Date Archives June 2014

America’s Car Museum

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My father has always been a car guy. Not in the “let’s take this engine apart and put it back together” sense, but in the “this looks sleek and powerful, let’s see how fast it goes” sense. I vividly remember him borrowing a friend’s Corvette and taking my brother and I on screaming joyrides on dark Wisconsin backroads, complete with warnings that we were never to tell Mom how fast we really went. There was always a stack of Car & Driver magazines next to the recliner, and I’d thumb through them, picking out my favorites.

In my own way, I’m now a car girl. I’m not as handy under the hood as I’d like to be, and I’ll never get my hands on the Lotus Elise I so coveted as a teen, but I’m in love with the freedom that cars represent. While I’ve handled not owning a car just fine, I loathe being reliant on mass transit or on the kindness of friends. Being behind the wheel opens up a world of possibilities. If I don’t like the situation I’m in, I can always pack up the car and leave…and that’s how I ended up in Seattle almost ten years ago. I crammed everything I could fit into my car and hit the road, moving into the area sight unseen. Although I have no intention of leaving the greater Seattle area any time soon, I still love the open road, and (as evidenced by this blog), take road trips as often as I can manage.

America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, manages to appeal to every type of car lover, from the mechanic to the aesthetic to the symbol. They cover what cars have been from their earliest stages, to what they are becoming, from the early coachbuilt models for the super-rich to a completely solar-powered car, from art car to turbocharged, from ubiquitous hippie wagon to ultra-luxe one-of-a-kind. Every few steps, I found a new favorite, and by the time I left, I had a newfound appreciation for all things automotive.

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Correction: I don’t like your girly weeds

Our house came with a giant cement slab in the backyard, indicated in the listing as RV parking. As we have no intention of ever purchasing an RV,  and it’s actually one of the best areas in the yard in terms of sunlight, I decided the best use of the area would be to set up a container garden. Not the mishmash of pots we had at the rental house, but essentially large raised beds, only on concrete instead of more soil.

I’ve learned a few things during this endeavor:

  1. Lumber is expensive. Like, really expensive. I thought the saying “grows on trees” was devised to describe something that was plentiful and cheap, as opposed to the things which do NOT grow on trees, but apparently I was mistaken.
  2. The phrase “dirt cheap” is also a little misleading.
  3. My spatial visualization skills are poor to nonexistent.

First things first, we needed to buy some lumber. The best stuff to use is untreated cedar. However, when the dude at the lumberyard told us our grand total, I decided that pressure-treated wood probably wouldn’t cause me to sprout a third arm. Once the wood was delivered and assembled to our liking (we decided to go with two taller beds rather than four shorter ones to give plant root systems plenty of space to spread out), it was time to order some dirt and some rocks for drainage.

The company we ordered our dirt from had a split-load fee, but more than that, they required that each item type you order be a minimum of two yards, which was much more than we needed. That’s silly, I thought. There’s a materials yard not far from the house, so I’ll have the dirt delivered, but I’ll haul home the rocks myself.

The soil was set to deliver on Saturday, so I needed to pick up the rocks on Friday so I’d be home for the soil delivery the next day. I drove off to the materials yard in our dainty Saturn SL2 with one of those plastic storage bins, a couple of home depot buckets, and a couple of heftier plant pots, just in case. It wouldn’t be that many rocks, after all.

When I told the woman at the counter that I wanted to buy a yard of rocks, she looked at me, looked at the car, looked at me again, and asked if that’s what I planned to haul it in. “You don’t have a friend with a truck? Home Depot rents trucks, you know.” “I know, but I think it will be fine. Look, I brought a storage bin and some buckets.” “Well….under the circumstances, how about I sell you a half yard for now and you can see if you want more later?”

I said that would be fine, and she sent me down to the rock area to wait for the guy with the loader. When he arrived and scooped an entirely full bucket and asked me to set my bins down in front of it so he could “pour it in” and save me some work, I began to realize I had made a mistake. My buckets filled almost immediately and the rocks kept coming and coming and coming. A half yard of rocks was a lot more than I’d envisioned. Then I discovered that the storage bin was so heavy that I couldn’t budge it so much as an inch, not even pushing against it with all of my body weight. There was simply no way I was going to be able to lift it into the car. The loader operator asked if maybe I’d rather have the rocks delivered instead, and that sounded like a good idea to me, but when I found out that it would cost six times more than what I had paid for the rocks to have them delivered, I decided that I’d made my rocky bed and I needed to lie in it. I rolled up my sleeves, asked if it was ok if I made a few trips, and got to work.

