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The road even less traveled

September 24, 2007

There’s a big ochre-colored thing up ahead. I mean really big.

Well before this thing, I encounter a roadblock. “Wait here, there’ll be a pilot car for you,” said the guy in the orange vest. Wow, I’ve never actually had to follow a pilot car before, but considering how the vehicles transporting this thing in front of me are taking up not only both lanes of the road, but the shoulder and the median (which are being watered down, for reasons I don’t know), I guess they want to make sure the folks on the other side of the road don’t run into each other.

We start talking (and no, he doesn’t say, “you rode all the way from Seattle on that thing?”), and the conversation turns to where I’m headed. “Yakima,” I say.

The road’s blocked off up ahead, he says. I can keep going, but there’s going to be an intersection with a sign directing me west for SR 240, or east for somewhere else. Oh. I thought I was on 240. Back in Richland, I went north on Jadwin Avenue until I encountered an intersection with a sign that said SR 240 was thataway. So I went thataway. As I went on, the road didn’t seem familiar, but I really wasn’t noticing much on the way down Friday.

Okay, whatever. The pilot car (actually a new Chevy pickup) arrives, followed by a silver Ford pickup, which continues south as the pilot car makes a u-turn and stops. It’s got a big digital sign facing the rear, alternately flashing “Pilot Car” and “Follow Me”.

He goes, I follow. We aren’t going too terribly fast; I’m guessing he figured a scooter would be slow. We pull alongside the behemoth, which is about the size of my condo building, and I see it’s resting on a platform with wheels from end to end. Pushing the platform are several tractor-like vehicles that look like railroad yard engines, but with earth-mover wheels and tires. I have no idea what the thing they’re transporting is, but it looks like the world’s largest plumbing joint.

The pilot car pulls back to the proper side of the road and waves me on. That was an interesting experience, but I guess it’s just another day at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

I’m a bit peeved at being detoured, but there’s no other traffic. It’s early, and I’m only going as far as Yakima. I’ll do the rest on Monday morning.

I’m also a bit peeved at the lack of signage. Yeah, I know it costs money to post and maintain signs, but that could’ve saved me and every other person who’s made the same mistake considerable time.

Back on 240, traffic was a bit lighter than on Friday, but not much. I was thinking leaving the rally early would mean a more pleasant trip. It was, sort of. So far. SR 240 is pretty flat, with good visibility for passing.

I had a theory about being passed by faster vehicles: people from Western Washington’s urban areas would do it badly, since for the most part you don’t have to (or can’t) pass anyone on a 2-lane road. People from the rest of the state will do it well, because they have to, and get lots of practice.

That theory was pretty much blown out of the water. Based on the license plate frames, there was no correlation between location and good/bad passes. A good pass is one where the driver looks way ahead, realizes there’s a scooter ahead of them, and plans for a smooth maneuver that imposes little delay on either vehicle.

Then there was the Escalade from Valencia, Calif. that got so close there was nothing in my mirrors but half a Cadillac emblem each… and he stayed there for what seemed like forever before finally pulling around.

But I’m making good time, and the junction with SR 24 appears in the distance.

I’m hoping the truckers get Sunday off.

Ahh, no such luck. Within a mile, I’m being dogged by a Mitsubishi Galant, which in turn is being dogged by a beater White Freightliner big rig. The road goes uphill, there are double yellow lines, and no place for even a crazy idiot to pass.

The Mitsubishi blows by anyway. I notice its rear window has been blown out. Hmm.

That leaves the beater 18-wheeler. We get to a place, still going uphill, where he should be able to pass me, but he doesn’t. Oh my gosh, it’s Duel in real life, and I’m Dennis Weaver.

The road levels off, the double yellow lines disappear, and I find a place where I can pull onto the shoulder. Okay, pass me! He does, in the same lane, leaving about three inches between me and the massive rotating wheels. I didn’t mean like that!

The truck gets a bit ahead, but the road goes uphill once more, and the truck slows way down. Geez, I thought these things had like, 12-speed gearboxes and 3-speed axles… he should be bookin’ along.

Okay, I’ll pass, even though there are double yellow lines. I can stay close enough to the truck that anything coming the opposite way could have some wiggle room. As I reach the truck’s front door, I see a sign: “White Lightnin (sic) Hauling”. Ahh, the wonders of trucking deregulation…

I’m able to zip up the incline and put considerable distance on the truck. Okay, maybe no Duel.

Further along, the road goes downhill. I kinda remember this place, since I stopped at an intersection on the bottom of the hill on the way to Tri-Cities to catch my breath and give the PX a rest.

A truck horn blasts behind me. I steer to the shoulder as the smell of burning brakes fills the air. White Lightnin hurtles down the middle of the road, the brakes apparently gone. Ahh, deregulation.

I decide to stay put for a while. Favicon


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