The Lisa & Clark Expedition: Old Places and Familiar Faces, a West Coast Road Trip.
In which intrepid road trippers Lisa & Clark go in pursuit of historic hotels, old friends, rusty auto parts (the more the better), wineries, and gardens. And maybe a dress or two for Lisa, because she just can’t help herself.
Looking for the beginning of the trip? Start here.
Monday, June 4
Sonora to Susanville, CA; 285 miles
The morning one leaves a place always feels like a stay in limbo. Gathering belongings, double-checking that one hasn’t left a toothbrush in the bathroom or pair of shoes under a chair, packing up the car. Eating breakfast but with the awkward knowledge that you’re mentally already half on the road, and in your hosts’ minds, you’re already half gone.
Clark managed to find space for his three boxes of tools, and spots to tuck away the occasional enormous pipe wrench that wouldn’t fit in a box. And of course, the Model T hood was behind my seat, swathed in black plastic garbage bags.
The weather forecast warned of a storm moving in, and by the time Clark was done with his morning online work and we’d loaded up the car, the sunshine had given way to grey, and as we pulled out of the driveway the first drops of rain fell. Melanie, Brian, and Alpine waved us off (well, Alpine didn’t wave, obviously), and we were on our way.
The approaching storm and threats of snow in the mountains altered our original plan to take a scenic route across the Sierra Nevada mountains to Lake Tahoe; we didn’t want to create our own Donner Party story. Plans were to have lunch somewhere in view of the lake, then proceed north to Susanville to spend the night; not because there was anything to see in Susanville, but just because it was the only logical place to break up the journey.
The promised storm soon turned from a few raindrops into a downpour, of the high-wiper-speed-and-still-can’t see variety. Cars were pulling over to wait it out.
We trudged onwards, going north on 49, then hooking up with Highway 50 headed towards Lake Tahoe. As we approached the 7,300 foot summit, the rain turned to snow, then quite heavy snow that stuck to the grass and trees alongside the road. Our tension ratcheted up with each increase in elevation, and then at the summit we saw the roadway signs: Brake Check Area and, more disturbing — Cliffs, Next 3 Miles.
The visibility was so poor that the cliffs were nothing but vast banks of fog and emptiness pushing up against the guardrails, which may – or may not – have been better than seeing the drop-offs. Notice the top of the tree peeking over the guard rail?
A few tense minutes later and we were descending out of the worst of it, and into South Lake Tahoe. Clark got his first ever view of the lake: a bit of water next to the shore, and then fog. Not fog really, though, as we were sitting in the bottom of a cloud. But hey, now Clark’s seen Lake Tahoe!
Lunch at MacDuff’s Pub, which I’d found online and looked to have good food. The dining room was freezing cold, though; the very friendly waitress explained the ventilation system that, unfortunately, meant air from an open window being sucking across the dining room and into a vent on the opposite side of the room. A physically cold room always makes one feel cold about the experience of a place, and it didn’t help when Clark’s bangers and mash arrived, and the pork sausages were disturbingly pink and mushy in the centers. (The waitress had a new plate made up.)
Back on the road in the snow that was, fortunately, not sticking to the road. Highway 50 leads into Nevada, and you could see the state line coming as the casinos were pushed right up against the border. We crossed over one more summit, and this time as we descended down the other side the landscape turned almost immediately – we’re talking in the space of a mile – from pine forest and snow to bare sage brush and rocks, with one or two pine trees and then none. We left the snow and rain behind as well, exchanging it now for wind.
Years ago I’d sworn I’d never go to Nevada again, as it was linked in my mind to the stress of romance industry conferences (I’ve attended three in the state) and the smell of cigarette smoke. Never had I been so glad to be in Nevada as I was as we came out of the mountains, and I knew the tense part of the drive was over.
Stopped at a light in Carson City, the wind was so strong that it had the Subaru bouncing and rocking. We both peered out the windows, looking for a funnel cloud, but if there was one, maybe it was directly overhead and out of sight… Or perhaps such wind is a usual thing.
Given Clark’s hatred of B&Bs with their shared bathrooms and awkward breakfasts where you must sit and talk to your hosts and fellow guests – when really all you want is some coffee and to not be bothered as you try to wake up – I had vaguely planned for us to stay at a Best Western or casino in Susanville, even though it broke the theme of the trip. When I gave all the options of where to stay to Clark, however, he chose the Roseberry House B&B, in a 1902 house. Good reviews on TripAdvisor, and the promise of private bathrooms and a decent breakfast. I called up and got a room.
We were on Interstate 395 now, which took a turn through Reno and then bent back into California. The air smelled of sage brush, and the mountains, clouds, and sun breaks created a strong sense of peaceful beauty; or maybe I was just experiencing post-adrenaline calm, after the hairy drive through the snow.
Nah, it was beautiful, no question.
Our hosts at the Roseberry House were an older couple, Richard and Charmaine, with the welcoming, cheery, social personalities perfectly suited to a B&B. You felt like you’d arrived at your aunt’s house — the fun aunt, who bakes you cookies, then retires to the back porch with a bottle of gin.
Charmaine saw my red hair and, being a redhead herself, said she had a special fondness for redheads, and told us about her grandkids with all their red hair. I smiled, and hoped the topic would pass.
My hair is dyed, of course. Clark has trained me out of telling everyone this; it’s too personal to mention, along the lines of saying that you’re wearing a padded bra or confessing your age and weight to anyone who compliments your appearance. So I didn’t correct the assumption that my hair color was natural, and assumed no more would be said about it.
It was eight o’clock by now and we were still full from lunch, so our hosts loaned us a couple wine glasses and a corkscrew, and we retired to our bedroom and shared a bottle of red as we worked on our laptops and unwound from the drive. Perhaps not the most nutritious of dinners, but it suited.
More of the Lisa & Clark Expedition:
Who are Lisa & Clark?
Lisa’s latest novel,
Great-Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells, from Simon & Schuster