The Long and Winding Road Towards Leaving on a Jet Plane

We interrupt your regularly scheduled road trip to bring you a wedding.

I’ve known Shannon for many years and have had the chance to work on some terrific theatrical projects with her. She’s helped me through my relationship woes, and I’ve watched as she systematically narrowed down the field of available men until she found one she wanted to spend her life with. I’ve been excited to see Shannon get married since long before she was engaged. Since long before she was dating her would-be husband, in fact.

So when she announced her wedding date earlier in the year and I realized it would be smack in the middle of my trip, it took me all of five seconds to respond with a shrug: “I’ll just have to fly back then.”

Trip EstimateMy plans started, as they so often do, with math. I looked up the distance between each of my 24 benchmark cities and used them to calculate the overall milage of the trip. Then I took that estimate and split it up into milage markers by percentage in intervals of 10 percent. I then matched up those milage marks with the matching cities, and with a corresponding set of percentage markers for calendar dates. It sounds like a lot of work until you realize how much I love making referential fields in Excel. The end result was a date for every city on my list. As I traveled I would know if I was running ahead or behind my goal of getting back home in four months. This list was helpful for a lot of planning on my trip, but it was crucial for the wedding. It showed me that to stay on track, I should be near the mid-atlantic coast by the weekend of Shannon’s wedding.

I looked up flights online, utilizing my years of practice as a personal assistant booking flights for my boss. I tried a selection of major airports in the area, and all signs pointed to Baltimore. Every flight I could find was cheaper flying out of Baltimore. This included one flight that went from Baltimore to New York and then to Seattle, but was still cheaper than taking that same plane straight from New York. I guess they have trouble selling those Baltimore flights. The wedding was on Saturday, so I booked a flight for Friday evening. Because the time change would be on my side, I could leave at around 6PM and still get to Seattle before midnight. For the flight back, a red-eye was my only option. Nothing left during the day on Sunday, and I knew I didn’t want to try to fly out the night of the wedding. So I would leave Seattle late Sunday night and arrive back in Baltimore early Monday morning.

Now for my car. I knew several people who lived in the greater D.C./Baltimore area, so I considered asking one of them if I could park at their place. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to look up airport parking and I found that at the Baltimore airport, long-term parking is only $8 a day. They really want people to fly out of Baltimore.

Before I left I explained my plans to my boyfriend Rob. After I said everything he repeated it back to me to make sure he had it correct.

“So you fly out of Baltimore on Friday evening and get to Seattle that night. You’ll have the morning to rest and then we’ll go down to Tacoma for the wedding – ”

“Wait,” I said, “How will we get to the wedding?”

“Drive?” he said, a bit confused.

“In whose car?” I asked him.

There was a brief pause as we both realized that out primary means of transportation would be 3000 miles away on the day that we had to dress in fancy clothes and travel an hour out of town. Luckily we had plenty of friends who would be making the same drive from Seattle to the wedding that day, and before long we had managed to secure two spots in my friend Carrie’s car.

In packing for the trip, I had to decide ahead of time what I would wear to the wedding. If I knew what I was wearing, I could bring back any needed purses/jewelry/shoes I had brought with me on my trip. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. The last time I went to Europe I had to fly straight from Rome to L.A. in order to be at my cousin’s wedding. I had to choose my outfit and give it to my mother two months in advance so she could bring it down with her and I wouldn’t have to lug it around the European continent. But these are the things you do when important stuff is happening to those who are important to you.

By what could be described as either luck or misfortune, four days before my flight I caught my tire on the sharp end of a curb while pulling off at a viewpoint on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The scrape wasn’t severe and didn’t seem to be leaking air, but it wasn’t pretty and it made me nervous. At the same time, I was about to hit another 5,000 mile mark on my odometer and felt like an oil change and checkup might be in order. As I drove through Virginia I tried to figure out when might be a good time to take my car in to the shop. Ideally I would do it while staying with friends who had a vehicle, which would allow me to drop it off and not worry about timing. Alternatively I considered trying to schedule an appointment on a day when I didn’t have much planned, and I could hang out at the shop while they did the work. And then it hit me: I could have them fix my car while I went to the wedding.

