Tuesday, 01 July 2014 15:30
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The hero of our storyFinally, a wrapup post.

Sorry for the big gap in coverage there for a while…I had intended to get some more post-trip entries up here shortly after I got home, but I got a little wrapped up in some other projects...and here we are four months later. Anyway, I did finally get around to it, so here goes—it’s a long one. Photos are just random shots from all over the trip that didn’t get posted previously, so enjoy.

I knew I wanted to do sort of a “wrap-up” post at the end of the trip, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to go about doing it. Driving for that many months and miles gives one a lot of opportunities to both see things and afterward to think about what you’ve seen, unlike many vacations that can turn into just running through a scheduled checklist within the time available, leaving very little opportunity for detours or reflection. Still, not knowing quite how to go at this, I figured I’d start with the easy stuff and just begin with some figures.

Grand Tetons Apalachicola, Florida Eureka, California
Fisher's Island, Florida Galveston, Texas Mount Shasta, California

The Statistics

  • Total distance for the trip was 37,849.92 miles, which I’ve just been rounding up to 37,850 when people ask. That distance is the equivalent of:
    • Seven round trips back and forth between Los Angeles and New York.
    • One and a half times driving around the circumference of the earth.
    • About 16% of the distance to the moon.
  • My longest day was 810 miles, about midway through the trip on the Great Plains. Shortest day was obviously zero, but the shortest day that involved driving was 95 miles. An average driving day was just over 140 miles.

  • Total time door to door was 268 days, or 8 months, 28 days. If I’d gotten pregnant on Day 1, I’d have had a kid when I got home.

  • I spent some time in all of the lower 48 states, with the most mileage happening in California at just over 4100 miles, and the least in Iowa at about 105. I also visited seven of the 10 Canadian provinces, missing only Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland. I did not get to any of the Canadian Territories; maybe next trip.

  • Highest point was in Rockies National Park on the Trail Ridge Road at 12,183 feet (3713 meters). Lowest point was in Salton City, CA, at -125 feet (38 meters) below sea level.

  • I crossed the Continental Divide nine times, starting way up in British Columbia the first time, with the last one going westward in Colorado on the way home. I made ten Mississippi River crossings, with the first up near the headwaters in Minnesota, and the last while leaving New Orleans.

  • I rode on eleven ferries, with the first one from Seattle to Anacortes Island up in Washington State, and the last getting into Galveston, Texas in the snow.

  • I visited 33 National Parks (which leaves 26 still to visit—next trip, maybe.) I didn’t count how many National Forests and/or National Monuments, but it was a lot.

  • I hit just about every kind of weather short of major storms like hurricanes or tornadoes. The car saw high heat, freezing cold, torrential rain, highway flooding, snow, sleet, hail, ice, and dense fog. Hottest day was 118 F (48 C) in Borrego Springs, CA; coldest was 4 F (-15 C) in a place not known for cold weather, Atlanta, GA.

  • I had zero flat tires and made no carburetor adjustments or valve adjustments, which is kind of remarkable.

  • I changed the oil six times, bought one new set of tires, and one new muffler.

  • I stopped for gas 170 times, using 1,383 gallons (5,235 liters), and averaging 27.4 MPG.

  • I stayed with friends and/or family 62 nights, camped 51 nights, used Airbnb 74 nights, and was in a hotel, inn, “real” B&B, or tavern for 81 nights.

    Helena, Montana Seneca, New York Palouse Falls, Washington
    Washtucna, Washington Ritzville, Washington St. Louis, Missouri

Practical Knowledge

At the very least, I learned a little about how to do a road trip in a relatively small car, and I gained some knowledge about some things that were useful or not so useful. Here’s a brief recap of some of that stuff.

Car- and Travel-Related Items

  1. Headlights: If you’ve got an older car with the old 7” round headlights, the Hella Vision Plus lamps are fantastic upgrade replacements. They’re really bright with a very focused beam spread and very nice high beam coverage. In the Datsun’s case, they also didn’t require any electrical system upgrades; they worked just fine with all of the old wiring and relays.

