Monthly Archives: July 2017

Greatest Hits from the Great Western Road Trip

As you’ve seen, I took a hell of a lot of photos along the way during my trip, and I’ve only posted a fraction of what I took! Here are my favorite shots from the trip. Note that all of these were taken with an iPhone 6 and retouched using Picasa. My phone tends to dim the photos a bit and desaturate the colors, so I was able to offset that with the retouching.

These photos are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). You are free to share (copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the material ) them.

Great Western Road Trip: Lessons Learned

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 Music 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.

 

Great Western Road Trip, Day 24 – FINAL DAY!

Current Location: Volo, Illinois

Today’s Song: 65daysofstatic – Supermoon

Something about this song describes the scenery of this entire trip to me – starting off slow through the Canadian Prairie Provinces, then into the mountains and the coast and returning over the mountains, and back to the plains.

For the final leg of the road trip, I made the short (this constitutes “short” now!) drive from St. Louis, Missouri to Volo, Illinois. I was intent on getting home, so drove it as quickly as possible, with only a stop in Dwight, Illinois, for lunch. Continuing my attempts to stick to local places, I went to Dwight Pizza, which had a 4.5 star rating on Yelp. It was…OK. The owner was friendly, possibly overly so, but it was a welcome break from the road.

I got home and unloaded the car, put stuff away, and started a load of laundry, then went to pick up Charlie and Nora from Ma’s. To say they were happy to see me was an understatement.

Thus ends the Great Western Road Trip. The final totals:

6,409 miles traveled

126 hours and 10 minutes of driving

I’ll have a final post with my overall thoughts in a day or so, but to answer the biggest questions I get from friends and co-workers:

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I might rearrange the scheduling a bit, but that was one of the best vacations of my life.

Stay tuned for the wrap-up!

Great Western Road Trip, Day 23

Current Location: Florissant, Missouri

Today’s Song: Lazlo Bane – Superman (Theme from Scrubs)

I need you here with me
Cause love is all we need
Just take a hold of the hand that breaks the fall
Well I know what I’ve been told
Gotta break free to break the mold
But I can’t do this all on my own
I’m no superman

Yeah. I think too much sometimes.

This is the penultimate day of this road trip. I started the day on the outskirts of Kansas City. Through he power of Yelp (which is really served me remarkably well on this trip) I found a wonderful little bakery/restaurant in Overland Park called McClain’s Market. I fueled up with a granola parfait and an Americano (ever since I left Canada I’ve been hooked on Americanos – go figure).

Then it was an uneventful drive across Missouri. It scares me that at this point anything less than six hours constitutes a “short” drive. If you do this long enough, I guess that’s what happens. Along the way I finished my second audiobook of the trip, this one also be T.J. Klune (The first was The Lightning-Struck Heart). This one was Wolfsong, which I have read before. It is an intensely emotional book and had me crying several times as I traced the relationship between Joe and Ox to mine and Dan’s. A tough listen, but so, so worth it.

I met up with Rama and K at Sugarfire Smoke House in St. Charles, Missouri for lunch. It’s a fun, quirky place with great BBQ sauces. After that we went back to their place and…didn’t do much. Rama and I sat around and talked convention stuff and watched some TV. It was lovely, and considering that it was 105 F outside it was a great alternative to venturing out. A big plus was that I got to pet Zoe, their 90-pound Great Dane puppy!

For dinner we went to Ferguson Brewing Company where I enjoyed my last beer flight of the trip, which had some unusually generous pours!

After a stop for frozen custard on the way home (because St. Louis), I quickly crashed for the night and slept quite well, with the exception of being woken up a couple of times by some very loud thunderstorms.

Tomorrow: HOME!

Miles Driven Today: 257 miles

Time Driving Today: 4:05

Total Miles Driven: 6,075 miles

Total Time Driving: 120:12

Great Western Road Trip, Day 22

Current Location: Lenexa, Kansas

Today’s Song: Mark Knopfler – Guide My Sword (from The Princess Bride Soundtrack)

A contemplative piece from one of my favorite soundtracks. I’ve been thinking a lot during this trip, and this matches up to my mood.

It was another early start today – up at 5:15 AM. After packing up, rearranging my luggage, cleaning the car, and checking out, I was able to walk to the coffee shop just across the street right as they opened at 6:30 AM.

Today was going to be a very long leg of driving, and not much to see or do along the way. Dring out of Denver was slow going.

The only saving grace was that the air conditioning in the Mustang was in excellent working order, which is good because today was a day when it was absolutely necessary!

