Saturday, September 05, 2009

Parting Shots and Closing Thoughts

A few thoughts to wrap up a road trip.

As originally envisioned, I was going to be on the road for 3 weeks, traveling about 5500 miles. As you can see, the trip ballooned a little bit. The final count was 33 days and just under 7900 miles. I was not driving every single day, having breaks in Chicago, Saint Paul, Seattle, and Portland, but I did all of the driving of those miles. And outside of those four cities, I did all of the driving by myself.

I've been asked since I got home if I would have done anything differently. For one thing, I would have done a little more planning, especially in and around Yellowstone. The problem was that I did not know how far I was going to get on any given day, which made planning difficult. On the obvious question, that being of actually going with someone on this trip, I'm not so sure. Especially on the first leg (Route 66 to Chicago), it was very important for me to get away from everything and everyone, and just have the time on the road to myself. And once you start on the road, not knowing where and when you are going to land, it is difficult to plan on bringing someone in for a later leg.

What did I learn (or confirm what I already knew)? Humidity is a killer, a lot more than just high temperatures. When spread out over a few miles, thousands of feet in elevation can be picked up all but unnoticed. People want to hear your stories. People want to tell you their stories. People want to help each other, especially once they know each others' stories. 600 miles on one road is easier driving than 150 miles changing highways. I will always get pulled over on the first day of a road trip (but I might not get a ticket). There is no more helpless a feeling on a road trip than seeing your car up on a lift with the hood open. The most annoying and panic-inducing idiot light on the dashboard is the Check Engine light. The most fun idiot light on the dashboard is the windshield washer fluid light. One of the most complicated mechanical devices that we have (an internal combustion engine), can be brought back seemingly from the brink of death by a few rounds of electrical tape. South Dakota Public Radio is always available in South Dakota, but they know the borders of the state and the range of their towers (the second I left SD, the signal disappeared). People give you funny looks if you don't take the shortest possible route to wherever you are going, but will still give you directions that will get you there the way you want to go.

Now I'm back home, looking for a job and a place to live. Out of fantasyland and back into realityland. I can't shake the feeling that I should be driving again. I'm sure that feeling will fade after a few days or a week. Or maybe I'll have to do this again (on a MUCH smaller scale). Motels, diners, and the open road are fun for a while, but it is good to be back on solid ground with static scenery.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Road Trip By the Numbers




Gallons of gasoline






States traveled through


States where money was spent


Days under 30 miles (6 days with 0 miles)


Times crossing the Continental Divide (4 in one day)


Tri-state days


National Parks (Petrified Forrest, Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Crater Lake, Redwoods)


Days over 400 miles


Most nights in one state (Oregon)


National Monuments (Wupatki, Little Big Horn)


Creatures larger than a bug hit (not for the animals' lack of trying)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

7879.3 (232.4) Miles to San Francisco, California

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Started the day driving down to Boonville and the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Took a tour of the brewery, then tried a couple of beers besides the amber. They're good, but not as good. Picked up a couple of items at the shop, stopped in town for lunch, and then climbed back over the coastal range to Highway 1.

Drove south down Highway 1 for the rest of the day. Across Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin Counties. Through Bodega Bay, Stinson Beach, Point Reyes, and a number of other towns. Up and down hills and around coastal curves, along the shoreline and through forests, and finally across the Golden Gate Bridge and back into San Francisco. Took the scenic route through the city, and down to the beach. Then I made my way home.

The trip as originally conceived was around 3 weeks and 5500 miles. When I landed today, It was the end of day 33 and just under 7900 miles later. Stay tuned for some road trip wrap-up posts in the coming days as I start to return to "real" life.

Picture: My first view of San Francisco since I put it to my back on day 1, from Highway 1 in Marin County.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

7649.9 (338.9) Miles to Fort Bragg, California

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Tried again to deal with the car this morning. (Un?)fortunately, the car decided to not cooperate by...cooperating. So I gave up on fixing the car in Medford, and instead will just stare at the check engine light for a little while longer. The car only had a few misfires today, so barring a disaster, I should be able to make it home without a problem.

Leaving Medford, I drove north on I-5 up to Grants Pass, where (after a lunch break) I turned south on US-199. 199 took me into California for the first time since day 1. I wound my way down the curving roads until 199 merges onto 101. Followed 101 down the coast, stopping once at a beach in Del Norte County, where I stood at the water line as the waves came up to my feet, enjoying the first ocean I had seen in a month. I also took a couple of scenic alternate roads through redwood groves. Dense growths of giant trees created long dark patches on the road. I might as well have been going through a tunnel for all the sunlight that made it to the ground.