I found a Volkswagen dealership not far from the Baltimore airport, and I looked on their website to see if they offered a shuttle service. They did, provided you were within 15 miles of the dealer. The airport was 13 miles away. I called to make my appointment and confirmed that it would be okay if I wasn’t able to pick up the car until Monday. And that’s how I managed to get free parking at a secure location and complimentary transportation to and from the airport while not allowing vehicle maintenance to take away from my other travel experiences. I felt like an absolute genius.

The wedding was beautiful and Rob and I were there for a full eight hours. The event was at a friend’s private home, which meant the couple could invite people to show up early as well as stay late. It was nice to have a somewhat accidental chance to say hello to all my friends in the middle of my trip. And it allowed me to finally answer a different question when talking about the journey: “So where are you right now?”

Several of us chose to get hotel rooms in town for the evening, and Shannon invited us back in the morning for a post-wedding breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever been at a wedding where I had so much bride time, and over breakfast we discussed the various traditions the couple chose not to bother with (first dance, throwing the bouquet, cutting the cake) and how none of those traditions were really missed. Many of my friends are in long term relationships, and we’re getting to the point where we no longer talk about potential wedding plans with embarrassment. It’s funny to think that there is that time during your early twenties when you both want to talk about it but don’t want to let anyone hear you, for fear you’ll accidentally turn on the pressure for both you and your partner. At this point we’ve all survived the pressure, and no one is concerned about complimenting the choice to have bridesmaids match with a color pallet rather than a particular dress.

After breakfast we took it upon ourselves to help clean up the house and yard, which I think made us all feel better about getting such a delicious free meal for the second day in a row. The team of a dozen or so friends and family made quick work of collapsing the tables, gathering the linens, and taking down the couple hundred candle lanterns that were used as light and decoration the night before. Shannon kept insisting that we didn’t have to help, and we kept helping anyway. A good time was had by all.

We drove back home with Carrie and our friend Laurie (also visiting from out of town), and I managed to spend my last remaining hours cleaning up all the junk I had brought home that I decided I didn’t need on the trip. I kissed Rob goodbye, and went to wait for the #40 bus to take me downtown to catch the light rail to the airport. As I stood on the corner waiting for the bus, it occurred to me how ordinary it all felt. There was no sudden jolt with coming home. It was all easy and natural. My home, my neighborhood, my friends – all of them were exactly as I left them, and I felt just as unchanged. As I type that it seems like a negative, but it was a comfort. It was proof that making big choices and having big adventures won’t always require or cause big life changes. Your friends are still your friends, your city is still your city.

There was one part of flying back home that was unsettling. It happened on Friday night on the plane ride to Seattle. I had to change planes in Texas, and I remember looking out the window as we were about to touch down. Texas. It had been so long since Texas. So much had happened even before I got to Texas, and so much had happened since then. And here it was again, right below me. It took me 37 days to get away from Texas and only 3 hours to get back. And soon I would be home, two months and 7,000 miles away.

I suppose it was closer than Rome.

Hiking the Grand Canyon, Part One: Eat All the Things

The following is part of a three part series on Hiking the Grand Canyon.
Part Two: Whose Dumb Idea Was This?
Part Three: Up is Mandatory

Food As Packaged

On the assumption that trail mix sold at the top of the Grand Canyon would be $50 a bag, my sister and I opted to do all our food shopping in Las Vegas. Buying snacks for our hike was one of the strangest grocery experiences I’ve had. We read on the canyon website that we should bring a lot of food, enough to eat 300-500 calories per hour. It also said to bring salty snacks to make up for the salt your body loses in sweat, and junk food items like candy and chips because they will be calorie dense and (emotionally) satisfying. Nikki had been training for a half-marathon and on a fairly strict diet, and I’d been doing my best to keep my junk food in check knowing the lure of the road side convenience store. But there we were, standing in the Fremont Street Walgreens, looking at labels to find the most fattening, high calorie, salty junk foods possible.

