Afterthoughts about Goin’ West 2014

This is the map of my 16-day, Goin’ West 2014 trip:

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Goin’ West 2014 Trip, May 24-June 9. Car Trip Odometer Distance: 5806.6 Miles

This surpassed my previously longest car trip from Grinnell to Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, by a whole 17 miles!!

I stuck pretty closely to my original route, with some new additions–especially Little Bighorn National Park and North Cascades National Highway–and only two major deletions.  After the magnificence of Yellowstone, I didn’t feel the need to deviate 250 miles from my westward trip to see Glacier National Park in Montana, although I’d heard many wonderful things about it.  I also didn’t cross into Canada to visit Vancouver.

The trip included visits to seven national parks: Little Bighorn (Montana), Yellowstone (Wyoming), North Cascade, Olympic, and Mount Rainier (Washington State), Redwood, and Yosemite (California). The parks were fantastic and more than worth the cost of the annual season pass. My favorites were Redwood and Yosemite, but none disappointed.

There were other parks I missed–Grand Tetons, Badlands (major mistake not visiting while driving through South Dakota in 2008) and Great Basin–because of time and distance concerns.   Although I managed to go to several museums and other sites in the cities I visited, I made the decision not to tour the cities extensively in favor of taking full advantage of having RB on hand to explore as much of the natural beauty God has given us as possible.  I do hope to play tourist to the hilt the next time I’m in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco and to experience Vancouver.

loudmusicA number of things made the drive more enjoyable. First, my playlist. I only made it about half way through the 12GB playlist I’d created especially for the trip, but I got to enjoy some wonderful music, played at window-shaking levels. The music covered a very wide range of styles I love, from Ragtime and Big band of the early 1900s to Rhythm and Blues and Rock of the late 20th and early 21st century.  (Can’t concentrate on my driving while listening to Classical, so that’s on my reading playlist.)  Don’t worry, I’m still listening to the drive-time playlist, so sooner or later, I’ll hear the rest.

I’d purchased a tablet last Thanksgiving and used it to upload most of the trip information I found online. This allowed me to avoid printing most of the materials I’ve used for past trips and meant I only had the Mapquest printout of my original route and my always at hand atlas of the United States and Canada. Only downside was the challenge of finding WiFi access when I needed it to check TripAdvisor, Mapquest and similar sites. Fortunately, most of the Mickey D’s along the way had free WiFi.

Next, two plus weeks on the road promised a lot of fast food eating, which would be good neither financially nor nutritionally.  In the past, I’ve relied on resupplying various food storage containers with ice to keep luncheon meats, fruit, and other foods cool.  This year, I acquired a self-contained hot/cool unit that ran off one of RB’s 12-volt outlets.  It was a simple affair, just plug it in, select heat or cool, and add your food.  Only problem occurred when I forgot to disconnect it while RB sat parked in San Francisco all day, which killed her battery.  Fortunately, a quick call to AAA took care of that.

Speaking of AAA, this organization and AARP were very helpful in securing discounts for the various overnight accommodations I used.  Since I usually didn’t know where I would be stopping for the night, I made most of my arrangements at the last moment.  Those 10-15% discounts came in handy.  And, of course, AAA was very helpful in getting information about routes and destinations.

(BTW, if you ever drive on the Bonneville Salt Flats, make sure to use a really reliable tracking setup.  And, yes, I did use GPS for the trip, but that’s not terribly helpful when there’s no road for it to demarcate.  There’s a story to tell, but I’ll do so only when it becomes a funny one to me.)

I took hundreds of pictures during this trip.  I’ve discovered that mountains in the early summer fascinate me, so I tried to capture images of them not only in the various parks, but along the roads I travelled. My camera of choice was a 16-megapixel Canon pocket camera.  I wanted to be able to get sharp, clear images and to be able to upload them without a lot of trouble.  I equipped the camera with a 16GB SD card to allow me to shoot as many pictures as I wanted. I also purchased a small and very flexible tripod to let me to take the occasional selfie from further away than my arms would allow.

