“It was an Elan. A delightful little thing famously made of Kleenex and unicorn farts.” ~ Sam Smith
DAY FOUR – I woke early, 5:35, since my body is still on Mountain Time and it thought 6:35. Besides it was quite light out already so I got a jump on my day. It was a good thing too because I needed every minute I had today.
Let me begin at the beginning. I slipped out of the motel parking lot quietly at 6:15 and began what I expected to be a descent into Death Valley. Much to my surprise, the road began climbing sharply. Well, that’s odd I thought, since it is only 29 miles to the Furnace Creek turnoff which is already in Death Valley. Yet, climb I did for about five miles to an altitude of 4,317 feet before beginning a 13 mile descent to -255 feet before rising again to -190 feet at the actual town of Furnace Creek. That descent is one long downhill with grades as steep as 9% for three miles, and if it weren’t for the turns would make a fantastic Soapbox Derby track. I don’t think I have ever seen such a long continuous downgrade without a single up or level section. It was fun!
It was a good thing I got to FC early because it was already 80 degrees at 7:15 AM. I poked around a bit and was astounded to find a resort community with homes for sale and about 30 under construction. Who in their right mind would want to buy a place to live where it can reach 130 degrees in August? I took the requisite photo and got out of the furnace. Then I got my next lesson in geography…there is a nearly 5,000 foot pass to conquer to go west. That is one deep hole in the ground! While I am glad I have seen it I certainly have no desire for a repeat visit. It is amazing how empty a place can feel, and almost creepy. It was time to get going. I believe this is what the moon must look like if this picture can capture it.
My map directions had me turning left on the Panamint Valley road but it appeared sooner than I expected so I missed the turn. No big deal as I was all alone on the highway, but as I turned halfway and went for reverse gear to back up so I could complete the U turn, it would not go into reverse even though the clutch was down. I pumped the clutch again and this time I got release of pressure, backed up and then tried first gear. Same symptom. After pumping the clutch pedal again, I got going but when I tried to shift to second, the clutch pedal went to the floor and stayed there. It offered no resistance and no release. Since I was rolling already, I just shifted without the clutch until I was in fourth gear and rolled on.
Out in the middle of Death Valley, now renamed Clutch Death Valley, it was not a big problem since I had many miles to drive without shifting or stopping. But I worried that when I got to civilization with stop signs and stop lights and traffic jams, I would be in trouble. There were still more than 250 miles to my destination in Goleta with Los Angeles in between. You know what happens next, right?
Not yet! I cheated on the turns since I was alone in the desert by going over to the left lane before a right turn then making a big arc so I could stay in fourth gear. When I got to a stop sign, since I was in California, I did a California stop by getting to first gear by rev matching and not fully stopping once I made sure I was alone. This all worked pretty well until the first traffic light which turned red just as I approached, so I turned into a gas station instead and shut the car off. I bought some brake fluid to fill the dry clutch master cylinder but it did no good as there was now air in the line and I had no way to bleed it. And I think that even if I did, it would just push out of the slave when I did achieve pressure. Since I was stopped, I called my friend Kiyoshi Hamai to see if he knew of anyone who might have the parts I needed and he called Jay Makwana of JAE a fine Lotus parts supplier located right where I intended to go…Goleta, CA. Jay called me but of course I didn’t answer because I cannot hear the phone or the ring when I am driving; it’s just too noisy.
After the stop at the gas station, I watched the cycle time of the stoplight and cranked the car in first gear when the traffic had cleared and I was sure the light would still be green. It was but just barely because of one straggler. Now I was on CA 14, a divided limited access freeway and would be all the way to my ARCO meet up point with Dan Crow who was going to guide me through the hills around LA, through Ojai and then return home to Anaheim as I proceeded to Goleta. I got there first and when he arrived I gave him the old “good news, bad news” presentation. As he thought about it he said the only way we could get to the back roads was by taking the freeway system as the way he had planned was full of stop lights. When I crank in gear, I have one shot to go so when I saw my chance, I did, but Dan was still getting settled in his yellow Elise. So, even though I was crawling in the far right lane, Dan was pretty far behind me getting on the freeway. He cranked it up to about 80 and went sailing right by me in the far left lane. I saw him way back, and waved but he never lifted and went on down the road leaving me far behind.