    Hella Vision Plus
  1. Permatex Ultra-Black Sealant: I used this stuff for everything—stopping squeaks and rattles, sealing windows, stopping oil and coolant leaks, gluing stuff together, fixing the soles of my hiking boots, you name it. A couple times I even used it for what it’s supposed to be for—gasket material. Keep a tube in the car.
    Permatex Ultra Black

  2. Windex Wipes: These are great to keep in the car, especially if like mine, your car doesn’t have a windshield washer. It’s a flat pack that reseals great so they don’t dry out, and Windex is good for cleaning all kinds of stuff in addition to windows. (Also recommended: Rain-X wipes, as they clean and leave a water repellant coating, but they’re harder to find than the Windex ones.)
    Windex wipes

  3. Towels: We’re talking your basic terry cloth bath towel here. Like it said in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, bring a towel. I had two black bath sized towels and one smaller brown one, and they all alternately did duty as pillows, blankets, kneepads for car maintenance, fender guards, sun protectors for the seats, car washers, wheel wipers, a welcome mat/boot repository for the tent, camera support, butt pillow, spill cleanup, air conditioner (when wetted and put over the shoulders), space filler/anti-vibration tool for the trunk pack, and the black ones were excellent ‘cloaks of invisibility’ for any stuff I wanted to cover up on the floor on the passenger side or the rear shelf.

    Remember, kids--Always bring a towel!
  4. Right up there in the usefulness category with towels are wet naps. Great for small spill cleanups, general freshening up when you’re far from a shower, and comfort when you’re in some of the more rustic bathroom situations. I carried a pack of Cottonelle wipes, and they were great.

    Cottonelle wipes

  5. Bicycle Water Bottle: In a car without a cup holder, figuring out how to keep your hydration close at hand can be an interesting (and sometimes messy) exercise. I used a bike water bottle, specifically the CamelBak Podium Big Chill (25oz). The bottle has a self-closing drink spout so I could just toss it on the seat. It had the added advantage of being insulated, so it kept drinks colder longer than just drinking from the regular bottle would, and did I mention it was spill-proof? It’s spill-proof.
    Camelbak bottle

  6. Emergency Beacon: The car also doesn’t have hazard lights, as those were a later development in automotive technology. Instead, I carried an Aervoe safety strobe, which is an LED-based rechargeable safety beacon/road flare. It’s super bright, has several flashing patterns to choose from, a magnetic base so you can stick it right to the car, and it holds a charge forever. I charged mine at the beginning of the trip and it was still working just fine when I pulled it out of the trunk at the end. Luckily, I never had to use it for an emergency, but it’s still a nice piece of kit.
    Aervoe strobe

  7. Slime Tire Repair Kit: Also on the list of “things I was glad that I never had to use” was my tire repair kit, manufactured by Slime, a well-known name in tire repair. It fits right into the Datsun wheel well in the trunk, which means it should fit pretty nicely into just about any other car, and it comes complete with a 12V air compressor, several repair plugs and patches, a can of “Fix-A-Flat”-style sealant, all the tire repair tools you’d need, and a handy travel case with a warning reflector on the side.
    Slime repair kit

  8. Trauma Kit: Last on the list of things I never had to use was my mini first aid kit. This one was very compact but well-outfitted, and included some serious bandages and a few blood clotting packs. As Edna Mode said in ‘The Incredibles’, “luck favors the prepared, darling.”

    Trauma kit

  9. Spares: There’s a whole spectrum of preparedness that you can work across when it comes to spares, from the “nothing could possibly go wrong” end where you bring nothing and just wing it, to the pure Murphy’s Law adherence of bringing one of everything. My general litmus test for whether or not to bring a spare part was a combination of “is it likely to break or wear out?” and “can it leave me stranded on the side of the road?” If the answer to both of those was “yes”, then it ended up in the spares kit. I had a fuel pump, a voltage regulator, an ignition module and coil, some heater and fuel hose lengths (and clamps), and an assortment of fuses, and that was about it. I did have repair methods and supplies for a lot of other stuff—for example, I didn’t bring radiator hoses, but I did have a repair kit for those, and that brings us to our next category…

  10. Tools and Repair Supplies: I had a more comprehensive tool kit than most people carry in their trunk, as well as a wider range of repair goodies than normal, and these all served me well during the trip. Rather than list out every tool I brought, here’s a photo of the kit:


Likewise, for repair supplies, I had a variety of sealants, tapes, safety wire, clamps, wraps, electrical splicing and repair stuff, and a few personal protection items like gloves and safety glasses. Here’s a picture of the repair goodies:

Spares & Repairs

As they say, your mileage may vary on this stuff. The tool kit had both generic and Datsun-specific elements to it; for example, I didn’t bring any wrenches or sockets for bolt sizes that weren’t on the car. I also didn’t have a set of jumper cables with me, which I debated back and forth on. I never needed them, but I may try to find a compact set for the next trip just in case. Another trip would likely have a kit that would be tailored to the specific car, the expected terrain and distance from civilization, and how much room is available to carry tools, but this was my kit and it worked very well for me.