There was beef jerky, Oreos, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, Swedish Fish, Chewy bars, Gatorade, and so much more. We also tried to factor in what I already had in my car (raisins, dried fruit, etc.) We had pre-ordered a dinner, breakfast, and to-go lunch from the kitchen at Phantom Ranch (the lodge at the base of the Grand Canyon), but without knowing what would be in the lunch we planned as though we wouldn’t have it. I got out a calculator and Nikki and I got to practice our mental math skills trying to add up the total calorie counts for what we had in our basket. It was plenty. More than plenty.

Food for two DaysBack in our hotel room we grabbed a box of plastic sandwich bags and got to work separating out the food. The goal was to make individual bags that would hold about 400 calories worth of a particular snack. That way it would be easy to compare how many bags you’d finished with how many hours you’d hiked to ensure you were staying within the 300-500 calorie recommendation. Once it was all bagged up, we compared the number of bags with our predictions for how long the hike would take. We had way too much food.

Next came the packing. We opted to get duffle service, which allows you to pack a bag of stuff that you don’t need on the hike itself and have it sent down on one of the daily mule trains. We compared lists we’d made, adding to them as we thought of things. We figured out what could go in the duffle (sleeping bags, tent, Gatorade for the second day, etc), and started to divvy up the rest. We had shared items like a pair of binoculars or a tube of Neosporin. Other things we doubled up on for obvious reasons, like rain jackets and flashlights. For those who enjoy this sort of thing (like me), here’s the lists I made to help us pack:

In the Duffle:

  • tent
  • sleeping bags
  • Day Two food
  • change of underwear/shirt
  • flip-flops
  • books

Nikki’s Pack:

  • water bottles
  • gatorade
  • rain jacket
  • flashlight
  • extra socks
  • ankle wraps
  • stingeaze
  • sunscreen
  • snacks
  • toilet paper
  • water purification tablets
  • Neosporin
  • hand sanitizer
  • signal mirror
  • ibuprofen
  • camping permit
  • map
  • writing pad
  • phone
  • ID/credit car/cash
  • toiletries (extra contacts, glasses, toothbrush, etc)

Katrina’s Pack:

  • ankle wraps
  • water bottles
  • gatorade
  • rain jacket
  • flashlight/batteries
  • extra socks
  • lipbalm
  • phone
  • camera
  • car key
  • ID/credit car/cash
  • journal
  • snacks
  • spray bottle
  • mole skin
  • bandaids
  • gauze
  • binoculars
  • swiss army knife
  • trowel
  • hand sanitizer
  • toiletries (extra contacts, glasses, toothbrush, etc)

Attire:

  • sunglasses
  • hat
  • underwear
  • sports-bra
  • hiking shoes
  • socks
  • long-sleeve button-up
  • tanktop
  • pants
  • bandana
  • trekking poles

Looking back now, our packing was generally good. With the possible exception of buying and bringing too much food, we hit the sweet spot between having enough without carrying too much. Anything we didn’t use was the kind of thing you bring hoping you won’t need it (first aid, signal mirror). A few things stand out as being really handy:

Non-FoodFlip-flops – We had these in the duffle so that when we got to the base we could give our feet a break from the hiking shoes. It was Nikki’s idea, and I’m very glad she thought of it.

Bandana and Long-Sleeve Shirt – Both of these were recommended by the park website. It’s the desert, so even through it’s hot you’re better off covering up your skin to avoid sun exposure (think about how people dress in middle eastern deserts). The added bonus of these two items is that you can easily remove them and soak them with water in a stream or at the water pump. Known officially as evaporative cooling, you’re essentially doing what your body does when it sweats: getting moisture on your skin so the evaporation process can cool you off. It’s so dry in the desert most sweat evaporates instantly, so your body needs a little help.

Trekking Poles – Nikki was worried that trekking poles would be more of a nuisance than an asset, and I was worried about how many we should get if we got them (one each? two? three to alternate between us?) We asked a ranger at the backcountry office who told us without hesitation to rent two poles each. I noticed the benefit within the first two hours down the trail, and Nikki soon agreed. The poles take pressure off your knees and leg muscles, as well as allowing you to stay balanced while using less energy. Easily the best $12 I spent.

