From Sea to Shining Sea: scattered thoughts from driving cross-country

West Coast Pic: taken from Baker’s Beach San Francisco on 5/29/18

We made it to Norfolk, Virginia! It took us 16-days, and over 4400-miles of driving, with several stops and starts along the way. We were able to take our time and visit several landmarks, big cities, festivals, family and friends en route. Since I posted daily photos and summaries on Facebook throughout the trip (sorry if you don’t use this form of social media and couldn’t see them… also, sorry if you do use this form and I overwhelmed you with posts), I thought I would focus this entry on takeaways from the drive trip as a whole.

(Just to avoid confusion: Norfolk is not our final destination. We will be spending a week here while Jeff has to undergo some mandatory prep on base, then we will be returning to Memphis to live for the next 12-months. Since the brunt of our drive trip is behind us and we completed the coast-to-coast aspect of it, I thought I’d write an entry. But technically, we still have another 920-miles of driving remaining to return to Memphis).

Let’s start with being in the car itself: not as painful and boring as I expected. In my normal, everyday life I generally don’t sit for prolonged periods. In my work as a PT, I was on my feet most of the day and I am active outside of my job as well. So I wasn’t sure how this whole sitting for 7-8 hours a day in a confined space thing was going to go. It helped that we traded off regularly between driver and passenger (though each time we alternated we had to shift some luggage in the back that would only fit behind my seat… yes, we packed our car that tightly) and stopped every 2-3 hours for food, gas, restrooms etc. It also helped that we upgraded our vehicle before the trip to a gently used Subaru Outback as neither of our previous cars would have provided the same comfort (nor reliability) as this one.

So physically the car ride did not turn out to be much of an issue. Mentally it wasn’t so bad either. We didn’t turn out to be that bickering couple where one spouse berates the other on his or her driving technique (or maybe we’re just good at holding our respective tongues) or where the passenger is frantically exclaiming directions to the driver and panic ensues after they miss a turnoff. We both remained calm for most of the trip, save a couple instances when another vehicle encroached into our lane. We mainly referred to Siri for directions, occasionally helping to clarify her commands to the driver (and both getting irritated when she insisted, for the umpteenth time, that we “Proceed to the Route”).

During the 98% of the trip where driving did not take vast reserves of focus, we brought our own entertainment. We listened to a variety of music from my IPhone, sometimes via organized Playlists or Albums, sometimes via the game of roulette that is Random (is it going to be Hillsong or Eminem? Hey, I have eclectic tastes). The driver always had seek and skip privileges. We brought a book to read aloud and discuss together, as well as our own reading materials to consume separately. I journaled some. We listened to an Audiobook, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (narrated by the author/comedian himself who was born to a black mother and white father during apartheid in South Africa, I highly recommend the book). We pointed out differences in terrain, road signs, states, plates etc. I apparently underestimated my ability to sit in one place for long periods (although, I don’t think this newfound ability is necessarily a positive one).

I also learned on this trip that there are many, many forms of driving. Just like Bubba and his shrimp, I could list indefinitely different types: moderate speed traffic, stop and go traffic, Bay area traffic (yuk, you think Seattle’s bad?), one-lane mountainous highway, two-lane mountainous, one or two lane flat highway, multi-lane freeway, roads with lots of semi’s and trailers versus roads without… You get the idea. I also learned, something Jeff’s told me a number of times but that I dismissed, that we drive very slow in Western Washington compared to the rest of the country. In parts of rural California I was driving steadily around 80-mph and several people passed me. So, naturally, I sped up. For long stretches of the trip, non-semi-truck traffic was flowing around 85 to 90-mph. I don’t ever recall driving this fast on a road in Washington but hey, if it gets you there quicker (also, it’s kind of fun… when the weather is good and it’s flat and safe and everything… of course).

