Bev’s First New Rule of Travel

When in doubt, take your stuff with you.

I’m on the Maine coast for the weekend – gorgeous sun, beaches and rocky coastlines and seafood restaurants every block. I mostly came to see the Atlantic Ocean – having driven over from Oregon, I felt like I had to go All The Way, so I could legitimately say I’d driven all the way across the continent in my little red POS.*

Atlantic Coast, Maine Coast
Cool library!

I got a cheap room on Orbitz** that was close to the beaches and not far from Portland, ME. Also have to go to this Portland over here because, duh.

I’ve been at Laurie’s house for more than two weeks now, and I got all settled in and shit – took the tubs with extra clothes, snacks and whatnot into the house. I unloaded the bags I had full of ‘hotel room’ amenities like paper plates and extra cups so I could use those bags for other things.

I looked at all that stuff when I was packing to come here this weekend. Looked right at it, and then left it behind. And I’ve been mad at myself ever since.

List of things I left behind that I totally could have used in the last 24 hours:

beach towel
paper plates (purchased again)
crackers and cashews for snacks (purchased again)
actual shorts (rather than just capris)
laundry bag for dirty clothes
HDMI cable so I could watch something I *chose* instead of whatever was on TV

List of things I just got lucky were still in the car:

fork/spoon/knife set (you know those three little ones on a ring, that you have for camping? Yeah, those) to eat the ice cream I bought at the store and to stir my tea in the morning

beach chair (which did a pretty good job of replacing the towel I would have laid on at the beach)

Ogunquit beach, Atlantic Ocean, Maine Coast
Taken from my beach chair. These two girls were having a blast jumping over the waves, and the sailboat decided to make my photos even cooler.

It’s not even that I left anything important behind, or that my trip is ruined, or I spent a lot of money on things I didn’t need. It’s just SO annoying to know that the exact thing I wanted SHOULD have been in the car, and would have been if I’d been on the road rather than planted somewhere. These were the things I carefully curated before leaving Susan’s house, to maximize the useful things I’d have with me without carrying around a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t use.

I didn’t really pack a lot of extra stuff, so I should really have it all with me. Again, duh.

Now I have to figure out what I’m taking back to Portland, OR in a few weeks. The car-traveling-kit is too big, and a lot of it is pretty specific to traveling by car – but I don’t want to spend weeks pissed off that I left a stupid towel behind.

*And yes, I acknowledge that Portland is not on the coast, but I have indeed driven that car to the coast – more than once – so I’m totally counting it.

** I’ve used Orbitz a few times now & I’m liking it. They keep sending me discount codes, and I earn points with them pretty quickly that will get me a free hotel room soon. No, they are not paying me to say this. But I’m totally willing to accept any and all such endorsements, if anybody knows somebody there.


My First Travel Listicle

One way to drive 2500+ miles in four days (3 full days + two half-days = four days):

  1. Don’t string all those days together – break for a day, or maybe a few days to hang out with your friends along the way.
  2. Don’t bring food in the car you’ll regret eating later. In fact, if you only have healthy snacks in the car, you’re likely to eat nothing else until you stop for dinner – a traveler in motion tends to stay in motion.
  3. RE: #2 – Good for making time, bad for really seeing the country you’re driving through. Also bad for your attitude by the end of the day.
  4. Relearn how to pump your own gas efficiently.

