Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

A person had better suck it up before attempting the long-haul drive from Napa to Los Angeles with minimal pit stops.

Cheryl and I did it a week ago. We left Napa at 4:30 a.m. and blasted south on I-5.

During our planning, more than one person suggested that we fly to L.A. Why endure gritty hours motoring through one of California’s most desolate landscapes when you can be there in an hour by air.

We were on the fence. We compared airline fares. We looked at what it would cost to rent a car in L.A. I even checked out long-term parking at Bay Area and Sacramento airports.

All this added up to a lot more than the cost of gasoline for Cheryl’s Prius, which I estimated would get close to 50 mpg.

Were I to throw in car wear and tear, the drive option jumps in price, but not enough to exceed the cost of plane travel.

And what’s this talk of a one-hour trip to L.A.? When travel time to the airport, requested early gate arrival and car renting are thrown in, we’d have to commit four or five hours, which isn’t that much less than the seven or eight hours that Cheryl and I figured it would take to drive.

Also, we kinda like the 400-mile drive. It’s the adventure of the open road.

Ours is an intensely Napa-centric life. We drive at tepid speeds to local work and shopping and never feel the thrill of Zoom!

Nor is there any Zoom! driving the major roads of the Bay Area. It’s all creep and bursts of speed that end almost as soon as they begin. I’m not a speed demon, but occasionally you just want to drive, baby, drive.

You can do that on the trip to L.A., especially if you drive strategically. We planned to leave Napa before dawn.

We would miss the Bay Area’s morning commute mess and arrive before L.A.’s afternoon commute mess, with plenty of daylight left to enjoy being down there.

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Clever, yes?

Cheryl is our I-5 warrior. On the open road, she gets into the zone and can hardly be persuaded to let me behind the wheel. I offer to drive, she declines ... nearly every time. On departure day, we left Napa on empty stomachs and uncaffeinated so as to not require an immediate bathroom break. We got as far as Santa Nella on I-5 before pulling over for Starbucks pastry and dark roast.

Gobble, gobble, sip, sip, back in the car until we hit Harris Ranch in Coalinga to use their john and a quick walk through the gift shop.

Back in the car, then zoom, zoom until The Outlets at Tejon at the foot of the Grapevine. During this 30-minute layover, Cheryl looked at couches and bought two butter dishes on deep discount. I ate the lunch that I’d brought with me. People say the scenery along I-5 is too bleak, that nothing happens for hours at a stretch.

Look, a cattle feed lot! And over there — an almond orchard! And another one! I can’t deny the profound emptiness that suggests that somehow we took a wrong turn toward Nevada. But this emptiness serves a purpose. It cleanses the mind. It blows out the Bay Area mindset. After hitting up the outlet center, Cheryl relented and handed over the wheel. The next two hours were mine: the climb to 4,000 feet through the Tejon Pass, the cruise into L.A., the welter of freeway lanes.

During this exchange of seats, a fly flew into the car. I hardly noticed. My eyes were fixed on the road. But the fly gave Cheryl fits.

At one point she told me to hold still. Of course I’ll hold still. I’m driving! Then she whacked me.

What the hell, Cheryl!

Fly had landed on my shoulder. She was trying to kill it.

This fly was the only unexpected thing on our marathon drive to L.A. The rest was driving and more driving, pedal to the metal, ag and golden hills as far as the eye could see. We arrived an hour before we could claim our motel room. To kill time, we found the pool, spread out on the lawn and snacked on munchies.

We congratulated ourselves on our driving stamina. The day was still young, yet here we were, in Los Angeles, lolling by a pool.

This is what bombing down I-5 will get you.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.