfield to see family in May. But due to the Coronavirus and ban on non-essential travel, that trip has been cancelled. Each of those 18 years I’ve driven to California nearly every October and many Christmases too. So I plan to be on the road later this year when my new knee can handle it and when ban on travel is lifted. At least I hope that’s the case. We shall see.
Whenever I head south by car, I drive eight to nine hours or more in a day for two days to get to Bakersfield where my family lives. I also visit friends on both ends of the trip. One friend lives in the northern part of the LA area, another lives in the Bay Area, and a couple of friends both live in the Gold Country east of I-5. Since I drive down at least twice a year, I see family on every trip and friends at least once each year.
I can handle the long days of driving because I get the largest caffeinated caffe latte when I get to I-5 and milk it to the California state line. It keeps me alert because I normally drink decaf. And I listen to audiobooks. Between the caffeine and listening to the works of some of my favorite authors, it keeps me from falling asleep.
Drinking all that coffee means I need to make a pit stop from time to time. So I appreciate routes with well-spaced rest stops. I-5 through Oregon and California has well-spaced rest stops, except for just north of Sacramento to south of Stockton. And Highway 101 has pitifully few in California. There are only two on my route between the Oregon state line and Highway 146 where I head east. One is in the redwoods, and one is close to Paso Robles. So gas stations become my stops along 101.
This blog post is in praise of rest stops. I really appreciate them.
The most obvious reason to stop is the restroom. But a rest stop is so much more. It’s a place to walk, to eat, to nap. I need to exercise my legs every couple of hours, and all rest stops have paved walkways and some even have trails. It is also okay to just stay in your car without raising the suspicions of anyone. You can eat in your car or sit at tables. I always carry food, so rest stops are where I eat my lunch. And it’s okay to lean your head back and take a nap at a rest stop. It’s better to take a nap than to continue driving when you find yourself nodding off.
Rest stops sometimes are also welcome centers, such as the Klamath River one, with info on both California and Oregon. Sometimes there is a trailer at a rest stop with folks from a local group offering free coffee. And all rest stops have maps on large posters and some concession machines. Some rest stops have informative signs about the geology or the flora and fauna of the area.
Where there are no rest stops or gas stations, I have turned off on scenic side roads just looking for a safe place to pull off the road. Well, just try to find a place to pull over. There is room by someone’s mailbox. But when I’ve stopped there, the mail carrier came along and honked at me to move on. I’ve pulled over on a turnout and been run off by a school bus and another time by a logging truck wanting to turn around. I pulled over once to eat my lunch alongside a country road, and some locals stopped and asked if I needed help.
I’ve had equal luck when pulling into small towns or cities. In cities, I get lost and have a hard time finding my way back to the highway. In small towns, I try to follow the signs to gas or lodging and often still don’t find them and get lost in the process. Often, in trying to find my way back to the highway, I find myself heading out of town on a strange road and not being able to find a place to turn around. So I turn onto a side road and try to find a driveway to turn around in. Then I can’t remember which way to turn to get back to the highway. I can’t count the number of times that has happened to me. One time just after dark, I pulled into an empty Walmart parking lot to hear the last of an audiobook before the last mile to my friend’s house. That time a friendly policeman told me to move on. I don’t think he believed my story. He probably didn’t know what an audiobook was.
As a frequent traveler of highways/freeways, I can’t sing the praises of rest stops enough. Two of my favorites are by rivers. The Rogue River rest stop in Oregon along the Rogue and the Klamath River rest stop and welcome center along the Klamath. Both have trails along their rivers and it seems miles of paved walkways with endless grass. Both are totally lovely!
Another favorite is the rest stop near Weed in northern California with the fabulous view of Mt. Shasta. I also love the ancient-looking olive trees at the rest stop just north of Corning just south of Red Bluff.
I won’t stop at rest stops after dark, though. I remember reading how Ted Bundy trolled rest stops for victims along I-5. Hmm! Okay, so rest stops aren’t perfect. But for me traveling alone on the freeways and highways between Florence and my stops in California, they fit my needs perfectly––in the daytime.
Suddenly, I’m ready to hit the road!!