I have an aversion to the idea of a “stay-cation,” and I tend to meticulously plan my trips down to a day-to-day itinerary. With two weeks off in early Spring 2017, I asked myself what I wanted to accomplish, given the time of year, budget and length of the vacation. That answer came easily enough – I wanted to mountain bike amazing trails, do some overnight hikes, and explore places I had never been. Utah was calling me again (it frequently does) and I was determined to see and do more than I ever had before.
Unfortunately, Maura could only get a fraction of the time off that I had. I wanted to find a way to show her the state of Utah that I knew and loved, with hopes of inspiring a mutual favorite vacation destination. The solution was to drive myself across the country, pick her up in Las Vegas, and drop her off at the Denver airport, on the way home.
I have packed my belongings and driven west from Pittsburgh several times before. I was craving the feeling of mobile independence from car-dwelling and camping across the country again. With my help, a friend constructed a custom bed platform that would fit in my hatchback. This actually was a pretty significant logistical accomplishment, as my disassembled mountain bike had to fit in the car too. I would be sleeping in my car a few nights, my tent a few others. After picking up Maura, we would ambitiously only spend one night in a hotel. I knew she was ready for the challenge.
Looking back, I’m very fortunate to have someone as brave and adventurous as Maura. It could have been disastrous otherwise, as we spent significant time together in close confines after not showering for days at a time. Even as a guy, the thought of that gives me anxiety. She also braved backcountry camping in sub-30 degree overnight weather, after a very tough day of hiking. If this trip was a benchmark for her adventuring capabilities, I’d give her an A+ and extra credit.
There’s a whole lot to be said about travelling alone though. I first discovered the magic of solo road tripping in 2014, when I drove to Congaree National Park in South Carolina. I recommend everyone should at least try it, even if they have a significant other who wants to join the fun. Lone road trips are the only time in my life where I have to answer to no one. I can stop to rest when I want, I can take any side trip I want, I can eat wherever I want, etc. Plus, the incredible feeling of freedom and self-sufficiency has had such a profoundly beneficial effect on my mental health. Some of the most significantly impactful memories of my life were created in complete isolation, when every trace of humanity had been outside of my sensory perception for hours.
I spent the first week-and-a-half of this road trip by myself once again. This time, however, I found my solitude to be paradoxically soothing and frustrating. For example, spending over 24 hours in the remote backcountry of Capitol Reef National Park, with no cell coverage, was probably one of the most existentially humbling experiences of my life. The overnight hike itself was truly the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done, but I found my narrative and the accompanying photographs inadequate in conveying the beauty and personal significance of the adventure.
Preparing for the trip:
My priority was to maximize the time spent in Utah in the two consecutive weeks I had off. This meant packing my car the night before, and leaving directly from work on Thursday, March 23rd. As mentioned before, I had a bed platform I could sleep on within the confines of my 2015 Subaru Impreza hatchback and I jerry-rigged some makeshift curtains for privacy. The ability to sleep almost anywhere is the most crucial aspect of my solo travel style, and I cannot emphasize enough how much time and money this saves. I saved hundreds by avoiding travel motels and I saved hours of precious driving time by sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots or rest stops off of I-70.
Years of painstakingly planning family vacations and creating elaborate, multi-colored Excel spreadsheets has earned my dad one of his many nicknames: “Captain Itinerary.” After this trip, apparently, *heavy sigh* I am my father’s son. While I did make an Excel spreadsheet to track my fuel costs and mileage, most of my itinerary was custom made in Google Maps. Not gonna lie, I actually had a ton of fun doing this. I marked every single important destination, from campgrounds, highway rest areas, hiking/biking trailheads, dirt roads, you name it. I even used MTB Project to export actual ride routes (as GPX files) into Google Maps, and printed hard copies for my biking backpack. Additionally, I downloaded the whole thing for offline use, meaning I could access the maps on my phone without a data connection. This is a game-changer for the many remote areas of southern Utah I would find myself in.
In my last feat of road trip efficiency, I stuffed a cooler full of as much food, coffee and film as possible. Maura helped me meal prep innumerable sandwiches and PB&J wraps, which would join the mass of pre-packaged snacks and dehydrated backpacking meals. She even surprised me with a three pound bag of my favorite candy: Sour Brite Crawlers.
I vomited on the pavement just off of I-70 in Fruita, CO…
I had a ton of pent-up energy when I got out of my car to set my bike up. I had been driving and eating nutritionally sub-par food for the past two days. I didn’t bring quite enough water for the 20 miles Strava told me I rode, and I probably drank my post-ride protein shake too fast. Maybe the altitude had its own effect on me. I found myself trembling in my driver’s seat, dehydrated, nauseous, scared and facing a 1.5 hour drive to Moab where I would have to either set up camp or sleep in my car. I was more worried about the ride I was supposed to do the next day though, especially because I secured a bike rental for it.
Maura and her sister, who is a nurse, calmed me down over the phone thankfully. I recovered the best I could via Gatorade and a banana while I drove across the Utah state line on a sunset covered I-70. By the time I got to Moab, I was feeling good enough to devour a burrito, but tired enough to just sleep in my car.