My favorite day of driving was between Ashland, Oregon and Ukiah, California. We took the long way over Grant’s Pass to Highway 101 along the coast and through the Redwoods. We travelled the route on Memorial Day and surprisingly there wasn’t much traffic. I drove the first half of the day, mainly along single-lane mountainous roads with intermittent pullouts for slower vehicles (which on this day, were few and far in between). The scenery was gorgeous and I enjoyed the coordination and rhythm of unabated, somewhat technical, driving. Also, I drove through the corner of Jebediah Smith Redwoods State Park. My first glimpse at a full-sized Redwood was while operating our vehicle on a winding road going about 55-mph, it took all my control not to swerve while ogling that monumental first tree. Merely calling them big trees does not do them justice. Jeff later drove us down the famous Avenue of Giants, but at a much more leisurely pace.

Avenue of the Giants: our car parked on the side of the road amongst the giant Redwoods

Another thing I realized, over the course of the trip, is that most people are generally decent drivers. Yeah, there’s that select few that consistently drive like jerks, they’re easy to spot. I expect them to cut me off, so when they do, I don’t get mad. I just tell myself that person is probably an extremely unhappy and unhealthy individual with an unrealistic sense of self-importance and sky-high blood pressure and that his or her inevitable self-destruction will more than account for the string of slights he or she imposed on others. But in the meantime, I’ll just stay out of their way. As for the rest of the drivers, I found that most people maintain a fair level of attentiveness and regard for their fellow drivers. Occasionally good drivers will do something careless but then quickly recover. It happens to the best of us. I find driving to be much more enjoyable when I give my fellow driver some grace and don’t assume that they’re merely a reckless imbecile out to endanger me or impede my progress. They’re probably just doing their best to get safely and efficiently from point A to point B, just like me.

Driving cross-country also enhanced my awareness of the breadth of, and diversity in, the United States. America is big, people (I’m saying this to you, the people, not that America has big people, though, it does)! Air travel, as convenient as it is, has likely skewed our perception of distances. Or at least, it makes it easier to forget about all that land, and resources, and people, in between the cities where we board and depart the plane. Well, driving forces you to look at it. It compels you to frame things differently. I actually have to encounter those people who live “in the middle of nowhere” and know that they live in such a place because I came from three hours away in one direction and will go two more hours in the other, and there’s literally nothing of note. It makes me think things like: What do they do for recreation? What are their resources like? How might where they live shape their values and priorities? Do they have the same opportunities afforded to me? How would I be different if I lived here? It’s easy to say that we accept and understand different ways of life and different people, but if we only really look at and talk to people that live like and sound like ourselves, and never consider these types of questions, then do we really? The drive gave me the opportunity to see a bit more clearly the clustering and spread of our nation’s beautiful and varied population.

Not quite, but not too far, from the middle of nowhere

Besides exposing me to a variety of lifestyles in the current, it helped think about the plight of explorers and pioneers of the past (or even, to some extent, current emigrants around the world today). Some days the drive seemed to drag on and on with very little change in terrain or scenery. I’d zoom in on the map and count down the miles between the next small city and chance for a pit stop or return to “civilization” of some kind. Did I mention that I was in a fairly new, well air-conditioned car, plodding along at 80-or-so miles per hour, well-fed, listening to music, and with clear insight to my path and destination? To frame my relative impatience, I looked up how fast (or rather slow) a caravan of wagon trains generally travelled in their journey west. About 15-miles per day. I was going farther in less than 15-minutes than they would travel in an entire day. In a plane, that distance would be covered in about 90-seconds. What used to be a year’s dangerous voyage can be over before you can finish watching the Pitch Perfect movies on your personal device at the comfortable cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. Though driving still pales in comparison to travelling by foot, it at least gave me a bit more insight into the scale, scope, people, and history of our great nation, than sitting in a climate control cabin while laughing at Fat Amy for a few hours before safely landing in another major US city.

