Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Road Trips Are Different Now

"The most important part of vehicle maintenance is clear windows, so if you are broken down you will enjoy the beauty of the view." ~Dan Eldon

Road trips are different – now that I actually have an agenda. When I was younger and my girlfriend and I took a road trip, we didn’t care where we went. We just wanted to be driving a car and moving. If the AM radio didn’t work, we sang songs. In our case from the 1981 “Beatles Songbook” with made up words to the songs.

We barely knew how to read road maps, so we stuck to “the big red lines” to avoid getting lost. (I think our parents planted that idea in our heads.) We preferred a station wagon because you could leave your sleeping bags rolled out and put your junk on top, then move your junk to the front seat when you wanted to sleep in the back. Tin foil over the side windows and a towel hanging from the rear window gave us enough privacy. A gallon jug of water on the floor and we could brush our teeth, spit out the window, and be ready for sleep on some side-street in Anytown, USA in about 10 minutes.

The longest road trip I’ve taken so far was 4,500 miles when I was 21 years old. The trip went one way from Tempe, Arizona to Wisconsin. We drove through Tijuana, Mexico and then up the entire west coast up through Oregon, including a stop in Eugene.

Then we headed east from Portland on Hwy 84, and we did what lots of young road trippers do: We missed all the sights. Yup, we drove right past the amazing Columbia River Gorge. We did spot a tall waterfall from afar as we zipped by – Multnomah Falls, which is much more impressive when you are standing next to it, getting spray on your face, watching the rainbows at the bottom, and listening to the pounding water.

We didn’t know about Multnomah, or any of the other nine waterfalls along the Gorge, or any other scenic sites except Yellowstone Park. We also didn’t know how big everything is. We thought we could take in Yellowstone in a day. After all, any other park we’d ever been to could be seen in one day!

Before we’d left Portland, some nice folks we met in a bar (and we met lots of nice folks in bars) introduced us to the little "gray line" highways on the map. What a concept! (We only had one map – an AAA United States map. Who knew you might need more than one map?) Those kind folks in the bar recommended we take Hwy 12 across Idaho instead of Hwy 84. They said it was a more scenic drive. So we took it, and it was a fabulous drive.

Then a funny thing happened on our way toward Wyoming: a summer snowstorm blocked the mountain pass into Yellowstone Park. We were from Wisconsin. There are no mountains in Wisconsin (except Rib Mountain, which is about 40 feet high). Whoever heard of snow in June? So we rerouted onto a nice gray-lined highway toward another entrance. But nobody told us about gravel highways. What the…? And being under-financed, we bought retread tires for our 1971 Ford Torino station wagon. Needless to say we got a flat tire. On a hill. At sunset. And no jack stand base in our old used car. (See photo above.) Luckily somehow, some local folks were rolling home and they helped us out.

I've learned a lot since then. Now, I’ll be driving the smallest gray or blue line roads I can safely drive, and I’ll have a plan and an agenda. I have to navigate a Chevy Astro van with a 250 lb scooter strapped to the front, and a 1,300 lb teardrop camper strapped to the rear. My husband wants me to be safe, which means no accidents, so therefore the GPS software on my laptop which will be mounted between the front seats.

None of this comes easy. Especially learning the bloody GPS and trip routing software. I tried plotting my trip on the Delorme 2007 Street Atlas software and did not find it user intuitive. I’m writing this post as the 216-page User Manual prints out. Just to give you a hint of what I’m grappling with, I glanced at the document as it printed, and it was on the Glossary page: Azimuth, Bearing, Bread Crumb Trail… What?

Hopefully I’ll be following more than just a Bread Crumb Trail as I head east. Here’s a link that has been most helpful as I plan my trip to visit breweries far and wide,

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