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Team OYB: Road Trip Lessons Learned

July 09, 2009

[9 of 10.] All of our trip Entries were updated after we got home, with relevant new tips and pics added.

So, here's an easy first for the Lessons category...

Lesson #1: We only ate good food on this trip. No junk food, no MickyDee's, no pop or candy. We knew that 6000 miles of driving would require solid health and nerves. So while on the road we drank water and ate almonds, dried apricots, hard boiled eggs, and carrots and apples dunked in peanut butter.

Lesson: I did nearly all the long hard driving so I did use some stimulants. Instead of coke or coffee I took occasional small sips of that 5-Hour Energy stuff (the concentrate, not the corn syruppy beverage type). It was easy to control and didn't seem to have bad effects other than one of the brands had like 8000% of B12 which made me a bit gassy, ahem.

Our road-food method worked great for health and its related morale as well as for cash-flow, and the kids didn't even fuss.

Lesson: There are 2 basic ways to run a road trip.

1.) Slow-days; small towns; keep eye out for nifty things; fairly short overall distance; no major destination hanging out.

2.) Fast transfers plus lingering at destinations. Long range is possible here. So is lingering.

We have tended to try to do both: our destinations usually involve California uncles (far away) yet we're driving and don't want to stress out and we believe in a mellow pace. If you attempt both long-range and slow-pace be ready for LONG trips. Obvious...but...

We ended up dawdling on our way out. Thus we didn't have much time with one uncle. Then we blasted home on freeways since we did pause awhile in L.A. There ya have it.

The "fast transfer" concept reminds me of the roots of French cyclotouring that I've read about in "Bicycle Culture Quarterly." It's also the roots of randonneuring. The French, as of the 1930's, often started a bike touring vacation with a day or two of nonstop riding--sometimes thru the night---to get through an early dull region so they could set up more of a base camp in a desirable area where they'd ride for a few more enjoyable, ideal days, before making a big blast home again. Cool. Works with cars, too. A fast transfer, furthermore, isn't without its charms. You get into the flow of distance travel. The daily routine abbreviates, less lollygagging but it can still be OK, tolerable. It gets you there. Pronto. Far.

Lesson: I don't know if it's June or if it's the Depression, but it seemed like there was hardly anyone on the road vacationing, especially compared with our trip of 6 years ago, but that was in August. I'd guess there were 5X fewer minivans and RVs on the road with turtle-tops now compared to back then. We still saw quite a few eastbound on I-80...just far fewer.

Lesson: It's hard to combine work and pleasure. Or even a trip along with journaling and photography, say. Or a trip with intermittant wifi access and the uploading of brief reports and a few pics. OK, I suppose this stuff is toughest on a BIG LONG FAST trip. As for introducing myself and the OYB Indie Outdoor Cause at nifty bike shops and outdoor sports places, etc., along the way: fuggitaboutit. (I did leave catazeens and Local Spirit stickers off at Absolute Bikes in Salida, CO.) However, I'd say any/all of this sort of thing would be a cinch on a 2-week trip of up to a 1000 mile diameter. Lastly, it's even been hella hard finding the time to input these final pics and updates! I don't intend these Entries to be an introverted Journal. I hope they contain useful travel info. Who knows! You lemme know, if you like.

Lesson: Get up to date camping guides and state maps and a fresh atlas for any major trip. Being ignorant of late-night camping options will cost you plenty. Most "obvious" camping areas have lots of amenities and cost $30/night these days for a family. This is fine if you're lingering; more costly if you're passing through. (Our maps were out of date; too coarse; and left at home.)

Lesson: Bring multimedia rigs. Separate headphones and miniplayers. DVDs and books-on-tape. Oh yeah! A GPS isn't a bad idea neither.

Lesson: Check motel ventilation settings if evil air bothers you. I neglected this *once* and got NAILED. When institutional ventilation systems turn on by surprise in the middle of the night---cold, hot or strong---I suffer. I usually get sick---a sore throat, then a cold. Yeah, I'm a lung-wimp. This last bout has been lingering for 3 weeks now in its various charming stages. Ugh! I'm also a restaurant frigidaire wimp---if I've been in the heat all day and go into a building that has strong freezing institutional air blasting, I just can't hang loose---I gotta bundle up. Martha is somewhat similar---when we're in the United States we typically dress for winter when we go into Publicly Marketed Spaces in the summer; and we dress for summer when we go out in the winter. Yeah, the joke is on the world, ain't it. (I vote for 70F summer, 65F winter as official institutional/marketed temps. Save the world, why not. While we're at it, don't try to make your deserts green. It's embarrassing on every level.)