So we were ready. We were scared, but we were ready.

Hopefully.

Investments

I’ve been doing a lot of shopping lately. It’s a big deal for me, because I don’t like shopping much and I don’t do it often. Usually I find it hard to justify purchases. “Do I really need this?” “How often am I going to even use it?” “Where will I put it?” These are the thoughts that go through my head.

But it was clear to me that I would need a tent for this trip. And a sleeping bag that didn’t weigh 30 pounds. And so on. The good news for my sanity is that most of the things I’ve purchased so far feel like investments, because this trip won’t be the only time I use them. I’ll be doing a full packing list post at some point, as that sort of thing appeals to people like me, but for now I wanted to give you an idea of what I’ve been blowing all that carefully saved cash on, as well as what I decided against getting for this particular trip.

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INVESTMENTS

Tom Bihn Synapse Backpack, $140 at tombihn.com – This specific bag was highly recommended by Tynan, and the company has popped up several times when I’ve been looking for bags and backpacks. I haven’t had a decent backpack in years, and felt that I would need one on an almost daily basis for this trip. Here’s hoping the bag lives up to it’s reputation.

REI Passage 2 Tent, $160 at REI – My biggest desire in a tent was simplicity. I wanted something that would be quick and easy for me to set up, and take up little space both in the car and at the campsite. In a perfect world I would also get something that could be fully set up without stakes, as tent stakes are at the heart of most of my past camping frustrations. But maybe having a brand new bag of steaks and a proper mallet will solve that.

Matching Tent Footprint, $24 at REI – I considered whether this one was worth it, but Rob wisely pointed out that it’s the kind of thing you’d rather regret spending money on that regret not having when you need it.

Marmot Trestles 30 Sleeping Bag Long, $109 at REI – I think I must have tried out 10 different sleeping bags while I was at REI, and in the end I concluded that I don’t have a lot of opinions about sleeping bags. I’ve never used a mummy style before, so I’m hoping I don’t spend all my time claustrophobically kicking into the sides.

Platypus Softbottle Water Bottle, $8 at REI – This is more of an investment in my Bug Out Bag, but it seemed like it might be helpful on my trip, especially on long hikes.

Gorillapod Camera Tripod, $20 anywhere – I’ve thought about getting one of these since the first time I saw one many years ago. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it in my life after the trip, but I thought it would be helpful if not vital if I ever want to take a picture of myself at some fantastic location.

Rockforge Camp Axe, $19 at Home Depot I’ve only had to set up a campsite by myself once before, when I was volunteering at Mt. Rainer Park for the weekend. One of the perks of volunteering is that I got to stay in a secluded campground meant for volunteers and staff. They said there would be free fire wood, so I didn’t bother to pick some up on the way in. What I didn’t realize was that the free firewood was in gigantic logs. I had no way to break up the logs, and I ended up scrounging around the base of the woodpile looking for scrap bits that I could use to start a fire. I have no intention of ever doing that again. Plus a small axe just seems like a good thing to have around in life. You never know when something will need chopping.

Rubber Mallet, $5 at Home Depot – As previously mentioned, I shall not be defeated by tent stakes. Also this seems generally useful, see above RE: Axe.

Five Gallon Bucket with Lid, $4 at Home Depot – I figure a bucket is a combination kitchen sink and washing machine. I’m sure I’ll find many other uses for it. After all, it’s a bucket.

Canon Powershot, $150 at B&H – I felt like it was time to upgrade my camera, but I wasn’t interested in spending $1000. I did a little research, but quickly determined I’m not enough of a photographer to care about most of the differences I was comparing. The Powershot was recommended by a friend and fit my price point.

Merrell Siren Sport Shoes, $90 at REI – I spent at least 20 minutes putting on different hiking shoes at REI, but I ending up buying the first pair I tried on.

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NOT THIS TIME AROUND

Travel pillow – I was a little worried that a normal pillow would be a bulky nuisance, but considering the price of the travel pillows and the likelihood of ever using it again, I’m going to stick with one of the regular old pillows I have in the apartment.

