This thread will be a day-by-day accounting of a 13,000 mile RoadTrip that took place in the summer of 2015. That’s a lot of miles, so this is going to be a long report, which I’ll be posting in sections, stretched out over the next several weeks.
***Maps will be created by Tom Herbertson using the RTA Custom Maps program and dropped into the appropriate place in the thread.
Due to seasonal road closures (snow, mud, road construction, etc.) some of the maps displayed in this thread are not displaying properly or you might see pop-up windows reporting errors found with the route. Unfortunately, the map data used to create these maps enforces these "Time-outs" if a particular road segment is closed. In the case of the pop-up windows, please click "OK" and the map will display properly. In the case on some of the maps where the route seems all jammed up -- reloading the page where the map is displaying seems to solve the issue. All of these problems go away once the winter closures of the roads end. So, everything will look fine in the North American summer months.
Beginning at the beginning:
There are a number of events in a person’s life that mark a major point of transition: your first driver’s license, your 18th birthday, your graduation from high school or college; your first real job; first love; first marriage; first child. Most of those once-in-a-lifetime mileposts flash past us when we’re young, but there’s a big one that’s reserved for older folk, and because it’s something that requires a significant amount of long-term planning, it’s perhaps the most anticipated single event in the life of the average working stiff. I’m talking about retirement! That’s the day you get to throw away your alarm clock, because if you’ve done it right, it’s just like winning the lottery: every month, they send you a check, and you don’t have to do a darned thing to earn it.
As for myself, I had a career with the federal government that lasted almost 35 years, and by the time my own retirement date rolled around, just before my 65th birthday, I’d had a WHOLE lot of time to ponder the glorious potential of this new state of being. I wanted to kick it off with a celebration worthy of the occasion, and the first thing I wanted to do was a RoadTrip—a really BIG RoadTrip. I wanted to drive to Alaska on the Alaska Highway, and I wanted to see Denali, the biggest mountain in North America. I could go north by one route, and return by a different route, stopping at every national park along the way.
I moved back home to Arizona from Washington D.C., and I started planning in earnest, consulting maps and guidebooks, shopping for camping gear, servicing my Jeep, and soliciting everyone I knew in hopes of finding a co-pilot for this journey, which I’d dubbed “The Mother of All Road Trips,” (MOART for short). I was likely to be gone as much as two months, and that killed the whole deal for just about everybody. Even retired people are hard pressed to free up that much time all at once, and that meant that if I was going to do it, I’d have to do it alone. That wasn’t exactly ideal. I have a bad back that limits me in a lot of unfortunate ways; if the strain of all those hours behind the wheel threw it out of whack, I could get stuck in the middle of nowhere, in too much pain to keep going. With nobody to take over the driving, what the heck would I do?
It had been decades since I’d attempted anything remotely this ambitious, and, being brutally honest with myself, I really wasn’t sure if I was still capable. There was a lot at stake, and I knew I’d regret it forever if I didn’t at least give it a shot. I figured it would be best to start off slowly, with a sort of a trial run. First, I’d drive to Yosemite National Park, which was pretty exciting all by itself, because I’d never been there. Then I’d zip over to San Francisco, where I’d spend a few days visiting an old friend. The two of us would do some camping in the Redwoods, a perfect way to test out my new gear, and if all that went well, I’d head toward Alaska, one national park at a time. If my back gave me too much trouble, at any point along the way, I’d turn around and head for home. With that thought in my pocket, I started packing.
Click here for this RTA Library Map
This map (above) shows Rick's route between Phoenix, Arizona and Lee Vining, California. Rick completed this route in the summer months so his route included the June Lake Loop and over Tioga Pass (which we can't build when those roads are closed due to seasonal closures.) When the roads reopen we'll update this thread with new maps showing the routes over the roads that are closed now.****
Day 1: Tuesday, June 23, 2015
My Jeep, empty: plenty of room in there with the seats folded flat.
I packed all my stuff in watertight plastic tubs, which made it easy to unload on those nights when I skipped setting up the tent and just slept in the back.
Everything fit neatly together in a configuration that became VERY familiar by the end of the trip!
Locked and loaded, ready for launch!
That first day, I managed a 9 AM departure, despite a lot of last minute scrambling, organizing my gear and triple checking all my lists. The first leg was all too familiar; Interstate 10, west to California. No surprises on that route, aside from fires and smoke on the mountains to the west of Indio, a blaze on the back side of one of the peaks putting out a billowing column of smoke that made the semi-conical peak look like an erupting volcano.
(Yet another) California wildfire, west of Indio.
Just past Riverside, I turned north, and made my way onto US 395, heading toward the Sierras. This was new territory at last—a road I’d never traveled! The old Joshua tree forests were blighted by new development, and the two lane highway was clogged by long lines of slow trucks and RV’s, interspersed with impatient idiots who simply had to pass everyone else, regardless of risk. I did quite a lot of passing and being passed, as I held to a steady speed. I have an indicator on my dash that calculates my average MPG, and I watched that number climb from 15 or so, which is what I get in the city, all the way up to 20.2! My Grand Cherokee, with its V-8 engine and full time four wheel drive, has never been even remotely fuel efficient, especially when you factor in my customary lead foot. With thousands of miles of road ahead of me, in a region where fuel prices are notoriously high, I was pleased to see that it was possible to do better, simply by adjusting my attitude (and keeping my RPM’s pegged on about 1800).
The landscape started getting much more interesting as the Sierras closed in, entering the Owens Valley, and by the time I got to Lone Pine, whoa, baby! We’re talking serious beauty, especially around Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.
California’s Sierra Nevada, from US 395
I continued on to Bishop, mile 600 for the day, and plenty far enough. I bedded down for the night in an EconoLodge, $75 plus tax. It was a little shabby, but acceptable, and clean enough. My back was holding up better than I expected. I had a good lumbar support cushion, and I’d taken plenty of short breaks to stretch out my stiff muscles. So far, so good!
(Up next: Yosemite!)