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It took me six trips to get all of the rocks home. Six trips. I don’t think they expected me to keep coming back after trip two. By the time trip six rolled around, I was so bright red from my exertions that one of the employees helped me load the last of it into the car because I think he was afraid I might burst a vessel and die on their property. The important part is that I did manage to get it all home so I’d be ready for the dirt delivery the next day.

Ah yes, the dirt delivery. I took measurements and calculated how many yards we needed to order and confirmed these measurements and calculations with the soil company, so I cannot even begin to explain how we ended up with so much extra soil.

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10259914_10152108862098940_6698304441558772917_nThis angle tells the story better.

We have literally twice as much dirt as we needed to fill the beds. I’ve filled the beds, some containers, spread some out on the landscaping, and we still have an enormous dirt pile covered with a blue tarp in the backyard that sort of looks like we might be hiding a body. Or twenty. Just a big ol’ corpse pile, hanging out. Eventually I plan on building a strawberry tower, which will help use some of the dirt, but it looks like Mellzah’s Folly (yes, the dirt pile has a name) will be around for some time yet. The smaller rock pile, Mellzah’s Folly Jr, will be keeping it company.

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The plants are loving it, though, and I’m loving having a happy garden. Plus this third arm is really coming in handy!

Masticating with Mellzah: The Strawberry Shake Ya Booty

In June 2011, I went on a trip to Vegas where I made fast friends with some strangers there on a poker tour and I got hammered with them at the Treasure Island bar across from the pirate show, because that’s the sort of thing I do. Put me in a room with a bunch of strangers and eventually I’ll know their life stories and have made plans to vacation with them by the end of the night. While there, I had one (well, two) of the most delicious drinks I’ve ever had in my life: a strawberry lemon mojito. It was so perfectly summery and refreshing on a hot and sticky night that I hounded the bartender until he told me what was in it, which I wrote down, shoved in my pocket, and never saw again.

…until this week. I don’t know where it went, and I don’t know where it came from. One minute, I was sorting papers and the next minute it was in my hand. I was so excited about finding it again, not only to make for myself, but to share with you. How fortuitous that it’s strawberry season, I thought. I’ll make it and photograph the steps like a food blogger, I thought. This is going to be easy. This is going to be great.

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There was only an eensy problem in that the list wasn’t all that specific in terms of proportions or, well, anything. It reads:

  • Cruzan strawberry rum
  • mint
  • strawberry lemon juice
  • soda water
  • pinch sugar water
  • shake ya booty

I was going to have to improvise.

I don’t know whether shake ya booty was the name of the drink or my drunken way of saying that the drink needs to be shaken. The whole “voting liquor into the grocery stores” thing sounded like a great idea until it turns out that nobody stocks this specific strawberry rum on their limited shelf space. Did sugar water mean simple syrup? What kind of strawberry lemon juice? Would strawberry lemonade work? I could feel my confidence waning already. This was starting to sound like something on Pintester: one of those ones where she subs all of the ingredients and the preparation and wonders why it didn’t turn out. But I still had some hope that I could create something that bore some resemblance to the drink I’d enjoyed so much, and could tweak it from there, so I attempted to make it with standard mojito proportions, muddling some lemon, mint, and strawberry, adding white rum, simple syrup, and club soda, with a splash of strawberry lemonade.

…It did not look good. It did not look good at all. The taste was no better. It looked and tasted like nothing so much as what came up after the long night of drinking and room-spinning. That’s right. It looked, smelled, and tasted like liquid vomit. I’ll spare you the picture.

It looks like perhaps food blogging is not in my future.

