Driver's Log

Driver’s Log v2.0: The Southwest

Welcome to the second installment of the driver’s log! During this road trip, I have discovered that my dear wife has a rather narrow definition of a beautiful landscape. It tends to involve oceans and pine trees, features which are rather lacking in Arizona and New Mexico. I happened to enjoy (most of) the drives through those states, so I feel that I should weigh in so as to provide a different perspective on the landscapes of the southwest.

Leaving eastern California on I-8 was what seemed like our tenth ascent/descent of the Pacific coast mountain ranges. As we descended, the trees disappeared and the mountains became what looked like large piles of rock (see Mica’s post). Then the desert started.

I was actually pretty excited to see the Arizona desert after living east of the Mississippi my whole life. As far as being big, flat, sandy, and generally inhospitable, it did not disappoint. What I did not expect was the intermittent attempts at rain in southern Arizona. It never rained in earnest, but there was standing water in Yuma, so it must have rained at some point. I later learned that Yuma averages about a quarter inch of rain in the month of July, so I suppose we were privileged to have seen puddles there.

As we made our way north through Phoenix to Flagstaff, we entered the mountains of northern Arizona. These were of course very different from the mountains of Montana: fewer trees, more red cliffs. Sedona was nestled in the most impressive part of the area, surrounded by towering structures of red-orange rock. North of Sedona, we climbed to Flagstaff via a winding and, surprisingly, forested road. I was not expecting to see many trees in Arizona, but WVT is full of surprises!

The drive east to Santa Fe along I-40 (parallel to old Route 66) was mostly flat, dry, and scrubby, into New Mexico. At that point, we began our ill-fated trip to El Morro and El Malpais, straight into a massive New Mexico thunderstorm. Though it foiled our attempts to see a giant wall of old graffiti and weird volcanic rock formations, I was happy to see lightning again, after many weeks of no precipitation at all. I think the wife was less amused.

Stormy driving

The drive through Albuquerque to Santa Fe was accompanied by yet another huge thunderstorm, even worse than the last, but we were able to admire the landscape on the way out this morning. Santa Fe is set against a pleasant backdrop of mountains, and though Mica did not much approve of the brown stucco, I thought it complemented the scenery rather nicely.

In the last (and first) installment of the driver’s log, we had just passed through the most boring stretch of land I’d ever driven (southern Minnesota). I am happy to report that that dubious distinction now belongs to eastern New Mexico! Pat yourselves on the back guys; you’ve earned it. It was flat, with scrubby underbrush, and only a few trees bigger than a garden shed. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that, in the 200 miles between Santa Fe and Roswell on US-285, there were two named towns, one with a population under 500, the other under 100. So yeah, there is actually nothing there. Good thing I got gas before we left. I might have died of boredom had Roswell not been filled with amusing alien kitsch and a flying saucer McDonald’s!

IMG_0957 Harrison at Roswell McDonald's

PS – WVT passed the 10000-mile mark in eastern New Mexico! It seems that my estimate of 10k for the whole trip was wrong! Sorry Mom!

wvt odometer at 9999.9

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Driver's Log

Round Lake, IL to Sioux Falls, SD: Driver’s Log

When planning this road trip, I was excited to see friends, family, and the sites along the way, but I was also excited to see what the country looks like between those things.  The destinations are awesome, but getting there is half the fun (my lovely wife may think otherwise)!  For those readers who also wish to know what can be found in the wilds of Wisconsin and Minnesota, read on!

The answer: Apparently not much can be found on I-90 in Wisconsin and even less can be found on I-90 through Minnesota.

I will elaborate, lest you feel you have been given short shrift.  Wisconsin is actually a very pleasant state.  It has green, rolling hills and dairy farms dotting the countryside.  As we drove north and west of Madison, the hills became more jagged, and as you saw in Mica’s post, some interesting rock formations popped up.  I should also mention the area surrounding Wisconsin Dells, which appeared to be some bizarre water park resort destination.  Please comment if you know what is up with that.

Upon crossing the Mississippi at La Crosse, Wisconsin, we were greeted by the relentless plains of southern Minnesota.  There is so little in southern Minnesota that the road signs saw it fit to tell me that we were approaching the burg of Albert Lea, MN (pop: 18k) from 100 miles out.  There was just nothing else in between.  Plains gave way to sad little hills, which gave way to more plains.  The interstate was, by and large, straight as a pin, and there were typically about 5 or 10 cars per mile of highway.  I think I saw more wind turbines than on any other day of my life, even after living in Illinois for five years.  I don’t mean to imply that the state of Minnesota is boring; we were just in a boring part of it (less “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” more “I Can Tell We’re Not Far From Iowa” (no offense Kim, and other Iowa natives!) (sorry for double parentheses!)).  Someday we’ll see the prettier and more interesting parts, but today was not that day.

Tomorrow we spend a solid day driving across South Dakota, but I am confident it will be more interesting.  Faces on mountains and stuff.

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planning

How to try to plan a road trip.

It may seem daunting to try and plot out a roughly 10,000-mile trip, and I suppose it was, but there’s really nothing earth-shattering about what I did.  I estimated how long it would take us to drive between cities in which we were staying with friends/family, and once the dates in those cities were hammered down, I planned the routes between them.