New Hampshire Pacific Coast Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick Big Pine Key, Florida


Non-Automotive Stuff

I also had a number of things with me that were not specifically car- or travel-related that worked extremely well. Some of the highlights:

  1. Hilleberg ‘Unna’ Tent: This is a one man tent that is rugged, really easy to set up, very lightweight, and that packs down to a very small package. It’s a double wall tent, which means that you can set it up in the rain if necessary without getting the interior of the tent exposed to the elements. It’s also the first tent I’ve used that didn’t ever build up condensation on the inside, even when completely sealed up. In a lot of tents, one night of breathing inside would be enough to make it almost rain in the tent due to the moisture in your breath condensing on the inside walls—basically, your tent never gets dry inside unless you hang it up to air out every day. Somehow, Hilleberg has figured out how to provide adequate ventilation to prevent this while still keeping the tent sealed up enough to stay toasty and warm on cold nights, which is the kind of magic that I fully support. It’s a little more expensive than other tents in its category, but worth every penny if you ask me.


  2. Boots: I wore (and wore out) a pair of Keen Targhee II boots almost every day on the trip. I also brought some basic athletic/running shoes with me and a pair of Keen Clearwater sandals (which were also great) for wet hikes, dips in nearby rivers, or beach days, but after the first couple of days all I wore were the Keen hiking boots. Two reasons for this: One, the heel cup in a ‘normal’ shoe is shaped to give you support when you’re standing up, which makes sense in a shoe. When you’re driving though, your foot is in a position where you’re resting the weight of your foot and your leg on the back of your heel with your toes up (at least on your right foot), and if you’re driving a sports car where the seat is only a couple of inches above the floorboards, your foot is practically vertical the whole time. For long days in the saddle, this means that you may have a hard time keeping your heel and part of your foot from going numb since all your leg/foot weight is resting on a part of the shoe where there’s very little support and padding. Happily, I found out that the heel cup in the Keen boots wraps all the way around your heel and partially up your Achilles tendon, which (probably accidentally) provided fantastic support and comfort for my right foot for driving hours on end. They’re a little wide for sports car pedal spacing, but otherwise really great driving shoes. Unsurprisingly, they’re also great hiking boots. The soles are made of a soft and grippy material that gives you Spiderman-like traction on rocks and slopes in the wet or dry, although they do have the downside of wearing out a bit faster than most boots. About my only complaint for the boots (other than the fast wear rate on the tread) was that the soles were able to detach from the foam cushion on the sides of the shoe where they wrapped around for style, and this provided a spot for grass and other stuff to catch while hiking, but I was able to repair those with some Ultra Black along the way. I’ve actually worn holes in the bottoms of mine by the end of the trip, so got a new pair when I got home.

    My faithful boots, post-trip

  3. Leatherman Multi-Tool: There are a lot of multi-tools out there with a wide range of features and gadgets, but for my money the original is still the best: Leatherman. I carry the “Wave” model, which for me has the best balance of size and features, but you can get different varieties of the tool in a lot of different sizes from a mini keychain size up to a couple that are practically handheld toolboxes. Everybody should keep one of these in their car, as it’s useful for all kinds of stuff all the time.
    Clothes: Obviously, I didn’t have a lot of room to pack an entire wardrobe, so I turned to some of the tricks of the trade that backpackers and other light travelers use. This meant selecting clothes that could be worn multiple times without looking (or smelling) dirty and horrible as well as having non-wrinkle fabrics that could be washed in a sink or a nearby river if necessary and still come out looking great (or at least passable). I had an assortment of stuff, but the standouts were:
    • Shirts and underwear from Ex Officio, which were washable anywhere and in anything, dried fast, and looked great.
    • SmartWool socks, which were all I wore on my feet—totally fantastic, and totally worth the money
    • Kuhl pants and shorts , which were super-tough, super-comfortable, had plenty of pockets in all the right places, looked good, and washed easy. I also had a couple Kuhl shirts and the same Kuhl baseball cap the whole trip, so on some days I was a bit of a Kuhl model.
    • Thermal underwear, a hoodie , and T-shirts from Carhartt, a brand that’s rightfully legendary for warmth and toughness.
    • Waterproof rain layer from Marmot that was light, packed into almost zero space, and was totally wind- and waterproof.
    • Capilene base layer from Patagonia, the start of any warm and cozy ensemble

If you needed to boil it down to the basics, you’re looking for clothes that are tough, easy to take care of, and that layer up well. You’re going to keep warm and dry not by having a lot of different types of clothes with you, but by layering a couple basic types of clothes on top of each other as necessary to match the weather, going from one (or sometimes zero) layers when it’s hot to four or five when it’s chilly and/or wet out. Some of this stuff is more expensive than regular clothes when you look at it on a piece-by-piece basis (for example, a nice pair of SmartWool socks is something like $18-20, which would probably get you a dozen pair of regular socks at Target), but it’s completely worth the money when it’s all that you’re going to be wearing for a while under less-than-optimal conditions.