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Temperate rainforests are located in only a few regions around the world; they’re characterized by high annual rainfall and the ability to generate new growth without relying on fires. The largest area of temperate zone rainforest in the world is in the Pacific Northwest, stretching from northern California to Alaska. Located in north Vancouver, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park takes you on an ecotour through part of this coastal rainforest, moving you from forest floor to canopy via a series of bridges and treehouses. We decided to make a daytrip of it rather at the last minute, apparently because we both enjoy visiting Canada underprepared. As AT&T customers, we shut off our cell phones once we hit the border to avoid getting nailed with roaming fees, but as we’re both heavily reliant on phone GPS, we really should have a plan in place or a map in the car in case of necessary detours. Do as I say, not as I do. I printed out directions before we left, and the directions noted that one of the roads we were taking was a toll road. Toll roads are the bane of my existence, because it seems like there’s never any good information about where the stations are, what the rates are, and what form of payment they accept, or I am very poor at my internet search parameters when it comes to toll roads. I tried to look this up before we left, and was informed that there were only two tolls on that road, neither of which were near where we were going. It should therefore surprise you not at all to find out that there was indeed a toll almost immediately after we merged onto Highway 1, and zero information about how one could pay that toll, which left us scrambling for Canadian currency. We ended up at a convenience store on the outskirts of Surrey so we could withdraw cash from an ATM (which, to my delight, is a polymer that’s pleasingly see-through), made our way back to the highway, crossed the toll bridge, and discovered that you pay online. I have no regrets about being able to keep my see-through money, however. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA At the entrance of the park is an area that informs visitors of the history of the land and of the suspension bridge across the Capilano river, which was originally built in the late 1880s to connect the sections of forest George MacKay had purchased. It’s changed hands (and bridges) multiple times since then, and one of the owners also invited First Nations tribes to place their story poles at the park, so it now houses North America’s largest private collection of First Nations totem poles. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a simple suspension footbridge in that it’s anchored at either end with no deck stiffening. The bridge’s main supports are the handrails with the deck suspended underneath, which makes the handrails sturdier but creates a lot more side to side motion on the deck itself. At 450 feet (137m) long, I can say to you with no reservation that each foot is more terrifying than the last. The bridge lurches sickeningly underfoot, rolling and pitching with your movements and those of everyone else crossing at the same time from opposite directions. We visited on a sunny and high-traffic day, and I’m certain this only amplified the effect. I felt as though I were fighting to keep my balance with every step, and after crossing it a second time (as you have no option but to return the way you came), I felt unsteady and nauseated for hours afterward. The handrails and side barriers make it virtually impossible to fall off, but high above the river on a wildly swaying bridge, you are keenly aware of your own mortality. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Once you’ve crossed the bridge, there are a number of things to see and do. Immediately after you step off the bridge, there’s an outdoor exhibit that teaches visitors about the rainforest and how the park helps to keep it alive and thriving even with tourists moving through it daily. For instance, they stock their pond every year with around 800 rainbow trout, which provides a food source for otters, herons, and osprey. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On Raptor Ridge, they have several birds of prey, along with two falconers available to answer questions. My first question had to do with the sign cautioning dog owners to keep away: had that been in issue in the past? As it turns out, it had. “People would bring their dogs right up to meet the birds, and some of the birds were…too interested in the dogs. Like Smaug, the female Harris hawk–she has no fear or sense of her size. She would try to take down a bear if given the opportunity.” The sign on the kestrel cage said that kestrels weigh as much as a quarter pounder with cheese, and I remarked that was an oddly specific unit of measurement. “That’s the female, for the male you’d have to subtract the bun and the pickles. But people are so health-conscious these days that we’ve been thinking about changing the sign to something a little less controversial.” I suggested a head of kale, but in retrospect, I think a cheeseburger is a perfect measurement unit for a raptor: meaty, exciting, and dangerous. Something leafy and floppy just doesn’t have the same effect. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Capilano Treetops Adventure starts off in a treehouse and continues on seven suspension bridges up into the canopy of old-growth Douglas fir trees. They’ve designed the structures with a compression system so that nothing is driven into the tree itself, which means that no harm comes to the tree and it can continue to grow naturally. In fact, their adjustable collars allow the attraction to grow upward with the trees! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After we were done walking through the trees, we did the Natures’s Edge walk, which is a long boardwalk along the edge of the rainforest that gives you views of the suspension bridge and the Capilano river. Approximately every ten feet, there was a sign telling people not to graffiti the wood railings. People complied with this order and instead defaced nearly every single sign, indicating that either a lot of smartasses visit, or one smartass was particularly dedicated. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Back on the other side of the suspension bridge is the new (as of 2012) Cliffwalk attraction, which consists of suspended walkways along the granite cliff faces. They sell this as the EXTREME (in the Mountain Dew sense of the word) part of the park, but honestly, I felt much safer on the Cliffwalk than on the suspension bridge or even the treetop adventure, as the Cliffwalk structures were firm underfoot. The only part that gave me pause was the portion in which you’re standing on glass, but that’s just because I have an inherent mistrust in the ability of glass to hold my fatassery, so your mileage may vary. Plus, I’m extra wary as I know that my role in life is to live as a warning to others, and I would really prefer that my epitaph not read “So fervently enjoyed the cheeseburger that no glass could hold her.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After you’ve visited all of the areas of the park and stamped your passport as proof that you braved the bridge, they give you an “I survived!” certificate which is suitable for framing and makes you feel like you really accomplished something other than walking around for a few hours. I’d like more certificates in my day-to-day life as affirmations that I’m awesome. “You haven’t let the house fall into utter disrepair!” or “You got groceries before letting the pantry get to the point that you’re forced to eat macaroni and cheese that’s been expired for a year!” or “You didn’t fake a headache in order to get out of your dentist visit!” But making the certificates and awarding them to myself is a little odd, plus awarding myself a certificate for making the awards certificate could result in an infinite loop where I just photoshop until I die. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On your way out, you would be remiss if you didn’t give a Mountie that also happens to be a bear a low-five.

