I am back home but stunningly jetlagged, so I won't be posting anything substantial for the next day or so. Many thanks to Karl Schroeder and John Meaney for covering for me while I've been on the road!
Last Wednesday I did a keynote speech at USENIX Security; I'll blog the original text in a day or two. My wife and I needed to be in Portland by Friday evening, and due to a scheduling cock-up I left it too late to book a sleeper berth on the train: so we hired a car and drove. Note: this was the first time in 18 years that I'd attempted to drive on the wrong side of the road.
Things I learned:
1) California State Route 1 is a scenic route, for values of "best enjoyed from a helicopter or light plane". I would, however, characterise it as somewhat more exciting than one wants if the objective is to get from SF to Portland within a fixed time frame. It reminded me of the Italian alps in the 1970s, only with added landslides, holes in the crash barriers on cliff-edge hairpin bends, and lots of detours around trees. For added fun, try driving it in a vehicle about the size of a Ford Transit (the European variety) while sitting on the wrong side, so that you keep instinctively steering towards the cliff edge.
2) A Lincoln Town Car is not the right vehicle in which to enjoy Highway One. Next time, I'm going to turn down the free rental upgrade. (In my defense, we don't have Lincoln Town Cars in the UK. In fact, my knowledge of US automobiles is so totally lacking that all I can tell them apart by is their general category. And I wasn't expecting quite such an exciting drive.)
3) The combination of charming cliffside switchbacks and a five litre V8 results in gas mileage such that it's a good thing for my wallet that fuel is so cheap in California. About the rural gas station where they only take cash and amuse themselves with a banjo between customers we'll say no more.
brown black bear, please learn to look both ways before bounding across the road twenty metres in front of a wheeled avatar of Father Darwin. This will enhance your life expectancy, not to mention that of the folks in the car. (I left skidmarks. Where, I'm not saying. At least the anti-lock brakes worked. On the other hand, the sudden appearance of Mr Bear put a damper on our ideas about a pleasant lunchtime walk among the redwoods ... where we come from, the wildlife is somewhat less alarming.)
5) Highways 101 and 199 were better than Highway 1, and still scenic (for values of "where did that three metre wide tree jump out from?") but had rather fewer 15mph sudden-death hairpins with crash barriers missing in action due to landslides.
6) A Lincoln Town Car is the right vehicle for pounding up the interstate we eventually decided to divert onto. Still, no love — as I discovered after I accidentally did 450 miles on the second day then nearly collapsed.
In the 750 miles we drove I just about doubled my cumulative lifetime miles of driving on the wrong side of the road. Be afraid; be very afraid — next time I'm going to try and rent a Hummer. (Those crazy cheap Californian gas prices are too low to resist.)