5. Navigation: I had a few things to help me get around and figure out where I was. First, you definitely want to carry a good paper map and/or atlas, plus a compass. If you're using your cell phone as a GPS, there's a really good chance you'll lose your data connection a lot, and even if you've got a normal GPS with you, there's a decent chance it'll get lost, damaged, or stolen. I carried the Rand McNally spiral bound road atlas and a Suunto compass, and for electronic navigation I had an older Garmin Nuvi GPS with me (I've since upgraded to the 2597 after the old one got stolen), plus the Google Maps app on my phone.

6.Camera Equipment: A lot of people have commented on the photos in the blog, and a lot of the quality can be attributed to the equipment I was carrying. I wanted to be able to take good photos on the trip, because who knows whether I’ll be back to some of these places again, so I brought good camera equipment for that. Here’s what I had:

    1. My go-to camera setup was a Canon 5D Mark III camera body with a Canon L-Series 24-105mm zoom lens. That accounted for probably 95% of the photos on the blog, and it’s a fantastic piece of gear (which it should be, considering what it costs.) I didn’t have room to take a variety of lenses with me, but the 24-105 proved to be a really great all-around lens, and it’d be top of my list for the “if you can only take one lens” pick. I also used Hoya polarizing and UV/Haze filters on a pretty regular basis with that lens, which is why the skies look so nice in some of the landscape pictures. If I had more room (and a bigger appetite for spending money on lenses), I’d add a 70-200 zoom with a teleconverter for some more range, a 16-35 for wide angle shots, and possibly a 100mm macro lens for some close-up work, but that’d be for a trip where the whole purpose was to take photos. Maybe next time.

    2. For times when I didn’t want to walk around with the big camera, I had a Canon S110 point-and-shoot, which is a great little camera. Good low-light performance, a nice range of manual controls for when you don’t want to just leave it on Auto, a really great low noise sensor, and a size small enough to drop it into your pocket. This was what I kept on the car seat next to me for those fast and unexpected photo ops, and it’s also what shot 99% of the over-the-hood/in-motion pictures on the blog.

    3. For driving videos, I had a GoPro Hero 3 Black with a suction cup mount that I stuck to the inside of the windshield or other places on the car. This is easily the most widely used little ‘sports’ camera for action video, and you can find one in use in almost every sport or ‘extreme’ activity that wants some good action footage from a tiny camera. Great wide angle lens, good anti-shake and stabilizing control, nice range of mounting options, and remarkably high quality video output. The app for previewing and controlling the camera from your smartphone is pretty great, too. About the only gripe I’d have is battery life, as it does suck down a fresh battery pretty quickly, but if you’ve got spares it’s not that much of a problem.

    4. Most of the food pics I took with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3. Not quite as good as the new iPhones or Nokias (although I hear the Galaxy 4 is better), but overall pretty decent pictures for a phone.

    5. Adobe Lightroom is easily the best photo software I’ve ever used. It’s a great organizer and search tool for handling a large catalog of photos and videos, and it’s got some really great tools for basic photo retouching and editing. It’s a ‘non-destructive’ editor as well, which means that it only works with copies of the original photos so that you do not risk messing up your original files, and it remembers all of the editing steps that you made to any edited version of those originals, so you can mess around with different versions, go back and delete or modify any of the editing steps, and basically play with all kinds of photo editing techniques without worrying about messing anything up. It does not have any of the really fancy effects and manipulation stuff that a program like Photoshop does, but for ‘normal’ editing and retouching tasks like cropping, color balance, sharpness and contrast, and exposure modifications, it’s pretty hard to beat. It’s a big part of why some of the blog photos look so good.

That’s it for camera and photo stuff. I feel like I learned quite a bit more about how to use the equipment and take better pictures on this trip, which has been a nice unexpected bonus. Hopefully I’ll continue to get better as I practice more, but it was pretty great having the opportunity to see all these places and share photos with the blog readers. 