I had been thinking for a while that I must have missed the turn for Highway 1, but south of the Avenue of the Giants (a long road of redwood trees), the sign finally appeared. As the sun started its westward descent, I turned off down another tree-tunnel road. Lots of sharp turns and climbs and descents. At one point, I felt like I would never make it to the coastline. I think I was heading east for a while at another point. And every time I thought I must have finished the last climb over the coastal range, the road started to switchback up again. And then, just after sunset, a sliver of water appeared in a gap between two mountains.

I drove for another hour above the ocean as dusk turned to darkness, often just above the water as the road curved along the cliff faces. Now I'm sitting in Fort Bragg on my last night of this trip.

Tomorrow I'll keep following Highway 1 down across the coast, save for a short run inland to the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Then across the Golden Gate Bridge and back into San Francisco.

Monday, August 31, 2009

7311.0 (297.5) Miles to Medord, Oregon

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Spent the morning in Eugene dealing (apparently unsuccessfully) with the car. Last night, one of the headlights burned out. So I took the car in this morning to get the spark plug wires replaced, the headlights replaced, and got a new set of tires (so I actually have TREAD). I got a couple of blocks away, and the check engine light came back on. So I drove BACK to the mechanic, and the claim was that the wires were not inserted completely. So they did it, cleared the code, and off I went. And within 100 miles, the check engine light was back on, and the car doing its thing again. All of which means, lucky me, I get to do it AGAIN tomorrow.

The car was still running, though, so I continued my drove south out of Eugene, making my way towards Crater Lake National Park. Took some Oregon backcountry highways along the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers. Then I drove into Crater Lake National Park, which was created as the 6th National Park, and is the only one in Oregon. Crater Lake was formed when Mount Mazama collapsed under the force of a volcano, sealing the bottom of the caldera. Water collected, creating the lake. Because the lake is almost entirely rainfall and snow melt, it is some of the clearest water you will ever see. The clarity gives Crater Lake a blue unlike any you are likely to see in nature. I drove around the rim road, stopping at different overlooks. The rock walls drop steeply to the water's edge, as the cinder cone collapsed under the intense heat and pressure. There is a large island that rises out of one end of the lake, created by a later eruption from the crater floor. There are cones in other parts of the lake, but the tallest of them are only large enough to reach just under 500 feet below the surface of the lake.

Note from the north entrance road in Crater Lake National Park:

Just below Crater Rim Drive there is an open space with almost no trees, surrounded on all sides by dense forests. When Mount Mazama blew and collapsed, this area was covered with pumice. Almost nothing can grow in the arid soil, even with more than enough water seeping through the rocks below. For centuries, this stretch will bear the scars of the violence that created the beauty above.

As I left the park, I was driving down towards Medford, Oregon through the forest. I came around a turn, and saw a small deer looking up the road at me. Worried that he would dart across the road, and not wanting to hit the creature, I slammed on the brakes. The deer got spooked, turned around, and scampered off into the forest. He had disappeared into the trees by the time I got to him, keeping intact my streak of hitting nothing larger than a bug.

Tomorrow I'll attempt to deal with the car in the morning, then head up to Grants Pass, and then down US-199, finally getting back to California and the Pacific coast. Then I'll work my way down Highway 1. San Francisco and the end of the road is in sight.

Pictures: Different views of Crater Lake, including a close up to show the color.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

7013.5 (120.5) Miles to Eugene, Oregon

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Spent the morning and early afternoon in Portland, spending a few extra hours with my uncle. Then got on the road south to Eugene. Another nice drive through fields and past mountains and over rolling hills. Then I landed in Eugene, where my guide showed me the way through the streets and out into the country. I'm now at a country house, built on a few acres of land outside of Eugene, with forests and groves and farms and one long road. It is so quiet out here. My cell phone is worthless except as a paperweight, my car is parked in the middle of a yard, and I am as relaxed as I've been almost anywhere on this trip.

Tomorrow, I'll make my way towards Crater Lake. I'm learning of other roads that I can use to pick my way south as I work the home stretch towards SF and the end.

Friday, August 28, 2009

6893.0 (21.8 + 181.8) Miles to Portland, Oregon

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Spent a few days in Seattle. Didn't play tourist at all, missed all the usual spots. Of course, I'll get a chance to try them again in a few months. Seattle is nice when it's not late November. The sun was out, it was warm, didn't need jackets. Spent some time with family, and had a few relaxing days (with good food as a bonus).

Drove down to Portland yesterday. For about 120 miles, every time I looked left (and past the tree line) I could see Mount Rainier. It really does dominate the skyline in southern Washington, sitting separate from (although part of) the Cascades. Made it to Portland and to my uncle's house, even though I did overshoot and get just a little turned around. He gave me a quick driving tour of downtown, and I'll go exploring there today.

Portland today and tomorrow, then Eugene, Crater Lake, and the California coast.