This log recounts my 3,153 mile road trip across the USA with my friend, Thomas King Tandy, IV or TK, from Charlottesville, VA to Portland, OR that took place from September 1-9, 2015. TK had recently been accepted into the Masters of Public Health program at the Oregon Health Sciences University and the purpose of the expedition was to help him relocate there. The circumstances that led to my agreeing to drive him across the country were as follows: 1) He did not have a driver’s license, 2) He has a sweet young dog named Cali that complicated travel arrangements, 3) He had a bicycle and boxes of personal items that needed to go with him, 4) the adventure of a cross country road trip intrigued me and, finally, most importantly, 5) TK is my friend and he needed help. The initial seed of the idea actually came from my wife, Cathy, who could not stand the thought of flying Cali in the dangerous cargo hold of a jet. At first, the idea seemed ridiculous, even impossible, but after careful consideration of both my upcoming commitments at work and being away from home for an extended period, I made the offer to TK and it was accepted without hesitation. Although we did not follow the exact same route as Meriwether Lewis and William Rogers Clark on our westward trek, our respective expeditions both originated in Charlottesville, VA and ended in Oregon and we covered much of the same territory in between. Both were also rooted in the spirit of discovery since neither TK nor I had ever embarked on such a journey before. The title of this story also pays homage to one of my favorite movies, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
For those of you who know me, it should come as no surprise that the planning for the trip began in earnest with every conceivable detail being thought through well in advance. One major concern, a priori, was keeping the driving times each day to something that I could manage, approximately 8-9 hours per day. As the trip coincided with the Labor Day holiday, it was also crucial to have campsites reserved in advance to avoid having to search for an available spot after a long day of driving. Cathy did an extraordinary job of selecting campgrounds that were spaced out appropriately to meet these boundary conditions. A second concern was having a spacious vehicle for all TK’s personal items, our canine companion, and for all of the camping gear required for the trip. My plan was to rent a midsize SUV one way, leave it in Portland, and then fly back to Charlottesville. I initially rented a Ford Escape (67 ft3 cargo space), as well as an 18 ft3 waterproof canvas car top carrier. However, just before our departure, TK estimated his cargo load at about 70 ft3. This did not include any of my gear. Accordingly, I upgraded the vehicle to the larger Ford Edge SUV (73 ft3), yet I was still worried about space, particularly Cali’s comfort. On the day of departure, I asked the young woman at the Avis rental counter about the possibility of getting an even larger SUV, such as a Ford Explorer (80.7 ft3).
Given my prior rental history with Avis, she upgraded us at no additional cost. The vehicle was exceptional in every way, comfortable, spacious, and loaded with lots of high tech goodies including a superb Bluetooth compatible sound system and, importantly, a camera located on the stern to be used as an aid for backing up, since the rearview mirror’s vision was blocked with cargo.
As with all of the
vehicles I have ever owned, she needed a name but we were undecided. The name would have to wait until Sol 2. Note: The days in this log are referred to as “Sol” in tribute to the novel “The Martian” by Andy Weir that we listened to often with much amusement throughout the trip.
The overall plan was to take 6 days to reach Portland, with a few pre-selected side trips that did not involve veering too far from the planned travel route. For camping, we chose State and National Parks that had some character rather than large commercial operations such as KOA. Breakfast and lunch were generally simple meals: Albemarle Baking Company granola, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, accompanied by wonderful French press coffee made from Trager Brothers beans that TK kindly prepared each morning for breakfast, and various meats and cheeses with lettuce on whole wheat tortillas for lunch. In the evenings, we took time to prepare delicious and hearty meals over the campfire. TK enjoys backpacking and brought along a sack full of MREs that he would offer up from time to time as a suggestion for meals, but I would politely decline. I am sure that if one is out in the middle of nowhere with minimal equipment on hand that these “just add water” meals would seem like haute cuisine after a long day of hiking, but this was not our situation. Craft beers and high end bourbons were the drinks of choice to be consumed while preparing dinner, as well as to be enjoyed by the fire each evening. For entertainment in the car, we relied upon the very eclectic collection of tunes loaded on my cellphone, audio books including the aforementioned “The Martian”, “My Family & Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, as well as the BBC radio production of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s 10-book murder mystery series featuring detective Martin Beck. We also played games like “Casserole” where you take turns continuing to build on and recall an ever growing list of ingredients that one would use to make a casserole, keeping a tally of license plates from every state that we encountered, and random inquiries based on the question “Would you Rather…”. There were also plenty of excellent conversations and numerous stories to while away the time.
Upon reaching Portland, I had reserved a house in the Alberta Arts District in the northeast quadrant to serve as a home base from which to explore the city and take care of any immediate business related to the move into his apartment, and also to box up and mail back all of my camping gear to Virginia. As an added bonus, our mutual friend Will , who is living in Seattle, agreed to drive down and join us in Portland for a couple of days of silliness.
The story that is about to unfold herein is based on my own retrospective recollections & ramblings, convolved with those of TK that were taken mostly from the first person narrative that he scrawled as the journey progressed. Direct quotes from TK are denoted in italics. I will begin the journey with 2 quotes, one from Mark Twain and one that is often attributed to Twain, but the real author is unknown. Both I think are quite à propos for our journey:
I have found that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. Mark Twain – From Tom Sawyer Abroad.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Author Unknown.