On Friday, October 7th, I left a car meet at Newcomb’s Ranch on the Angeles Crest Highway in my 1984 Nissan 300ZX. The ultimate destination was and is the Larz Anderson Auto Museum on the other side of the country. Today I’m checking in just halfway through and I’m thrilled to say it’s been one hell of a ride so far.
The route so far
I did everything to collect as much good driving as possible. My advance and route planning was pretty loose; I’m just looking for squiggly lines on google maps and comparing that to hotels that fall in the sweet spot of “cheap but not dingy.” This was mainly achieved by avoiding freeways and staying overnight in places that are not particularly popular destinations.
The start of the journey from Angeles Crest was an incredible prologue, and the elevation of that road gave me a good sense of what the car was capable of. A 38 year old non-turbo engine is working pretty hard at high rpm a mile above sea level. But the VG V6 ran smooth and cool up and down the big hills of Angeles National Forest, and honestly it only sounds healthier the more miles I add to its odometer.
Taos, New Mexico and the surrounding area is visually stunning. This is the one city I was dying to see on this trip and that was definitely a good call. I got an amazing plate of Huevos Rancheros at a restaurant recommended to me by an Instagram friend called Plaza Grille – although I’m pretty sure this place was discovered long ago because it was so busy. Also saw a group of cattle being herded by working dogs which was cool and cute. Des Moines, Iowa also turned out to be quite fun and I was surprised to learn that the nightlife was pretty lit up on a Monday. Otherwise let’s see…
Route 64, New Mexico
If you’ve been following me on Instagram you’ve already seen some news from the great road in and out of Taos. Long, beautiful curves, incredible views, captivating elevation changes – it amazed me. And it turns out that October is a great time for that, too. It’s too early for snow, but the leaves are in full fall color form and the ambient temperature is low enough to make the mountain drives a little less strenuous in an old car.
The postcard motel
A few hours into my first day on the road, I realized that my original plan to make it to Flagstaff was foolish. I opened up Priceline (my favorite hotel-buying app) and found that the only non-gross-looking place that was accessible, cheap, and free was something in a town called Seligman. This was a really cool place to stop; It’s something of a living monument to the ancient idea of Route 66 as the primary travel corridor. The restaurant down the street, Westside Lilo’s, served me coconut cake that I’m still thinking about.
The Postcard, I learned, is a recently rebranded and modestly renovated version of a joint formerly known as The Romney. It has a fun mid-century vibe and seemed decently neat for the price.
Flagstaff Flea Market
I love old junk – as if that weren’t obvious since it’s from the guy who drives around in a 1984 car for fun – so when I see “Flea Market” I pretty much fire up the brakes no matter what I drive. I was really glad I did this time because I got two super cool vintage off-road rally jackets from a guy, a fun button, some nice old books and a gift for my special lady at home.
Speaking of wife, Flagstaff happens to be the first place we met, so rolling through it always brings back pleasant romantic memories. It’s fun to visit even if you don’t have a personal connection to it. And if you like high desert air, I highly recommend putting it on your list.
Sagebrush Inn & Suites
The hotel I found in Taos, New Mexico also had retro energy, albeit with a very different flair. The Sagebrush Inn looks like an old Mexican town’s portrayal in an off-brand theme park. I dug it up though – it made me feel like I was on a real adventure. Great water pressure too.
Red beard coffee
The day I left Dodge City, Kansas, I was pretty motivated to make tracks, so I rolled over to the first coffee shop I could find near my hotel. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was immediately struck by the modern vibe at Red Beard. They have a diner style counter with stools which is unusual in hipster cafes which I have used and got exceptional dark roast coffee from the owner.
“You must be Red Beard,” I said to Barista, who, you guessed it, had a red beard that hung from his chin like an ancient stalactite. We talked for some time; seemed like a good guy pouring great coffee.
