If you are unfamiliar with California topography, here’s what you need to know. Most of the state is a giant bowl. On the east we have the almost impassible Sierras. On the West, any number of slightly less intimidating mountain ranges. In fact, the whole middle of the state, the great Central Valley, is like a giant cereal bowl. So, if you live on the western edge of California, as I do, to get anywhere else, you have to climb up at least one side of that bowl and down the other. Basically, from where I live, my choices are going through Tahoe to Reno over the Sierras — which isn’t an option for a large part of the year when the pass is covered with snow. Or I can head south, where there are smaller mountains but still unique challenges. More often than not, I find myself bombing down I-5 through the Central Valley, which usually ends up with me camping out in Bakersfield. Not that I have anything against Bakersfield. it’s not exactly a garden spot, but we have much to thank it for — specifically the Bakersfield Sound. And my little puppy Spartacus, who was born and raised in Bakersfield. How he escaped being renamed Buck or Merle, I’ll never know.
But anyway, I’ve grown tired of trying to find places to camp that aren’t Bakersfield. So, for this trip, I thought I’d take a chance. A chance that violated my main rule of RVing. That would be the 3:30 rule, which says travel no more than 3 hours and 30 minutes a day, or, at the very least, end your travel by 3:30 PM. That’s because driving an RV, even a teeny campervan like my Buffalo Soldier, is not like driving a car. You can’t drive as fast as you can in a car and the “fight or flight” response is stronger. I clearly didn’t read my maps correctly, because I thought I could bomb down practically the length of the state to San Dimas, with a several hour stop off at the Autry Museum of the American West. Suffice it to say, that it wasn’t much past Bakersfield that I realized this was at least an 8 hour trip. I quickly bagged the Autry Museum and concentrated on getting to my final destination.
For those of you well versed in the lore of Bill and Ted, you will know that San Dimas is the “center of the known universe”. Once I decided that San Dimas was the goal, I began to filter the highway sights through the lens of William S. Preston Esquire and Theodore “Ted” Logan. Some say that traveling down I-5 through the Central Valley is a souless slog. I would say that much of it is truly bogus, but some is most excellent. The problem with the I-5 is that it is literally the freeway to nowhere. It goes through no towns and there are no places to pull over and take pictures. So the weird and wonderful things that I see there must remain unrecorded. For instance,, somewhere south of the Pacheco Pass, in the middle of nowhere on I-5, are several miles of prickly pear cactus planted in two straight rows along the freeway. Nothing in nature grows in that formation. So I’ve always wondered: is this a prickly pear farm? Is this some kind of natural fence? Dr. Google can’t seem to tell me.
The Central Valley grows a huge percentage of the world’s produce. But at the cost of pumping massive amounts of water out of the aquifer. So much so that large parts of the Central Valley are sinking year by year. Judging by the potholes in I-5, the freeway is sinking as well. Bogus! Another thing to know about the Central Valley, once you enter it, you are in a deep red state. Lining the highway are signs calling for the impeachment/imprisonment/lynching of various famous Democratic politicians: most prominently Nancy Pelosi and Gavin Newsom, our governor. On this trip, I noticed that the signs were significantly reduced. I only saw two “Recall Newsom” signs, no signs about Nancy, and not a single Trump sign. Is it safe to say that the stimulus and recovery packages are softening Republican partisanship in this area? I don’t know, but this is the area that gave us people like Devin Nunes, so I don’t see a flip to Blue any time soon. Bogus!
After speeding through the Central Valley and descending the Grapevine into Santa Clarita, I hooked up with my favorite freeway. Don’t get me wrong, driving a campervan on an LA freeway is a thing to be feared. But there is a wonderful freeway that is MY freeway. It’s the 210 or the Pasadena or Foothill freeway. I’m not sure what it is with this road, but every time I’ve driven it, there has been none of the fabled LA traffic. The first time I drove it, I was literally the only car on the road. Turns out, there was a traffic report warning all LA drivers away from it because of roadwork. And everyone stayed away. Except for me. This time, I was similarly one of the few cars on the road. Although I did notice an LA traffic helicopter following me from Pasadena to Azusa. Clearly, the reporter was fascinated with the fact that someone was driving a freeway at just under 55 MPH . LA, I make no apologies. You can’t drive fast in a campervan. I’m in the slow lane. Just pass me!
Finally, after eight hours on the road, I entered San Dimas. I even took a victory lap past the Circle K. No sign of George Carlin in a telephone booth beaming in from the future. Bogus! But San Dimas, at least the part of it I saw, was most excellent. I camped at Frank Bonnelli State Park, which I’m told will be a future Olympic venue. It’s pretty impressive, with a lake, a reservoir, an equestrian center, miles of trails, and some most excellent bluffs, where I camped looking over the Angeles Crest. That’s where I discovered that the full blood moon eclipse that I was planning to view from Anza Borrego was happening at 4AM Wednesday morning instead of Wednesday night. So I viewed the eclipse from San Dimas instead, Or rather, didn’t view it as the cloud cover was most heinous.
I have to say, I’ll never do such a long haul again, but I’ll definitely route myself back through San Dimas. If you have never seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, stream it now. You’ll see why it’s a must see and a beacon of wisdom for our time. As Ted tells So-crates: “All we are is dust in the wind, dude. Dust. Wind. Dude.” Good to know as I head into the three desert part of my trip.