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Spotted on the Roadside: People Don’t Do That Sort of Thing With Fish

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The legend of the “Big Catch” goes as such:

“Long ago, a beautiful young maiden fell in love with a handsome fisherman. To her dismay, the Wicked Witch of Puget Sound fell in love with him too. The Wicked Witch cast a spell and turned the maiden into a fish. For years, the sad fisherman searched all the waters of the Sound looking for his maiden, to no avail. One day, while fishing at the Des Moines fishing pier, he saw a big fish in his net. He knew it was his love. He pulled her up, kissed her, and she was transformed back into his beautiful maiden. There were married and lived happily ever after.”

I have a few problems with this: One, the story says nothing about grabbing the heaving human bosom of the fish. Two, where in the heck is the Wicked Witch of Puget Sound during all the years he’s fishing, and why doesn’t she make her move on him? Three, why was it safe for them to be married after the fish was turned back into a human, assuming the witch was still around? Four, why does the transformation of fish into maiden start with the boobs?

Spotted on Marine View Drive in Des Moines, WA.

Ring Ring Ring Banana Museum

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The average American eats about 150 bananas per year. Ann Lovell, owner of Bananas Antiques and collector/curator of the attached Auburn Banana Museum, finds that number a little low for her tastes. “I average 365 a year,” she laughs.

Ann started collecting banana memorabilia almost thirty years ago; she found their cheerful yellow color and place in American history a-peel-ing, and things escalated from there. She now has over 6,000 banana items that she rotates through the museum, from tintypes of people posing with bananas (which used to be considered a rich man’s luxury fruit) to banana advertisements and banana instruments.

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Our banana is not our grandparents’ banana, and a large portion of Ann’s collection is not based on the banana we enjoy today. Bananas are a monogenetic cultivar, which makes them highly susceptible to disease; prior to 1960, the main varietal grown and consumed in Europe and the Americas was the Gros Michel. Panama disease eventually ran rampant through the groves and wiped out the plants, and the Cavendish was selected as its replacement for large scale growth and export, due to its resistance to Panama disease. The Gros Michel isn’t extinct, but it’s no longer viable to be grown in mass quantities for export. The Cavendish is what you see on grocery store shelves today. However, another disease has reared its ugly head among the Cavendish: Black Sigatoka, and it’s expected that within 10 to 20 years, we’ll be seeing a different varietal of banana in stores, possibly the Goldfinger: a thicker, squat fruit with a reddish skin already enjoyed in Australia.

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As a fearless reporter who dares to ask the hard-hitting questions, I had an important question. “So…Dole or Chiquita?” “I prefer organic, actually! The flavor is better, you should definitely try one if you get an opportunity.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’m mildly banana intolerant.

The Georgetown Carnival in Seattle, WA

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This year, June has been glorious. Sunny, warm, dry, and gorgeous, which is generally not the case–summer usually starts in the Pacific Northwest on the fifth of July. A few years ago during a more typical summer, I tried to grow some tomatoes in my garden from a start, and the plant never got any bigger, grew about three tomatoes the size of walnuts, and just plain gave up. You could practically see it slumping in depression. This year, thanks to a lengthy run of gorgeous May and June days, my tomato plants are already enormous and it looks like I’m going to have to invest in a pressure canner so I can enjoy tomato sauce from garden tomatoes year ’round.  Of course that lovely weather trend would end just in time for the Georgetown Carnival. Thankfully, the rain held off for most of the day, but the forecast was so grim that I almost didn’t attend.

