This was supposed to be a post about a simple drive from Seattle to Bishop, but it was a long way and a lot of stuff happened so I’ve split up the post into the two days (one good and one bad) it took me to get there and organized it by where I spent the night. Enjoy!


After leaving Seattle I needed to get to Southern California quickly so I had a few days of long driving that was sometimes hard, sometimes pleasant, and always interesting. My first destination was Bend, OR, which I intended to reach via Cascade Locks and some scenic roads around Mt. Hood. I was not far outside of Seattle on I-5, however, when Van Halen’s check engine light came on again. Bad memories of engine failure were still very fresh in my memory so I immediately found an O’Reilly shop and checked the code. Fortunately the problem was not serious and did not involve the new crank sensor, but there was a report of misfires in one or more cylinders. This is not a disastrous error code and I figured it was probably due to old spark plug wires so I bought a new set of wires, cleared the code, and continued on with a shadow of concern in my mind.

The Bridge of the Gods

In Vancouver, WA the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds as I turned onto WA 14 towards Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods. I chose to cross the Columbia here because my brother had been through on the PCT a few years ago and spoke highly of this little town nestled along the river. Sadly, by the time I got there the weather was kind of lame and I decided to just push on. Once in Washington I hit I-84 east until cutting south on OR 35 around Mt. Hood. Up on the slopes there was still a lot of snow and most of the car parks were full of people enjoying a decent day on the mountain. Unfortunately low clouds kept Mt. Hood itself totally obscured from view.

Soon after turning south on US 26 I got another check engine light and assumed it meant another misfire (which I confirmed at a nearby auto parts store). At this point I was starting to get pretty nervous with the frequency of these misfires (over the course of the day I had 3) and for once I did not really enjoy the solitude I found out on US 97 in Eastern Oregon. In my mind solitude meant less help if something really bad happened and by the time I rolled into Bend my nerves were a bit frazzled. In an attempt to feel like I was fixing something I replaced the only wire that looked like it had any corrosion at all. I doubted it would make a difference, but it gave me a little power over the situation.

I only spent a night in Bend, but I really enjoyed my time there. It’s a very lively and hip city given its location sort of out in the middle of nowhere and is practically overflowing with breweries, distilleries, and hip, outdoorsy folks. I washed the stress of the day away with some very good brews from the Deschutes Brewery and met some locals who took me to a few more neat spots. I stayed up later than I had planned but slept well and with significantly less anxiety.


My destination for the next day was Bishop, CA, about 600 miles and 12 hours away. Determined to reach Bishop before nightfall I was up well before the sun and had soon turned off US 97 onto OR 31. Some signs on the road informed me that OR 31 traversed the “Oregon Outback”. This sent a shiver of misfire-related anxiety down my spine but I was determined to not worry as much so I pushed that shiver deep down and hoped I could last the next 12 hours without giving myself an ulcer. When the sun came up it revealed a a high desert landscape covered in fog and clouds and empty except for the howling wind and low trees.

A wet dawn in Oregon's high desert

Just north of Summer Lake I hit a milestone: Van Halen rolled over to 150,000 miles! Desolate beauty is sort of my thing so I couldn’t imagine a better place for this to happen than on the side of some back road with a view of a lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The air was thick with the scent of pine trees and stopping to take in the view helped me calm down and reminded me why I do this in the first place.

150,000 miles and plenty to go

A few miles down the road, in Valley Falls, OR I hit another, albeit less impressive, milestone: I turned onto US 395. This strip of asphalt is perhaps one of the finest roads in America (although the travels documented on this website have revealed many contenders) and it holds special significance in my life as the main artery through which the majesty of the eastern Sierra Nevada was pumped into my heart. Since my childhood US 395 has lead to hiking, camping, climbing, and countless memories of time well spent among some of the finest mountains in the world. Valley Falls, OR was admittedly far from the memories of my youth, but reaching US 395 felt a bit like a homecoming; I was on my way to where much of this all started.

Not long afterward I crossed the border into Jefferson and just south of Alturas I picked up my first long-distance hitch hiker. He was sitting so far off the road I almost didn’t see him and had to double back to pick him up. His name was Harley (“like the motorcycle”) and, at 68, had decided he was tired of riding his bicycle laden with camping gear and was looking for a ride to Reno. After some struggling we got his bike in Van Halen and resumed our southward journey. I could probably (but won’t) write a whole post about the stories Harley told me as we traversed the Modoc Plateau south into the Eastern Sierra foothills. He knew every turn of the highway and had stories about every abandon way station or dilapidated farm house and made a fine traveling companion. When I left him a few hours later at a McDonald’s in downtown Reno I was glad for the company he had provided.

Finally, the Eastern Sierra!

More southbound driving out of Reno soon landed me back in California and I could feel Bishop and the High Sierra pulling me closer. Just past CA 108, at the Devil’s Gate Summit, I turned a corner to suddenly see the northern end of the High Sierra laid out before me in all of their brilliant, snow-bound beauty. With the sun shining brightly I could see far down the spine of the range and as I continued south the jagged peaks that loomed so large in my mind began to loom large through my windshield as well.

Bishop pass and Mt. Tom
A burrito well earned

With such a view it seemed too soon that Mt. Tom and Bishop pass came into view and my journey came to an end. Some places you can remember like you never left and Bishop is like that. I parked in front of the climber hostel in Bishop, paid for a shower, ate a huge burrito (I hadn’t eaten since I left that morning and was starving), and spent a completely relaxing and wonderful evening in a town full of people who live in one of the best places on Earth. It had taken about 12 hours, but I had made it to Bishop on a day when everything went exactly right. It was a good day.

Oh yeah, what about those check engine lights from before? Well, I didn’t get a single one since leaving Bend so my current theory is that the slightly rusty wire I replaced was in fact the culprit. Electrons are super weird.


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