It turns out I was not great at estimating; I had to insert an extra day in the Chicago-to-Seattle and San Diego-to-Austin itineraries because I wanted to see everything between those pairs of cities, and for some reason, the major landmarks are not arranged along a straight line between them.  I decided that averaging any more than 7.5-8 hours a day may provoke a mutiny attempt from the passenger’s seat, so I used that constraint to decide where to stay each night along a predetermined route.  This is how we ended up planning stays in the burgeoning metropolises (correct plural?  I don’t know.) of Custer, SD; Livingston, MT; and Artesia, NM.

I regrettably had to leave out certain landmarks/parks/fun roads, for the sake of time.  That includes the Grand Canyon, among other places.  I know, this is where everybody is screaming at their computer/tablet/phone, “WHAAAAT?!? YOU CAN’T GO ON A ROAD TRIP WITHOUT THE GRAND CANYON!!  THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE PEOPLE ACTUALLY GO ON ROAD TRIPS!”  I know, it seemed weird to me, too.  It turns out it’s just not on the way to anywhere (it’s basically an out-and-back from Flagstaff), so I axed it.  We’ll take another vacation one of these days to see all the holes in the ground out there.

Now being two days into the trip, I must admit there are times when I wonder what we were thinking.  I love driving, but it really is a lot of driving.  Fortunately, I tricked somebody into riding shotgun with me for the rest of eternity, so I think it’ll be ok.

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Harrison’s camping aspirations

What am I most excited about?

While I am anxiously awaiting delicious meals, sing-alongs in the car, and catching up with long-lost friends, my excitement for one thing trumps all others: the vast expanse of quasi-wilderness between Chicago and Seattle. If you study my expertly-drawn approximation of our route, you will notice that between the two aforementioned cities, there is nothing but frantic squiggles.

Rough map of WVT

Now, I labor under the likely mistaken assumption that in another life, I could have been an explorer. I should disclose at this point (because if I don’t, I have a feeling someone else will) that I have managed to become lost during a few brave adventures in my life, including locating fireworks over Boston Harbor and meeting friends at an Asian restaurant. [*Ahem* Lyric, if you are reading this….] Those isolated events, however, do not dull my desire to become somewhat more severely lost in the untamed wilds of Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, and eastern Washington. I’m pretty sure people live in those places, but I’d prefer to stay out of their way. And what is the best way to get away from people?? Camping!

That’s right, it is my grand aspiration to camp at least part of the 5-day, 4-night trip from Chicago to Seattle. Another disclosure: my camping experience consists of a couple of isolated nights in a tent, plus sleeping in a cabin and eating McDonald’s for breakfast at Indian Guides. And yet I am undeterred. Here is how I envision this happening:

Mica: Hey big, burly husband! How is it going?
Harrison: Not bad, actually. I have pitched our tent, created fire by staring at a pile of sticks really intensely, and prepared a gourmet meal from edible foodstuffs foraged from the woods!
Mica: *swoon*

Just pretend it's a tent. And that this is camping...

Just pretend it’s a tent. And that this is camping…

Here’s how it will probably go in reality:

Mica: What are you doing?
Harrison: What the hell is this thing in our trunk??
Mica: That’s our tent.

Failed tent

Whatever. I will not be deterred. I shall experience the manly pleasures of camping, and there will be much rejoicing. Here I come, frantic squiggles, here I we come.

And…more pictures:

Failed swoon

Failed swoon attempt. It’s harder than it looks.

Not sure what we're doing....

Not sure what we’re doing….

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Wedding Victory Tour FAQ by Harrison

Harrison's WVT FAQ

Harrison likes to ask questions and then answer them.

What is Wedding Victory Tour? Rather than hosting a large wedding ceremony and reception for all of our family and friends, Mica and I have decided to have a small courthouse ceremony with immediate family, followed by a cross-country (+ Canada!) roadtrip during which we will visit our various disparately-located family and friends.

Why the name “Wedding Victory Tour”? We needed something more interesting than “Wedding Roadtrip.”  Wedding Victory Tour seems the correct mix of epic and ridiculous.

Why don’t you want to have a traditional wedding, like normal people? We are rather abnormal people.  Namely, we would find spending the better part of two months bopping around in a car more enjoyable than hosting a massive party for family and friends.

What is wrong with parties? Nothing!  Given the choice, though, we would rather have many small gatherings with individual family and friends than one huge bash.

The thought of spending that long in the car with any one human being makes me ill. Please phrase in the form of a question.

Why in the world would anybody want to do this? We love travel, roadtrips in particular.  I (Harrison) love driving, and Mica loves passenger-ing.  We have driven back and forth from graduate school in Illinois to our parents’ houses in Virginia many times, and we recently completed a 2500-mile roadtrip around the middle of the country, so this ain’t our first rodeo, so to speak.  We are excited to see whether our astronaut diapers will hold up for the duration of this significantly longer journey.

When is this happening? We will set out in early to mid-June and make our triumphant return in late July or early August.

Where are you planning to go? Roughly, we are planning to make a counter-clockwise loop around the continental US, along with a bonus excursion to the Canadian maritimes. [Mica’s edit: I want to take WVT to the UK, but I’m pretty sure we can’t drive under the ocean. Womp, womp.]

Isn’t this rather environmentally unfriendly? Yes and no.  It will certainly have a significant carbon footprint, but so does flying.  A 10,000-mile trip in a reasonably fuel-efficient car emits about as much carbon as two passengers flying roundtrip from San Diego to Richmond, VA.  We have three family members in San Diego who would have likely been invited to a traditional wedding.

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