July 25, 2016

The Great American Road Trip aka 5,804 miles in 14 days

We recently packed up Flotsam, Jetsam, Babs and ourselves for a minimum month-long open-ended vacation to Michigan.

Crazy? Maybe. But it’s been a helluva lot of fun.

It’s built around my family’s week-long camping reunion, and since we'd have grandparents around, (*cough* babysitters *cough*) we planned some activities for Mr. Go and I.

Even though it added another 900 miles to our trip, taking Babs to G&G’s first was totally worth it, because she probably had more fun than we did while we were away. And Grandmas and Grandpas had even more fun than her.

look at that. so presh

Suddenly 1,300 miles doesn’t seem that significant, especially considering that life is about the journey, not the destination.

The dogs were angels in the car from CO to MI, except for Flotsam jumping into the front seat every single time we got out of the car. Babs is old enough she can articulate her wants, and understand us when we say, “We’ll stop in a few minutes.” Honestly, she ate a lot of chocolate cereal and watched a lot of T.V. but what can you do.

So it went like this: Get up at 3 a.m. Shove the kids in the car. (Honestly it wasn’t terrible because Babs fell back asleep and we got to watch the sun come up.) Drive all g.d. day. (1,050 miles). We stopped in Wisconsin and stayed with a friend for playtime with their 2 girls and a couple hours of sleep.

We arrived in Michigan, stayed for a day, and were on the road again, this time sans the baggage kids. We repacked the car with only the things we would need for one night on the road and headed back to Wisconsin for a Dead & Company concert at Alpine Valley. (Which, incidentally, looks a lot like the Phish crowd +40 years, except the music was more like the John Mayer Show feat. Bobby Weir.)

See all those construction markers? lol, yeah
After the show, we drove 15 miles up the road and slept in a Wal Mart parking lot. Which leads me into:

Where to Sleep on the Road

We consulted this post from Fresh Off the Grid for a guide to free camping/sleeping while mobile.

Now, you know us; we’re not sketchy. This is probably the sketchiest thing we’ve ever done, but as with anything, the more you do it, the more normal it seems. 

A) it’s free, don’t judge me. B) it’s not like we were creeping around the Wally World lot. Overnight parking is a service Wal Mart offers, including for RVs and large trucks. We even called ahead to check if it was ok with the manager. Check this website to find the Wal Marts that DON’T allow overnight parking, since that list is shorter than the 800+ locations that DO allow overnight parking.

This was the first time we’d done so, as a proof of concept for our longer upcoming cross-country trip. When we woke in the morning, there were about 3 more cars in the lot, who had obviously also just been to the concert and had the same idea as us.

It’s important to note: while I hate Wal Mart in general and disagree with their company policies and basically everything they stand for, they’re nice enough to offer this service, so if you plan to take them up on it as well, be respectful. Be discreet. Throw your garbage in the trash cans and just don’t be a dick, which is good life advice anyway.

Converting Subey from driving machine to sleep palace takes about 2 minutes: We moved our bags out of the back seats, laid them down flat, rolled out sleeping mats and sleeping bags and crashed out in the Wally World parking lot.

Six hours later, we used their bathrooms in the morning and drove home. Unpacked and re-packed the car and 2 days later set off on our BIG trip, to Washington state for 2 nights of Phish at the Gorge in George, WA.

1,858 miles ONE WAY
The first night on the road, we got into the Wal Mart around midnight, did a little shopping for Gorge camping supplies before bedding down, saw the same clerk the next morning, the poor soul, when we went in to use the facilities. The second night we stayed at a HoJo in Missoula, MT, so we could shower and get a good night’s sleep before the raging festivities began.

We enjoyed taking Hwy 2 and seeing all the houses and little towns along the way. Hwy 200 through Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota was much the same; pretty and scenic. Until Montana. God, that road is long. And flat. And cell service was real spotty. Going up over the rolling hills gave Mr. Go palpitations; he’s always imagining some a-hole driver flying up the other side and smashing into us. (For the return journey we took 90 until Fargo then hopped back on 2.)