7. Airbnb: This service wasn’t even on my radar when I started out on the trip; it was recommended by a friend when I passed through LA early in the trip. For those of you unfamiliar with Airbnb, it’s a web-based service that facilitates and brokers transactions between travelers and hosts who have extra bedrooms or guest houses or couches or whatever so that those travelers can use those bedrooms and those hosts can make a little extra money. I stayed in dozens of Airbnb places with a wide variety of hosts, and my experiences ranged from “OK” to “fantastic”, with no bad experiences anywhere. You get to meet the kind of outgoing, generous people you’d want to meet on a trip to new places, as those are the kind of people who’d be OK with having complete strangers sleep in their house, you get to find out a lot more about the area you’re in from those locals, and in many cases you get to make some new friendships that will continue beyond your trip. There were a lot of listings where it was pretty obvious that the hosts were just trying to make a little extra cash (“the key is under the mat, text me when you leave”), and there’s really nothing wrong with that—you still get to stay in a nice place that isn’t a hotel, although you don’t get the personal interaction. If you read the listings carefully though, you can pick out the hosts that are definitely into it in order to meet interesting people from lots of different places, and they are the folks you want to stay with, as those are far and away the best experiences. I had many great meals, adventures, conversations, and other fun with a lot of people that I’d only known for a couple of hours, and it really added immeasurably to the fun of the trip as a whole. I stayed in a lot of very nice homes, as well as in a barn, on a boat, in a treehouse, under an awning, in a yurt, and on more than a few lakes and rivers, and on average all for about the same as your average Motel 6 room would cost. 

Little River, Alabama Huntsville, Alabama Squamish, British Columbia
Arches National Park Vancouver Island Sisters, Oregon

8. Spares and Backups: Like the spare parts for the car, the trip should also have its share of spares and backups for things that’d make life difficult if you lost them or they stopped working. In no particular order:

    1. Money, keys, and credit cards: This is sort of just an extension of the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” philosophy, but if you’re doing any extended traveling, you don’t want to have just one source of any of these things, and you don’t want to keep them all in one place. You should hide copies of important keys (like the car key) somewhere on the vehicle so that you can still get in and drive after you’ve accidentally dropped your key ring into the Grand Canyon. You should also keep a stash somewhere in the car of at least one credit and/or ATM card and enough cash to get you by for a few days if you lose your purse or wallet.

    2. Important copies: This is actually decent advice for life in general, but it can be especially helpful on a trip in the event that important things get stolen or lost: Make an inventory of the important documents, cards, and other similar items that you’re carrying, and keep photos or scans of them in an alternate location that’s unlikely to be stolen or damaged at the same time. In a pinch, a photo of your passport can help you get around or facilitate replacement of a lost one, and having photos or scans of all your credit cards, identification cards, and other important documents means you’ll have all the necessary information at hand to cancel and replace those immediately in the event that they’re lost or stolen.

    3. If you’re a big cell phone user and your cell phone provider has a cloud or offline backup service for your phone, by all means use it. If you dropped your phone into the Grand Canyon along with your keys, it’s the easiest way to restore everything that you kept on your old phone to a brand new one. You can also back up your phone locally to a laptop or something, but the cloud/online backups are always up to date and don’t require any maintenance on your part, so you’ll generally make out better restoring from that.

    4. Laptop and media backups are a big deal if you’re using your laptop to do anything important on the trip (like editing and cataloging a zillion photos.) I went with the ‘belt and suspenders’ method, where I had all the photos from the trip on my laptop, also backed up to an external drive that I kept in my laptop bag, also backed up to a duplicate external drive that I kept in the car, and also backed up to an online cloud storage service as well, so I was pretty well covered for not losing anything. I also imaged the drive on the laptop in its entirety on a pretty regular basis so I could restore it to a new one if was stolen or damaged, and those drive images were saved in the same places I had the photo files saved.

In short, you never want to find yourself in a situation where you’ve had a problem and you’ve got no options to resolve it, so if there’s anything at all that you have that you can’t just say “oh well, that’s too bad” to if it’s damaged, lost, or stolen, then back that thing up somehow, preferably in more than one way. Do not count on being able to access a telephone or the internet for anything really important, keep physical backups with you in some way—if you lose your wallet, make sure you keep a backup for the important items that were in it somewhere in the car. If it’s in the car and you lose your car, make sure there’s a backup on your person. If you’ve got a contact list on your phone, print out or write down the important numbers and keep them someplace else. It can be a bit of work to get all of this thought through and set up, but you’ll be happy you did it if you ever have a problem, especially if you’re travelling alone and in remote locations.

Air & Space Museum, Washington DC Cedar Key, Florida  
Minnesota (Someplace) Mount Rainier, Washington British Columbia

That’s probably enough for the practical knowledge learned from the trip. If anybody is planning anything similar and wants to ask me anything, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll answer any questions as best as I can. Now, on to some impractical knowledge gained…

First off, I found that the type of travelling that I did is a very different kind that not many people get to experience. At first glance, it looks a lot like a regular road trip (albeit somewhat long) or vacation, but the whole dynamic of not having a fixed destination, route, or schedule changed the nature of the journey in ways that I wasn’t really expecting.

