Aargh. At some point between January and the present, my EMT class went from being 8 hours a week (doable) up to 20 hours a week (feeling impossible). This schedule is making me crazy. So sorry to be like, "I'm back on Vespa Vagabond," and then crickets. I really want to be writing here and it feels like a mirage right now, just right out of reach.... OK. On to question one.
What was the actual route you took (for those of us who hope to take a similar trip one day)?
Preparing my route was actually one of the most challenging, or, rather, most tedious aspects of the trip. I had a basic trajectory across the country, loosely constructed by connecting the dots between a handful of spots I definitely wanted to hit: San Fran (starting point), Montana (to visit my sister), the Badlands of South Dakota (pilgrimage), Maine (I just wanted to see Maine), Boston (to visit a childhood best friend), NYC (the destination).
I did not want to travel on interstates. My Vespa went 70mph if pushed, but it was not a pleasant ride at that speed; 50 - 60 mph was much more comfortable, and slowing to 25 or 30mph was quite lovely too, depending on the road. Plus, the speed limit of the interstate is, what, 70 or 75? And the common speed is 85mph or more. There was no way I could keep up with the flow of traffic on the interstate, nor did I want to. I did ride the interstate for seven miles - it was totally unavoidable - and I rode on the shoulder and hated every second of it.
While the interstate is a fast and easy way to get from Point A to Point B, I was so grateful for the limitations of the Vespa, for they required me to take smaller, more meandering roads, and this is where the magic happened, where the beauty was found. (This goes for traveling by car, too!) The trip would have been wholly different if I had not been so completely dedicated to sticking to the minor roads.
So, interstates were out, and I found, in areas where the interstate was not the main thoroughfare, that secondary highways were unpleasant routes as well because they were the main thoroughfare, and therefore less than ideal on a Vespa. I wanted to take the most low-key roads possible ~ frontage roads, back roads, I even chose dirt roads if they were the only alternative to the interstate. This is where the tedium came into play: With every online map program, trip planner, or even AAA, if you plug in your starting point and your destination, it gives you the fastest, most direct route - the interstate. If there's no interstate, it gives you the undesirable secondary highway.
And so I found my starting place on google map. Zoomed in so that I could see ALL the streets and roads. And then I picked my way along with the arrow keys. Sometimes, I'd have what seemed like a great route and the road I was "on" would turn into a dead end. Then, I'd have to backtrack on the google map until I found a new series of roads that, together, would take me from one town to the next.
Sometimes, this was easy and straightforward. I crossed the state of Nevada on Highway 50 ~ it doesn't get any easier or more straightforward than that! Wyoming and South Dakota were also easy to map, simply because there aren't that many roads in either state and the roads are not heavily traveled. Iowa was simple to map as well ~ it seems the road system is set up on a perfect grid through the corn and bean fields.
However, my method got more complicated around mid-size cities and in moderately populated areas. Utah and Montana were incredibly difficult (and irritating) to map, as was upstate New York. I think this is because the areas are populated enough to require interstate routes and major highways, but not populated enough for secondary routes and byways. Much of New England was very easy to route - and gorgeous to ride - because the population density meant lots of little connecting roads and byways.
Obviously, these routes of mine were more complicated and detailed than the average "take 1-90 for 450 miles, then take exit 45." As I searched for routes via the zoomed-in google map, I wrote down every turn (because with this technique, there are often many turns) on a sheet of paper. If my route hit a dead end, I'd cross out a series of turns and write down the new, successful version. Since these directions were far too complicated to memorize, I transfered the directions, line by line, to index cards and affixed a plastic sleeve to my Vespa, between the handlebars, that housed about five cards at a time.
While riding, I could glance down and see what my next turn would be. When I got to the bottom of an index card, I could slide it out of the sleeve with one hand (while riding, if need be) and tuck it into the pocket of my leather jacket. I threw away scores of these cards when I stopped for gas ~ I probably used about 1000 cards through the course of the trip.
Due to the challenges of mapping my way in this manner, certain routes were based solely on finding appropriate roads that would take me in the general direction I wanted to go. That's how I passed through Wyoming. Wyoming was not a "destination point" for me; I rode through Wyoming because the least complicated way to get from San Francisco to Bozeman was across Nevada, which landed me in Utah, and from Utah it was better for the Vespa to go through Wyoming than through Idaho. Thank goodness. That accidental route is the reason I turned around, when I reached New York, and came back here to live.