We wake up in Needles and quickly get ready to start a day on the road. We want to be around Santa Barbara by nightfall. Coming out of the air conditioned room feels like a punch on the face–the temperature probably hasn’t come much below the 40sºC [100sºF] during the night.
In any case, it feels like the right setting for our second crossing through the California desert. The area around the I-40 checks all the boxes of the cliche American roadtrip –desert landscape with mountains lining the horizon, cacti and scattered bushes, blinding sun, a straight road that goes on forever– and it just feels good to be driving through it in this heat. We are grateful that we didn’t check the extra cliche box and rent a convertible.
At some point along the I-40 we remember a story from /r/nosleep and take a detour through Amboy inspired by rumours of satanic cults and car hijackings in the area between Twentynine Palms and the Mojave. It’s high noon, though, and reality proves to be less twisted than our imaginations and, in fact, driving South on Kelbaker Rd. puts a hazy mountain landscape right in our crosshairs that all by itself justifies the detour. Incidentally, the road West back to the Interstate is yet another section of Route 66. Old, black volcanic craters run past alongside it. An isolated Post Office, a Buddhist monk coming out of a gas station porta-potty, an impossibly long freight train crossing the road in front of our car imprint character on the bleak landscape.
Our desert shenanigans come to an end on a stop at Barstow for food and supplies. Nothing screams modern civilization like Walmart. After returning a faulty water container at Walmart (which still reeked of marihuana from that room at the motel in Blythe), we stop at In-N-Out for a late lunch. We are curious to eat at the original drive-thru restaurant, which maintains a nice set of quality rules for their food. (Among which is proximity to distribution centers, which I guess means that it’s not coming to the East Coast soon.) All said and done, the burger was pretty good, but it’s still fast food. Oh, and the veggie option is to have a burger without the patty.
Not long after Barstow we start noticing more plants and settlements–we’re getting back to the coast of California! There’s also a huge drop in the temperature: from the 44ºC [111ºF] we endured at noon, it will drop below 30ºC [86ºF] before the day ends. With our bellies full, we zig-zag our way bordering the LA area and, even out here, we can’t avoid a taste of its crazy traffic. In any case, the trip is quite uneventful and the scenery is really beautiful once we get to the Santa Clara River valley. The sun is starting to set and its rays filter through the peaks into the hazy valley air, beckoning us to the end of a long day of driving.
On the way, we find it cheaper to stay at a motel in Carpinteria, a meager 15-minute drive from Santa Barbara. Once there we realize that we forgot the laptop at the motel in Needles! We call back and the same lady that was at the reception this morning recognizes us and offers to put it in a box and help us get it back, so we’ll deal with UPS come morning in Santa Barbara. Shout-out to the River Valley Inn’s staff at Needles, who were really kind in discovering and taking care of the stranded laptop.
Once that was as solved as it was going to get that night, we finish the day with a walk in the mist to the beach to feel the fresh air and the roar of the Pacific.