I awoke in Cody, Wyoming and asked some locals if my intended route to the north end of Yellowstone would be scenic and fun to drive. The hotel clerk responded in the affirmative, noting that he would sometimes drive the route just for a fun drive. I set out on 120, skipped onto 296, which climbed and fell to ludicrous extent before meeting 212, which would carry me through Cooke City (where I had a hot dog, met a fellow Minnesota expatriate, and mailed several post cards.
Here’s a view of the road down from the pass, which almost became Dead Jesse Road, given how terrifying of a descent it was. I had never had more fun driving. Little did I know that later that same day I would look back longingly on the mere abject terror of driving Dead Jesse Road.
Yellowstone itself was almost anticlimactic in its mere beauty. 46mph speed limits were almost unnecessary given the breathtaking scenery. A winding stream was dotted with fishermen and abutted with scattered buffalo. Pull offs broke open to reveal waterfalls, boiling hell mouths, and plunging canyons. This showpiece of earthly beauty was alien.
By the time I exited Yellowstone I was barely restraining my panic. I had been out of reliable cell phone contact for hours, and my greed for dousing my eyes with scenery had eaten precious daylight. I consulted my maps without stopping and plotted my route through the Grand Tetons. It seemed that if I had wanted to shortcut to an interstate I would have had to have left Yellowstone by the west entrance. Pedal kissed metal and the miles fell away.
From the Tetons, I passed through Jackson, Wyoming, then stayed on 89 south to Garden City, Utah. 89 turned west and I started climbing a mountain. For some reason I estimated the distance to Logan, Utah at about ten miles. As the sun fell rapidly and night came crashing down behind it, my headlights caught a sign promising over thirty miles to the next town. Then, they failed to illuminate anything else, as there was simply nothing on the side of the road to illuminate. I clenched my butt cheeks and tried to keep my foot on the gas. Thirty miles at five miles an hour would mean six hours of tooth clenching horror. The speed limit remained a laughable sixty five, but every corner was indicated for thiry five — and sometimes twenty five. The palm of my right hand grew clammy. I wiped it on my pants. I wiped again. I used a napkin to dry the sweat off of my steering wheel. My engine snarled and bawled. I fell into a stiff rhythm, braking for blind corners, speeding through the too-brief straights.
Headlights approached in my rear view mirror. I tried to keep them at bay, but steadily they approached, until they simply blinded me with their intensity and poor aim. I braked and clung to a few precious inches of shoulder so the headlights could pass. They were attached to a pickup truck, which didn’t wait to gun it and fly past. Suddenly I noticed the gift of those awful headlights: illumination! With the truck in front of me, I could see a corner or two ahead! I jumped back on the throttle and caught up swiftly. The following half hour was the longest drive of my life. The other driver seemed to be trying to shake me. They piled on speed in the straights and carried as much as they could through the corners, but I was not going to be left in the middle of the fucking woods in the pitch blackness of nowhere. I braked late and hard and rowed from second through fourth gears with professional smoothness. We passed another car as a team. Nothing whistled past our windows. Our tires clawed and bit but didn’t whimper. No sudden moves, just keep your hands at ten and two and stay relaxed.
Just as suddenly as it had come on, it ended. We were ejected onto a suburban street, and the truck took a nonchalant right and disappeared. I finally remembered to breathe. A gas station beckoned, and I answered its call.
“Uh, are there any more mountains between here and Salt Lake City?” I asked the cashier. She smiled at me.
“Oh yeah, you go up and then swoop around through a valley, and then a canyon and stuff,” she answered. I blinked, suddenly pale. I honestly didn’t know if I could take another midnight mountain pass.
“Wait, uh, I just came over the mountains on 89. Is it…” I trailed off, gesturing vaguely.
“Oh, no, it’s definitely not as intense as that,” she replied.
I was off, and Salt Lake City fell before me an hour and a half later. After consulting with my mother over the phone, I decided to press on to Nevada. The more I drove that day, the less I would drive the next. At one in the morning, after thirteen or fourteen hours of driving, I pulled into the parking lot of the last hotel in West Wendover, Nevada. It was the first that was advertising wireless internet — a promise that would prove empty. I had a late night dinner at the Red Garter Casino, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Smoke fought with dirt for floorspace amongst the slot machines and toothless patrons. The restaurant was thankfully empty, so I only had to make eye contact with the eerily chipper waiter.
The next day I drove through the entirety of Nevada and into California. I did not stop to take any photographs, and barely stopped in Elko, Winnemucca, and Reno to urinate. California arrived, so I listened to “California Ueber Alles” by the Dead Kennedies, and then crashed with Chuck at the home of a friend of his. We walked to In-N-Out and I drank some of my stash of beer before falling asleep on the floor.