And now, one final post to cap off The Great Western Road Trip. After 24 days on the road through 3 provinces and 13 states, what did I learn? Well, I learned a lot of things.
- I need to work on my trip scheduling.
When I laid out my itinerary my thinking was, I get into town in the afternoon/evening, I have a day in a city, and I leave the next morning. Three days, right? Wrong. I didn’t account for the distances out west. Mornings had me on the road by 7 AM and with few exceptions I arrived at my destination after 5 PM. After that much driving in a day, the idea of jumping back in the car to explore a city is unpalatable at best. Next time, I either need to limit the number of stops I make and allow better for distances between stops, or I need to take more time for the trip.
- Renting a car was a good idea
That was 6,400 miles I didn’t put on my 2012 Subaru Outback. I would have made the trip like a trooper, but I’d rather put all that on someone else’s car. (Rental car guy: “Wow. In all the time I’ve run this place I’ve never had someone turn in a car after putting that many miles on it!”) Side note: If you’re in the northwest Chicago suburbs, Mo at the Avis/Budget office in Lake Zurich is a fantastic guy to work with. Friendly and incredibly helpful! (Also he gave me the hookup for the satellite radio for the duration of the rental)
- The Ford Mustang is a fun car
Oh my goodness, yes. For mountain driving, for having to speed up quickly to pass someone, for a smooth ride, Mustangs are a blast. I don’t think I would ever own one – it’s a bit impractical for me – I sure as hell plan to rent one again if needed.
- Convertibles are fun, up to a point
I had visions of driving everywhere with the top down, feeling the wind around me, luxuriating in the scenery. Well, I didn’t account for the fact that after a while driving at highway speeds you can get a headache from the wind all around you. It can be difficult to hear spoken word stuff, like NPR or audiobooks. And then there’s the sun. Even so, though, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Driving with the top down on cool mornings, through Glacier National Park and the California mountains, along the California coast – all of these were definitely worth it.
- Sunburns suck
Sure, you can apply sunscreen. But you have to reapply it. And you stink of sunscreen, and so do your clothes. I got sunburned a few times early in the trip before I got better at managing things, but that was no fun.
- Rocks to the windshield suck
Yeah, I got hit with a rock that created cracks that traveled across the windshield. Twice. The replacement windshield and installation cost about US$500 each time. The good news is that I have full coverage via my Chase Sapphire card, with no deductible.
- Interstates out west are far more fun to drive.
I generally maintained a limit of speed limit + 5 mph. This made me slower than the speed demons but faster than that slowpokes, and that was just fine by me. But once you get out west, the speed limits go up, from 70 mph on rural roads in Montana to 80 mph on interstates in Nevada and Utah. That is a whole lot more fun! And yes, I did take the Mustang up to 130 mph on a long, straight section of interstate with no one around and good sight distances to see cops ahead. I could have gone faster, but at those speeds, the car has a bit of float to it and it was getting past the point where I felt safe.
- Canadians don’t celebrate Canada Day very long
This amused me greatly. I saw this in both Winnipeg and Regina. Canada Day (their 150th anniversary, so a really big deal) fell on a Saturday. Most people had the following Monday off. In the US, this would be cause for big 3- or 4-day festivals. What I saw was a huge to-do on Saturday, with concerts, fireworks, and big festivities. And by Sunday morning? Gone. The only thing left is some scaffolding around the stages, the rest of it all packed up and everyone has gone home. It’s admirably efficient, if nothing else.
- There are only two bridges between Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon
Good lord, what a mess. Portland and Vancouver are separated by the Columbia River, which is huge. There are two bridges: Interstates 5 and 205. That’s it. The next closest bridges in either direction are both 40 miles away. Vancouver is a huge suburb, so you can imagine that traffic can be a nightmare. And yet, I’d still say it’s worth it.
- I love exploring places that are new to me
I need to go back to Glacier National Park. And Portland. And Winnipeg. And Regina. And Yosemite National Park. And Denver. I didn’t have enough time to explore these places as much as I would have liked, and I found them and the people there to be wonderful. On the bright side, I now have added to my list of future travel destinations!
- Salads are a good thing
Man, being on the road for three weeks is murder on how you eat. I tried to keep things light, but it wasn’t always easy and in the end I still gained 8 pounds. Too much sitting, not enough moving. I was able to find a lot of great salads along the way though, and that helped.
- Beer is a good thing
Antithetical to the previous observation, isn’t it? And yet I love trying new beers from different breweries. All told, I entered 60 new beers into Untappd on this trip, which include a good number of flights. A nice side-effect is that I also met a lot of really nice bartenders and brewery employees who were friendly and enjoyed chatting.
- I need dogs in my life (Jasper, Zoey, Kiska, Nathan, and the other Zoe)
I missed Charlie and Nora so much on this trip. I’m glad I didn’t take them with me because that would have been a level of complexity that would be quite difficult, but I sure wish I could have. Happily, I got to meet, pet, and play with my friends’ dogs: Jasper and Zoey, Kiska, Nathan, and Zoe. Wonderful pups, all!
- Very few people in this world get me the way that Ford Shepherd does.
We drifted apart for a while but now he is back in my life, and for this I am very grateful. Us gay Southern boys need to stick together!
- Sometimes I need to be alone.
My itinerary included 14 stops. In 11 of those I met up with friends, something for which I was grateful. Even so, the few stops where I didn’t meet anyone were a nice break. I needed the downtime, even though I spent 125+ hours alone by myself on the road. Sometimes socializing can be exhausting.
- Death is an awkward subject.
I want to stress that I am not criticizing anyone I met on this trip. I understand, I really do. For most people, Dan’s passing was an event – it is something that happened, and that was it. For those of us who knew him intimately it is a process, one that continues and will continue for quite a long time. Dan did not come up in many conversations on this trip and initially I wondered at this, but then I realized that death is something that we are just not equipped to discuss. It’s awkward, it’s depressing, and we don’t want to trigger any bad reactions. And that’s OK. I realized that the best things my friends can do for me is to just be there.
Out of all of this the best lesson that I learned, though, is that I have SO MANY wonderful friends. To all of you who were able to join me even for a few hours on this trip, thank you so much. You brought home that for all that I have lost, I am never alone. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for this. Thanks to Kellic, Cyn, Mwako, Charles, Lego, Plonq, Atara, Lydia, Andrew, Wolfish, Silver, Tiggs, Thallanor, Tina, Thumper, Hegdish, Drake, Ford, Brophey, Karwood, Partran, Luagha, Baja, Didge, Tyco, Tango, Rooth, Whiteyfawks, Orthrus, Adjacent, Rama, and K. I cannot wait to see you all again sometime soon!
For all that I thought my skills at meeting new people have gotten rusty, it was a nice surprise to be proven wrong. It was great to meet Chris, Jason, Kalypso, Beancat, River Pup, some of the great BLFC staff, and Iberian. Part of the joy of making a trip like this is making new friends, and I was fortunate to do so.
Also, thank you to everyone who followed along on this trip, on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Dreamwidth. Your comments and kind words have kept me company even if you couldn’t join me on the road.
During this trip I posted a song for each day, which a good friend collected into a Spotify playlist and an Apple playlist. These reflected my moods, my feelings about the trip, the landscape, and the people I met as I drove. I leave you with one last song, then: “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood…
But no one is alone.