"Nothing but sagebrush for 130 miles," said the construction worker in the orange vest who was temporarily blocking U.S. Highway 20 in eastern Oregon.
As my Volvo idled in the midday heat, I looked past her at the landscape - at the dry, slowly rising hills matted with blue-green-purple tufts of hip-high scrub - then down at my map, and was impressed with her precision: For almost exactly 130 miles to the east, south and west, there was indeed nothing but sagebrush. This really was the desert.
I shut off the engine and crossed my fingers, hoping the car and I would survive.
I almost hadn't made it this far. Back in Idaho, in 95-degree heat, the car had developed a troubling tendency to seize up with vapor locks, its liquid fuel turning gaseous and unusable, leaving me sweating and frantic at the roadside.