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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from the road

First day on the road!

Hello from Poughkeepsie, NY!

Wedding Victory Tour is happening! It’s happening! I was in a state of shock this morning after we packed the car and hit the road. We thought up WVT a year and a half ago (on the plane back from two friends’ wedding); it’s hard to believe that we’re actually doing it now!

road trip packing, wedding victory tour

 

For the first hour, I kept saying things like, “Wow, this is actually going to be a very long trip.”

It wasn’t until we got out of the car in Annapolis to photograph the state capitol (We’re aiming to get all 50 at some point in our lives.) that I actually got excited.

Maryland state capitol

 

But wait, there’s more! We hit not one, but THREE capitols today. We drove up the Delmarva peninsula and ticked off Delaware’s Legislative Hall:

Delaware state capitol, wedding victory tour

And finally, we stopped in Trenton to get the state hall:

New Jersey state capitol, wedding victory tour

I have to be honest, guys. I wasn’t very impressed with New Jersey’s capitol. While it looked cool from the outside, inside, the security guards were way too brusque (rude) for my liking. Lame.

Also, after a disappointing dearth of 17-year-cicadas in Richmond, we did see and hear them in New Jersey today.

I spent most of the day in the car jabbering away, fiddling with the satellite radio, falling asleep with my mouth open (post-lunch sleepies), knitting, and staving off (to the best of my ability) job-related anxiety. Tomorrow, we’re back on the road, headed for Vermont!

 

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planning

Let the crowdsourcing begin!

On the surface, a wedding seems to involve primarily two people, the two who are getting married.  However, as pretty much anyone (or any book) will tell you, weddings are often the result of the collaborative efforts of many different parties. In fact, I remember fondly from my Slavic Folklore class (???) in college that traditional weddings were a village affair, from the making of the dowry to the wedding meal to the parading of a bloody sheet in the streets the next day. (Ew.)

WVT is not a traditional ceremony, reception, or honeymoon, but I’d like to think that we are following in the time-honored tradition of crowdsourcing our wedding. We’ve already done a fair share of this: Ashley and Tina, my bridesmaids cum web designers, put together this website. And I’d like to think that in lieu of reception activities (DJs, dancing, bouquet tossing), our friends and families will provide the best kind of entertainment: time spent together!

This week, my lovely friend Hannah drew this awesome picture for us. Soon, I will begin my first foray into wedding crafts and attempt to style this into some sort of invitation for our Richmond friends. (We’re thinking about going out in the evening, so in effect, please save the date, May 24th, 2013!)

Save the Date Image by Haram Kim

Gangnam style…still relevant!

Now that it’s time to finish Harrison’s dissertation and look for jobs plan the road trip, we have some questions for you, gentle readers. The US is a very large place, and we haven’t been to a lot of it.  We’d love to get some ideas for this road trip from our many friends and family, spread all over the country and with diverse tastes and interests.

Feel free to answer in the comments below or shoot us an email (if you have *private* suggestions, haha).

  • What’s your favorite hotel or hotel chain?
  • What’s your favorite city in the continental US?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant? (RVA people, what’s your favorite Richmond restaurant?)
  • What landmark (site, park, monument, etc.) do you recommend visiting?
  • What do you do to pass the time in the car (games or otherwise)?

Thanks in advance for your input! We’re excited to read it!

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planning

Pre-marital competition: Estimating Distances

New layout thanks to web designer Ashley Joost!

While planning WVT (Still missing: an officiant and venue for actually getting married), it has become distressingly apparant that neither of us is very good at estimating distances between two cities. You can see the obvious problems this could pose when planning a six-week road trip. At first, our strategy was for me to ask Harrison “About how far is it between X and Y?” and then confirm his answer with GoogleMaps. We eventually realized that it’s far easier to ask GoogleMaps in the first place.

In general, Harrison is better at estimating distances than I am (except for small measures of length, such as one foot). Estimating one foot Estimating one foot

I suspect this is because he grew up in the suburbs and spent a lot more time on the roads than I did in the formative driving years of 15-18.

So, today, in the spirit of good-natured pre-marital competition, we will attempt to estimate the distances between two locations on Wedding Victory Tour and see who is closest based on directions from GoogleMaps.

Chicago, IL to Seattle, WA

Chicago to Seattle Estimates

Harrison: 1,750 miles
Mica: 750 miles

Google Maps says 2,064 miles. (Harrison!)

 

Boston, MA to New York, NY

Boston to NYC

Harrison: 275
Mica: 230

Google Maps says 216 miles. (Mica!)

 

Richmond, VA to Hanover, NH

Richmond to Hanover

Harrison: 600
Mica: 325

Google Maps says 597 miles. (Harrison! Full disclosure: He already knew the distance between Richmond and Boston.)

 

San Francisco, CA to Los Angeles, CA

San Francisco to LA

Harrison: 450
Mica: 680

Google Maps says 381 miles. (Harrison!)

 

San Diego, CA to Las Vegas, NV

San Diego to Las Vegas

Harrison: 300
Mica: 475

Google Maps says 326 miles. (Harrison!)

 

San Antonio, TX to Atlanta, GA

San Antonio to Atlanta

Harrison: 1,200
Mica: 863

Google Maps says 989 miles. (Mica!)

Lightning Death Round! Paris, France to Sydney, Australia (as the crow flies)

Paris to Sydney

Harrison: 10,000
Mica: 30,000

WolframAlpha says 10,537 miles. (Mica! Harrison!)

 

Final results – Harrison: 5, Mica: 2

Oh well, good thing I’m not getting a Master’s in estimating distances….

 

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information

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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