Day 6 LA/San Diego

After packing up the car, we head south from LA to the coast via Sunset Beach. It’s an easy drive and one that really shows off California’s epic beaches. More than any other area in this state, this one looks more like Baywatch and any other movie/TV programme that has CA beaches in it.

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The Challenger performs faultlessly as you would expect, and a clear 50-mile run down the I5 sees an average of 27.6mpg (that’s NZ 33mpg, or 7.1L/100km), averaging around 75mph. Top gear is pretty high, and 80mph shows around 1800 rpm. In fact, 5th gear is well overdriven at 0.74 and 6th gear a high 0.50.

Again the behavior of the traffic impresses me. Man how I wish our NZTA/Police would come and observe the traffic here! Well behaved, exceeding the speed limit is not a big drama and it just works. They put our drivers to absolute shame. I’m still struggling with the concept of people actually using their indicators!

Sure, on the whole their roads and especially the interstates and freeways are rubbish with unexpected dips, potholes, uneven roads and worse. It looks like they are more interested in building new roads than fixing the old ones.

Day 7 San Diego

While my wife is at a writing conference this week, I get to do Man Stuff – in fact, whatever I want! The only thing I want to do today is to see the USS Midway – a retired aircraft carrier. I have ALWAYS wanted to go and look at one, and for $20 I can see why it’s San Diego’s number one tourist attraction.

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If you go to SD, do the USS Midway – well worth it. It’s too hot today to do much else!

Today while driving on the freeway, I’m doing 75mph in a 65mph zone, along with everyone else. There’s little variation in the speeds on the freeway here. All of a sudden, a highway patrol car pulls up alongside me. I look over to the cop, he gives the Challenger a thumbs up and then speeds off. There are no words for the feeling of relief I had at the time. In New Zealand, I would have been ticketed for doing 16km/h over the limit, I am sure.

At the hotel, I start thinking about a good photo location for the Challenger. In the US, there aren’t many places you can pull over and stop, like you can in New Zealand. I have a bit of a brainwave and Google some drag strips. I ring one, and the guy says, “sure you can come and take photos at our drag strip”. It’s a 50 minute drive away but I don’t care – it’s the perfect photo location for a V8 muscle car. Would I attempt the ¼ mile in the car if given the opportunity? Well it’s done over 400 miles now, so that’s going to be a tempting offer if I get it.

We went to the Corvette Diner for dinner, and yes I made the call that we were going there. A well done, 50’s diner complete with a late 50’s Corvette as you walk in the door. The food was better quality than I expected and they make ‘real’ milkshakes too. I couldn’t finish my burger and fries, but then it’s rare that I finish any American diner meal put in front of me – there is just too much food.

At one point on cue, all the staff come out and so some sort of 50’s dance – pretty entertaining, although some staff were getting into it much more than others. This place is well worth the visit in any case.

My favorite neon sign at the Corvette Diner says, “There is no going to Heaven in a sedan”. So there’s your reason to buy a convertible/coupe right there!

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Spotted on a racetrack website that’s north of San Diego, and perhaps ‘only in America’?
Q: Can I bring my dog/snake/iguana/ferret to the race events?
A: Sure! But please keep all pets on a leash and clean up after them.

Day 8 San Diego

I only have one mission today: get to the Barona Drag Strip to take some decent photos for the Drive Life website.

It is hot out there – on the way to Barona, it hits 36 degrees outside. I’m well inland now, and the cool breeze of the ocean has gone. I’m driving on a road I just love the name of, it’s so American: Wildcat Canyon Road.

Art, who lives at the drag strip (cool job or what!) lets me in and I line the car up while he gets out the light tree, to make the photos look more realistic. While he’s doing this I ask him about my arch enemy, snakes. Sure he says, there are lots of snakes here. He picked up 6 rattlers in the last month and moved them (this is a brave man, who has earned his Man Card). There’s also coyotes, dangerous spiders and there were lots of Cougars (Mountain Lions) but not so many now. And that’s why the road got its name, Wildcat Canyon. Click.

Numerous photos are taken, and I know I’ll only use a ¼ of what I take, if that. It is so freaking hot, down to 32 now but I’ve not got the luxury of ventilated seats or AC to keep me fresh. I am now dreading the temperatures it’s going to hit in Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona…but that’s next week, for now I need to get the photos done and back in the car.

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With the photos done, including lying on the hot-as concrete to get some good angles, I’ve got a parting question to Art: can I take a run down the strip? He says yes (YES!), but only a 1/8th of a mile without needing an official safety team to manage things. That’s fine, and better than no run at all.

I try to use the launch control, but since I haven’t read the manual yet, I forget that idea. I’ve been reading the manual but not up to that section yet. It’s a big manual!

