For its 100th anniversary issue, Via gave me a fun and challenging assignment: to photograph Mount Shasta as a re-creation of a 1927 Via cover painted by George Mannel. And in place of the classic car, I was to use a futuristic car in production today—a nod to a feature in the issue, “The Road Trip of the Future."
So in late May, I found myself in the town of Mount Shasta inside a “salsa red” Toyota Mirai. In Japanese, mirai means “future,” which I suppose is appropriate, as this is one of the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the consumer market. I read up on the specs ahead of my trip: The car generates power by combining the hydrogen stored in the fuel tanks with oxygen from the outside air coming in through the front intake grills. The only by-product is water, which exits through the tailpipe.
I had never been in any electric car before, so it was a little unnerving to sit in a running vehicle that is absolutely silent. It was also my favorite thing about the Mirai, as I am very opposed to noise pollution. The interior was comfortable, with plush seats upholstered in white faux leather and a dashboard with several fancy LED displays. I spent some time familiarizing myself with the layout and connected my phone with Bluetooth for some tunes.
Once I figured out how to shift into drive—the electronic gearshift doesn’t have that familiar sensation of moving between grooves, and I kept accidentally shifting into reverse—I headed toward Lake Siskiyou for a test drive and location scout. The Mirai had been delivered to me in Shasta, and it had only 190 miles of hydrogen in the tank. (A full tank has just over a 300-mile range.) And the closest hydrogen-filling station was in Sacramento—220 miles away! That was a little scary, and I knew I needed to be sparing on distance.
As I drove through the Cascades, a modest beeping emitted from the dash when I took sharp turns on the winding road. This, I found out, is the lane departure warning, activated when the car crosses over the median or the outside line. At first I thought it was cool, but soon it became distracting. I’m not one to stay inside the lines, but this sure made my lack of precision driving obvious! The car felt heavy in a good way, sticking to the road and accelerating with a wonderful responsiveness, but every time I stepped on the accelerator, I got a tinge of anxiety about my limited mileage and lack of fuel.
I couldn’t find the exact vantage that the watercolor painter used in 1927. I’d be inclined to say that the scene is very near where I-5 currently passes through town. However, the final image does in fact convey the future: It was shot using a drone high above Lake Siskiyou in the low light of a beautiful evening—something that even a few years ago would have seemed like science fiction.