Camp stove – I lucked out on this one. My folks have a small butane stove that they’re letting me borrow.

InstafireThis stuff seems pretty cool, but so does becoming adept at starting campfires by myself.

Cooler – I already own a small, 9 quart cooler. The plan is to use the cooler more as general food storage and only occasionally bother with ice. It’s not much, and it’s possible I’ll want something bigger as I go. But a bigger cooler is something I am positive I can and will find at stores all across the country this summer, so I’m waiting until I know I need it to upgrade.

The Deep South

I got the idea for this trip from my older sister and her friends back when I was in junior high. They would talk about taking a similar route around the United States, and I would overhear their conversations. For whatever reasons their plans never manifested, and the whole thing just sat in the back of my mind.

In my sophomore year of college I got an idea for a novel, following the adventures of the main character as she wandered around the United States (hiding from her past, unable to go home, that sort of thing). I wrote small bits of the story whenever I got inspired, but never really focused any effort on it.

My senior year I was suddenly filled with inspiration for the novel, and made a conscious effort to sit down and write more. There was one particular section of the story I felt sure was best placed in the Deep South, where things would be hot and sticky and rural and racist. But as I sat down to write, I had nothing. I couldn’t picture any details. Everything looked generic. I realized that my hot sticky rural racist South was based entirely on movies and books. I was setting my story in someone else’s novel.

It’s been pointed out to me before that being in the southeastern United States in July is going to be miserable. That is, generally, the point. If I want to write about that misery I’m going to have to experience for myself. I’ve been accused before of being too autobiographical in my writing, which to me is a silly accusation. Every writer is writing her own story. Every writer is writing the relationships and settings and characters that she has seen inside herself and in the world around her. Some just disguise it better than others. In my experience, the more you disguise it the more like your real life it ends up being anyway, but that’s a story for another time.

My point is, the Deep South is on my must see list so I can see and feel and taste what it’s like to be there. Unfortunately being there is the only thing on the list.

Deep South MapAs I mentioned before, I’ve been keeping track of possible U.S. attractions in Evernote. When I go to my notes on Mississippi and Alabama, all I’ve got on the list of possible places to see is the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, and I’m not even sure I want to go there. These two states stand as a single, solid block of “I’m sure I’ll find something.”

I can’t help but wonder what this is implying. Is it that I don’t know anyone who has visited either of these states? Or is it just that they don’t have any good news to report? I know I want to spend some time on the Mississippi river, so that’s a start. But what then? On all my maps thus far I take a straight path from New Orleans to Jacksonville. While I’m sure the gulf coast is nice, it seems an awful long way to go just to stay on the edge the whole time.

Perhaps I should just do what my main character does: head towards Alabama and get myself into trouble.  I don’t know if it worked for her, I haven’t written that yet. But I suppose that’s true for both of us.

Who Knew the Grand Canyon Was So Popular?

It has occurred to me from time to time that I can’t do this whole thing flying by the seat of my pants. While many who have come before me have encouraged me not to over-plan, even they will admit that sometimes reservations must be made. While different sources will tell you different things, most will agree that making concrete lodging plans about two weeks in advance is usually enough. My guess is that will be the case for most places I want to stay on my trip. Except of course, for the biggest one.

Not long after my blog was public, my sister emailed me asking when I was going to the Grand Canyon, and how important the “solo” part of my solo road trip was.  We quickly hatched a plan for her to take a few days off work to meet me as I pass through Vegas, drive to the Grand Canyon, and hike the length of it as a team. I knew hiking all the way to the bottom and back was no small feat, but I also knew that hundreds of amateur hikers do it every year. I figured as long as we were prepared, we’d be fine.

