Wednesday, July 23, 2008

... But didn't get too far

We didn't get as far as we'd planned.

After staying the night at the Frank Llyod Wright-designed Marin Civic Center (which I'm sure I talked about in another post somewhere), we headed up to Shasta Dam. Along the way, I noticed my heel was getting rather hot, pressing the pedal. Burning, in fact. But I chalked it up to the fact that it was usually a bit hot under there and we'd just removed the disgusting old carpet which covered it. Still, it was hot.

So we arrived at Shasta Dam, our first destination. All the way up, the air was thick with what we initially assumed to be fog. Then we sniffed it. It was smoke. Huge wildfires were burning in the area, and there was thick smoke clouding the air. It was difficult to see more than a mile or so at a time.

Shasta Dam is the second-largest dam in the US, and is very impressive. We walked out onto the dam and looked out over the lake. The lake edges were more like extremely high cliffs of orange stone. Far on the other side of the lake, waterskiers zoomed. It was surprisingly hot considering the amount of smoke covering the sun, and muggy by California standards. Water cascaded halfway down the dam's spillway in two small white stripes. We were very high up.
On the guided tour of the dam, security was tight. No cameras, bags or electronics were allowed. A uniformed police officer asked us to take out all our metal objects before walking through the metal detector. (We'd previously stowed our USB keys and pocketknife from our keyrings back in the Fat Kiwi, at the advice of the warden in the information centre - they would be confiscated.)

(We went down there on our tour! The pipes carrying water to the turbines are about 1.5 times the height of a person.)

Our main guide was a plump black woman with short, fuzzy hair. She rattled through the introductory statistics about the dam with the air of what we initially thought was boredom, but then realised was intense concentration and rememberance. It must be her first day, we decided.

We walked into the elevator at the top of one of the dam towers. It plunged down 12 stories, one story per second. There were 15 stories in total. We stepped out into a cool, green-tiled passageway lit with fluorescent lights, and turned the corner. The passageway stretched out in front of us. The guide led the way. As she talked, the echoes reverberated and came back. "...We are now walking through the thickest point of the dam," the guide was saying. Suddenly she shouted. "DAY-AM!" The ten people on the tour jumped. The echoes came back. "I always wanted to do that," she said apologetically. Everyone laughed. Yep, definitely her first day.

We also got to see the five huge turbines which generate electricity. Each was so large that the top rotator alone was three stories! Most of it was underground though. The water roared through the turbines with enough force that every second there would be enough water to fill a swimming pool. Here are the statistics for all you people who like big, impressive numbers.

We left Shasta and drove to Weed, the next town. The engine overheated, so we had to stop. The needle on the speedometer also was jumping up and down around the 55mph mark, which was odd. We waited in Weed for an hour at the petrol station for the radiator to cool down so we could open it, but it was full. So, it wasn't the radiator which was making the speedo jump. So we decided to park down the road from the mechanic's in Weed for the night, and go there first thing in the morning.

Just as we were about to go to sleep, there were strong lights outside and a loud knocking on the van door. It was the police! Apparently we were parked on private land. Oops. The officer suggested we stay at the truck rest stop down the road. (We already had looked at it, but decided it was too full of enormous trucks for a little Fat Kiwi to squeeze in there.) So we went back to the rest stop and parked in the corner of a blocked-off road, next to about 5 trucks. We were supposed to already be in Oregon!

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