driving

The Route Less Taken

My move from TX to WA could have taken one of several routes.  After figuring that driving through Denver proper with nothing but booze, guns, and underwear might not be the best idea, the weather looked to be good enough to drive straight north from Dallas into South Dakota.  I promise there’s a method to the madness:  when would I ever be in a position to go to South Dakota, and able to see Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and then maybe hit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming on the way out?

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Intimidating, right?  I mean, 41 hours in a car on mostly state routes is pretty ambitious, if you ask me.  There was a lot of nothing for a while, though the sunsets got progressively prettier (and harder to drive in).

And yes, it does say 41 hours, which is a really long effing time, but I was able to be a little productive in the form of knitting a sweater for my cousin’s baby.

Otherwise, it was a big flock of nothing.  Except for major concentration, because of course, no adventure would be complete without some inclement weather.  It rained so hard on the first three hours of the drive that I thought I was going to be swept away in a flood.  The only bonus was the double rainbow when I finally got into Oklahoma.

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South Dakota was calling me, so I didn’t have much time to check out Kansas and Nebraska, but it’s ok.  It mainly looked like this in the morning, which wasn’t too shabby, but at the same time it was EARLY.  Like 5:30 am early.

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I know I complain about the drive, and the empty road, and the terrible hours in the car with fast food and nothing great. However, the open road is magical, and while my bitching about the lack of scenery was frequent, I did take a break once in a while to admire the future in front of me.

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Life is a Highway, Part 21: Colorado National Monument

It wasn’t on my original itinerary, but it was right on my way back to Denver.  The Colorado National Monument in Fruita, CO was just a short stop off of the highway, along Rimrock drive.  While there are crazy trails down into the canyons, I had little time to do more than stop and look.  I was on my way to Grand Junction for the night, which was a must, but because I didn’t know what I’d do there besides dinner and sleep, I figured another national park wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The drive was a nice loop, and the scenery was, once again, breathtaking.

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The only minor disappointment I had was that people had told me I was going to see longhorn sheep.  To my dismay, there weren’t any critters roaming around.  As a University of Rhode Island alumna, I was just a teeeeeny bit excited to see a sheep in its natural habitat.  We are the Rhode Island Rams, after all…but no dice.

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Image from sportslogos.net

As short a stopoff as it was, it was still another reminder of the beauty in the west.  I felt a pang of sadness as I drove away, not only because my trip was almost over, but because of what I was going to be leaving behind when I returned east.

Life is a Highway, Part 19: The Road More Traveled

I love to drive.

I love feeling the road beneath me, I love upshifting and downshifting through the gears and feeling the acceleration or deceleration, I love being on a twisting road and steering the car, feeling the G-forces in my belly.  I even love fixing the car when it breaks…

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And so you might guess that my 2015 road trip was really something awesome for me.  Hundreds and hundreds of miles, driving on everything from mountain switchbacks to vast expanses of nothing.  As you already know, George was a great companion, and despite being an automatic, his tiny turbo made driving a joy.

There’s something about driving into the mountains, even on completely flat ground, that makes you wish you could live out there.  It’s a spectacular view, and we honestly don’t have anything like this back East.  I think it’s something I’d never get tired of seeing – and that you can watch them in your rearview when you drive away is also just as amazing.

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Of course, not every single road gets to be heading into something amazing, and fun to drive on.  Some are terrible *coughthestreetiliveoncough*, pockmarked with holes the size of soccer balls, or “repairs” that act more like launch pads.  And no, not all of them have twisties and elevation changes.  But out there, even the flattest roads can leave you speechless.

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This left me speechless for another reason – a blizzard, in mid-May. It was at 10,000 feet, had white-out conditions, and George might as well have been wearing Sperrys. It added several hours to the travel time, so having to pee was not ideal…

My favorite roads were through the mountains in Wyoming and through the winding canyons in Utah.  They’re no touge in Japan, but they certainly hold their own.  While I wasn’t able to drive the long way through Yellowstone, as it was closed due to snow, I was able to head out of the Grand Tetons and do a little bit of hanging back and accelerating through the curves.  And oh, the roads through the canyons – I feel lucky to have been able to drive on them in something with a bit more pep than your average rental car.

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Philosophically, driving down a road is a lot like living your life.  Sometimes it’s flat and boring, but you know you’re eventually going to get there.  Sometimes you can see what’s up ahead, and it makes it a lot easier to keep your eye on the prize.  And other times, it’s winding and twisting; you never know what’s around the next curve, and that can be exhilarating.  Sometimes it’s a really freeing feeling, to just drive forward, without any plan or agenda.