What I didn’t count on was that my camera battery would need to be recharged fairly regularly.  Thankfully, I had the means in place to recharge while inside RB, but that meant there were too many–to me anyway–occasions where I missed shots because the camera battery was recharging.  For next year’s excursion, however, I plan to buy a backup battery so that doesn’t happen again.

(As one anal-retentive person to another, I’m sure someone has noticed that the time stamp on most of my pictures seems later than the time of day reflected in the pictures themselves.  That’s because I never changed the time setting on the camera from Central Time.  So, locations in the Mountain Time zone are one hour earlier than posted on the pictures, and those in the Pacific Time zone are two hours earlier than indicated.)

I’d bought a walking stick at a truck stop near home base (as well as the tire thumper I’d originally wanted). It replaced the one I left in Las Vegas last year. Boy, did that stick come in handy when walking in the parks!!  A co-worker mentioned that different national park visitors’ centers usually offered walking stick medallions, so I got one whenever they were available.  I haven’t nailed them into the stick yet because I found a website that sells medallions for the different states–including first-time visits to North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon–as well as other sites I’d visited.  Once I receive the ones I’ve selected, I’ll organize them all and properly adorn the stick.  And yes, I will take a picture and post it.

FYI, the base of this sign is buried under about three feet of snow–even in late May

Very importantly, the timing of the trip was nearly ideal.  Many of the parks had only recently opened their roads to the public, and high snow banks on the sides of North Cascades’ roads demonstrated exactly why.  So, I was able to see virtually all of the sights available to the motorist.

On the other hand, the summer vacation season hadn’t yet kicked into high gear.  No sites were overwhelmingly crowded.  I felt relaxed and able to venture freely at all the sites, even the highly popular Yellowstone and Yosemite parks.

And, for an outdoor trip heavily dependent on good weather, the weather conditions for most of the trip were nearly perfect.  The only times I was too cool for comfort were during the ballgame in Seattle and while in San Francisco–my fault for not bringing a heavier jacket since I could have done so with no difficulty.  Nor was it ever so hot that RB had to strain, even in the deserts.  And, until the homestretch through Nebraska, the rain pretty much occurred at night.

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Red Barron at Mt. Rainier National Park

Speaking of RB, I certainly can’t overstate the role she played in all this. For those of you who’ve forgotten or missed earlier references, the Red Barron–and yes, I do know the normal spelling of the word–is the name I’ve given my 2006 Ford 500. She has taken me on at least four trips to visit family back east and on several trips around Iowa and states close by (I regularly go to Kansas City for their opera and Chicago for the Joffery Ballet). And now, we completed three trips of 4,000-plus miles that have taken us from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador–the easternmost point in North America, to California. She has been a very comfortable ride that handles various types of road conditions, from big city rush hour traffic to steep, mountainous curves. And for a big car, she has some serious get-up-and-go. Simply put, she got me to where I wanted to go with little fuss-and-muss.

I do wish it had been less expensive to fill RB’s gas tank. When I gassed up in Des Moines, I paid $3.39 per gallon. Once I left Montana, however, prices were 50 cents to over $1.50 higher per gallon. And RB is a big, thirsty girl.

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It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two weeks since Goin’ West 2014 ended. RB and I are finally rested up to the point where I was actually thinking about a short, one-tank trip to eastern Iowa for the Fourth of July. Perhaps Labor Day would be a better bet.

There are only three of the 48 contiguous states I’ve never visited–Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, so it looks like next year, I’m heading South.  Maybe I can also stop through Tallahassee, Florida, and my old stomping grounds there.

As for Alaska, Juneau–via Glacier National and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is only a 3200-mile drive from here. That would also give me another shot at seeing the Badlands, and I could see if they’ve finished Crazy Horse by then.

Up to it, RB?

Talk about expensive gas, though.  Canada takes that to whole new levels, so I’ll need to start a fund for that little trip and look two, maybe three years down the road for that one.

