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.