Sunday, August 01, 2010

Two Months (or more!) On The Road

Hi Jamie,

My husband and I have caught the travel bug and have been planning a large trip starting in August with a TBD end date sometime in November! We are quitting our jobs in New York and using our hard-earned but meager savings to see as much of the country (particularly the West) as we can before we relocate. We don't yet know where we will end up, but we have visions of working on a ski hill dancing in our heads!

We will be leaving NYC around August 20ish. Our broad outline is to hit Washington DC for a few days. We have to be in Port Angeles, Washington by September for my father-in-law's 60th, so we were planning on jetting over to Washington by way of Minnesota (another family visit). The "in between" for these places is totally up in the air, though we do want to hit Bellingham, WA and Seattle to visit with family and friends.

After Port Angeles, we plan to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, camping and visiting family, then lastly heading over to Colorado to visit yet more family and search for work.

Any advice on this mammoth trip? I already have your book, but it is hard sometimes for me to narrow down our options when we have so much time and can do pretty much ANYTHING! We are worried that we are trying to do too much, but then I hear about people making it across the country and back in three weeks and figure we have all the time in the world! We plan to camp whenever possible (we are avid campers) and we are bringing our backpacking packs and tent, just in case! We have also invested in storage boxes for the back of our Subaru, to maximize organization! I'm a huge planner, but am trying to embrace the freedom of being on the road with few plans, lots of time and a full tank of gas!

We'd appreciate any advice... you seem to have been everywhere!


Katie and Zach


Hello Katie & Zach --

Thank you very much for writing in to Road Trip USA -- it sounds like you have a great adventure ahead of you!

Though I bet you are alternately exhilarated and terrified by the prospect of all this, I suspect you will have a fantastic time -- if nothing else, September and October are an ideal time to be exploring the western US, when the weather's still warm and dry (a big concern if you are camping out in the Great Outdoors).

Having people and places to see along the way should help keep you sane, too -- when I travel I like to do lots of three-week trips, with time in between to get cleaned up, sleep in the same bed and act "normal" for a change.

OK, now for some more practical ideas. Starting off in DC in late August ? -- escape the heat and humidity by hanging out in the Smithsonian Museums (a great pre-trip lesson in American Studies). Then heading west, right? You say "jetting over" to Washington state, by which I assume you mean driving pretty quickly across the country.

Just west of Washington DC, I really like the Harpers Ferry + Shenandoah Valley + Blue Ridge Parkway region, which I cover in my Appalachian Trail route (pages 345 to 360 or so). There are some very nice camping places in the backcountry of Shenandoah National Park, and further south in the Great Smokies -- once you get away from the very popular areas, you can find solitude and peace (even within a half-mile hike from the highways.)

I should say that my first big cross-country trip kicked off in much the same way as yours: on the 5th of July, I hit the road from DC, traveling west along what I thought was Route 66 (the freeway was named I-66, and I was too young to know any better). I then had a good week hiking and camping out along the Appalachian Trail before heading west to Memphis and Oklahoma and onwards -- I was planning to get back to California by the start of school that September, but I didn't make it "home" for nearly 3 years. Crazy to think back on.

Anyway, back to your trip. Next stop, Minnesota? One place I think you'll think you'll like on the way there would be the "Upper Peninsula" of Michigan -- this (to me...) little-known region has some stupendous scenery, and is sort of on your way. I really like the town of Marquette MI, the rugged Porcupine Mountains, and the lovely Apostle Islands area of neighboring Wisconsin.

Now, Westward Ho! The Great Plains are somewhat "scenically challenged," so after your stay in Minnesota you may want to speed across here, but do save some time for the Black Hills (Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the historic mining town turned gambling center of Deadwood..). Besides the tourist fun of Wall Drug, there are a lot of nice things to see here, and if you like Native American / frontier history, the Sand Hills of NW Nebraska are very interesting, too. I cover this whole area in my "Oregon Trail" route -- pages 576-580 in the latest edition of my book.

You're still in a bit of hurry to get to Port Angeles, so maybe you'll save Yellowstone for after Sept 8th? Don't leave it too late, because in my experience winter hits the northern Rocky Mountains pretty swiftly -- I think most of the Yellowstone national park lodges and campgrounds close up by the end of September.

After Port Angeles, you have lots of time to drive down the gorgeous coast (I hope you'll spend time in and around Olympic National Park -- I love Lake Crescent, though it has been a few years since I have been there. If you make it , I would be very interested to hear what effect all the "Twilight" book + movie vampire hype has had on the area -- I really can't imagine Forks WA becoming a major tourist trap.


Well, I hope you are still enthusiastic about all this, and if you have any questions please feel free to write me again. Best of luck with the trip, and with settling down to great new jobs in a great new town (in Colorado?), with all the fixin's, just in time for Thanksgiving.

For now, good luck and "Happy Trails,"

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA



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