Guess I have no choice but to fly to Hawaii, though.

Just a couple of last comments (I think).

I am so thankful that I was blessed with good enough health to make this journey. I saw many wondrous sights while at the same time was sometimes reminded that not everyone has been so richly blessed.

I’d forgotten that my mother had visited San Francisco a couple of weeks before I’d made it there for the first time. However, I got a very nice reminder of that in the mail.  Great shirt, isn’t it?  Thanks, Momma!!

Randye and RB back in Iowa and little the worse for wear

July 8, 2014:  My walking stick, pictured above, looks might nude, doesn’t it?  Well, I finally received the medallions I’d ordered online and placed them and the ones I’d purchased at different parks on the stick.

Each state I visited is represented either with a state seal or a location medallion. They aren’t nailed into place perfectly, but then again, I’m a singer, not a carpenter.

I really like this one-of-a-kind means of commemorating my trip.  Now, I’m seriously thinking about ordering medallions to represrnt previous trips.

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Day 8: When It Rainier(s), It Pours

Saturday morning, but I got off to an early start in the hope of beating the crowd into Mt. Rainier National Park.  First things, first, though.  I discovered you don’t enter one of these parks low on gas.  There’s usually no gas station inside, and you can potentially be miles away from one.  So, I gave RB a half-tank (at $4.16 a gallon, I wasn’t going to fill her up).

(A side note: when I left Des Moines, I filled RB up at a gas station that charged $3.39 a gallon.  It’s going to be a long time before I complain about our prices again!!!)

Mt. Rainier is HUGE.  Much of it seems to be geared to the climber and the hiker, but there is plenty of roadway for the auto tourist.  The red lined route I drove is below, going from the yellow highlight on the left to the one on the right:

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To get a sense of the park’s real size, though, you can look at this map and look at their website.  There was so much, I snapped 125 pictures along the way, sometimes using the turnouts conveniently placed to let us vacationers get out of the way of those driving through, and sometimes leaving RB in the middle of the road if no one was around.  I’m afraid I couldn’t capture the beauty of the scenery, but hopefully these selected shots can suggest what RB and I got to enjoy.

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Map of day eight travel

It was Saturday, so it wasn’t surprising that the park was more crowded than any others had been to this point.  However, it still seemed to be less busy than it could have been and would be once the summer season really gets underway.  As we left the park that afternoon, there was such a long line of cars waiting to get inside from the other direction, I saw a clipboard-toting ranger doing what looked like advance work with cars in the back of the line to hopefully get them through faster.

As we were driving towards Oregon, I saw a sign pointing to Mt. Saint Helens and decided I wanted to see it.  Unfortunately, about 20 miles down the road leading to the volcano, the road was closed!!  So, unfortunately, that particular divergence from my “planned” route didn’t pan out.  I had another shot from I-5, but with the escalating gas prices, I have to be more careful about unscheduled side trips.

Just on the Washington state side of the border, there was a little town of Vancouver that had a fort I wanted to check out.  My second strike out for the day was to discover they closed at 5 p.m., so I took a few shots of the exterior and moved onward.  Oh well, one of the downsides of not always knowing where you’re going next.  Still, I’m really enjoying this trip.

Crossed into Oregon in the evening.  This is the fourth state I’m visiting for the first time.  No pictures of the welcome sign because the sad little sign they used to mark the entry from I-5 wasn’t worthy of capturing.  Portland is right over the border.  Too bad it’s likely to be no more than a drive-through for me.

loudmusicMusic for the Trip

There are no superlatives too excessive for the performers I heard on the R’s portion of my playlist. I rocked to Ray Charles, Ray Stevens, Rick James, Roberta Flack, Rod Stewart, and The Rolling Stones.

As we approached Portland, the playlist moved into the early S’s.  This meant blowing down I-5 to Sade, Sam and Dave, Santana, and the star of the evening’s show, Sam Cooke.  My body was ready to pull over for the night, but my ears sure weren’t!