The Sounds of Oklahoma
After hours of lugging my car with the T-tops off, standing in Oklahoma’s sprawling farm lands was overwhelmingly quiet…but in a peaceful way. It was really comforting to hear birds and bugs chirping and nothing else for a few seconds before cranking up the speedometer and my hair metal playlist for a few hundred miles.
A Kansas sunset
Not always, but often when I tell people I’m driving cross country, I get a response like, “Ugh, but you have to drive through Kansas!” Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa are also referred to as “slog states” by people who have never seen them or don’t appreciate the solitude. Country singer Jason Alden touches on this in the 2012 song “Fly Over States.”
I’m not the Midwest evangelist like Mr. Alden, but I completely reject the notion that the so-called “flyover states” are best viewed from the cruising altitude of an airplane. A Kansas sunset is truly spectacular, and the vast sky out there is an extraordinary canvas to see it splattered.
On a more introspective level, running in the heart of America is a great opportunity to reflect on your own insignificance. It’s like zooming out to sea in a small boat. Or how I imagine it would be like to fly through space in a little starfighter. Driving from California to Wisconsin in mid-fall, I actually felt like Luke Skywalker commuting from the desert planet of Tatooine to the swamp world of Dagobah in Star Wars. Driving a vaguely ’80s X-wing-shaped wedge mobile was no small contributor to that vibe.
The piece of rubber I made an intake duct out of seems to be holding, the Z’s cooling system hasn’t shown any signs of stress, and I can’t find any obvious leaks except for one. All of the Z’s problems for the first 2,100 miles of this trip were mercifully minor.
I have to keep an eye on a small power steering leak, but it’s so slow I haven’t had to add fluid since LA. The car still doesn’t like to idle when it’s cold, but I suspect that could be fixed once I fit a proper intake hose. I’ve also noticed that one of my inner tie rod boots is torn into pieces and a couple of the front bushings look pretty tattered; In the future of this car there is likely to be a steering rebuild.
Oh yeah, and one day the speedo decided to max itself out for about an hour. Before I could think too much about what happened or even download a speedometer phone app to hold me until I could fix it, it healed itself.
idle thoughts and takeaways
I really wish this Z had a turbocharger. I’ll never bother with the labor and cost to throw one in, but a little more torque and about 30 extra horsepower would go a long way. Maybe I should see what it takes to sink nitrous oxide.
I need to build some kind of cargo management system that will allow me to easily transport stuff and Secure the T-Tops when they’re off. And maybe my future NOS tank?
This might be my favorite (out of eight now) across the US ride that I’ve done. Flying solo adds a nice element of self-reflection and peace; A classic grand touring car is perfect for such a mission on so many levels. In fact, I’ll have to write another post that articulates that more fully.
I really hope I never have to get rid of this 1984 300ZX.
I’ll have to watch the original Star Wars movies again soon.
As you read this, I’m leaving Madison and heading to any hotel on the eastern edge of Ohio. It’s going to be a long and easy transit leg – I’ve got about 550 miles to go, so unfortunately I won’t be able to dally much in Chicago, Cleveland or anywhere else nearby.
However, the reward for this slog will be a (hopefully) interesting drive through Pennsylvania. My plan is to rip the short Route 666 (it’s real – Google Maps says so. Are satanic demons haunting it? We’ll find out). Then I want to make my way through some other squiggly map lines to a town called Williamsport on the Susquehanna River. I had never heard of this place but they had a nice selection of reasonably priced hotels so Williamsport here I come!
After that, it’s another rather long journey through the familiar territory of New York, Connecticut, and western Massachusetts to a hotel near Brookline, MA that I’m willing to spend some money on. Then finally, if nothing breaks or stops me, to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum on Sunday morning around 8:30 for Japan Auto Day 2022. Hope to see some of you there by the way. I’ll be wearing a thick coat that looks like a piece of southwestern hotel furniture – same thing I’ve been rocking since California. Tag me and say hello if you see me!