Perhaps I’m getting a bit too deep and real for y’all (I better start using it if I’m going to be living in the South for a year). On a lighter note, I reaffirmed on this trip that staircases in large buildings and parking garages often don’t lead to where you want to go. I say reaffirmed because I have experienced this in the past (due to my desire to stay active… and mild to moderate fear of elevators), but because of the infrequency of occurrences, had kind of forgotten. Well, turns out that, much like pressing the Random button on my IPhone for music, taking the stairs in a large building is kind of a game of roulette. Am I going to end up near the street that I want to go… or… am I going to be spit out into a narrow corridor reeking of trash and urine in a back alley behind a strip mall of sketchy restaurants (thank you San Francisco)? Sometimes the stairs would release us in a respectable or reliable way, but oftentimes we were closer to loading docks and back entrances than our desired destination. Really architects?! Are you just going to assume that everyone will funnel into the elevators? How about rewarding the people who want to get a little extra exercise. Couldn’t we set this up like health insurances do with incentive programs? Decrease your risk of diabetes, take the stairs! We should make pristine, well-marked stairwells with refreshing smells and nice music. Maybe even pump a little extra BO stench into the elevators or add a toll (a percentage of which is given to the stair users) to further encourage a change in priorities. Make America Healthy Again!

On a completely unrelated note, I found it interesting to observe the differences between states: their road signage, infrastructure, buildings, rules/regulations etc. Overall, we stopped in and/or drove through 11 different states (WA, OR, CA, NV, AZ, NM, TX, OK, AR, TN, VA). The most obvious state border crossing was between Bakersfield and Las Vegas on Highway 15. It was dry, flat, barren for miles and miles on the California side, then WHAM, Nevada border and suddenly an oasis of giant casinos. You could literally see the border for miles. Hmmm, I bet I know where Nevada starts… Other states had welcome centers or carefully situated rest stops upon entry, others didn’t seem to care. Each state had their own distinct architecture and layout of rest stops, Virginia’s being the nicest that I encountered. I also enjoyed the variation in signage: each state using its own wording or visuals to essentially say the same thing, most notable with wind warnings and slippery roads (I’m planning to talk more about unique road signs in my next post, so I won’t go into detail here).

Overall, I found that my expectations of each state and driving day did not always match the reality of what we encountered. Las Vegas was not as sweltering hot as I expected (although Phoenix was). Parts of the country were more mountainous and varied than I was expecting (I’m looking at you New Mexico). Being from the Northwest, I felt like we must be the undisputed national leader in shades and abundance of greenness but having now spent some time elsewhere, I dare argue that Virginia would give us a run for our money. The North Cascades may have more darker tones but the Appalachian’s have a density and variety that I hadn’t seen before.

VA green
All that Virginia greenery! (And convenient signage for their lovely upcoming Rest Area)

I recently read a book by my former Pastor, Richard Dahlstrom, titled, The Map is Not the Journey. I thought it a fitting read for the trip and change in lifestyle we were about to embark upon. But as I’ve been thinking about and writing this entry I realize the title serves as an apt summary of my experience thus far. Sure, we mapped out our course and deduced drive times, appropriate highways, activities and stopping points for each day. But it is one thing to plan, and another to try to execute and then actually experience the intended plan. The journey itself takes time, energy, and has multiple ups and downs. I think we live in a culture evolving more and more towards instant gratification and filling every moment of down time. A culture where journeys are becoming increasingly rare. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had any life-changing epiphanies during the cross-country drive, but I’ve enjoyed the change in pace and focus. It has been a time to slow down and reflect and experience new things.

That being said, I am looking forward to settling down in Memphis. Even though I’ve learned that I can sit relatively comfortably for hours on end and live for days out of a suitcase, I would choose not to do so indefinitely. I am also getting tired of free hotel breakfasts but am too cheap to spend money elsewhere (hey, if it’s included in the price then it seems like a waste to not eat it).

Thanks for reading this far (unless you just scrolled down to the end to see how long this entry is before deciding whether or not it’s worth investing your time in reading it). Unlike my last blog ( which had a clear focus (training for and completing an Ironman), this one does not. I mean, it’s called Seattleite in the South and I was thinking it would mainly discuss my experiences while living there, but clearly this entry doesn’t. And the next one probably won’t either. So, basically, I’m just going to post whatever I feel like sharing and you can choose to read it or not (I guess that’s essentially the definition of a blog). So… stay tuned… for something!

Atl coast
East Coast Pic: taken from First Landing State Park near Virginia Beach on 6/13/18

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