Chattanooga, Tennesee Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Washington Roosevelt National Park
Columbia River near Mount Hood Sisters, Oregon Memphis, TN

I am acutely aware that I’m in an unusual ‘life’ situation that allowed me to take a trip like this. Selling the business gave me some financial means and stability while at the same time relieved me of a huge number of responsibilities and commitments. The all-consuming, 24-hour-a-day nature of running that business also meant that I never developed any other serious responsibilities—never married, no kids, no pets, not even a houseplant to take care of. So there I was, with unlimited time, adequate money in my pocket, zero responsibilities, a cool car, and thousands of miles of open road in front of me. That’s a significantly different situation than just having a few weeks to take a vacation and trying to cram in as much as possible, or being a fresh-out-of-school kid roadtripping on a tight budget, or even taking a fixed-length sabbatical where you know you’ve got to get back to ‘real life’ at some point. I’ve traveled a lot and all over the planet in my life (mostly for work) but this was probably the first time that I really felt like I was traveling instead of just trying to get someplace. Most of the best things that I saw on the trip were places that I just stumbled across while driving down some back road, and the whole aspect of not having a timeline or a destination was definitely a huge contributing factor to the effectiveness of this trip in letting me decompress.

Sisters, OR Multnomah Falls, Oregon Muskogee, Oklahoma
Mount Rushmore Kissimee, Florida New York, NY

The other somewhat unexpected thing on the trip is obvious in retrospect, but definitely wasn’t when I started: The benefits of traveling in the car that I was driving. The vistas and opportunities that opened up on the trip that were entirely due to driving that car were unexpected to say the very least. When I started out, I pretty much just thought it’d be a fun challenge and that it would add some interest to the blog for what I expected would be maybe a couple dozen readers; friends and family mostly. If you’ve read through the blog to this point, you know that it became much more—dozens of new friends made, probably hundreds of encounters and discussions with people that I otherwise never would have spoken to, an incredible level of outreach and support from the sports car community at large, some ridiculously generous hospitality from Nissan itself, and some happy encounters and wider exposure from the guys at Petrolicious and Jalopnik. And now, more than two months after the trip is over, it’s still going on—I’ve driven the car probably another 3,000 miles since the end of the trip, and there have been people that actually recognize it on the street as “that car from YouTube.” Granted, the giant deer-shaped dent in the front makes it somewhat unmistakable, but it’s still pretty phenomenal that regular people on the street see the car as a little mini-celebrity. And, like I said in the earlier Petrolicious interview, I don’t think I would have had nearly the same experience in a different sports car, and certainly not if I was driving something less approachable like a Lamborghini or an Aston Martin. I don’t think that even another sports car of the era—something like an older Triumph or Austin Healey or Alfa Romeo—would have gotten the same response. There’s something about the car being both an unusual sports car and a Datsun that made it appeal to both the car geeks and the regular folks. Driving a Datsun, by all outward appearances I was not some rich jerk with a fancy high performance car or some strange eccentric trying to hand-crank a TR-2, I was just a guy in a neat car on a cool trip, and everybody responded positively to that. (Not that I wouldn’t want to do it again in something really eccentric and/or high performance, mind you—I could definitely be either of those guys.) I’ve gone on at some length about this before and it’s really hard to put into words, but I’m sure you get the general idea.

Outside Honeydew, CA Rutherford National Forest, CA Near Mt. Rushmore, SD
Fortescue, New Jersey Bostwick Lake, New Jersey Yellowstone National Park

Which brings me to the people I met. As an engineer specializing in behind-the-scenes machinery and control systems, I have never been what you’d call ‘outgoing’ or exceptionally adept at social interactions. However, driving around for nine months in the world’s greatest social ice breaker, showing up to sleep in the homes of dozens of perfect strangers, and eating by myself at hundreds of different places and striking up conversations therein most definitely improved my social skills. That allowed me to discover that most people out there are really good people—the jerks and sociopaths are in the minority, but they do tend to get much more attention, and in many ‘normal’ settings (work, business, etc.) they can have a disproportionate effect on your day-to-day life, which can make it sometimes seem like there’s bad people absolutely everywhere and you can’t trust anybody. That’s definitely no way to go through life, so it was incredibly refreshing to make so many new friends and experience such fantastic generosity and hospitality all throughout the trip. That includes people that I met in the flesh and people who sent me email through the blog—there were dozens of people who sent me really great messages but who didn’t want to leave public comments (you know who you are), and these came literally from all over the world. There’s wonderful people everywhere out there, you just need to get to a place where you can meet them, in person or otherwise. Combine this experience with some of the absolutely extraordinary natural sights and places I visited, and you’ve got a recipe for the experience of a lifetime.