    taking photos while driving
    This one has everything – poor framing, not enough zoom, streaks on the windshield and a bit of the steering wheel.
  5. Notice all the billboards and road signs that say “Don’t Text and Drive.” (or alternately, “Don’t TXT & Drive,” because that guy was hip to the young people). Notice how none of them say “Don’t Take Photos and Drive.” Proceed accordingly.
  6. 80mph in South Dakota. Seriously?
  7. Do not plan to see a national landmark at the end of a long day of driving when the weather has quite unexpectedly turned cold and snowy. You will not enjoy it.Mount Rushmore South Dakota snow
  8. Realize you should have gotten an EZPass for driving through the northern part of the Central and Eastern Time Zones. You’re spending a lot of money and extra time paying a ton of tolls.
  9. RE: #7 and 8 – Acknowledge that the need to do research for a long trip does not completely go away just because you have Google Maps.
  10. Notice how amazed you are when you recognize street names and realize you are able to actually drive all the way to Cleveland, that place you used to live. Marvel at the surprise you feel, though this was your goal all along.
  11. Try to explain #10 to people and watch them be very confused by you. Be glad they are friends and like you anyway.
  12. Send blessings to the Google Maps people for helping you navigate strange cities.
  13. Don’t assume cool tourist traps will be open for business before Memorial Day just because they have the Blues Brothers out front.Blues Bro VT
  14. Give yourself smug cool points for your Oregon license plate as you get further east, until you see the dude with the Alaska plates. Decide Alaska dude had his truck shipped out here and go back to feeling smug.
  15. Notice how your car is downshifting to climb that hill and realize it hasn’t had to climb a hill in four states.
  16. Decide that upstate New York looks much like the Wisconsin Dells.
  17. Be surprised that some areas of Vermont and New Hampshire look much like the Matanuska Valley.
  18. Curse the Google Maps people for being unable to locate your sister’s house in rural New Hampshire.

Where Did All That Time Go? On Being Busy But Not Accomplishing Much

Columbia Falls, Montana, Rocky Mountains
The view as I run errands and do not get my shit done
Keeping your own agenda while not keeping your own space is not an easy thing to do.

This month in Montana – while wonderful, and notable for the lack of morning alarms being set – is more a transition than the beginning of this thing I’m doing, whatever that is.

I had promised to do whatever I could to help take care of things for my mom (who moved to a new place the day I arrived) that would normally have fallen on Susan’s already quite full shoulders. So my days were filled with errands and cleaning and packing and organizing and stuff – but not my stuff, someone else’s stuff.

And staying in a household full of other people, and therefore other people’s agendas, exerts an influence, even when not intentionally exerted. Dishes are dirty, dinners need to be prepared, various chores completed and errands run. AS I’M TYPING THIS – I received a phone call to add one more (important, necessary) thing to my list of chores today. THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.

I’ve been the only adult in my household for most of the last 16 years. All chores were my chores (or those having to do with the minor child in the house – so, mine), all my agenda, all my shit and no one else’s.

The only other agendas that got in the door were those I made a point of inviting. This is not always ideal, frankly, because I tend to isolate myself. But as far as ‘who’s shit am I working on today?,’ the answer was almost exclusively ‘MINE.’

I remember – long ago and far away – living in a house with five adults and one child (mine). Most of the other adults were either working or in school. As the only adult with free time during the day and a vehicle, it fell to me to do the chores and errands for ALL the adults in the house. It was easy to have an entire week go by where nothing of my own got accomplished other than my share of the household chores.

This is not by way of complaining that I was forced/expected to do these things – no, no, no.  This is me realizing that I will have to be more disciplined about creating my own agenda and making sure it gets on the list of things that need doing while staying with other people.

It’s really easy for me to go along with those around me who have a plan, especially a plan for the upkeep and maintenance of me and those around me. Of course I have to contribute to those things. And I volunteered to do all the things regarding Mom’s apartment. But if I don’t put my own stuff (organize things for road trip, confirm crash pads for road trip, write for blog, investigate writing for cash, etc.) on the list, then three weeks can go by while NONE of those things get accomplished.

Which is basically what just happened.

I will need to get better at this if I’m going to extend this current lifestyle beyond the money in my savings account.

The (Temporary) Rural Life

Montana, Flathead Valley, Rocky MountainsWhile I’m staying at my sister’s house for almost a month, it’s my job to empty and clean out my mom’s old apartment, since she’s recently moved to a wonderful assisted living home. Driving the eight miles to the apartment in approximately ten minutes seems like both a great distance and a very fast trip – because there’s only one stop light in the first seven of those miles (and it favors my direction) and the speed limit is 55mph. It was only a slightly shorter drive from my Portland apartment to my part-time job in Sellwood,  and it involved no less than a dozen stop lights, at least half of which I was guaranteed to be stopping for and never got over 45mph (and if I drove to the downtown job? Two miles, one draw bridge and even more stop lights).

