Finding the Ocean – Chapter 8

On September 1, 2017, I did something a little crazy. (Again.) On a complete and utter whim, I took off on a 4,700 mile road trip to go find the ocean. Just me… and the dog.

Continue along on my healing and soul-inspiring journey below, or start from the beginning


After leaving the Sinclair Truck Stop on the Bonneville Salt Flats with a full tank of gas and a new respect for the desert heat, I was anxious to put Utah behind me and cross the Nevada border. I’d been staring at nothing but flat white ground for the past hour and a half, and I was ready for some new scenery.

Just before reaching the town of Wendover, I had a pretty view on either side of me and was optimistic that I was in for a nice, scenic stretch. These two rocky bluffs on either side of the road were the most beautiful things I’d seen since leaving Salt Lake City.

As I passed through the tiny town of Wendover (population 1,454), it didn’t take long before I hit the state line. And yes, the scenery changed abruptly, with three large casinos announcing my arrival into West Wendover, Nevada (population 4,305).

And just like that, West Wendover was behind me and I was in for the longest, hottest, most boring stretch of driving since I’d started my road trip.

It went on, and on, and on.

Driving along I-80 in Nevada reminded me of driving on the bottom of a dried-up ocean. It was all sand and weeds for as far as the eye could see. On occasion, I would see a herd of cows and wondered how in the world they could survive in the heat. It was 104 degrees, and after my previous mishaps with a flat tire and a near-empty gas tank, I worried what else could possibly go wrong along this long, desolate stretch of road.

I turned up the radio and kept driving.

About an hour and a half later, I made it to Elko, Nevada and stopped at the Food Mart, mostly out of sheer boredom. I topped-off the gas tank (because I was logical and pre-planny now), made myself a peanut butter sandwich, and took the dog for a quick stroll. Before taking off, I decided to check Google Maps to see how long it was going to take me to reach San Francisco. I’d been driving since 6 AM, and though I was anxious to find the ocean, I was determined to find somewhere to sleep that wasn’t a rest area. I wanted a real bed… or at the very least, a shower.

I checked the map. Reno was still four hours away, meaning I’d probably roll in there around 7 PM. After that, it was another four hours to San Francisco. Dang it. That wasn’t going to work. I’d never be able to find a dog-friendly hotel in San Francisco at 11 PM. Well… one thing was for sure. I couldn’t sleep in the car in this crazy heat. At the very least, I needed to get the hell out of Nevada.

I kept driving.

I stopped one more time in Lovelock, Nevada and topped-off my gas tank again. I grabbed another water from the back seat, opened a jar of Ross’s homemade salsa, ripped open a bag of tortilla chips, and started again.

Oh my Lord, the monotony. There wasn’t enough 70s music in the world to pull me out of this funk. I just kept eating Tostitos and driving 80 miles an hour, hoping to eventually find the end of Nevada.


FINALLY I made it to Reno. Outside my passenger window, I could see a huge outdoor event taking place. It spanned several city blocks, and there were THOUSANDS of people packed shoulder to shoulder with dozens of tents and food trucks lining the street.

What was happening down there? What were all those people doing? What was I missing?

DANG IT! I wanted to stop.

(I found out later that the big fun thing I missed was the annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off – “America’s biggest free-entry grilling competition,” located at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada, just outside of Reno. The six-day event features two dozen of the world’s best barbecuers who serve up more than 240,000 pounds of ribs on Victorian Square over Labor Day weekend each year.)

I REALLY wanted to stop. Suddenly, I wanted a shower, and a bed, and a real meal. More than anything, I just wanted to STOP DRIVING. I was sick of feeling like some kind of homeless convict on the lam.

For a brief moment, I gave some serious thought to sneaking Zoey into a hotel and trying to pass her off as a therapy dog. I looked back at her and wondered. She stared at me in curiosity, then jumped to her feet and thumped her tail in excitement. “WHAT’S HAPPENING?!” Sigh. It would never work. Zoey was just too damn happy and enthusiastic to be a therapy dog.

I kept driving.

Hot. Tired. Hungry. Cranky.

I was seriously starting to hate Nevada.