Anyway, Art is waiting outside in the sun for me, and I don’t want to hold him up. I setup the car for a 1/8th mile on the timer with the Dodge Performance Pages app, turn off traction control with the Super Track Pak button, and then hit the timer countdown button. With a lot of wheel spin, the tyres struggle badly to get traction in the extreme heat, but then they do and I’m off! I hit the redline and shift quickly as I can into second. The Tremec gearbox surprised me totally here – it is normally a slow shifting gearbox, and I really expected this shift to be slow – but it wasn’t. It seemed to know I was in a hurry and second gear was selected quickly, and back on the gas full.

In no time at all, I’m across the line. I cruise back to the tree, and look at my time on the dash. Didn’t freaking work!!! I’m not about to try again with Art waiting, so I decide that’s enough of my expensive tyres left on the track, and head back to base to call it a day.

Driving observation for today: I know it’s an old joke, but it’s still true. American drivers do really struggle with anything resembling a corner. On the way to the drag strip it’s quite windy, and I’m in a line of 5 cars. There’s a few 30mph corners – but the weather is clear and fine and the road more than acceptable. What do all the cars do? Brake and slow down to about 25mph, for the ‘corner’. I think I could have easily taken this ‘corner’ at 65mph in a Cherry with shot suspension, and that’s saying something!

Thanks HEAPS to Art, Rick and the crew at Barona Drag Strip near San Diego for allowing me to take photos there – it was the perfect location. Good luck with the snakes, guys.

Day 9 San Diego/LA/San Diego

I’ve got a couple of meetings in LA today and since my wife is off at her writer’s conference, it means I can do the 90-minute each-way trip solo in the Challenger. That 276-watt audio system is going to get hammered today.

I’m getting the hang of changing gear with my right hand now, and it’s becoming second nature. I’ve got used to the clutch too, but am still getting used to the sound of the Hemi – I seem to want to rev it out more than needed when hitting onramps, for some reason…

The 90-minute drive to LA takes a couple of hours, so that’s not too bad. At one point I’m in a 65mph zone on the interstate (I5), and in a line of 8 cars, all safely spaced apart. I can neither confirm nor deny that my cruise control was set at 89mph, along with the rest of the cars. Man these guys like to drive! No mucking around, although a few traffic jams on the way (the I5 between LA and San Diego is notorious for this) means it takes longer than it should.

With my meetings over and done with, it’s now 2pm and time to get back to SD before the rush hour kicks in. If only.

For no particular reason, the I5 is jammed. After driving for 2 hours (driving! More like sitting!) the GPS tells me I still have two hours to go. Crap! The lady in the GPS suggests an alternative route down the Pacific Coast Highway, and I jump at it. But this isn’t much better. At some point, she joins me back onto the I5, which is still jammed up with traffic.

My main problem now is gas – I don’t have much left. I had plenty when leaving LA, but the stop-start traffic has killed my fuel consumption. I‘m down to 30 miles in the tank and the next turn is 12 miles away. I feel I can make it, but then I get to a long uphill rise, crawling in first gear and then stopped. The distance to empty meter flicks to ‘low’ and I use one of the Chrysler Uconnect apps – Yelp – to find the closest gas station, 0.8 miles away. I am dreading running out of gas in this traffic, so bite the bullet and squeeze over to the next exit. Yelp has helped me out, and $54 later the car is full of gas. So close to empty!

At the moment in California, petrol is averaging about US$3 a gallon, so that’s US78 cents per litre or about NZ$1.07.

I should be sticking around SD tomorrow, so going to stay well clear of the I5!

Day 10 San Diego

I’ve got an easy day today – visit the San Diego Air and Space Museum followed by the San Diego Automotive Museum. Luckily they are literally right next door to each other. In fact, they are in a single area that holds 14 different museums – who knew. This is an area where you could spend days going to the ones that interest you.

The A&S Museum was much better than I expected. It’s pretty big and holds all sorts of treasures, from early flight through to lunar landers. I guess that’s where it gets its name from.

Apollo 9 landing module as you walk in the door
Apollo 9 landing module as you walk in the door

I spent two hours here but could have spent more. One thing I had to do – the flights simulators. I had not seen ones this advanced before, where you can actually go completely upside down in flight. Not just simulated upside down – the whole unit flicks over as long as you want to be upside down for. After my F14 fighter first flight, then it was a reset to do some dog fighting in the F14, and then a roller coaster ride. The roller coaster was almost boring after the jets. I didn’t realise it but people outside are actually watching you on a Go Pro that’s setup inside the simulator. Some American ladies commented on how calm I looked. I didn’t want to tell them I was a bit bored with that roller coaster.

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Overall the A&S Museum is well worth the $19.50 entry fee.

Almost exact replica of the Spirit of St Louis
Almost exact replica of the Spirit of St Louis

Next onto the Automotive Museum. I didn’t have high hopes as the building doesn’t look massive.  After I paid and went it, the building seemed to be a lot bigger, until I realised I nearly walked into a mirror the width of the building.

Sure enough, it’s not big at all but what they have is worth seeing, for $9. The place is more movie-themed than anything, with a selection of cars either from a particular movie or a replica of one, like the 1958 Plymouth Fury from Christine. There’s some good history about each car and the movie they were in too.