FYI, crossing through the Rockies in Idaho was some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. The pine tree mountains and winding rivers, gosh it was amazing.

On a lonely stretch of Montana, running low on gas, we stopped at a tiny, run-down looking Post Office/gas station/store with two old-style gas pumps. Did they even run? How do you work these things?

I went inside and the clerk flipped a switch to turn on the pump and Mr. Go paid inside. Lining the walls were several shelves of free paperback novels, handmade goods and vintage items for sale, and ice cream shakes. The clerk made us each shakes using an old-fashioned shake maker and real ice cream. The shake didn’t go all the way to the top of the cup, so she gave us .50 off each. It was our favorite stop on the road.

Camping 3 nights at the Gorge was peaceful, beautiful and wonderful in general. We swam in the Columbia River, jammed out in one of the most beautiful amphitheaters in the world and connected not only with nature but with humanity. 

If you think you’ve had a better time you’ve obviously never seen Phish at the Gorge.

Waking up with the sun coming up, shining over the River with the plains stretching out for miles, lit up with pinks and golds was breathtaking. Sunsets were just as astonishing, the purple and red colors reflecting on the water below and the clouds above.

Mr. Go had the brilliant idea of buying a puzzle at a Goodwill along the way to WA. We worked on it for a while with our camp (which included 3 friends and our 2 neighbors who were engulfed by us and integrated into our group) then set the puzzle out on the table for passersby to try their hand.
I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the best .50c purchase Mr. Go has ever made in the whole of his life. The communal collective effort was astounding.

Now first, let me say, the Phish fans are some of the most accepting, chill people I’ve ever met. Sure, there’s an odd dick here and there, but you get that anywhere. On the whole, they’re the freakiest freaks out there and no matter how weird you are, they’re not gonna judge you. Nay, they will love you for your individuality.

So anyway, tons of people paused at the table to help us work on the puzzle. We were hanging out, cooking or playing cards and we’d look over and there’d be someone standing there.

“You gotta put in a piece before you go,” we’d yell. The sense of accomplishment when you found a connection is like getting a tiny hug, Hubert, a Phish fan who spent several hours sitting at our table puzzling, said to me. It brought people together for a common goal, and that’s one of the most beautiful things there is.


Needless to say, there will be puzzles at every subsequent Phish show we attend. Check @puzzle_ftr on Twitter or @puzzlefromtheroad on Instagram for updates.

Sunday morning, after 2 nights of shows, we woke, broke down camp and got the hell out of dodge. We were so wore out from our adventures so far we were a tiny bit crabby and stayed at a nasty Western Inn in Billings, MT, for 10 solid hours of sleep and a shower. After that, we felt much better.

The next night we shot for camping in the Chippewa National Forest near Walker, MN, but it didn’t quite pan out. It was dark by the time we rolled up and we were both freaked out by different aspects of the venture: Mr. Go by police telling us we actually can’t camp there and also bugs. Me by a random psychopath finding our tent and stringing us up in the trees like in that one scary story someone told me when I was 7, and also bears.

So we pulled the plug and drove up the road to the Northern Lights Casino, where Mr. Go broke his inhuman non-spending streak by losing $100 in about 15 minutes. Then we chilled in the car for a bit, drinking the boxed wine from the back out of our leftover Solo cups.

Maybe it was the lingering feeling of togetherness from the Phish shows, but hanging out in the car with Mr. Go after a cross-country trip, I just felt so thankful for where we are in life. The clarity of purpose we’re discovering and the stellar prioritization that’s giving us so much happiness and peace.

Then we tipped the front seats back and slept for about 5 hours before the mosquitos squeezing in through our cracked windows woke Mr. Go and he took off around 5:30 a.m. while a confused Mrs. Go tried to determine why her bed was now moving.

What to do in the car for 100 hours

Yes, over the course of 14 days we spent roughly 100 hours in the car. Together. That’s almost 4 solid days. Together. And we haven’t even called any divorce lawyers yet! That's the biggest accomplishment of the venture, to be honest.

