Palmdale Adventure, Part II

The drive from Mojave to Bakersfield across the Tehachapis was all the lovelier for it being the first really green area i’d seen since leaving the Bay Area through Altamont Pass…and some irrigated fields and orchards in the valley. California has had a very dry winter, and the drought has been especially pronounced in the south, which is already desert to begin with, so it’s looking really barren this year.

And the drive up 99 from Bakersfield is at least different from I-5, which i’ve traveled so many times that i’ve seen everything it has to offer. And since 99 runs straight up the valley floor, just like I-5, so the boredom potential is high.

But just as the fact that i’d been behind the wheel since 8:00 AM began to sink in somewhere north of Fresno, i was snapped back to reality by bleating sounds from my console and flashing lights all over the instrument panel. Hmm, i thought, why not take this exit?

And rolled into the parking lot of a Long John Silver’s. Hadn’t been in one of those since i left Midland in the seventies, and remembered their fish and chips as being fairly good. I’m cutting back on my carbohydrates now, so i skipped the chips, and as a public service i want to warn everybody that no matter how hungry you are and how dreadful looking the alternatives, under no circumstances should you ever eat the fish at Long John Silver’s.

But while i was choking it down since i’d paid for it, i dug into the owner’s manual and read the pages dealing with the instrument panel icons i was seeing. The first couple were adamant that the driver should immediately evacuate the vehicle and stand at a safe distance while it was airlifted by trained personnel to the nearest fully authorized Toyota dealer. And then i read a little more and decoded another icon and gave a great sigh of relief.

It was just the brakes.

And maybe also the automatic vehicle stability system, which is apparently intertwined with the brakes. Not an insurmountable problem, i decided, certainly not compared with being stuck in Modesto on a Saturday night and Sunday and then Monday at a garage, especially since i was unwilling to let any of those Central Valley bestiality-prone farm boy mechanics touch my Prius there or anywhere.

But to confirm my diagnosis i opened the hood and sniffed cautiously.

Everything smelled fine. I mean, clearly nothing was overheated and the radiator cap was barely even hot. And since i was in there i went ahead and checked the oil level.

And then rolled around in the parking lot stomping on the brakes repeatedly until the security guard started acting twitchy, so before he drew on me i eased back out onto 99, prudently remaining in the right lane and keeping my speed below 60….and occasionally tapping the brakes out of curiosity.

Kept checking the instrumentation and saw that the main battery was being replenished properly and both engine and motor seemed to be functioning normally and as time passed i stopped looking at the readouts. Well, until darkness had fallen and i was ascending the east side of Altamont Pass and noticed i was losing speed. And that even depressing the accelerator to the floor only slowed the loss. Oh dear.

At 35, i pulled onto the paved shoulder and ran along there, checking the instruments and determining that the the motor had stopped working because the main battery was no longer being charged and had been depleted. I crested the pass on the engine alone at 30 and then immediately started gaining speed and got back out into the slow lane. But fairly quickly had to tap the brakes to slow down since the motor was not engaged and spinning in reverse to generate electricity and coincidentally provide some drag.

Do you know how much it hurts a Prius driver to be coasting down a long, steep grade without generating a single damn watt of electricity? My screams frightened the coyotes.

But i made it through Oakland, over the bridge, and home although it was touch and go up Noe Street, a far steeper hill than Altamont Pass, and i limped in at 10 at 10, MPH and PM, respectively.

And when i was unpacking the car couldn’t find my camera or the keys for my new Segway, but i took care of that problem with a double gin and tonic, a cyclobenzaprine, and two lorazepams – which went to work rapidly.

Here’s what the hunter came home with

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