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There’ about 40 cars here, and a good selection of older and vintage motorbikes as well. Unlike some car museums where some of the display cars aren’t restored and are just ratty, these are nearly all either restored or left totally unrestored. The restored ones look superb, especially the Cord and V16 Cadillac in the photos below.

This fantastically restored Cord took 32 years to get to this state!
This fantastically restored Cord took 32 years to get to this state!
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Before and after for this magnificent V16 Cadillac

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If you’ve got an hour or two to spare and like cars/bikes, it’s worth it. Even some teenagers might like seeing some of the cars from movies they’ve seen, like The Green Lantern and Scooby Doo.

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A favourite here for me is the Countach, dream car of my teenage years.

The car that started me passion for all things automotive
The car that started my passion for all things automotive

Tomorrow, our Road Trip starts proper, with a drive from San Diego to Las Vegas. At last, for me, the excitement begins. There is nothing that compares with a road trip across the USA.

Day 11 San Diego – Las Vegas (via LA)
States covered so far: 2
Miles driving today: 400

Finally! This is the day I have really been waiting for – we start our road trip. Although we head off later than we had hoped too (normal for us) we hit the road out of SD, on the I5 and aimed for Las Vegas for two nights.

On the way to Vegas, we stop at Yermo at a diner call Peggy Sue’s. As a family we stopped for lunch here 7 years ago and really liked the place. It’s set out like a ‘50s diner, and in fact first started in 1954 with 5 booths and 6 seats at the counter. Those booths and seats are still there, but now there’s 3 extra huge dining areas. While we were there the place was packed. The food is good, the prices great and 50’s memorabilia lines the walls.

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Last time we came here we had just finished a visit to Calico, which is a ghost town just on the hill opposite Peggy Sue’s, but about a 10-minute drive away. You can visit Calico and actually go down inside the old mine tunnels. It’s all very organised and well worth a visit.

We didn’t have time to do it again this trip, but sort of wished we had of. The mine tunnels in the ghost town are massively cooler than outside. When we arrived at Peggy Sue’s, it was 43 degrees outside and once we got out of the car, it was like someone had a huge hair dryer aimed at and and on full. So. Freaking. Hot!

Lunch over and done with, we cruised the next 150 miles to Las Vegas, with the cruise control set at 80mph. The speed limit varied between 65 and 70 mph, but everyone is doing 80mph so I’m not about to hold everyone up.

We did notice though on the other side of the interstate, a truck’s trailer had caught fire. It looked like it had happened many hours before we passed it, but the traffic jam was huge. We stopped counting at 11 miles long…pity the people in those cars, waiting to get back to LA or wherever.

That night in Las Vegas we decided to go to see The Fremont Street Experience, which is a closed off street with buskers, dancing girls (scantily clad would be overstating it) and a light show every hour from 8pm. The light show involves a huge structure above your head, which runs for about 400 metres. It’s all computerised and pretty amazing to watch. After the light show we watched a free performance of an Elvis impersonator, who sounded like Elvis and looked like him too. Great value!

When we arrived at Las Vegas, it was only 39 degrees, but incredibly at 10.30pm it went back up to 40. It was time to go back to our hotel room and air conditioning!

Tomorrow is a Las Vegas day – this is our third time here, but our first time with no kids, so we’re looking forward to doing more adulty stuff.

Day 12: Las Vegas

It is so freaking hot again. Having breakfast at 9am, and it’s 40 degrees outside. We spend the day going from one air conditioned casino to the next one.

We’re not big gamblers, so use this trip to Vegas to do other things, like just cruising around the casinos having a nosy. Even with the heat outside it’s pretty hard to spend too long in any casino, as the smoke is just overpowering at times. At one point my eyes start to water it’s that bad. I am guessing compared to 20 years ago it’s nothing, but when you are used to no smoke at all in a place like this, it really noticeable.

Advertising is everywhere...
Advertising is everywhere…

The one touristy thing we want to do is go on the ‘High Roller’ at the LINQ Casino. Basically it’s the same as The London Eye, but in Vegas. According to the recorded message played while we go up, it’s the highest viewing platform in the world, or something like that. At 550 feet up, it sure feels like it! Still the cabins are huge and air conditioned, so it’s a nice way to spend 30 minutes of the day, looking out over Las Vegas and the extremely brown landscape and mountains. At $23 each, it isn’t bad value.

This evening we paid to get the best seats to see the ‘Mystere’ version of Cirque du Soleil in Treasure Island, which is the hotel/casino we are in. Since our legs are totally shot from all the walking in the heat today, we are thankful we don’t have to go far.

We paid for the best seats in the house, and are glad we did. What an amazing show. This is our first Cirque du Soleil we’ve seen, and it’s simply brilliant.

Tomorrow the road trip continues, as we head to Phoenix via Hoover Dam, Kingman, Williams, Seligman and Flagstaff. At least some miles on the old Route 66!

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I just love it that you are so thoughtful. Fancy, you going fast just to accommodate the other drivers and avoid slowing them down!!! True Kiwi courtesy! Great write-up.

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