I asked my sister to look into lodging at the base of the canyon (you can’t go down and up in a single day, so you must either camp or get a room in the Phantom Ranch hostel at the bottom). Meanwhile, I was listening to ranger podcasts and reading up on the “must pack” lists to ensure we wouldn’t get heat stroke or lose all our salt by sweating. The more I navigated the national park’s website, the clearer it became: if you want to hike the full canyon this summer, you should have been planning last spring. Phantom Ranch makes a point of opening reservations no more than 13 months in advance, and tells people to expect the phones to be busy the first few days of every month due to the mass of reservation calls they get when next year’s beds are opening up. So of course, Phantom Ranch was full.

Though the thought of lugging a tent and sleeping bag up a vertical mile sounded abismal, I was willing to try for a camping permit. My sister sent in the request form, and I resigned myself to the thought that it would never happen. I started thinking of alternative plans. A week went by.

Then one day I’m at work and see that I’ve got a voicemail from my sister. I play it and the first thing I hear is her singing, to her own invented tune “We’re hiking the Grand Canyon!” Apparently even the man who booked it was shocked that they still had a spot open. Our camping permit allows us to pitch a tent at the base of the canyon, and now we’ll try to get a reservation for duffle service. Explained to us as “half a mule,” duffle service is a way to get a small amount of luggage down and back up the canyon without strapping it to your own back. If we can swing that as well as a few meal reservations at Phantom Ranch, this whole thing just might work out perfectly.

This may seem strange, but somehow I after hearing such fantastic news, I ended up with the song “Sixteen Bars” stuck in my head. In subject matter it’s from out of left field, but by the end of the song I feel like the sentiment of trying so hard to get something impossible is spot on to how I feel right now. We’re doing this.

California I’m Coming Home

After taking way too long to realize that Google Maps lets you drag and drop destinations, I’ve recently taken to adding locations at random and sorting them out later. This caused me to create the following image. The best part is that the journey starts in the center:

California Death Spiral

California Death Spiral aside, I eventually settled on a much smoother, coastal path through the state:

I’ve heard from a lot of people that Highway 101 is among the most beautiful stretches of road in the United States, so I’m excited about that. I had a pretty long list of things to see in California, but in the end nearly everything on my list was on Highway 101, in San Francisco, or near Los Angeles. There were a few interesting things on the east side (as demonstrated in above-pictured death spiral), but I think they’ll be destinations better served on a future trip. A trip with friends and proper hiking equipment perhaps.

I realized today on my drive to work that I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do and see in San Francisco. I knew I wanted to have expensive meal at Chez Panisse, and tour the Winchester Mystery House. But beyond that I don’t have much planned. I’ve been told by many people who know me and know the city that I would really like San Francisco, and I believe them. But so far I’ve been taking notes on what to see in America in general. Now I need to look at one city specifically.

The other day a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was going to be in New York City for a few days, and wanted ideas for what she should see and do. A flood of suggestions came in, and now she’ll have to figure out how to cram it all into the few short days she will be there. Today I realized that I’m trying to do the same thing for a continuous 120 day period. I’m starting to see why so many fellow travelers have warned me against over-planning. The potential for being overwhelmed by this trip is incredible.

Perhaps I would do well to add only the Golden Gate Bridge to my list and call it good. No more plans for the city, I will figure it out when I get there. I can wander if I need to. Or rest if I want to. This is an adventure, not an assignment. I can’t do it wrong.

American Road Trip Playlist

Some years back my friends and I went to Yakima for a weekend. We had to take multiple cars, and I offered to be one of the drivers. I spent hours crafting a lengthy and diverse playlist and burning it to several CDs. My friend Jon, on the other hand, insisted that his car listen to the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive for two hours straight. Jon claimed that it was the ideal song to play on repeat during a road trip, and believe it or not the reports from his passengers corroborated this. I was thinking I might test it out by listening to the song on repeat while driving the length of an entire state. A small state. Like Rhode Island.

But since I can’t listen to the Gibb brothers nonstop for four months, I need a few more hits on my playlist. Imagine what a waste it would be to take off on such a grand adventure without a soundtrack. Here’s my list so far:

1. 1000 Miles Per Hour by OK Go

If there’s one song that has been on my road trip playlist since the first day I heard it, it’s this.

Something about the chorus just makes me want to abandon all my plans and drive off towards the east.