I made very few stops, pushing ahead as quickly as I can. After three weeks of glorious scenery and being excited to see more, I’ve reached the point where I’m ready to get on my way home. Kansas wasn’t as boring as expected (there’s a lot more trees than I thought there would be) but it wasn’t particularly visually stimulating either. Fortunately between my audiobook and NPR I was able to make the time pass pretty quickly.

For dinner, I met up with Orthrus and Adjacent at a restaurant nearby. I first met Orthrus many, many years ago over the net. This was the first time that I met him face to face, and got to meet his husband as well. They’re both great, fun guys and the evening’s conversation was wide-ranging and enjoyable.

Tomorrow, the penultimate day of my road trip: a short 4-hour jaunt across Missouri to St. Louis.

Miles Driven Today: 614 miles

Time Driving Today: 8:52

Total Miles Driven: 5,818 miles

Total Time Driving: 116:07

Note that the totals are revised since I think that the Automatic dongle wasn’t reading correctly while I was in Canada, or anywhere that I was outside of cellular service. A definite limitation of the product. These are the numbers directly from the Mustang’s gauges.

Great Western Road Trip, Day 21

Current Location: Denver, Colorado

Today’s Song: Fairport Convention – Meet on the Ledge

Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge
When my time is up I’m gonna see all my friends
Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge
If you really mean it, it all comes round again

I like the idea that, in the end, we see all of our friends and loved ones again. It’s a lovely thought.

Today was a day off the road, and a welcome one at that! I was slow to get started, but after getting some breakfast at the coffee shop across the way (it was…meh) I went back to the room and caught up on all of my work emails and tried to gauge what crap-bombs have been dropped in my absence. It appears that I’ll be walking into a bit of a hornet’s next on Monday, but it’ll be manageable. Then it was over to the auto glass place to have them replace the windshield on the rental car (AGAIN). At least it was quick and painless.

Having heard some entertaining things about them on the podcast Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap (specifically Episode 250, “Giraffe Snuff Film”), I drove up to Boulder to check out Decadent Saint/Wild Cider. The ciders were…OK. Nothing that particularly excited me, though the Lemon Basil Cider was pretty good. The Decadent Saint products were far more interesting, though. They are a wine-based spiced concentrate that is made to be mixed with cocktails or diluted and consumed on its own. Apparently they have had a hard time marketing this since there were two different variations of labels for the four products, all with different names. Currently they are calling them “sangrias” although it’s a bit odd to call something that looks like chocolate milk a sangria.

After tasting a flight of them, I picked up bottles of the Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Dark Chocolate. Quite tasty, and I look forward to experimenting with them!

I had checked with Troy, an old friend from college who is well-familiar with Boulder, on places that I should check out. It boiled down to “Go to Pearl Street, park, and walk.” My first stop was at Pizza Locale, where I was instructed to ask for Alex. It turns out that he and Troy are old friends, and Alex was incredibly sweet. We chatted as he worked the bar, and he was very kind when I mentioned why I was taking this road trip. It was a lovely visit, and I left feeling like I’d made a new friend. (Also, he’s damned cute!)

I walked down Pearl Street (and Pearl Street Mall), stopping at a few places that Troy had suggested and finding some of my own. I had to check out Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery and enjoyed a Belgian tripel there. My last stop in Boulder was Hazel’s, a liquor store similar in size to a large Binny’s in Chicago. I picked up some specifically local items that I know I can’t get in Illinois.

I finished up just in time to get on the road for Evergreen, Colorado, where I had been invited to Tango and Iberian’s place for dinner. Evergreen is a good ways out into the mountains – barely a Denver suburb, but manageable. At first I wondered why they would live so far out but as I drove and admired the scenery I began to understand. They have a lovely home there, and I’m sure it’s very cozy and comfortable in the wintertime. We were joined by Rooth and Whiteyfawks, and we had a delicious dinner while catching up on each other’s lives and geeking about various conventions.  It was 10 PM when we wrapped up, and I was pleasantly surprised just how short the drive was back to my hotel – just a hair over 30 minutes. That’s perfectly accessible – heck, they can get to Denver faster than I can get to Chicago from my place!

Tomorrow: The long, long drive across Kansas.

Miles Driven Today: 103 miles

Time Driving Today: 3:27

Total Miles Driven: 4,201 miles

Total Time Driving: 89:15

(There seems to be a large discrepancy between the mileage and time driven recorded by Automatic and the readings on the Mustang. I need to look into this and may revise this tomorrow.)