Georgetown is rapidly turning into the new cool, artsy, Seattle neighborhood, and the Georgetown Carnival exemplifies that by having a number of stations that allow you to create, express yourself, and interact, while making the event itself free to all comers. They don’t just have vendor booths with as-seen-on-TV stuff like the Puyallup Fair, they have an Oddmall. They don’t just offer live music, they have an entire stage dedicated to sideshow performers. Instead of the same tired food vendors with their bland corndogs and dry popcorn, all of the restaurants and bars down the length of the Carnival are open for business, and they have the best of the best food trucks set up shop along the street as well.

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The first thing we saw was a wooden octopus that could have its tentacles manipulated by controls set around the outside of the table. There was a baseball on the table as well, and supposedly if everyone works together, they can use the tentacles to move the baseball around the table. There was no such cooperation while I was watching, and I myself aided and abetted some wild tentacle flailing. Now I really, really want one of these for my house.

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One of my friends is part of the sideshow group Wreckless Freeks, and that’s how I came to hear about the Georgetown Carnival in the first place, but the announcement of the addition of power tool races made it imperative that I attend.  The combination of those three words gave them a heady potency. Power tool races. Just thinking them in conjunction releases a rush of endorphins in my brain.

I thought that the power tool races would involve a couple of orbital sanders jittering their way across a table. Something uncoordinated, unprofessional, but fun. What I got was even better than what I expected. Far from watching a few power tools shimmy and shake, the goal of these power tool races was to take ordinary power tools and electric appliances and turn them into drag racers, using their mechanical advantages to propel them down the track. A track that included jumps. Anyone is welcome to build a racer as long as they’re willing to follow a few guidelines, namely involving width. Everything else is open to interpretation, and they have a number of hefty trophies to vie for, including a sparklepony trophy for the racer that’s deemed “pretty but useless”.

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As far as the races themselves went, I made certain to stake out a good viewing spot early as it’s otherwise my destiny to have a wall of tall men blocking my view. Little did I know that they had a bunch of inside guys for that job, so the half hour that I parked myself by the fence was essentially wasted. I mean, I get it. They want good photographers with good gear on the front lines getting good shots, but it was essentially a giant “screw you” to the audience who ALSO wanted to see the races, who came out to support them, who are the people they’re putting on the show to please. It’s even more awkward to have these guys come and block my view and then have one of them hand me a piece of paper asking to share the photos I take to their pool. I’d probably go again, but this soured my experience more than a little. At the very least, they should be clear about where inside photographers are going to be stationed so people have an opportunity to work around them and find a spot in the audience from which they CAN see the thing that they came to see.

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The Stables Sideshow Stage had acts all day long; I was only able to catch the tail end of Wreckless Freeks, where watching Twisted Trystan swallowing a moving drill bit made all of my internal organs clench up and want to revolt in protest. The act of swallowing these objects involves the mastery of four gag reflexes: the first, being the taste. The second, the pharyngeal reflex, is the one at the back of the throat and the one we most commonly associate with the gag reflex. The third is the esophageal sphincter, which is the thing that grabs what you swallow and drives it down toward your stomach, and the fourth is in the stomach itself, which is the part that makes vomiting possible. All of these gag reflexes were working in concert in me while I witnessed this, all basically screaming “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE”. Sword swallowing has been around for a long time, but it’s quite dangerous, as swallowed objects pass within milimeters of the aorta, heart, and lungs, and thus it deserves a little more than the half-assed clapping it generally receives. A little more like getting tips stapled to their bare flesh with a staple gun.

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After Twisted Trystan finished his act, Wreckless Freeks brought Mr. Gothic Seattle 2014, Alex Decay, on stage to pierce him with giant needles. As it turns out, all of the time I’ve spent watching splattery special effects have not desensitized me to the real thing, as I went into full-body cringe mode again. Don’t try any of this at home! Or if you do…don’t do it where I can see for a while. I need to go lie down.

Masticating with Mellzah: Slim’s Last Chance Chili Shack

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Slim’s Last Chance Chili Shack never disappoints. Whether it’s ladled over a burger, a kobe hot dog, or my personal favorite, jalapeno mac & cheese, it’s complex and comforting, with just enough heat to warm up whatever overcast, chilly, rainy day you happen to be there (which is basically October through Juneuary). On a warm summery day, it’s awesome to be out on their patio with some chili and a cold beer, soaking in the sun. I’ve even eaten it in an emergency room waiting room (long story). Their bean and brisket is last meal-worthy. It’s that good. If only I could remember that they’re closed on Sundays, because I’ve shown up about three times in the last year on a Sunday, hungry and disappointed.