Of course, it can also be scary – conditions are poor, you feel unprepared, or it feels like you’re going too fast and will hurtle out of control.  That’s how I felt at the beginning of my racing career.  Too fast!  Too much to think about!  Oh my God I’m going to hit something!  But in the end, the worst I did was spin and stall the car and come to a stop.  Maybe hit a cone or two as well, but nothing as much to throw me so far I couldn’t find my way back.  Spinning, stalling, and stopping gave me a chance to regroup, hit the reset button, and continue on.

Eventually, I learned how to feel a spin coming on, and learned to control it.  As I’m getting older, I’m learning how to feel for and pre-emptively control the spins in my life.  That’s not to say they don’t happen, but every time I come to a stop, it really helps me reflect on my surroundings and take note of exactly where I am.  We all need to spin the car at some point, and if we’re lucky, most of us do (maybe even more than once per run!).  It’s scary at first, but deep down, you know that you can stop, take a look around, and then continue through the course, or down your road – and that the very lucky ones get to drive off into the sunset.

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Life is a Highway, Part 14: Bryce Canyon National Park

I grew up near the beach.

When I was young, I’d sit at the shoreline and would make sand-dribble-castle things.  You know, take a fistful of wet sand, and let it drip out, and you’d get this sort of conical lumpy mass that was actually quite pretty when you had a bunch of them.

After the winding road out of Zion, I headed to nearby Bryce Canyon.  I hadn’t done much research aside from where it was on the map (Pro Tip: it’s close), so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I saw it, I was immediately transported to Narragansett Beach, circa 1993.

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Upon arrival, it was sunny and warm, but as I drove through the park, it started to set.  And yes, drove through.  You can see this entire park via car, and pulling over a few times.  There are hikes, but if you’re pressed for time (like I was), you can hit the viewpoints and drive to the next one.

Image from planetware.com

Start at the top, work your way down!   Image from planetware.com

The thing is, even when driving through, the place is huge.  Vast.  And at sunset, the different points were really something.  It’s amazing how much a landscape can change in different lighting.  Seeing the same thing from different angles can really enhance your understanding of it – which is not only meant literally, but also figuratively.

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Don’t be fooled, though.  I may have been surrounded by this absolutely majestic landscape. but I’m still me.  Look closely at the rock formations on the left of the trees.  What do they look like to you?  Because to me, they looked…..Maybe, as a result of spending nearly every weekend for the past decade with 200+ men, my mind is permanently in the gutter.  Or maybe I was just incredibly randy.  But my immediate first thought was, “Why does everything look like penises?  See?  That one’s a penis, and so is that one, and phew, it’s a good thing they aren’t really shaped like that one….”  I was not alone in my thoughts, as I overheard other hikers pointing and laughing, but I can’t say I was mature and didn’t giggle every time I got to a stopoff….

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Penis rocks or no penis rocks, Bryce Canyon was still beautiful and I cursed my poor planning for not allotting a full day in both places – Zion and Bryce – as I was really into the idea of seeing it from the ground level.  There was just so much to take in, so many interesting rock formations, (and I bet they wouldn’t be so phallic from the bottom up).

Overall, the canyons and the sunset were breathtaking, and even though my trip through was short, the drive was incredible.  When you see things that are so old, that have so much history, you’re reminded of the fact that we are indeed so small, and change, growth, and life, will always go on.

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Life is a Highway, Part 3: Meet George Jetson

Driving is one of my favorite things to do.  I am a self-proclaimed car purist (ok, snob, elitist, whatever you want to call me) and I have very specific tastes.  So the idea of renting a car is generally pretty “meh” to me, because I don’t get the high performance I want without the high premium.

However, renting a car is easy, and sometimes a necessity.  In the past, I’ve had cars ranging from Hyundai Accents to a swanky Lincoln Navigator.  But walking down the aisle, searching for the perfect home away from hotel for a week, I felt overwhelmed and uncertain.  Then, I saw it.

Well, ok, I didn’t see IT, I saw it’s white twin, but Whitey had pleather seats, which made my inner purist turn up her nose and snootily walk away.  So instead, a few vehicles down, the unassuming slate-ish blue car sat quietly waiting to be chosen.  It was like Indiana Jones selecting the correct grail.

Photo from indygear.com

Photo from indygear.com

A quick overview noted cloth seats, very basic interior, no sunroof, and what would amount to being a nimble, peppy car with incredibly vast upgrades over the last Jetta I drove.

Behold, my chariot:

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A 2015 Jetta TSI SE.  This means it has a small engine, a turbo, and is one step up from the base model – heated seats, 16″ wheels, and Sirius radio that didn’t work…Oh yeah, and it was (like 99% of rental cars) automatic.  Still, it was ok.  It was a very decent car.

