When we tell people that we’ve been traveling the United States for three months, with as many more to come, we tend to get one of two reactions: either “that sounds like the trip of a lifetime” or “how the hell can you do that without losing your minds?” Well, I’d like to say for the record that it is the trip of a lifetime, but traveling for this long definitely has its share of aggravations… some of which we would never have expected.
Here are some of the fun questions and challenges we’ve had to deal with along the way.
Living on the road sounds like a chance to be spontaneous to an unprecedented degree–to have the chance to wake up in one state, drive off in any random direction, and go to sleep in another. But the truth is, it’s a life of constant planning. Distillery owners and distillers are busy people, and we can’t just pop up on their doorstep unannounced to tell them what Lost Lantern is all about. We try to schedule all our meetings at least two weeks in advance. But that’s a necessity that goes without saying and just the tip of the iceberg.
We visit as many national parks as we can along our route, and stay in them whenever it’s feasible. But national park lodges book up months in advance, especially in the busy season. We’re going to the Grand Canyon in February, but we booked the rooms in November… well before there was a government shutdown! I can tell you almost exactly where we’ll be on any given day from now until the beginning of March and have sketched out our trajectory from then until June. So much for spontaneity.
We camped whenever we could when the weather was warmer, but now it’s too cold, and anyway, we don’t like to roll straight from a campsite into a business meeting. Mostly, we stay in hotels. But, even though our trip is broadly scheduled, we don’t necessarily know exactly where we’re staying any given night. We got back to the West Coast on December 26th and had to be in Palm Springs on the 30th, but we could space out the drive-in between however we wanted.
It’s great when we do get to be spontaneous, but it brings its own set of challenges, like–why is the dumpiest hotel in Monterey $250 a night, but Santa Cruz has great hotels for half as much (answer: still unknown, but we stayed in Santa Cruz)? Will we have enough service in Big Sur to book a hotel, or will we have to gamble and wait until late afternoon to book a place for that very night? (answer: no service, but the Hearst Castle had Wi-Fi, and we ended up driving four extra hours so we could go to Joshua Tree the next morning)? Which of the five different hotel apps we regularly use has the best deal for the same hotel? The fun never stops!
You know how you have your favorite corner coffee shop, your favorite local bar and whiskey shop, your favorite sandwicherie? You know how, when you go to the grocery store, you pretty much know where everything is because you’ve been there a million times? Well, when you live on the road, you never have this sense of familiarity. There are no default places to go, and that means even small decisions require research and more planning.
Expecting the Unexpected
I booked a five day stay in Glacier National Park to kick off our trip in September… but had to cancel it because half the park was on fire and the other half was covered in snow. We bailed on our camping in Yellowstone, night-of, because our campsite was on a 45-degree angle and covered with animal burrows–that was quite a scramble to find somewhere to stay. We had to bail on staying to Tahoe City not once but twice because two blizzards closed the passes with only twelve hours in between (okay, a big pickup truck with snow tires could have made it, but not a Prius V with no clearance and some city slickers who have to pay people to put on their tire chains). And now, as we look ahead to Zion and the Grand Canyon, we have to hope the government shutdown will end by then… not just for our sake, but for the parks we love (and for plenty of other reasons too). We have learned to expect the unexpected and accept that not everything is in our control.
Expecting the unexpected has its upside, however. When we hear about a potentially great distillery that’s off the beaten path, we can find the time to get there. When a distiller invites us to his special five-hour home-cooked birthday lunch, we can gratefully accept and share that experience with him (thanks again, Tad!). When we find out that one of the nation’s premiere blenders is going to be at a distillery a week after we’re supposed to go, we can shuffle our schedule so we can meet up with her. We can decide to fly to Texas at a moment’s notice for a distillery’s anniversary party because we love them and want to celebrate. Living on the road has its stresses, but the opportunities it gives us are endless.