Without map, two men and baby take offramp leading to unknown

June 27, 2013 

Not long ago my son Mike, his three-year-old son AJ, and I had an all-male travel adventure.

The three of us were driving from Chula Vista (near San Diego) to Los Banos (394 miles), with Mike and AJ continuing for another 240 miles to Reno, where they live.

(To explain why there are no females involved in this adventure would take another column.)

I will take you along, dear reader, for the drive. It was a Sunday, around noon, when Mike, AJ and I were leaving Chula Vista. We were getting started a little later than we had planned, but with luck we would be in Los Banos around 6 p.m., and Mike and AJ would be in Reno by 10.

It was a simple route: I-805 to I-5, straight to Los Banos. Then for Mike and AJ it's I-5 to I-80, straight to Reno.

About an hour into our ride, traffic slowed to a crawl between San Diego and Los Angeles. Eventually we picked up speed, but we hit another slow spot near downtown L.A.

We finally make it over the Grapevine. We were behind schedule by about 90 minutes, but it was all downhill from here.

Traffic on I-5 near Bakersfield wasn't bad for a Sunday, a little heavy, some bunching up, but that's to be expected.

AJ was getting a little restless, but I had brought some candy for the trip. Mike handed him some chocolate, and AJ settled down. It was about 5 p.m., just two and half hours away from Los Banos.

We were driving at 70 mph, the speed limit, until we saw cars slowing down ahead. On second look, the cars were stopped. I applied my brakes, hard. The car behind me fishtailed. Like the line of cars in front of us, we were now stopped—dead still.

No vehicle was moving. Several people got out of their cars, assessed the problem, shook their heads and got back in their cars.

The last time I was stopped like this on I-5, traveling solo, I didn't move for over an hour. This time there was a three-year-old in the car. A quarter-mile ahead was an exit, Utica Road, which was exactly in the middle of nowhere.

Meanwhile, that chocolate candy wasn't settling well in AJ's stomach. He had upchucked a few miles back, and now the aroma of vomit in the car was distinct.

I made an executive decision to pull off on this exit. I didn't know where Utica Road would go, but it would go somewhere. We would be moving, and AJ would like that.

Just past the exit ramp, I pulled over next to a field of young trees that would someday be an orchard. Mike and I did what we had to do. Mike removed all of AJ's upchucked clothes, replacing them with a new diaper and outfit.

Mike and I took some drinks of water and a few deep breaths. AJ ran around the dirt by the field.

It had been a half-hour now since we pulled off, and traffic hadn't moved. The white semi was still in the same location by the exit. And we didn't know how far ahead traffic was stopped.

We were using a rental car, which didn't have any paper maps. On Mike's smart phone the digital map showed the only viable alternative was Highway 99, twenty miles to the east, accessed by country roads, none of which connected I-5 to 99 directly.

Before long it would be dark. And we were still a long way away from Los Banos, let alone Reno, with not much gas in the tank.

"Let's head for 99," we agreed. "This will be an adventure." We would use the GPS on Mike's phone to navigate.

The digital map indicated we would need to drive east on Utica Road for a while until it dead-ended at Sixth Avenue. Then we'd have to figure out our next step.

About two miles east of I-5, Mike's GPS stopped working. Out in the middle of nowhere, with no buildings, cars, or trucks in sight, there was no cell or GPS connection.

"Now this will really be an adventure," Mike said.

(To be continued.)

(Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.)

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