Monday, November 4, 2013

Road Trip Reflections

A map of the United States with the 24 different states we visited highlighted
24 States, One District.

Some fun stats of the trip:

States passed through: 24 (plus Washington, D.C.)

States in which we spent at least one night:  14 (ND, MT, WA, OR, CA, AZ, NM, TX, LA, GA, SC, VA, IN, IA)

National Parks visited: 5 (Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest)

Gallons of fuel burned:  227.38 (yikes!)

Total cost of fuel:  [classified] but not as much as one might think for a full month of daily travel, and less than the cost of ONE plane ticket from LA to Sydney, Australia

Miles traveled:  7,741 (!) Hold on, lemme look something up... there it is!

Los Angeles, California to Sydney, Australia:  approx. 7,500 miles

We drove the distance from LA to Sydney plus nearly the width of Iowa again!

Wow, what a trip.  It is enjoyable to sit back and think about everything we accomplished in such a short time on the road.  Such a big part of traveling is living monumental experiences while often being tired and somewhat overstimulated.  It is often difficult to appreciate in the moment, but the memories and stories of a big travel experience are incredibly valuable and I will proudly and happily keep them with me forever.

I'm glad everything timed out as well as it did.  Sara's graduation in May, our home sale and the end of my school year in June, our placement in Dublin in July, and the four glorious weeks of homelessness that resulted.  I must also be thankful to Sara, who is an amazing, careful, and thoughtful trip planner.  She helped us build and keep the trip schedule, gathered lists of materials we would need to bring, made the few actual reservations we needed, and made sure the trip was as carefully planned as practically possible going in.  Even though we threw out our carefully printed route in favor of following our trusty paper Rand McNally Road Atlas after the first day, we always knew the general direction and timing of the trip- even if we didn't know exactly where we would be sleeping on many nights.  It was adventures like finding shelter that can stay with a person the most.  The afternoon in California spent trying to find a campground on Father's Day weekend gave us some headaches and concerns at the time, but never fails to bring a smile to our faces looking back.

What may make this trip the most unique we've taken (so far!) is the sheer variety of our destinations and activities.  Some trips are taken to visit family, some trips are taken to see the natural beauty of a national park, some trips are taken to see the lights, excitement, and zest for life of the big city.  We were fortunate in this trip to have accomplished all these and more.  In the same trip, with the same carload of clothing and equipment, we did visit our far-flung family.  We did visit the wildest (natural) places of America.  We did see the wildest (urban) places of America.  We saw natural history and human-made history every day.  Elevating the travel experience was the constant presence of each other.  We always had someone with whom to share the sights, sounds, and smells of travel- because we were almost never out of each other's sight.  If this was a true test of a marriage, I think we passed.

We did weather (sometimes literally!) inconveniences, sudden changes of plan, setbacks, and delays on this trip.  Not everything can go according to plan on any trip, and ours was no different.  From the threat of violent storms in Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the fatigue brought on by crowds, heat, and altitude of Yosemite National Park to the mountain delays forcing us to stay at a Motel in Barstow, CA to taking the wrong exit in Augusta, GA and on and on, we rolled with the travel punches and came out smiling on the other side.

What did I enjoy most, you ask?  I think the entries from Glacier NP predicted that I would look back to the blue water, big sky, and snow-capped peaks most fondly... I believe they were correct.  Thinking back even farther to the trip planning stage, I was most excited about the mystery and majesty of Glacier.  The fact that fishing was legal in almost all Glacier waters without a license was just icing on that beautiful snowy cake in Northwest Montana.  Not to say that seeing the other people, parks, and cities of the trip weren't all great, but nothing made me feel quite so alive as the crisp air of the quiet Two Medicine valley.  There were certainly countless other experiences, big and small, that I thoroughly enjoyed in the moment and in hindsight, but I would have to call the time in Glacier (for me...) nothing short of life changing.

What did I learn, you ask?  Well, it is difficult to explain, but the best way to put this would be to say, "I learned a lot, but most of it I knew already."  I know that sounds a bit like something Yogi Berra might say, but it really rings true for me.  The biggest lesson I could take from this was, "PACK LIGHTLY!"  I knew before the trip that it was important to only travel with what is essential for safety, survival, and a modest level of comfort.  Looking back, there was A LOT we could have lived without.  Biggest among them was that acoustic guitar.  Music is important to me, and the romance of songs around the campfire is enticing, but the fact was that we just didn't have enough time or energy to do much campfire singing.  Many was the camping night where we got back from a busy day so tired that we could barely cook, eat, and clean up before going to bed.  We did get the guitar out a few times, but the hassle of that large, rigid, blocky object on top of everything in the car was not worth the hour (singular...if that) of entertainment we got with it.  I also mentioned fishing in Glacier.  Yes, I did it.  No, I didn't do it very long.  No, I didn't catch anything.  Yes, it meant we had to pack and drag my rod and tackle kit along with us the whole trip.  No, it probably wasn't worth bringing.  Yes, it is pretty cool to look back and say, "Yeah, I fished for wild cutthroats in Montana."  If we were to ever take this trip again, I believe we both would take time to go over our packing list a few (dozen) more times and weed out more of our equipment.

On a more whimsical and reflective note, I learned how freeing and possible it is to be "off the grid" for an extended period.  We did not have smartphones or GPS units with us on this trip, and we managed to find our way without much trouble.  We did have laptops used to check emails at certain points during the trip- mostly to make sure our international travel arrangements and paperwork were processing correctly.  We also carried non smart cell phones for family contact and emergencies.  Outside of occasional Wi-Fi stops for email and route checking, we were mostly at the mercy of a paper map and hand-written notes.  Our campsite fees were mostly paid with cash in an envelope.  Probably most exciting about the time away from the internet was that I could not follow the Chicago Cubs' 2013 losing season through its lowest, most tedious, and painful months.

If I could give a piece of advice to the reader in light of my experience on this (and other) trips, it would be, "Travel!  Plan it, get a partner(s), and go for it!"  Make it work with your schedule and your budget.  See and experience new things.  Don't be scared of the unknown, embrace it.  Endure (and try to enjoy!) the hardships, delays, and setbacks of your trip.  You will be surprised at how much adversity can enhance your experience and memories.  Or, at least, give you a better story to tell your friends and family years later.

Let me close with one of my favorite poems from Emily Dickinson.  I believe it captures the nature of unknown adventure and discovery not just of travel, but of life itself.

Down Time's quaint stream
Without an oar
We are enforced to sail
Our Port a secret
Our Perchance a Gale
What Skipper would
Incur the Risk
What Buccaneer would ride
Without a surety from the Wind
Or schedule of the Tide —

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