Something amazing happens when you’re trapped in an enclosed space with a person for a solid chunk of time. Especially when cell service goes out. You get bored enough that you actually have to resort to talking to each other. Just kidding. For us it was more like: we actually had the time to talk. And we didn’t have the opportunity to multi-task or try checking things off our to-do list like we do at home after Babs goes to bed. All we had to do was talk. We’ve had some of the best conversations we’ve had in a while, and were able to truly connect.

When we needed a break, we listened to podcasts. Some of our favorites are Tim Ferriss’ audio compilation of the Tao of Seneca, a stoic thinker and philosopher who lived about 2,000 years ago. The audio recordings are of his letters to a friend and offer many little nuggets of wisdom that resonate strongly even today. They’re short, around 15 minutes, and are great for sparking conversation. Topics covered include: poverty and riches, the shortness of life, how to live in the moment and how to avoid the busy trap.

Mr. Go also believes in staying up to date on the news and enjoys checking in with conservative radio, just to see what’s going on. It’s a little bit like looking through plexiglass at the zoo: “What are the crazy people doing today?” I can’t handle much of it; Mr. Go’s tolerance is only slightly higher.

The RNC was happening, so we listened to a Bill Maher podcast and the radio coverage of the convention for a while.

I drove for a couple stretches, but it was mostly Mr. Go behind the wheel. I served as the co-pilot, giving bad directions and getting things out of the cooler.

Speaking of which:

Eating on the Road

We realized in a previous post that only chumps stop to eat while trekking across the country. Just kidding, mostly. We stopped to eat a couple times, and getting a break to stretch our legs was super nice. But mostly we just took our meals in the car.

As a general rule, we don’t buy things, but we purchased this Iceless cooler before leaving Colorado and packed it up with asparagus, sliced ham, string cheese and hard-boiled eggs for the road. We were slightly less prepared with food for our trek to Washington and had to stop for lunch and dinner on the first day of driving. Ugh, greasy fast food burgers.

Of course, you can stop and take the time to have decent meals on the road, but we were going for speed, since a massive storm in Wisconsin and Minnesota the night before we left detoured the shit out of our route and lost us about 3 hours. So we were pushing the pace.

(Of course, before we even got in the car, it was three weeks of scrubbing the house top to bottom and lining up cleaning, lawn mowing and care while we’re away to make sure everything was taken care of for Airbnb guests.

Including: setting up mail forwarding to our parents house, talking to neighbors re: checking our mail for things that slip through and also just keeping an eye on things in general.)

What We Learned From 5,804 miles
  • Don’t try to find your campsites in the dark.
  • Don’t be lazy; pack your food in the car.
  • Bring something mesh to cover the window cracks so bugs don’t get in at night.
  • Never play Pok√©mon go. We witnessed a family nearly leave their daughter at a rest area because she was so buried in her cell phone she literally had no awareness of her surroundings. Don’t worry, once they backed out of their parking spot they stopped, Dad rolled down the window heroically and shouted for his offspring several times until she heard him and strolled leisurely to the car, nose buried in her phone the entire time. Ah, American family vacations.
  • Slow it down. We saw an accident in North Dakota, a car’s front end all smashed up, police cars and ambulance. All it takes is one split second, just one moment to ruin everything. Going a few extra mph faster will get you to your destination a few minutes earlier, but is the risk really worth it? Plus, when you slow down, appreciate the journey rather than the destination, you’re not trying to pass people and road frustration decreases exponentially.
Along the way, we saw a lot of RVs and big-ass campers on the road, towed by similarly big-ass vehicles. Mr. Go and I had to wonder: What do people even keep in there? What do they need to bring camping that they require 7 metric shit-tons of space?

Because once we ditched the kids and all their baggage, the Subaru Impreza felt like a palace. Subey and the Thule car-top carrier held everything we would need to live for months, with room for 2 adult humans to stretch out.

Of course, we've realized how little a person actually needs, and it's lightened up our lives tremendously. And it makes packing a breeze.