2. Rock’n Me by the Steve Miller Band

This is one of those classic songs that you might not realize you already know.

3. Route 66

I’m still looking for the best version of the song Route 66, since my travels will take me along the old highway. There’s Nat King Cole and Chuck Berry of course, as well as what always seems to be an oddly ironic cover by the Rolling Stones. I would have sworn Ella Fitzgerald did a famous recording of it, but it’s possible I’m just remembering Natalie Cole.

4. Lost and Found by Katie Herzig

I’m still considering this one. It starts to have that road-trip-freedom vibe near the end, though if you pay too much attention to the lyrics it is about something else entirely.

5. Cruz by Christina Aguilera

For the absolute, straight-forward, “I’m outta here” ballad.

Doin' It for the People

6. Sault Ste Marie by Mick Sterling with Kevin Bowe and the Okemah Prophets

I picked up a live recording of these guys several years ago at at the Sweet Pea Festival in Bozeman, MT. While I love the whole CD, the song that I want to put one when I’m driving late at night is “Sault Ste Marie.” I credit this song wholly and specifically for why I’m even bothering to go to Sault Saint Marie on this trip. I didn’t know the place existed before this song. I can’t find the live recording anywhere online, but you can listen to a preview of the studio version on iTunes.

7. The One I Love by Greg Laswell

Because every playlist needs something chipper but bitterweet.

8. Down in the Valley by The Head and the Heart

One final song that was added to my list recently also has the benefit of coming with a road trip themed music video. Though I’ve never been a specific fan of The Head and The Heart, it will be nice to know that I’m bringing a little bit of Seattle with me the whole way.

Must See List

In my planning, I try to keep an open mind about where to go, what’s worth seeing, and what really qualifies as a detour. After all, nothing is really out of the way when you’re not going anywhere. My trip is a circle, and the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is overly applicable. Things can only be out of the way if they make it impossible for me to see something else. So I’m going to have to prioritize. I thought it best to put together a “Must See List” to give myself more direction. So, as of right now, here are the eight things I feel like I Must See on this trip:

  1. Grand Canyon
  2. Niagara Falls
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. The Deep South
  5. Roswell, NM
  6. Memphis, TN
  7. Glacier National Park
  8. The Oregon Vortex

One thing to remember about this list, is that it is personal to my experience. This is not a Must See for the United States. For example, if I had never seen any of the U.S. before, places like Mount Rushmore and New York City would be obvious choices. They’re not on the list because I have already seen them, so if I miss them on this trip it’s not a big deal.

There are a few other places that I originally thought were must see destinations, but in the spirit of setting priorities, I had to make some tough choices. When thinking of a destination, I asked myself if I might visit this place again one day. Certain cities, such and Chicago, IL and Austin, TX, are places I intend to see someday regardless. If not this trip, then the next one. More importantly, they are destinations by themselves. A year from now I could see myself flying to Chicago for a week. I can’t say the same about Niagara Falls.

Getting Stuck in Oregon

For the last three years, Evernote has been my friend. Knowing my trip was on the horizon, I made note of every interesting thing I heard about. I’d see a weird tourist attraction on Reddit, and I’d write it down. I’d hear about a historical battleground, and I’d write it down. I’d see a facebook post saying that a particular city was interesting, and I’d write it down.
Evernote on Oregon

I made a note for each state. It was nice being able to gather every idea without needing to check if it was anywhere near my planned route. I was in a constant state of brainstorm. I would figure it all out later.

Now is later.

I opened up my notes on Oregon, thinking that would be a good and easy place to start. There wasn’t much worth seeing in Oregon except the coast as far as I was concerned; it was just the quickest route to California. But about a month ago I came across National Geographic’s Ultimate Road Trips, and had saved links to the two Oregon trips. I opened the article in one tab and a google map in the other and started checking out their proposed routes. The National Geographic trips started to sound pretty interesting, and I began adding other attractions from the rest of my notes. There’s a theater festival in Ashland, one of the world’s best beaches in Bandon according to who or whatever told me that at some point in the last three years.