Devil's Tower, Wyoming Ruby Falls Souvenirs Iron Falls, Washington
Mount St. Helens, Washington Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL

While it was definitely never boring, it wasn’t always sunshine and roses. One of the side effects of staying off the interstates and sticking to the back roads meant that I traveled through hundreds of small towns all throughout the US and Canada. While I didn’t stay in any one place long enough to really get an in-depth look at things, I was able to get a flavor of each town and its local citizenry. A theme that carried throughout the entire country (and a good part of Canada) was that as a country the US is full of towns that all ‘used to do’ a lot of different things. Very few of the places I visited had a real central identity anymore—places that ‘used to’ be all about timber or steel or mining or textiles or farming or any number of the trades and industries that people associate with a healthy, vibrant economy and society were everywhere, and the small businesses that make up a healthy community were all gone. Small towns were really struggling, mid-sized towns were overrun with Wal-Marts and Taco Bells, and bigger cities seemed to really separate the places that people lived from the places that people congregated and shopped and worked. Places that really functioned well as smaller towns and communities were very few and far between; I could probably count them on one hand. All of the symptoms of relatively abstract concepts that you see on the news like income disparity and the effects of industrial deregulation and the dismantling of the anti-trust system back in the 1980s were very palpable and very in-your-face over vast swaths of the country.

South Georgia Fort Payne, Alabama Gulf Coast of Florida
Richfield, Idaho Eureka, CA St. Louis, MO

Naturally, having hundreds of hours by myself in a car with a barely functional AM radio gave me some opportunity to reflect on this a little. Almost every small- to mid-sized town with an obviously vibrant past seemed to have that past be somewhere between the late 1800s to the late 1930s or so, judging from the architecture and other features of the towns. What was going on back then to produce such nationwide prosperity? Early on, the expansion into the West was a huge economic bonfire that we couldn’t throw enough firewood on—railroads, steel, lumber, food, you name it—the expansion of the population into the west could consume practically everything that industries east of the Mississippi could throw at it, as well as develop hundreds of industries in the west on its own. Following hot on the heels of that was WWI, which gave a big boost to steel and other manufacturing industries, and then the economy crashed in 1929, not to be meaningfully revived until WWII. The glorious main streets of the small towns of America seem to almost all come from that early era. I’m no economist or social scientist, but in trying to understand why wealth is so unevenly distributed across the country and why the nostalgic small town America that everyone loves seems so rare, it would appear that unfettered capitalism comes with some very unpalatable social costs. Even in those boom eras, the prosperity came at a cost—strip mining and clear cutting destroyed huge swaths of the environment, rapid economic expansion without regulation resulted in robber barons and factory fires, and anybody who’s ever read the Grapes of Wrath knows what happened to the towns of the Midwest when the soil of the Great Plains was ripped up willy-nilly for farmland. The Sherman and Clayton Acts, the reforms of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, more reasonable regulation of industry, and higher progressive income tax rates seem to have led to the strong middle class that we had in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but we’ve dismantled a lot of that since about the 1980s, and you can see the very real results of those actions in the heartland.

Little River, Alabama Huntsville, Alabama Washington, North Carolina
New Harmony, Indiana   St. Louis, MO

If I had an answer to the question of how to revive middle America, I’d be President. I’m only really starting to even think about it and look at the situation due to the things I saw on the trip. Maybe it’s inevitable; maybe the human tendency toward short term interests and grabbing whatever you can get for yourself regardless of the expense to the rest of society means that large societies will always bounce from economic bubble to economic bubble and that the arc of growth, prosperity, and decline is just how it goes. If you look at the great civilizations and societies of the past—China, Greece, Rome, the British Empire, etc.—they all seem to follow roughly the same cycle. One would think that with that much historical perspective, we wouldn’t be doomed to repeat it, but human nature is a very strong thing to try to overcome. At the moment, it looks like the pendulum has swung back more toward the situation the country was in in the early 1900s, where most of the wealth was concentrated in large trusts and corporations and those entities had massive influence over lawmakers. The solution then was breaking that influence and imposing more regulation on banks and corporations as well as higher taxes on the upper end of the income scale (although the ‘real’ tax rate due to deductions, exemptions, etc. is somewhat debatable.) There’s some agitation for something similar to happen now. Will it happen? Will it help? For the sake of all those people I met in middle America, I do hope that something happens to make their lives better, and soon.