Permit me a comment on California drivers: They are aggressive, change lanes often and have little patience with the supposed speed limit. I was driving right at the 65 limit which is plenty fast for my little car and was strafed continuously by people going 20-25 miles an hour faster. And when a big Dodge Ram or Ford Raptor is bearing down from behind it is truly terrifying!
Finally, Dan pulled over and called me. I heard just enough to know he had done so and let him know I was on the I-5 as I was supposed to be and would catch him soon. Sure enough, I saw him sitting at a pullout and saw the turn signal go on as I approached. Soon I was following him as we made our way through the traffic light and the turn onto CA 126 to Fillmore and then Ojai. We rolled along until we got to the third light in Fillmore where traffic was backed up and taking several cycles to get through the light. I couldn’t do that so I turned into a gas station once again and parked. We decided to go get some lunch and let the traffic clear a bit while we made another plan. So we walked down Ventura Street to a Mexican place and had a leisurely lunch and got a call from Jay saying he had all the parts gathered and would drive up to Fillmore to deliver them to us. I demurred saying we needed a garage to do the work before he made that effort and he said it was not a big deal for him to do that, but he would wait until after 5 PM for the traffic to clear. I told him I would let him know if we found a place.
Dan decided to head back to Anaheim, about 120 miles, and I thought I could make Goleta which was my goal and would save Jay from driving to me. I did but it didn’t. Jay took it upon himself to bring the part to me in Fillmore which I discovered when I called him upon my arrival in Goleta. What we have here is a failure to communicate! He swears it was no problem and he delivered them to me at my motel in Goleta just a few blocks from his warehouse of parts. Tomorrow we find someone to install them and I will be once again saved by the kindness of Lotus friends and Lotus parts suppliers. Make sure you use the parts from these guys who stand ready with the right parts and don’t quibble about the price. They are there when we need then and have huge capital investments so that they can ship what we need when we need it. HooRah!
This hiccup will of course alter the coming day’s plans so bear with me while Kiyoshi and I figure out “Plan B.”
Impressions from the fourth day:
•I got an early start which worked well. I beat the heat and had the extra time at the end of the day…but man, am I tired.
• I don’t like much of California that I saw today. The coast from here north is nice and the more mountainous parts north of I-80 too, but the southeastern and LA areas are not.
• It occurs to me that the population in California places is either far too sparse or far too dense. Balance it out!
• I am humbled again by the generosity of spirit and actual support from the Lotus community. What a neat brotherhood we have. Specifically, thanks to Jay Makwana of JAE and Kiyoshi!
Hi, I’m Ross and I’m a tripoholic. I love driving especially in my old cars and then writing about the adventure that always follows. I’m old enough to know better but that doesn’t stop me. If you like stories of the road, every word true no matter how far fetched it may seem, then grab a beer or a cup of coffee and join me!
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2 thoughts on “West Route Post Number Four”
Once again I am thinking how brave you are Ross to be going cross country in your Elan. More importantly you seem to break down in areas that have both parts and help. Somebody is certainly looking out for you! Hoping your garage time is successful and the balance of your road trip is filled with smooth roads, a purring engine and easy shifting transmission.
Putting aside the difficulties with the Elan (the kindness of the Lotus community is astounding!), I thought this post was the most interesting from your entire trip…not that the others weren’t interesting also. The resort community in Death Valley cracked me up, but to each their own. I suppose there isn’t much need for supplemental oxygen. Hope the repair goes well and you get some rest. PS Winter storm warning tonight for snow down to 5000′ elevation, but happy to have the moisture.