And that’s how a six hour snooze-fest down I-5 became a 14 hour zig-zag through two national forests.

At first, this was a point of stress. If I could find 14 hours worth of driving in Oregon alone, I was never going to make it across the United States. There was just so much to see, and more importantly so much to miss. Four months wouldn’t be enough time to see the country. I needed years.

I’d read from several others who have gone on similar trips that I shouldn’t over-plan, but going out on such a grand adventure without a plan terrifies me. I like to know where I’m headed, and I hate to waste opportunities. What if I miss something really great because I didn’t plan ahead? But Oregon showed me that I was thinking about it all wrong. The truth is that any opportunities I miss will be because I was already off seeing some other wonderful place.

So thank you Oregon. You proved that there are too many fantastic things to see out there. I can’t possibly miss them all.

The Money You Save is the Hardest to Spend

I’ve always been a saver. Ever since I was a little girl and would get a birthday card with some cash in it from a grandparent or aunt, the money went straight into my savings account. That’s just what I thought one did with money: put it in the bank. I was also fortunate to be immune to a lot of the most common and expensive vices. I never smoked or did drugs, I hate coffee, clothes shopping annoys me, and I don’t like the taste of alcohol. There wasn’t a lot to spend my money on. So I saved.

My miserly ways came in handy in college, where I managed to pay for more than half of my education through my own funds (the other half was from college funds set up by my parents and grandparents). But once I got out of college, the money was gone. I was lucky to have no debt, but I also had no cash. I found work, started following frugality blogs, and began to save again.

When I made the decision three years ago to go on this trip, I knew I’d want a good buffer of savings. I needed enough for the trip, plus a buffer for potential unemployment (I didn’t know at the time if taking the trip would mean quitting my job). So I threw together some numbers, and came up with an initial goal: $18,000. The first $8,000 would go in an emergency fund to be used if I lost my job, and the rest was my trip budget. I don’t know if $10,000 was a realistic budget, and I won’t know until after the trip is over. But it was a goal.

I set up an automatic withdrawal to a high-yield savings account at a different bank. The point was to make this money hard get at and therefore hard to spend. Funding for my trip would be one-way. I lived my life, I went to work, I stopped eating fast food, and before long the fund was growing. I tried out the goal function in Mint to see how much I had to keep putting in each month in order to get to my goal on time. My income kept going up, and my expenses kept going down. As it got easier and easier to put money aside, I raised the goal. And that’s when I started to worry.

My trip fund was becoming a very real and very large sum of money. Could I really waste it all on some idiotic dream of driving around the country? I still hadn’t told anyone about my plans. It wasn’t too late to back down. If I didn’t go, I’d get to keep all of my lovely savings.

But for what?

Savings in junior high and high school was one thing, I had college in my future. But what did I have now? A house? A car? I didn’t want either of those. So what was I saving for? I still couldn’t shake the feeling that spending it would be reckless. It was so much money. It took me so many hours of work to earn it, and so many frugal changes in my lifestyle not to spend it.

So I made a deal with myself. It was an idea the man who would later become my financial advisor gave me: Spend it either way. I didn’t have to go on a road trip if I didn’t feel like it. That was fine. But I didn’t get to keep the money. If I didn’t use it to drive around the United States, I’d have to buy a trip to Europe, or get an over-priced car. I’d have to get rid of it somehow. One way or another, that money would be gone by the end of 2013. I wasn’t allowed to keep it.

Once I got rid of the possibility of saving my savings, I stopped worrying about money for my trip. I no longer thought about how much it would cost, and only about what I could do and see. I upped the automatic withdrawal from my checking account and forgot about it. Money wasn’t the point anymore. And there’s no use in holding on to something pointless.

And now here I am. The emergency fund is well padded and my road trip account is well past my initial guess. There’s no way I’ll be able to spend it all on the drive. Since I told myself if I didn’t go on the trip I still had to spend ALL the money, it’s now cheaper just to do it. I managed to make taking an extended trip around the country appeal to my sense of frugality.

More importantly, I’m starting to learn that the point of saving money is to spend it all later. And for me, that’s the hardest part.