snippets and a few more A's

Is there anything you didn't bring that you wish you had?
Well, I often wished for jeans; I missed wearing them along the ride, but jeans are too bulky to have rationalized packing a pair, especially as I spent most of my time in leather pants. But that was more of a whim-wish rather than something I really needed or would have benefited from.

Before leaving, I debated at length over whether or not to bring a tent, GPS, and mace/weapon. Finally, I realized the debate in my head was really about "shoulds" versus "self." I "should" have brought a tent, a GPS, and mace. But I didn't want to, and I went with my feeling and did not bring any of those things. I never needed them, never wished for them. They would have just taken up space.

Do you have a photo journal of your trek?
Yes, of course! But this was back when I was shooting 100% film. I did not own a digital camera. Strapped to the seat behind me was an insulated cooler bag with my camera and rolls and rolls of film! Some of it was color, some black and white, and I dutifully kept it all cool with refreezeable ice packs.

When I got to NYC, I developed all my film and rented darkroom space to make contact sheets. I had time to scan some of my negs, and those images are scattered throughout this blog. I might have a few more on my hard drive. But the bulk of the images are sitting in a old steamer chest under my desk, waiting for time in a darkroom...

Is there anything that you did while on the trip that you wish you'd done differently? And as a follow up, anything you didn't do that you wish you did?
Nothing comes to mind...

How did you average less than 5 bucks a night on lodging???
I stayed in a handful of motels. I camped. Mostly, though, I spent nights with strangers. Some of these people were friends of friends who generously opened their homes to me ~ in Chicago, I stayed with an awesome med student named Maureen who was the girlfriend of my sister's best friend's boyfriend's roommate.

Other times, I stayed with really wonderful people I met on the road. In Fairmount, Indiana, the hometown of James Dean, I was planning to camp but stopped for a milkshake first (priorities! and this happened to be the best milkshake along my route), and met two brothers at the milkshake shop; they were on motorcycles and we started talking, and I went home with them! (not in THAT way :)

Weren't you scared? Any tense moments?
I was scared for a few days directly before leaving. But I feel that way before I do anything ~ it wasn't like an informative fear, it was nervousness about doing something new. It's a very familiar feeling.

Crossing the Diablo Range on the way to Sacramento was extremely scary - legitimate, real, animal fear. But that lasted maybe twenty minutes and I got through it and it informed the way I traveled from then on, in a good way. That's it. I honestly never felt scared from the second day onward.

What was your most interesting animal encounter while on your Vespa journey?
A full-grown cheetah licked all the sweat off my arm in Ohio, and he was purring.

Did you get lonely?
Not really. I felt really alone on the shores of Lake Erie where I had a total meltdown in a gas station parking lot, but that was exhaustion more than anything else. (I got viciously jealous of the people I saw driving by in their cars and their minivans with their CUPHOLDERS. As I sulked around the asphalt, I swore that no one realized the luxury of a cupholder; damn them for taking their cupholders for granted!)

Because I spent so many nights with people, I really enjoyed having the days to myself. Sometimes, I got a motel room just to be alone, because I had SO much interaction with people, even when camping.

Do you still have your Vespa?
Yes! But I can't find the key right at the moment....

Had you read 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' before you took this trip? Are you familiar with Peter S. Beagle's book "I See By My Outfit"?
I have both books, they were given to me by different people, but have not read either one...

What comforts of home did you miss the most while on the road? Which aspect of life on the road did you miss the most once you settled in one spot?
As mentioned above, I really missed my jeans! When I stopped, it was really hard to for me to be inside. It was weird and uncomfortable to sleep in a bed every night. It was hard to travel in cars - I had to have all the windows down. It was hard to spend more than an hour indoors without loosing my mind. I spent a lot of time sitting on the curb in Brooklyn, because I had to be outside.

Would you do it again if the opportunity arose?
Yah! But maybe on a horse like Kit.e suggested. I think that would be so fun in a group....

Did you learn anything from the trip?
Tons and tons. This question deserves a book (winkwink!)

OK, I'll finish up the rest next time!


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.


Q&A Sesh

EMT class + calving season = I'm so fried.
So, let's do a Q&A sesh!
It will help get the blood flowing to this part of my brain
(the Vespa part)
plus, I'm curious about what you're curious about.

Leave questions in the comment section of this post
and I shall answer them....