A month ago, my roommate invited me to his family's cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I was giddy at the chance to get out of the city and into the outdoors, but my roommate was quick to try and squash the excitement with one sentence, "It's a five hour drive," in a tone that someone would use when their dog dies. I looked at him and said, "Five hours is nothing, and I'm sure there's some cool stuff along the way."
Sure enough, we embarked on our journey in separate cars. (He had his dog and a girlfriend with him, so I decided to roll solo). The first hour was nothing special, until we decided to stop for gas. While at the station, I suggested another route to the cabin, versus taking I-80 the majority of the way...and this is where our options differed. Either way I looked at it, we were killing a whole day to get where we needed to go, plus the backroads would allow us to continue moving at 40-60mph, whereas the highway would be a 10-20mph hell. My buddy just wanted to get there and could care less about the stops and the drive.
We finally decided to see which way was more enjoyable and more efficient, so he went his way, and I went mine. The first leg of my drive took me from Fairfiled, CA (Home of Jelly Belly) east to the middle of nowhere, then north, bypassing Sacramento and dropping me in the foothill town on Yuba City, CA. The countryside was beautiful to look at, with mountains in the distance. The roads are littered with fruit stands selling freshly picked strawberries, corn, and other veggies and fruits. I was looking for a snack so I pulled over, grabbed a bag of cashews, some fruit, and something to drink and I was back on the road. Then it hit me...this stuff is 100x better than anything I could have gotten at the convenience store.
Although the ride was straight and flat through most of the central valley, I was able to maintain a solid 55mph average on the county roads, and there was little traffic in the small towns along the way. The weather was hot, but not too hot to roll the windows down, as long as you were going over 20mph. Once I left Yuba city, I began my climb uphill into the Sierras. I took Route 20 until I needed a bathroom break around Brown's Valley, so I stopped at the gas station, topped off, and took care of business. While at the station waiting in line for the restroom, I struck up a conversation with the cashier, an old local who spent his whole life in the same town. Folks in the country sure are a lot more hospitable than your average travel center cashier. After telling him that I was traveling through, he told me to try a different route than I had planned, and he assured me that this would be more "scenic."
I continued only a mile or so until I saw a building with large red block letters that spelled out "JERKY." I'd hit the jackpot. I pulled into the lot, and stepped inside the store. After browsing the selection, the owner came over to me and started talking about how his jerky was USDA Organic and how they make all their products in house. He even took me for a little tour of the kitchen, the dehydrator, and offered me as many samples as I wanted. After spending a pretty penny on some top quality stuff, I got back on the road.
The last leg of the trip would take me by Englebright Lake, made famous by it's large dam that separates it from the Yuba river, then up Hwy 49 through Downieville and Sierra city. If you have a car that's fun to drive, 49 might be one of the most fun roads to drive in California. Not only do you have twists and turns, you are going uphill from about 2000 feet to 6500 feet. I wish that I had taken a few pictures along the way, but the road commanded my full attention and I was having too much fun to pull over. This was easily the most fun hour and a half of the trip.
Finally, I reached the cabin, but my roommate was nowhere to be found. 20 minutes later, he comes rolling in, looking like he just spent the last 5 hours lost in the desert. He had just been sitting in traffic from Fairfiled to about 40 miles East of Sacremento. I asked how the drive was, and he just shook his head, went inside, cracked a beer, and sat down without saying a word. I think I won the challenge.
Highways are great for getting from point A-B quickly, but sometimes when the traffic conditions are bad and the trip is going to take up the better part of a day, you're better off finding another way. So next time someone suggests the scenic route or the long way, don't hate it, embrace it, you never know what you'll find along the way.