Lesson: Use earplugs if noise bothers you. The noise insanity of America bothers me at times, but now at least I sleep through it. Bring it on, ridiculous RV generators and late-night drunks!

Lesson: We did calisthenics twice a day. Ya gotta offset any time spent in a car, or spent not being in your usual groove with all-body action. Yo. Cures nearly every single one of the blues.

Lesson: Bring less. We used 80% of our stuff, but still we screwed up a bit. Maybe 2 grocery bags of excess stuff we didn't need. If you're using a Cutlass you gotta do better than that. A fast-transfer, long-range road trip requires LESS stuff. You don't have time for anything but the basics.

Lesson: Wifi hotspots in hotel parking lots are where it's at for fast road-tripping. But I admit they ain't swank like a cafe or library. Slow-trippin' would get you into the small town centers for suchlike. Perhaps best of all would be a homebrew Blackberry: that is, sign up for data service on your cellphone and just hook it to your laptop. Certainly doesn't cost any more than a 3G, et al. It's not hip-pocketable, but it works fine in a car and gives you that plump keyboard and all your killer aps.

Lesson: $30 gets you a 200-watt 12-volt > AC converter, or however that is. Lets you run everything off your car battery. ($100 gets you 1500 watts-worth, enough to run your house and then some.)

Lesson: Bring a nerf football or something and use it every day. Don't forget salt and pepper.

Lesson: We saw a rolled-over old Airstream on the freeway at the bottom of a winding canyon. An elderly couple were standing with the cops. Sad. That musta been a scary last bit. Scarily, we saw them the day before at a gas station having their wheels pulled and inspected. A guy at the next rest area told me that he saw lug nuts strewn down the freeway just before the roll-over. Check your lug nuts...

Lesson: It's fun to memorize poems. It's different from any kind of passive art appreciation. VERY different. It's in your bones afterward. And it tends to stick. Make sure it's good. I went for Shakespeare (The "Let me not" and "Shall I compare thee" sonnets and Hamlet's soliloquy). It's also fun to listen to poems on tape by famous poets. If you're me, that is; my family screamed and pretended not to hear Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost and Allen Ginsberg. They made me put on headphones. They preferred Michael Jackson...sick...sick...always needing plinking and banging to go with their poetry. Mocking the poetry-lover. Why? Aren't lyrics poetic? I thought that poetry was the word part of music, or the music in the words? I'm not a fool for poesy but there's no denying greatness. How did the BEST of an art-form become the enemy? Very odd. Our kids certainly haven't been overdosed. Martha neither. It's not like anyone gets their noses rubbed in greatness too much. Of course, poetry pre-dates prose. It would seem to resonate MORE not less. Is it all just TV-suggestion?)

Lesson: I love fresh figs. California has 'em at certain times of year, Michigan doesn't ever.

Lesson: Cioppino is great. Mmmmm.... So is aged beef and old, wood-floored sporting goods stores or any other multi-generation shop.

Lesson: It seems that you can camp in Iowa City Parks for $10 a night if anyone bothers to collect it. The Iowa State Road Map lists very few places to camp, hardly any little green tree icons---that's because I think you can camp in most town parks.

Lesson: "Organic" street-level rural politics: Only in Iowa did we see any "Stop Urban Sprawl" and "Yes Family Farm, No Factory Farm" signs. In Kansas it seems like a bad idea to have anything to do with abortion---there are many homemade and pro-made roadside signs against it.

Lesson: We only saw a few semi-trucks with advertising on them. But they seem as good a place as any to stretch those new-fangled billboard tarps. We saw one that said, real big: "GM Patterson.com, songwriter & trucker. Country rock with a road edge. 1.3 million mile driver."

Lesson: In the countryside most everyone drives (US) trucks. In the city they drive small (foreign) cars. Japanese trucks seem to be coming on strong. No place left for US automakers to hide their profit margins away from enormous overhead costs.

Lesson: We tented next to a young single guy at a campground in Utah. We saw him just sitting next to his tent all evening. We chatted the next morning. He was friendly. He was working down the road and living there. He said he wished he was on a road trip. He said "Hey, you'll like my sticker!" as he drove by in his truck: "Freedom isn't Made in China" was plastered across his entire back window.

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