I believe cars name themselves.  So, the entire week, I could not figure out what this car was trying to say.  I asked it repeatedly what its name was, and only when sitting down to talk about it did this name come to me.  My Dear Readers, meet George Jetson.

Photo from cartoon-characters.com

Photo from cartoon-characters.com

He’s a reliable, practical, efficient, no-frills kind of guy, despite being a huge, giant, vast upgrade from last year’s model.  It’s like he came from the future!  (Or at least caught up to the present.)

George is quiet, unassuming, and at first glance, he doesn’t seem like there’d be much that’s special about him.  But get in, buckle up, and hit the button to start the engine, and you’re surprised.  He’s got pep, he’s got energy, he handles curves well (wink wink), and he just enjoys his purpose, which is to be driven.

Granted, George is easy – you don’t have to shift, or work a third pedal.  I suppose I like my cars like I like my men – they take a little more effort to get them going and to where you need to be, but in the end it’s worth it (about the journey and all that stuff) – and so I generally despise automatics.  Minimal effort, not really participating in driving the machine…So although George was equipped with an automatic transmission, it wasn’t a bad thing. He placated me at times and allowed me to get my Asian Tourist on, and take photos like this:

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All in all, George was a pretty great companion to spend a week with.  We traversed many kinds of climates, many kinds of weather, and had a great adventure together.  He’s the guy with whom I drove off into the Great Beyond, and he was totally worth it.

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Life is a Highway, Part 1: Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads

  • Days of Vacation:  8
  • Stops:  Denver, CO -> Jackson, WY -> Salt Lake City, UT ->  Southern Utah Parks -> Denver
  • Miles Driven:  2459
  • Fill-Ups (Partial):  7
  • Average MPG: ~36
  • National Parks Visited: 7 (+0.5)
  • Steps Walked:  131,548
  • Miles Hiked:  50.95
  • Trails Hiked: 8, plus every stopoff
  • Days it Rained: 8 (not kidding)
  • Days it Snowed: 2
  • 20 oz Bottles of Water Consumed:  52
  • Incidents:  4
  • Visits to the ER: 1
  • Friends Visited:  4
  • Photos Taken: 1832

I desperately needed an adventure.

I also desperately needed to get out of New England (and everything in it) for a short while, and I needed to take some time to think, de-stress, and to hit a (minor) reset button.  And I had never been to the West and Southwest, and there are friends there I have not seen in a long while.  So I boarded a late plane on a Friday night, and set off.

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After a grueling flight to Dallas (my coincidental layover) where the young toddler in the middle seat behind me screamed for 4.5 hours, and the kid next to her played on his iPad at full volume and gave me a mediocre back massage in the form of incessantly kicking my seat, I was able to get a bit of shuteye on the leg to Denver.  And it’s very lucky that I did, because otherwise I would have slept through the next day, and I would have missed this view:

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There’s nothing like you, a car, an open road, and endless possibilities.

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What’s In A Name?

Just as people name their pets, children, and boats, people also name their cars.

You love them, you work on them, they become part of you, and they deserve some sort of name.  There have been several Pandas (there were several versions, but it was always a super awesome, custom-built race car that was white with a black hood), there was Baby Panda (Baby, for short – she is the older model under Panda, and she was smaller, slower, and far less temperamental), and Tots (the Nissan Titan – the towing vehicle).  I drove a 2010 Miata named Newt, a 2003 z06 Corvette named Chicken, and a 1991 CRX named Smurf.

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I’m sure you can figure out why this car earned the name “Smurf.”

But the car whose name takes the cake is the 1999 FRC Corvette I drove in 2013.  My friend James had purchased it, and in an effort to get it race-ready as soon as possible, offered the seat to basically anyone who wanted to drive it, so they could give feedback. Somehow, at some point, due to a very hilarious conversation in which one of the season drivers was dubbed, “Assman,” the car took on the name Gangbang.

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Photo by Chang Ho Kim.

Because we would discuss the car often, I decided I needed to add it to my phone dictionary, for easy use with Swype.  The autocorrect would put in all manner of things, so I figured, “Why not?”  I mean, it’s a very specific pattern in which to get this word, and it would save a lot of trouble trying to type it all out.

Post-2013, I was no longer the Ladies driver for Gangbang, and the car has since been sold.  It was a sad day to see it go, but the memories of it were great.  What I’d forgotten was that it was still in my dictionary…

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Sigh.  RIP Gangbang.  And thank you, autocorrect.