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Pat didn’t abandon me but, but elected to follow me out to Utah just in case something happened and we had to tow Lucy back. It was also a chance for him to see my brother, one of his closest friends, so it was a win-win. After the thermostat “incident” and checking to make sure the lugs were torqued tightly, we finally left his shop a quarter before noon on Saturday. I had previously thought I would add in a ski day, but it just felt slightly decadent with my wife and son waiting at home; I elected to save that trip for another day. As I set out, I felt anxiety slowly engulf me as the reality of a cross-country journey in a half-century-old car started to flood my mind.
I quickly compartmentalized the fear of breaking down on two lane black top outside of cell phone range by taking a quick stop at the filling station in Mammoth to top off the tank. The gas station stop not only filled my car's tanks but my own. Sitting there pumping away, I was surprised and fulfilled by the people who came up to me with some connection to the S30. Their dad had one, their best friend in high school had one, their mom's sister's husband had one; it was the coolest thing ever. These were relatively cheap sports cars that the average person could afford, so a large swath of America has a bond with it. It’s an everyman’s sport enthusiast vehicle and that’s what I love about it. The Datsun Club is warm and roomy; I was thrilled to be in its folds. With the safe arms of the community hugging me, my anxiety abated and I was ready for the highway, and what a highway awaited me.
If you've never been up Rt. 395 to Mammoth Lakes and driven through that area, it is absolutely gorgeous. The landscape pops against the desolation of that part of the country. Driving through that emptiness, my anxiety revisited when I noticed the car wasn’t holding a constant temp. Heading up through mountain passes towards Tonopah, the engine warmed to operating temp and then cooled off to about 140 degrees on the way down. I fretted that maybe the thermostat I had replaced was faulty as well. I ultimately came to the conclusion that the radiators on these cars are so big and efficient that even with the thermostat closed, they couldn't stay warm with an ambient temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit outside. An hour into the trip, I realized just how cheap the APC "performance" seats really were. My ass groaned at the thought of 8 more hours.
While my nethers reached a new state of numbness, my mind reeled in the bliss that is the 240Z. Modern cars aren't really cars any more, but merely transportation appliances. This ancient machine was pure driving pleasure: every bump in the road was felt, and every turn was earned through the lack of power steering. The chassis was stiff with little body roll. I took a mental inventory of the feel through the winding mountain passes. This was an actual car. Rather than just mash the pedal, I had to feather the throttle gently and feel the clutch out up the passes to avoid any slipping. It pulled surprisingly harder than I was expecting while heading up the inclines and I could really lay into the turns on the way down.
Lucy amazed me as I learned her, and the smile on my face grew wider through each turn. Pat’s headlights slowly dimmed into the distance as I pushed her through the twisties and then eased back down on the straights to let him catch back up. We successfully made it to Tonopah, Nevada and then Eli with no issues, other than the temperamental clutch. I stopped for gas at every opportunity. I wasn't sure how accurate the gauge was nor what kind of mileage the2.8L (transplanted from a 280) mated to a 5-speed transmission would net me. I was worried about running low on fuel as well as overheating the pump.
We made it to SLC around 9 PM and stopped at In-N-Out for a victory burger. You should never pass up an opportunity to get food not found in your neck of the woods. After a Double-Double and some Animal Style fries, we continued on to the outskirts of Park City, Utah. Lucy made it up the steady grade on I-80 just fine. As we took the exit for my brother's place and started driving the back roads to his house, my anxiety rang again replaying a scary scenario. My brother has hit quite a few deer on this road, as their feeding grounds are the grassy plains right next to it. I was following Pat at this point, so I maintained some distance just in case a deer popped out. We passed a house that stole my attention because of two people standing out in front of it looking at something across the road. As my eyes darted back to the road, a deer jumped out between Pat and I. I swerved hard to the left and barely missed it. My heart was pounding and I was scared shitless there would be more. I slowed down to well below the speed limit for the last couple of miles to his house. We made it. Mission Accomplished. No issues at all save for sore butt.
The hard part was over. No matter what happened at this point, I was along a major thoroughfare and wouldn't have any issues getting a transport company to get it now. We shot the shit for a couple of hours before crashing for the night, telling old war stories of being rural teenagers with nothing better to do.
In the morning, we got up and the stories continued over a couple cups of coffee. I laid on the floor most of the time because my butt was having trouble rebooting and sitting didn’t help it un-numb. Around 11 AM, we started talking about the rest of the journey and whether or not Lucy would make it. Pat told me “stop being a pussy about it and just do it.” He said I'd regret it if I didn't do it, and that once I made it home, I would say “That was awesome. I ain't ever fucking doing that again.” I decided to chance it and go for it. It turns out I left at the perfect time.