High-speed drift on a prairie road,
Hot tires sing like a string being bowed,
Sudden town rears up, then explodes,
Fragments resolve in the white line cold world,
On silver wheels ...
Bruce Cockburn, 'Silver Wheels', 1976
Gardner agreed to let me drive, but he started me out slow to make sure that I knew what I was doing.
San Francisco Los Angeles
Going over my Passenger List
I drove my first trip in January of 1988. The LA run was the shortest trip the Tortoise had; overnight to LA on Friday night, then overnight back to San Francisco on Sunday night, arriving early Monday morning. Saturday and Sunday were spent parked right on the Pacific Ocean near Muscle Beach and along the famous Venice Beach Promenade.
The trip went well. I had never been there before, let alone driven a bus full of people through it, but the Tortoise had Driver's Guides for all the routes with turn-by-turn directions for getting wherever you needed to go, so I had one of the passengers read the directions to me and we got along just fine. I spent the weekend walking along the Pacific Ocean and among the chainsaw jugglers and LA people happy that I was finally doing what I wanted to do and driving the Tortoise.
San Francisco Seattle
near Riddle, Oregon
I did a couple of LA runs and didn't crash the bus, so next I started driving the trip to Seattle. The mainstay run at the time (since discontinued due to ever-cheapening airfares) the North-South run was the 'bread and butter' trip that kept the drivers working and the money coming in. This trip was a 25 hour drive to Seattle, one or two days off parked near downtown, then 25 hours back down I-5 to San Francisco. The trip was broken up in the middle with a dinner or breakfast stop (depending on direction) in southern Oregon. This trip was a great intro to the Tortoise as it was long enough to give passengers a flavor of some of the longer tours that the Tortoise did. Since this was a trip the Tortoise did twice a week all year round I lost count of how many times I drove up and down I-5, but it was a lot.
Even though the trip was all on major highways there still was opportunity for some challenges. During the Winter there was frequently snow in the Siskiyous in Northern California, as well as in the multiple smaller mountain passes in Oregon. The rain in Oregon and Washington could come down in sheets, and there were always accidents to avoid, blown tires to change, and the interesting parade of passengers coming and going.
The driving time gave me a lot of practice in driving the busses, so by the time I got onto the longer trips that Summer I had thousands of miles under my belt and a good sense of how to keep the trip moving.
The Grand Canyon
As Summer approached I started doing the longer tours in addition to the transportation runs this is where the travel really got enjoyable.
Sand Island Recreation Area
near Bluff, Utah
One of my favorites was the 9 day trip to the Grand Canyon. It was the perfect length for a trip, the locations were beautiful and the passengers a lot of fun. The Grand Canyon is something everyone should see. Combine that will Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelley, Zion Canyon, hot springs, and Las Vegas and you've got an incredible journey.
I did the Grand Canyon trip multiple times and really came to love the Southwest as a result. Where the cross-country trip has to cover some incredibly long stretches of ground, the Grand Canyon trip is never more than an overnight drive away from the next destination, with a lot of nights spent camping out under the stars.
The Washington Monument
I also started driving Cross-Country to New York and Boston. Since Gardner was originally from Boston that's where the Cross-Country trip finished one trip and started another. At that time my parents were living just outside Boston, so it was easy for me to park the bus in their driveway, wash the sheets and get ready for the return trip.
The route changed depending on the season. We took the southern route (via New Orleans) in the Spring and Fall, then the northern route (via Chicago) in the Summer. Through driving these trips I got to see most of America from the driver's seat of a Green Tortoise.
The Cross Country trip attracted a lot of European travelers who were 'doing America'. Since the Tortoise took you from one end to the other with a lot of stops in between it was probably the most economical and enjoyable way that someone could get the full picture of the US on a single trip. I noticed that the really smart travelers would book the Southern route on one leg, then do the Northern route on the other. For very little money you could see almost the entire country.
During that Summer I also drove a trip to Alaska. Though very much one of the 50 states there's a lot about Alaska that is unique. We drove the bus on and off ferry boats as we made our way up the inside passage, camping out on the deck of the ferry. In the Yukon Territory we camped out during the perpetual day around the Summer Solstice. We also regularly ran into bears and moose right near our campsite or lumbering across the road. The road, by the way, is most often dirt and gravel, which made for some challenging driving as well.
The Inside Passage
near Seward, Alaska
The people who are looking to go to Alaska are not the normal Tortoise crowd. Though there are some young Europeans I noticed that the Alaska trip attracts an older group who has already visited the common destinations and is now looking to visit the uncommon ones. I also remember my trip to Alaska fondly because I still see one of the passengers from that trip on a regular basis that is, every day.
The Bay of Conception
near Agua Verde
Every Winter when things in the 48 were cold and dreary the Tortoise would send busses down to the end of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Getting out of the US and into Mexico is an experience in itself, doing that for the first time while driving a busload of people makes it even more interesting. There are some very developed places in Baja, but fortunately the Tortoise was really good at finding those that were unknown and under-developed.
Even without adding the Tortoise element, Mexico if a fascinating place. Our border is one of the few places where the third world and the first world live in such close proximity. With the drug wars going on now this has become a dangerous area in many ways, but when I was driving down there it was very relaxed and enjoyable. It is also incredibly beautiful.
There were a host of other trips that I drove. I did the shorter trips around California to Yosemite Park and Northern California, taking a bus load of people through Napa Valley and around Mount Shasta. I drove a few charter trips around the Bay Area and for two years running I drove a High School class from Seattle on their annual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. I even took a bus over to Oakland, California to camp out for two days at a Grateful Dead show to promote the company among the Dead Heads finally catching the West Coast Grateful Dead show that I had missed in Eugene a couple of years before.
There were some Tortoise trips I never did (Mardi Gras and Mainland Mexico for instance), but other than that I was ready to drive wherever the bus was going whenever it was going there. My goal in getting behind the wheel of the Tortoise was to travel, and that's what I did.