3.16.2011

Finding The Roads Less Traveled

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.

27 comments:

Sim said...

Wonderful post, Shreve! Thanks for all the valuable info... while it does seem a bit tedious, it sounds like a great approach. I can't think of any other way to not only find roads you otherwise wouldn't have, but to get a general idea of what to expect along the way (especially with satellite & street view images).

Penny in Co said...

Isn't it fortuitious that you are creative, patient and earnest. I doubt that I have enough of any of those attributes to be able to plan this trip the way you did! Sounds like a trip of a lifetime. And it sounds like it ended up just that way for you as well, in the long run:)

Kyrie said...

This is INSANE! They make these things called MAPS - why didn't you just use one??

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! Thank you!

The M half of the M -n- J Show said...

Pretty cool. I'm looking forward to seeing more about this trip.

dailycoyote said...

K ~ If you can find a cross country map with all the little roads listed, my hat is off to you. Road atlases are primarily interstates and main highways, nothing more. Carrying a zillion local maps on my Vespa didn't make sense - they're too hard to read while driving, anyway.

dogingham.com said...

Kudos. All I did was drive with one of my dogs from Alabama to Colorado and back. It felt like a big accomplishment. What you did was astounding. I would be so scared by myself. It wasn't the miles I'm impressed with as much as your going it alone. Must have felt very freeing...

Robert said...

70 mph on a Vespa? I forget did you post a technical review of this cool scooter? Sounds like a 150 cc 2-stroke.

Rebecca said...

It sounds like an awesome trip! Love the idea of the index cards. My family has driven across the country three times and loved every minute of it. Doing by yourself - wow! Scary, but divine! Looking forward to hearing more about your trip!

Anonymous said...

I can really appreciate your no-interstates trip. During the 1940s and '50s, my family traveled by car from our home in NC to the home of grandparents in Idaho. Interstates didn't exist yet, so it took at least six days. We went through countless small towns, ate at Ma&Pa restaurants, stayed at "quaint" motels (often tiny cabins), waved to engineers whose trains ran parallel to the roads we traveled, were glued to the windows as we drove through glorious American vistas of wheat fields, dairy farms, cattle ranches, mountains, deserts.

Traveling by Vespa would be even more up close and personal!

mlaiuppa said...

Too bad they didn't have Mapquest then. They have a way to say no highways, only side roads. You can really customize your route. Or maybe that's google maps that does that now. Or maybe it's the navigation in my car? I'll bet some of the GPS thingies you can buy probably do it now.

Old school is a tedious but rewarding way to travel. Lots of maps and some mistakes. But you see a lot more and that is the fun of it.

LEISEL said...

Shreve - You are so detail oriented ~ so organized! I loved reading about the cards you used. This was a "custom" road trip plan for sure! All this documentation and your attention to detail makes you a wonderful story-teller and writer.

Kyrie said...

Insane can be delightful to read, & this cuckoo system worked for you, so, hey. My CV: I bicycled alone across Canada when I was 18. Then I bicycled with a boyfriend from Portland, Oregon to NYC. I also bicycled alone through Mexico. Now that I have a dog, I travel the US from May to November in a minivan, camping. (a) Why do you need a map of the USA anyway? Don't you already know where the states are? (b) Who cares! They connect. You get a map of where you are; on the edge it says what comes next. Get that one. 2 maps. Fold the map to where you are & stick it in a ziplock bag. (If you need to read it, uh, stop for a sec.) Go through the first area, give it away. If you want an overview, a tiny USA map with interstates is fine. Even better, as I'm sure you discovered, some of the most interesting roads are found by just asking!

harmanica said...

Your system of cards is very clever! On our cross country car trips I have found that the 2 map system (changing from one edge to the next) is challenging enough with my entire lap covered-it would be impossible on your Vespa.

As for a map with side routes, I recommend a trucker's atlas. Full of side roads and knows road conditions, clearances, and (often most helpful) one way streets. Often you can even find them laminated so you can draw on them with a china marker. We use them for long trips to avoid large cities and interstates as well.

Felyne said...

I love navigation, plotting on a map is heaps of fun for me. When we crossed the country I bought a map of the US intentionally for the sole purpose of drawing our course as we drove, uploading to flickr along the way. Was so much fun.

But I have a question - wouldn't your routes also depend on fuel stops? I know driving through Montana (this was 25 years ago though) for example you have 40 miles to the next stop. That would highly dictate your route wouldn't it? (sorry if you've covered that question in an earlier post)

Heidi said...

When I scooted around MA I did the same sort of thing- wrote directions on cards. When I had a passenger I would tape the instructions to my back and my passenger would read to me when to turn next. Works well!

betsy said...

Question - I was looking around but couldn't find it or maybe just missed it - what Vespa did you have? Was it a 200cc, or 250cc? Do you still use it?

Anonymous said...

Hi Shreve, I know you stayed the night at Delta, Utah on highway 50. What route did you take from there? It is difficult to find a route without taking the interstate. I am thinking maybe you went through Eureka then took highway 89 from there. Could you tell us more?
Thanks,
Sam

Anonymous said...

I love Shreve's approach to planning her path. If i were to take a cross-country trip, by myself on a Vespa, I would have done the same thing. Visualizing, through careful plotting a big adventure like that, is gratifying in itself and would just add to my confidence and anticipation. Love it. Thanks for sharing, S. -m

Bernice said...

I can see you might need to be OCD to blog in the first place, at least if you want to be helpful. The complication of simple (never carried more than two maps at a time myself, but never tried to read them both at once) & the outright preference for tedious over easy reminds me of the saying about computer programmers: "Normal" people say, "I'm too lazy to figure this out, I'll just look it up." Programmers say, "I'm too lazy to look this up, I'll just figure it out."

john said...

Hi, I knew this article and i am really interest in this post and site. So i need some other important article in this site,because i want to busy at this site.
Business advisors London

john said...

So beautiful and helpful article. I think this post composed of with some learning and acquiring lot of things.
Gin rummy for iPad

Caesar Stovall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john mick said...

Hi , great quality content to the Finding The Roads Less Traveled , just wanted to comment it , thanks a1-paris-apartments.com.
Real Estate Expert Paris

nuixen marketing said...

Fleshandhide

Fashion Leather Jackets | Celebrity Leather Jackets | Sheep Leather Jackets are Available
at Fleshandhide.com , leather jackets uk leather jackets usa quality leather jackets

Travel and Visit said...

Love to read your own experiences, how you worded them and the interviews.

Alfaj Ripon said...

Hi admin,
I read your blog, its really awesome,
Just imagine - you thought of shopping and there you are - you have bought the desired products without actually going anywhere! This is the online shopping trend!
see more details: vape shop near me

your regards
alfajripon