California I’m Coming Home

After taking way too long to realize that Google Maps lets you drag and drop destinations, I’ve recently taken to adding locations at random and sorting them out later. This caused me to create the following image. The best part is that the journey starts in the center:

California Death Spiral

California Death Spiral aside, I eventually settled on a much smoother, coastal path through the state:

I’ve heard from a lot of people that Highway 101 is among the most beautiful stretches of road in the United States, so I’m excited about that. I had a pretty long list of things to see in California, but in the end nearly everything on my list was on Highway 101, in San Francisco, or near Los Angeles. There were a few interesting things on the east side (as demonstrated in above-pictured death spiral), but I think they’ll be destinations better served on a future trip. A trip with friends and proper hiking equipment perhaps.

I realized today on my drive to work that I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do and see in San Francisco. I knew I wanted to have expensive meal at Chez Panisse, and tour the Winchester Mystery House. But beyond that I don’t have much planned. I’ve been told by many people who know me and know the city that I would really like San Francisco, and I believe them. But so far I’ve been taking notes on what to see in America in general. Now I need to look at one city specifically.

The other day a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was going to be in New York City for a few days, and wanted ideas for what she should see and do. A flood of suggestions came in, and now she’ll have to figure out how to cram it all into the few short days she will be there. Today I realized that I’m trying to do the same thing for a continuous 120 day period. I’m starting to see why so many fellow travelers have warned me against over-planning. The potential for being overwhelmed by this trip is incredible.

Perhaps I would do well to add only the Golden Gate Bridge to my list and call it good. No more plans for the city, I will figure it out when I get there. I can wander if I need to. Or rest if I want to. This is an adventure, not an assignment. I can’t do it wrong.

American Road Trip Playlist

Some years back my friends and I went to Yakima for a weekend. We had to take multiple cars, and I offered to be one of the drivers. I spent hours crafting a lengthy and diverse playlist and burning it to several CDs. My friend Jon, on the other hand, insisted that his car listen to the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive for two hours straight. Jon claimed that it was the ideal song to play on repeat during a road trip, and believe it or not the reports from his passengers corroborated this. I was thinking I might test it out by listening to the song on repeat while driving the length of an entire state. A small state. Like Rhode Island.

But since I can’t listen to the Gibb brothers nonstop for four months, I need a few more hits on my playlist. Imagine what a waste it would be to take off on such a grand adventure without a soundtrack. Here’s my list so far:

1. 1000 Miles Per Hour by OK Go

If there’s one song that has been on my road trip playlist since the first day I heard it, it’s this.

Something about the chorus just makes me want to abandon all my plans and drive off towards the east.

2. Rock’n Me by the Steve Miller Band

This is one of those classic songs that you might not realize you already know.

3. Route 66

I’m still looking for the best version of the song Route 66, since my travels will take me along the old highway. There’s Nat King Cole and Chuck Berry of course, as well as what always seems to be an oddly ironic cover by the Rolling Stones. I would have sworn Ella Fitzgerald did a famous recording of it, but it’s possible I’m just remembering Natalie Cole.

4. Lost and Found by Katie Herzig

I’m still considering this one. It starts to have that road-trip-freedom vibe near the end, though if you pay too much attention to the lyrics it is about something else entirely.

5. Cruz by Christina Aguilera

For the absolute, straight-forward, “I’m outta here” ballad.

Doin' It for the People

6. Sault Ste Marie by Mick Sterling with Kevin Bowe and the Okemah Prophets

I picked up a live recording of these guys several years ago at at the Sweet Pea Festival in Bozeman, MT. While I love the whole CD, the song that I want to put one when I’m driving late at night is “Sault Ste Marie.” I credit this song wholly and specifically for why I’m even bothering to go to Sault Saint Marie on this trip. I didn’t know the place existed before this song. I can’t find the live recording anywhere online, but you can listen to a preview of the studio version on iTunes.

7. The One I Love by Greg Laswell

Because every playlist needs something chipper but bitterweet.

8. Down in the Valley by The Head and the Heart

One final song that was added to my list recently also has the benefit of coming with a road trip themed music video. Though I’ve never been a specific fan of The Head and The Heart, it will be nice to know that I’m bringing a little bit of Seattle with me the whole way.

Must See List

In my planning, I try to keep an open mind about where to go, what’s worth seeing, and what really qualifies as a detour. After all, nothing is really out of the way when you’re not going anywhere. My trip is a circle, and the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is overly applicable. Things can only be out of the way if they make it impossible for me to see something else. So I’m going to have to prioritize. I thought it best to put together a “Must See List” to give myself more direction. So, as of right now, here are the eight things I feel like I Must See on this trip:

  1. Grand Canyon
  2. Niagara Falls
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. The Deep South
  5. Roswell, NM
  6. Memphis, TN
  7. Glacier National Park
  8. The Oregon Vortex

One thing to remember about this list, is that it is personal to my experience. This is not a Must See for the United States. For example, if I had never seen any of the U.S. before, places like Mount Rushmore and New York City would be obvious choices. They’re not on the list because I have already seen them, so if I miss them on this trip it’s not a big deal.

There are a few other places that I originally thought were must see destinations, but in the spirit of setting priorities, I had to make some tough choices. When thinking of a destination, I asked myself if I might visit this place again one day. Certain cities, such and Chicago, IL and Austin, TX, are places I intend to see someday regardless. If not this trip, then the next one. More importantly, they are destinations by themselves. A year from now I could see myself flying to Chicago for a week. I can’t say the same about Niagara Falls.

Getting Stuck in Oregon

For the last three years, Evernote has been my friend. Knowing my trip was on the horizon, I made note of every interesting thing I heard about. I’d see a weird tourist attraction on Reddit, and I’d write it down. I’d hear about a historical battleground, and I’d write it down. I’d see a facebook post saying that a particular city was interesting, and I’d write it down.
Evernote on Oregon

I made a note for each state. It was nice being able to gather every idea without needing to check if it was anywhere near my planned route. I was in a constant state of brainstorm. I would figure it all out later.

Now is later.

I opened up my notes on Oregon, thinking that would be a good and easy place to start. There wasn’t much worth seeing in Oregon except the coast as far as I was concerned; it was just the quickest route to California. But about a month ago I came across National Geographic’s Ultimate Road Trips, and had saved links to the two Oregon trips. I opened the article in one tab and a google map in the other and started checking out their proposed routes. The National Geographic trips started to sound pretty interesting, and I began adding other attractions from the rest of my notes. There’s a theater festival in Ashland, one of the world’s best beaches in Bandon according to who or whatever told me that at some point in the last three years.

And that’s how a six hour snooze-fest down I-5 became a 14 hour zig-zag through two national forests.

At first, this was a point of stress. If I could find 14 hours worth of driving in Oregon alone, I was never going to make it across the United States. There was just so much to see, and more importantly so much to miss. Four months wouldn’t be enough time to see the country. I needed years.

I’d read from several others who have gone on similar trips that I shouldn’t over-plan, but going out on such a grand adventure without a plan terrifies me. I like to know where I’m headed, and I hate to waste opportunities. What if I miss something really great because I didn’t plan ahead? But Oregon showed me that I was thinking about it all wrong. The truth is that any opportunities I miss will be because I was already off seeing some other wonderful place.

So thank you Oregon. You proved that there are too many fantastic things to see out there. I can’t possibly miss them all.