Road-trip! The very word conjures up America, the length of open highway pulling you forward across an expanse of continent yet to be explored. Ever since Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda hit the road in Easy Rider in, yes, 1969, the quintessential American vacation has been a road trip. Open road, open mind.
My daughter, Cristal, and I have taken several of these jaunts since my return to live in the USA in 2008. While the jokes about Thelma and Louise are wearing thin, the pure joy of anticipation has not. In the past, we have flown somewhere and gone on through several states in a rental car. Our first expedition of this nature was probably eventful enough to put most people off from ever venturing forth again. May, 2011, followed a winter that refused to give up and had dumped over 450 inches of snow in parts of the northwest. But we had plans… We viewed Mt. Rushmore through flurrying flakes and headed down to Badlands National Park
as intended. While daytime walks were manageable, nighttime temperatures were not. At twenty-one degrees, stuck in a cabin with a rattling heater that refused to fulfill its purpose, we had to double up with the blankets from both beds and joint body heat in order to stay warm. Since the park restaurant closed at 4pm, we struggled to survive on packet tuna, protein bars and crisps. Our intended journey up through Montana had to be ditched due to closed roads, but we managed to visit Jackson, WY, collecting a speeding ticket in Dubois en route, and head on to Moab, UT, down to Durango, CO, and have a grand finale in Taos and Santa Fe, NM.
Undaunted, the next year we planned a four week trip extending from San Francisco to Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, Cristal, who now works for the UN, was selected to give two papers at a conference back in NYC on Global Security and Human Rights. I saw this as a chance to do the wash and re-pack at the two week mark. It therefore became two road trips, if you like: San Francisco to Salt Lake City, including a stay on a working cattle ranch down forty miles of dirt road and seventy miles from the nearest town. Then, Jackson to Glacier. We are obviously hooked!
As Cristal prepares to leave her tenure with the UN in Bogota, Colombia, and faces shorter vacations in a new position, not to mention a boyfriend of four years claiming more of her time, we have planned a possibly last, great road trip for 2015—and, believe me, it has been long in the planning. So often we have talked about travelling right across the United States, we decided to finally make it a reality. Growing up, Cristal kept a map of the U.S. and put stars on each state she had visited. It was something like twenty-seven at last count; as for myself, being somewhat more than twice her age, it was a few more than that (approx. 33 states). We hope to add to our list. Therefore, on June 11th, 2015, we head from East Hampton, NY—some 110 miles east of NYC—right across to Jackson, WY, before heading back via a different route. For this we have allocated seven weeks and have saved for several years.
What are the preparations for such a trip? Well, first of all, four new tires top the list as well as a full batch of all the various liquids a car takes and a tune-up to make it sing. Because this trip is in June and July, the height of the vacation period, reservations were necessary well in advance. As it was, we could not get the rooms in Yellowstone we wanted at the time we booked—about six months in advance. Yes, advance planning is a must, albeit difficult. Lists! We have lists of restaurants we want to dine in (being foodies of some nature), activities we want to take part in—especially running, as Cristal prepares for a half-marathon—and friends with whom we want to touch base. We know the distances and driving times between stops, and I’ve got a fine collection of brochures from tourist boards throughout the country. If you feel all this lacks a certain amount of spontaneity, let me just say that at my grand old age I do not wish to anticipate a night spent sleeping in my car due to a lack of motel reservation, nor do I wish to drive through X-place and later discover they were having a —– I missed. Hence, rodeo tickets, lake cruises, float trips, horse-back riding, ferries and so on have been booked. Rendezvous with several friends along the route have been confirmed. Packing lists have been coordinated. A small shopping list of provisions to have on hand has been prepared: water, snacks and various components of a smoothie breakfast. Yes, we have purchased a small blender of the bullet variety to take along. We’re an organized duo!
There have also been many things at home to organize: holding the mail, making sure all bills reach me via internet or are paid in advance, scheduling appointments for our return. Most of all, I have to face up to my fears. Will we get a flat tire on some godforsaken road, will a tire off an 18-wheeler come flying through our windshield, or perhaps some loose load in a pick-up truck? Will our car be robbed or will we be pickpocketed, shot perhaps while we innocently munch lunch? Will a tornado come roaring toward us with no shelter in sight? Or, will I become ill in a distant town?
The one sad thing about a trip of this nature is that, yes, it is a taster trip. We cannot spend a great deal of time in any one location; it is just not possible. Therefore, it is a trip of highlights, of overnights or two nights here, three nights there, until we reach Jackson , WY, which is our rest and turn-around spot. The outward itinerary takes us from New York through PA, NC, TN, MO, KS, CO and WY. On the journey home we venture into ND, MN and then into Canada before winding down and back home through NY. Please cheer us on and, if by chance you happen to live in one of those places, keep an eye out for us. I shall be posting almost daily—as internet access permits—via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/writerAndreaDowning or https://www.facebook.com/andrea.downing.5, on Twitter @AndiDowning and, most especially, right here at http://andreadowning.com