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  • Heather Tanguay

July 18 (1) - Donner Party

Updated: Jul 22, 2019


I get a late start. (Certain people will not find this surprising. Like everyone.)


I spend most of the day, sitting at the Clyde V. Kane rest area on US 15 north of Barstow, south of Baker. Why?


When I get in the Blue Frog at 8:30, the temp is already in the high 70's. As I climb up onto the high plateau of the Mojave Desert, the temp goes up and up - 80's - 90's. My EV car guru, a friend at work in Maine, warned me about the dangers to the electric car battery of temps over 90. I am getting really worried. It will put a big damper on the trip if I burn out the battery on the second day.


And I can see the effects of the heat on the dash readout. According to the internet, the heat uses charge 20% faster but right now it looks like 80%. The remaining miles readout is literally dropping before my eyes.


When the temp reaches 100, I decide to pull into a rest area on Route 15.

There is no shade, not a scrap. There are trees – with leaves (thin high ones) – whose shade somehow does not reach the ground. I sit in the car for 5 hours, as the temp keeps going up -105 - 107 - 109. These are Death Valley numbers - early pioneers trying to cross suffered terribly. Then I think about the Donners trying to avoid Death Valley, stuck in the mountains. Me exactly, stuck at this rest area, becalmed.

Why is there not an electric car charger at every rest area? I think. With all this sun, they should have solar panel canopies making electricity and providing shade. Win, win.


Also, the internet coverage, even with my phone, is slow and weak.


Instead of zoning on my phone, I read Claudine Fife, my grandmother's diary of a trip across the USA in 1933. She, my grandfather Sam Fife, and their friend drove some car from Louisville to San Francisco, took the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles, and came back east to Louisville. They drove the part of Route 66 I am on now, from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon. The trip lasted two months. They were young and bright and interested in adventure. They fed grizzly bear cubs, with the mother standing right by, in Yosemite. Pretty crazy.


Sam and Claudine Fife from Trip Diary

At 4 pm, I remember that the desert ground absorbs the heat and radiates it back late in the day, making the air temperature even hotter. I decide I have to pull a Donner party and risk sacrificing the car to get out of there. But I go slow, between 40 and 50 mph, riding in the far right hand lane, the little Blue Frog tucked in between the hill grinding, big long-haul trucks.


The Blue Frog holds on. The little beads on the dash show the engine cooling.


Next stop is Baker and the World's Tallest Thermometer.

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