In addition, the time of day has very little effect on how long it takes to get anywhere. There are significantly more cars – well, mostly trucks – around five-six pm, to be sure. But that just means you might have to go slower than 55mph, and you might not be the first one at any stop light you might get caught at. It does NOT mean that you’ll ever have to wait through more than one cycle of that light, or that your destination will be crowded when you get there.

This is wide open spaces. This is what rural looks like. I’ve only been visiting in the last 28 years or so, never trying to get things done like a resident.  It’s got a lot to recommend it, but I’m not sure I would go back to it on a full-time basis.

I have started paying attention to my gas gauge again. My car has mud on it. And I have remembered what a washboard is.

An approximate percentage of cars to trucks on the road in this area.
An approximate percentage of cars to trucks on the road in this area.

The POS status of my car is MUCH less noteworthy here than in Portland. I hardly lived in the ritzy area of town, but as close to downtown as I was, neighbors who were short funds often skipped owning a car altogether – fewer places to park them and fantastic biking and public transit options. I’ve seen half-dozen Escorts of a similar 20-year old style as mine in just the one week I’ve been here, and vehicles of all shapes and sizes older and less-well-preserved than mine make up a significant percentage of those on the road.

Of course, average household income is much lower here, and available land to park that marginally useful vehicle is cheap and abundant. But every tenth yard seems to have some kind of earth-moving equipment, whether it be for farming or construction or things I can’t even identify. Lots of snow machines and ATV, and every driveway with at least one pickup.

The air regularly smells of wood smoke. True darkness is easy to find. And those mountains everywhere I look feel like home.

A Walk to the River

Flathead river, Montana

Planted and still for the first time in what seems like a very long time. Because it has been, I suppose.  Two months and 19 days since I left my apartment. I stayed in six different places in the Portland area in that time (several for only a few days, one place twice). I wouldn’t say I moved eight times, because to ‘move’ is to have first ‘stopped moving,’ and I don’t much feel like I stopped moving during that time. I’ve only been here for a week, but I’ve allowed myself to settle in. Take the clothes out of the suitcase and leave my things all over the bathroom.

The place where the south fork of the Flathead River flows under Highway 2 is about ten blocks from where I’m temporary planted here in NW Montana. Though blocks is probably not how anyone around here thinks of it. It’s about half a mile, or just a ways down the road. A mix of gravel and asphalt, and a bit of trail through the woods on the way back.

Montana, Flathead river, Highway 2

Not the same kind of walk I’ve been taking lately. Different river, different bridge. Different sounds and smells. I passed people in their yards, but hardly anyone walking in that mile – one group of girls walking a few blocks away, and a woman looking for her dog. Smells of wood smoke and dust kicked up by the vehicles passing me. More bicycles and fewer skateboards than I’m used to. The only sidewalk is right along the highway – where I avoid walking, since it’s noisier and less likely to give me interesting things to photograph.

Not only natural beauty abounds

Having been living in downtown Portland for three years, the spaces between things seem strange and new. Three of the places I’ve stayed recently were within six blocks of a grocery store – good ones, that either focused on organic food or had huge sections for it. From my apartment, I could walk out my front door and acquire a dozen different types of dinner within six blocks – plus coffee, donuts, macaroons, used cds and dvds, dry cleaning, specialty pet food, exercise equipment, skateboard gear, comic books, vinyl records, bicycles, go to yoga class or work out with free weights, or drink at a dozen different establishments. Density, that’s what I had.

Here, the theme is wide open spaces. I can walk to a small grocery, to be sure, as well as several drinking establishments and tourist shops (most not open for the season yet) – but for options, I’ll be driving. Cluster of buildings, then a river, a canyon, then another small cluster of buildings. Rinse, repeat.

Flathead River, Montana, fir trees

This is not a discussion of good vs. bad, merely a study in contrast. I grew up with the wide open spaces, but chose ever more urban environments as an adult. I’m feeling that difference more than I expected.