Cape Hattaras, North Carolina Devil's Tower, Wyoming Vancouver Island, BC
Salmon Arm, BC Crab Beach, CA Apalachicola, FL

On to happier topics: The national parks have been called “America’s best idea” (the title of the Ken Burns series about the parks), and I’d have to say that I agree. Setting aside and protecting some of the most beautiful landscapes and natural features in the world so that future generations will be able to see them is a remarkably prescient and selfless decision for an ostensibly capitalist society. There’s gold in them thar hills, but we’re not mining it in the parks, which is pretty awesome. Granted, there have been a few setbacks and missteps—Hetch Hetchy, some of the grazing and land use leases, the near-eradication of wolves, and so on—but overall, the parks are fantastic. I tended to favor the more remote and less visited parks over the more popular ones (I liked Capitol Reef a lot more than the Grand Canyon, for example), but even in the very touristy parks there were ample opportunities to get out into the back country. There are innumerable hiking trails and remote areas that are accessible to the brave and tenacious once you get away from the tour bus routes in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, although admittedly a lot of the very popular attractions tend to get a little theme-parky due to the millions of visitors streaming through. Tips? Go on a weekday if you can. If you’re camping in a popular park, stake out your site early in the day and then come back to it when you’re ready to turn in. If you plan on visiting more than three or four parks in a year, get an annual pass. As the saying goes, “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.” Travel light. Be quiet. Look at everything. It’s a rare opportunity to get out into real wilderness, so take advantage of it while you still can.

Bay of Fundy, NB Yellowstone National Park Vineland, New Jersey
Everglades National Park   Halifax, NB

There are a few things that I would do differently if I were to do the trip over again, and they mostly have to do with documenting the trip. Being able to look back at the blog and the photos and remember the places I’ve been has been much more rewarding than I’d originally expected, so I think next time I will do a better job of that. I shot very little video, staying much more in the area of still photos…while I love the photos, there’s definitely something to be said for video as well, and since the camera I was taking pictures with also doubles as one of the better video cameras in the world, I didn’t have much of an excuse not to shoot a couple minutes of video of anything that I thought was good enough to take a picture of in the first place. Next time, there will be both. Similarly, most of my photos were of places, things, and landscapes. I took almost no photos of the people I met along the way, and that’s partly due to my discomfort with shoving a camera in somebody’s face. I need to get over that and take more pictures of the people I meet, since they’re such a big part of the experience (and to be honest, there aren’t that many people out there who react negatively to “can I take your picture?”, it’s just me being a wuss about it.) Lastly, I was not as diligent with route tracking throughout the trip as I was when I started. I began with a GPS app for my phone that recorded everything, but that turned out to kill the battery very quickly, so I quit using it in favor of Google Location Services. The problem with the Google thing is that it only works when you have a data connection, so it didn’t get a lot of the more remote stuff. And my old-school technique of marking my road atlas with a highlighter only worked when I remembered to do it, plus your average road atlas doesn’t have all the tiny little roads I traveled on. Having a detailed record of where you’ve been on a trip like this is great to be able to show other people, to jog your memory of places visited and people met, and to be able to find places again if you want to re-visit them. Next time, I will figure out some sort of always-on GPS-based solution and grab every foot of the route.

Coos Bay, Oregon St. Louis, MO Bahia Honda Park, Florida

So…what’s next? I will most definitely take another trip like this in the future, and probably more than one. I would not mind at all doing a western US/Canada trip in an off-road capable vehicle, as it would be great to get even farther into the outback in a lot of areas. I’m torn, though…for example, I’d love to do the drive up to Alaska in the Datsun, but by the same token there are some amazing areas on the way there that’d require an off-road vehicle to reach. The obvious solution is to take two trips and do it both ways, so maybe that’s the answer. I’d also like to do a trip like this overseas—as I mentioned in the video, driving the Datsun around Japan is going to happen at some point in the future, and a European version of the trip is most likely in the cards, too. I’ve got a lot of car prep between now and those trips though, and it’s likely I’ll have a fair amount of personal prep as well. I need to improve my Japanese language skills if I’m going to try to drive around Japan, for example. If I had to guess right now, I’d say I’ve got a year or two of a mix of preparation and some other non-trip projects to do before I take off again, but after that, we’ll be back on the road. I hope everybody comes along for the trip again, because we’ve got more exploring to do…


#1 laceytrynn 2014-07-02 08:19
I've missed this blog… can't wait to join you on your next adventure!
#2 Monkeygym 2014-07-02 13:12
Beautiful wrap up of a spectacular experience, Scott.
Glad to be able to call you a friend.
#3 TravelDuoAD 2014-07-02 22:44
What a great wrap up. My friend Mandy is headed out on her own road trip and I am sending her a link to this for ideas...she is not exactly taking a small car, she needed space for a fancy mountain bike. I love your comments about the current state of the middle. Call us next time you are in the OC. We will buy you a very nice beer and we can discuss ( and just a hint, I think that is a lot of what is missing...the ability to talk to each other...and listen)
#4 sishac 2016-03-09 13:02
You are officially my automotive hero!!! This is something that I've always wanted to do in my 1965 Mustang convertible.

Congratulations on the trip of a lifetime in a wonderful automobile.

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