Day 1: On the Road
Date: April 18, 2012
Journey: Chicago, IL to Lincoln, NE
Total miles: 529m (40.5mpg)
I. Preparation vs. Procrastination
Like the previous 20 years of my life, my road trip was delayed. I had meaninglessly busied my way around the internet during April 17. I intended to leave on the 18th because it was two days after my mother’s and dog’s birthday. This left me Tuesday to finish preparing. But I procrastinated. It’s what you do when you’re anxious.
I had several months to prepare for my trip, which meant several months “wasted.” I wanted to leave for the Pacific Northwest as soon as I returned home upon graduation, but I was naive about winter driving conditions in the mountains as well as access to National Parks. I decided to leave in April, but I still had many more decisions to make. Should I plan the trip or be spontaneous? Should I hang out with friends or strangers? Was I going to get a car or hitch hike? If I got a car, would it be a Honda Fit, Subaru Impresa, or Hyundai Accent? Should I buy a smart phone? Which one: an Android or an iphone 4S? How much should I spend on a tent? Should I get a better pocket knife? A gas, petrolium, or alcohol camping stove? Purification tablets, bottle filter, or ceramic pump? The list of decisions went on…
So much cautionary thinking and over-analysis hindered my preparation and enjoyment. I weighed the costs and benefits of each purchase. I made several visits to each car dealer, REI, and the AT&T store to become more informed. It was all so silly. I knew that whatever I got I would eventually be happy with, but I wanted it to be the right choice! (Eventually, I decided to go with a 2012 Honda Civic LX, a Samsung Galaxy SII, an REI Passenger 2 tent, a Jetboil Flash Stove, and Portable Aqua purification tablets. I originally wanted to write a post about why I decided to purchase each of these, but that would be a little too neurotic, even for me). As I started to realize all the expenses and planning, I had burts of second thoughts. The closer my departure date, the more I felt in-over-my-head.
The anxiety grew. There was so much left unplanned, but perhaps this was a good thing. I decided to let go in the last several days leading up to the trip. I fit in a few of the final hours visiting the grandparents. They were getting older and sicker. It was obvious they had concerns about their future. They were sad (yet excited) to see me leaving town again so soon after returning from 2.5 years in Texas. I also made sure to fit in some time with Duke before I left. I felt bad I hadn’t spent so much time with him in the last week. I would miss him more than anyone. He was my buddy, and he’d grown very attached while I’d been home. For the first time since my last visit he was taking 1.5 hour walks and playing with that darn remote controlled car in the basement. I felt bad about not spending more time with my other sibling, my sister. I had really intended to, but I got so caught up with my own projects and de-prioritsed her like many other important people in my life. It was a bad habit. I had become accustomed to going into “Dean-land,” as they called it, since I took refuge in my imagination from all the family conflict on the first floor above me.
The two people I spent the most time with during my time home were an old friend from college who had moved to Chicago months ago and a cute gal I met on an online dating site. We had made a date to camp in my backyard to test out the camp gear before heading off on my adventure. The Jetboil worked really well and the tent held up in stormy weather. I took her down Sheridan Road the next morning back to Logan Square on the 15th and then went on a final date with the other special lady in my life. We caught a bite at the Chicago Diner, a favorite of ours.
The next day I celebrated my Mom’s birthday at the Museum of Science and Industry, and on the next I went out shopping again–but in the afternoon. This included picking up my contact prescription with my aunt who was adamant that I replace my scratched-up 5 year old glasses. I told her I planned on leaving at 8am tomorrow, and wasn’t going to wait for them to be made. She said she knew I wouldn’t be reedy to leave by then and that she’d get them for me. Before midnight, I had a chance to say goodbye to my sister and grandma, but insufficient time to pack.
I realized I wasn’t going to make it out by 8am the next morning, so I went to sleep for six hours after spending couple hours finalizing my paper contact list and calendar (a backup). When I woke up, I also recognized that I was not going to be able to make it to Greeley, Colorado–a 16+ hour drive–in one trip. My trip was already getting off to a messy start and it hadn’t even started! I was adamant about making a video of my gear before I left so I spent a good a mount of time organizing it all on a coffee table in the den. Part for fun, part check-list, I made sure I had everything I needed accounted for. I wasn’t too surprised, but I was bringing a lot more gear (mostly clothes and food) than I had anticipated. To think I originally planned on hitchhiking and backpacking! Then again, I was planning on moving out there. Fortunately, it all fit comfortably in the trunk.
At about 11am, I took Duke for a final walk and filmed him running in the park. I could now watch the 12-year old guy thousands of miles away. We stopped by my father’s parents home to say goodbye to them and then ran back home. My mother had just returned home from picking the glasses up from my aunt as I was saying goodbye to Duke. Looking into his sad doggy eyes was almost enough for me to postpone the trip. But I was set in my ways and didn’t want to give my family any reason to think they were right about me not leaving that day.
At approximately 1pm, 5 hours after my original departure time, I turned on Catbird’s ignition and left for the West with a nearly empty gas tank.
III. Hitting the Road (Illinois)
Driving on the the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) was exhilarating. (Never thought I’d use the word “exhilarating in a the same sentence as “tollway” and Ronald Reagan”). Windows down, the crisp Spring air blew away any anxiety buried under my skin. I felt like a free man. The open road meant an open future. I was as much excited for the past I was leaving literally behind as for the plans I had before me. The West was a symbol of dreams to come. It was a direction. It was an experience.
I got a bit cocky. I pressed my luck, seeing how far I could drive the car with the little fuel I had. I hadn’t filled it up the tank the night before because I was in a hurry to get home, but in the morning I was even more anxious to get out of town. With a half a gallon of gas (22 miles of driving), I pulled off the tollway into Lombard to fill up–a $50 start on my road trip. Soon I hit the tolls. Over $10 in total to make it to Iowa. I regretted avoiding the tollway. A woman at the toll explained the fee doubled a few months ago from $1.80 to $3.60. I was glad I took the extra change my grandmother threw at me earlier. As I pulled money out at a later poll, I grumbled that I remembered when the tolls were $1. “You’re not that old,” said the toll woman.
I probably looked like a kid form the suburb moving into a University of Iowa dorm. My bag of gear and a stash of food (Fritos, pretzels, deluxe nuts, and dates) sat shotgun and my Nalgene accompanied my Galaxy SII under the armrest. Galaxy, in addition to Catbird, would be my travel companions: an electronic 140 horse-powered wagon and a jack of all electronic trades. Depending so much on technology made me ambivalent a week before. I didn’t like the environmental toll and fiscal expenses of having a car and I once despised the obnoxious use of smartphones as much as I had of cellphones a decade earlier before I came to own one. Now that I had a car for the first time in over 2.5 years, I felt empowered. I no longer had to worry about getting rides form others and planning my day around others’ schedule. The smartphone was a handy distraction, but an all-in-one tool. It took better photos and videos than my last stolen camera and it made texting and managing a list of contacts less of a chore. (More on my thoughts about this to come).
I was getting all too close to my travel companions too fast. Galaxy has become a mobile flirting device. A fine lady from Arcata who I met online invited me to spend a day with her before arriving at my destination of Sanctuary One in southern Oregon–she promised to make it a day I’d never forget. I wondered whether suggestive text messaging with voice command should fall under the category of phone sex–the PG13 version. Meanwhile I had teamed up with Catbird to maintain the highest mpg average won our cross-country adventure. We got off to a grand start: 42mpg! As we hit winds near Iowa, our average dropped to 38mpg. “You know you have a cool car when you’re disappointed it only gets 38 miles per gallon,” I told Galaxy. We were one small family on the road.
To be continued in part 2…