And then… I saw a pine tree. In the middle of all that heat and sand and sage brush, I saw a PINE TREE. And then I spotted another, and another. Before long, there were pine trees lining both sides of the road, and on the honor of my Christmas-tree-farmin’ father, I can honestly say I have never been so happy to see a pine tree in all my life.

Over the next few miles, the flat, sandy land started to morph into rocky, pine-covered hills. I opened the sun roof and breathed in the cool, pine air.

And then, suddenly…  there I was.


I had finally made it.

It only got better after that. The difference in the landscape between Nevada and California was so vastly different, it made my head spin and my soul surge. This is what I was talking about. This is what I had in mind.

It was just after sunset when I pulled off I-80 and into the beautiful little town of Truckee, California. I was just north of Lake Tahoe, another place I’d wanted to visit my entire adult life, but in that moment, I didn’t care. I had fallen in love with Truckee.

Photo credit

I cruised slowly down the main drag, looking for an open parking space. There were none. Everywhere, people were seated at sidewalk tables under strings of lights, drinking, eating, laughing, and listening to music. It was finally cool enough that I could leave Zoey in the car, but after a quick look in the rearview mirror, I realized I not only FELT like a homeless convict on the lam, I also looked like one. No problem. I just needed a shower and a place to stay for the night. I started Googling.

I found a listing for Donner Memorial State Park and clicked the “Directions” button. I found it without a problem and fell immediately in love with the place. Unfortunately, it was closed. Oh well. There were two other campgrounds within a one mile radius. I drove by the first one… no vacancy. I drove by the second one… same thing.

Hmm. Well, no worries. By now I had discovered beautiful Donner Lake and realized there were cabins for rent all the way around it. I slowed down for each one. No vacancy. I remembered at that point that it was Labor Day weekend. Tomorrow was Labor Day. I was near Lake Tahoe. No wonder everything was full.

Regardless, I wouldn’t allow myself to give in. I was determined to find a place. I followed Donner Pass Road along the north side of the lake, stopping each time I saw anything that resembled a cabin, resort, or motel. No luck. Everything was full.

It was well past dark and I was feeling pretty defeated when Ross called. I told him about this beautiful little town I’d discovered, and he immediately knew where I was. I told him I wanted to come back to this place some day, to stay on this lake, and eat in this town, and take a moment to just breathe it all in and enjoy it.

That’s when he said, “There’s a nice rest area near there, on Donner Pass.”

I’d heard enough.

I wasn’t a trucker. I didn’t want to sleep in another rest area. I wanted to take a SHOWER, then go back to that little town and order a glass of wine in a REAL GLASS and eat some pasta with a REAL FORK. Then, I wanted to return to my dog-friendly cabin and sleep in a REAL BED and finally get a decent night’s sleep. I would wake up in the morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, find a charming little place to buy a scone and a latté, then I would be on my way to go find the ocean.

But, instead, I kept driving.

I pulled into the nice rest area on Donner Pass, crawled into the back of my Ford Explorer, and tried to fall asleep next to my snoring dog for the third night in a row.

I fell asleep wondering what all the logical and pre-planny people were doing at that moment. Probably having a glass of wine in a real glass and eating pasta with a real fork. I hated them and hoped they all had to drive back home through Nevada.

Next time… THE OCEAN!!



  1. I live in Sparks, Nevada! Joy – you didn’t give our beautiful state enough credit. There are some spectacularly beautiful areas in Elko, Reno, Incline Village, etc. that you and Zoey would have loved. Oh, well. Next time!

  2. joy.the.curious |

    Hubbcapper, thanks for your reply. Don’t worry, I will be back again, and I promise to do it right next time!

  3. So much fun and adventure. As you write and I read I imagine and remember like scenarios of my youth. You are really good at this writing thing Joy. Take care till our next installment 🙂

  4. Hi Joy, when you said you felt like you were driving through a dried up lake bed I think you really were! The Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats were both created by a prehistoric lake that covered a lot of Utah and parts of Nevada so I think you were right! I’m glad you and your pup got through alright though especially with the heat. Take care and good luck on this next part of your journey.

  5. Love your blog! You are doing what a lot of us have thought about or threatened to do. Can’t wait for the next segment….

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