"Back on the Road..."
Day One, Monday – Off to Reno!:

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It's actually been two years since our last Road Trip (and one since I said I'd finish the last two pages of my Road Trip 2002 report "real soon now..."). We missed out on last year's due to a combination of problems that meant we had to be in the area during Spring Break. It's a long, sad story, but pretty much irrelevant to this report.

The Route of Day One Anyway, problems almost killed this year's run as well. Dee Dee's Mom had to have surgery to fix torn ligaments in her shoulder this last March and that meant Dee Dee had to take care of her while she healed (which meant a painful, three, four-month long process - and Dee Dee's Mom was in pain too...). It wasn't looking good, but I started doing some tentative "where could we go this time?" planning, should something change...

...then, in late March, "something changed" and her sister said she could take her Mom for a few days. So I looked over my tentative ideas and planned a quick three-day there-and-back trip to Reno. It wasn't much, but it got us out, if only for a little while. Then - more good news - the weekend before the trip, and Mimnette told us she could take her for a whole week...

...well, good and bad news. Good, because we could take a more "normal" length trip - "Bad," because I had zero idea on what would happen after Reno (heck, even on the "Thattaway" trip, I had some plans).

So we figured we go to Reno for the three days I got a room for, then wing it from there.

Sunday, and problems cropped up again. Mimnette couldn't get to Pasadena until nearly four p.m. - and we had dinner guests coming over at four-thirty (Dee Dee is experimenting with pizzas and we did several varieties that night. Quite good - but I digress...). This meant we had zero time to do any of the pre-trip things we had to do - pack the clothes into suitcases, pack the car, do laundry so we'd have some clothing to pack into suitcases that could then be packed in the car...pretty much nothing got done but me buying some film and cup-soups.

Initial plans had us leaving at nine a.m. Monday morning, so when I woke up at eight-forty-eight the next day, with absolutely nothing ready, my first words to Dee Dee were "I don't think we're going to make our nine-o-clock leave time..."

...well, of course we didn't...

It's now noon-thirty - following a morning full of laundry, packing, and wondering just what we were forgetting - and we're finally on the road. My original idea was to take the 395 up through Owen's, past Mono lake, and all the way to Reno. This would be nicely scenic, and would let us visit some chunks of 395 we'd never seen before.

But that's a twelve hour trip, or so (especially if you are checking out the scenery!) and I really didn't feel like arriving in Reno after midnight to look for our hotel. So that meant taking the 5, in all its scenery-free - but four or five hour shorter - glory.

And we drove, and drove, and drove up the 5, the only real breaks spent getting gas and discovering that Jack in the Box's new (at the time) "Pannidos" aren't anything to write home about. Finally, we hit Sacramento around six, six-thirty, at which point we hung a right onto the 80, and started driving some more.

The Route of Day One - Close Up

For the first thirty-five miles or so, the 80 gradually climbs from Sacramento's insanely low twenty-five feet, up to twelve-hundred at Auburn. Then the climb steepens as you enter the Sierra Nevadas, finally topping out at over seven-thousand feet at Donner Pass (as in "Donner, party of eighty-nine, your table is ready..."). You begin to drop a bit afterwards, finally hitting just under forty-five hundred feet when you reach Reno.

Well, we'd hit scenery past Sacramento, but it didn't last very long, since as we were climbing towards the mountains, the Sun was descending towards the horizon. By Auburn, sunset was well on its way into night.

Now, at this point I had planned on stopping in the little town of Gold Run, which was about another twenty-five miles into the Sierras. Back three, four decades ago, my Aunt and Uncle lived and taught there (at an actual one-room school house - yes, the town was that small) and we'd gone up there to visit once. So I wanted to see if I remembered anything about the place by doing a quick drive through it.

But that works so much better if you can actually see what you're driving through. Combine that thought with the fact that we were both getting pretty tired and I put that idea on "hold" for the moment, thinking we'd hit it on the way back out.

(of course, as it turned out, we bypassed the place completely)

As we're climbing, Dee Dee's getting worried that she's seeing snow on the ground next to us - rather a lot of snow. Dee Dee and cold, as has been mentioned, are not buddies and you can see her calculating "do I have enough jackets?"

Me, I'm discovering that a winter's worth of snow plows and other erosion has pretty much erased all the little white lines down the highway and I can't see anything of that beyond what little my and other vehicle's headlights illuminate.. This is making staying in my lane a tad difficult, as there are few indications on just where that is. I also entertain more worrisome thoughts about missing a sharp turn in this dark and unlined night and plummeting to a painful death, but while a mountain road, it is an Interstate, so it's fairly wide and the curves remain relatively mild.

Finally we descend from Donner's Pass, through Truckee, heading for the border. It's after eight as we enter Reno and exit the freeway for our Hotel - the Sands Regency Hotel & Casino, right (as are most of the Casinos) in downtown Reno.

It's fairly easy to find. Reno may be the "Biggest Little City on Earth"...but it still is a little city, with only about four-hundred thousand residents. And the downtown is only about two or three square miles, from what I could tell. So soon, we're checking in, moving luggage up to the eleventh floor, and wondering what the heck we're going to eat.

The Sands isn't what you would call the highest-end casino hotel in the world. Oh, it was nice enough (clean, comfortable, whatnot), but while big hotels in Vegas have large buffets and things like Emeril's New Orleans Fish House, the Sands had a small, Italian buffet, a Tony Roma's¸ Arby's, and Pizza Hut, for pete's sake.

Fortunately for us, it would turn out they also had a burger place called Mels...

Mels is a classic drive-in chain of the old school. How classic? Well, one of their restaurants was used in the movie American Grafitti. The one in Reno is a diner rather than a drive-in, but the effect is much the same.

And the food is remarkably good. We had hamburgers that night and ended up coming back the next morning for breakfast (encouraged by the $4.99 steak-n-eggs special...hey, it is in a casino, there's going to be some sort of special to discourage you from leaving before you've gambled enough...). And the morning after that. And our last morning too. We're not talking fancy, or anything other than classic diner food. But the stuff is affordable, in massive quantities, and quite tasty too.

Dinner at Mel's pretty much ended our day (well, it was pushing ten-thirty), so it was back up to the room and to sleep.

Thus ended day one...

To Second Day of Trip

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