Road Trip Essentials

Summer is almost here, which means it’s time for that hallowed American tradition: the road trip. Whether you’re packing for a day trip or a longer excursion,  here’s my list of road trip essentials, some of which I learned that I needed the hard way. These are the must-haves–feel free to supplement with the fun stuff like custom playlists and cameras and your world’s largest burger eating hat. This is the stuff that minimizes your vulnerability when you’re out on the road so you can concentrate on having fun!

day-trip-road-essentials

  • Water — I don’t care if it’s in a disposable bottle, a camelbak, or one of those uber health conscious BPA free aluminum or glass things. In the event of a breakdown where you have to wait for help or if you get caught in an unexpected traffic nightmare, staying hydrated is important on a hot summer day when you’re trapped in a sweltering sweatbox. In a pinch, you can put it in your radiator if your car is overheating and you just need to be able to limp it to the next town. I’ve had two cars with radiator problems, and while water is not the IDEAL fluid (coolant is best), it will work temporarily.
  • Snacks — little bags of nuts are perfect to keep you energized and keep away the hangries. For something a little more substantial, Quest bars are my favorite. Again, just something that fits your dietary needs and can hold you for a few hours if need be–I don’t care if you pack a cooler of sandwiches or grill eggs on your engine block or live for bags of funyons, just have something.
  • AAA card — This has saved my bacon more than once. Once on a longer trip when we blew not one, but TWO tires outside of LA, and once on a cross-town trip when I blew a tire going to an event that most of my friends were already at (phones off!). If you can swing it, go for one of the higher membership tiers as they cover a LOT more towing miles (100-200 miles vs 5 miles) and the per mile fee outside of the covered range adds up fast.
  • Map — GPS devices and phones are great for directions…until they aren’t. Lose the signal, deplete your battery, run up to an unexpected road closure, and you’re in trouble. On a trip to Vancouver, we didn’t pull out the GPS until after we crossed the border (as it’s a straight shot up until that point), and were unpleasantly surprised to discover that our GPS had decided that there were only two provinces in Canada, neither of which were British Columbia, so we were left scrambling for a gas station that was still open that late at night. It was terrible. If you’re a AAA member, you can even get city/state/regional maps for free, so learn from my mistake and have one in your car.
  • Car multi charger– you can charge on the road, you can charge in your hotel/motel/Holiday Inn. This will save you from having to remember how to read a map and from being in an “Oh shit, I had a full battery this morning, what happened?!” situation.
  • Cash. ALWAYS. HAVE. SOME. CASH. It doesn’t need to be a ton, just enough for unexpected tolls, for some gas, for roadside stuff. Don’t assume that anybody anywhere accepts credit cards. Ideally, you’ll have this cash in a few locations–some on your person, some (hidden) in the car.

 

long-road-trip-essentials

Everything from the shorter trip section plus:

  • Gas can — There are some long stretches of road with few services, or services that aren’t 24 hours. It doesn’t hurt to fill up when you hit the half-tank mark, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the road ahead. I assumed there’d be another gas station within driving distance when I was passing through North Dakota and I almost ran out of gas because the cute little gas station in Medora near Theodore Roosevelt National Park was closed for the day and I had to backtrack MILES (like 30+) on E to one I’d seen earlier because I didn’t have enough gas to go for anything other than the sure bet at that point. This was pre smartphone, with printed out mapquest directions, and I was alone, with no AAA or any other safety net. If I hadn’t made it back to the gas station (and I made it with about a shot glass’ worth of gas left in the tank), I would have been in trouble. Don’t put yourself in that kind of trouble.
  • Full size spare tire with a tire jack, and you should know how to use it, ESPECIALLY if you don’t have roadside assistance. None of this doughnut crap when you’re hundreds of miles from home.
  • A car safety kit with jumper cables, a flashlight, some road flares, screw driver, duct tape, bandages, and spare batteries. It doesn’t matter what brand, there are plenty out there for around $20.
  • A blanket, whether it’s one of those thermal space age ones or just a regular blanket. Something to keep you warm if you’re waiting at night for roadside assistance.
  • If you’re crossing mountain passes, have chains, and know how to use them. Odds are you won’t need them (especially in the summer), but they can be lifesaving if you do.
  • Toilet paper, because rest stop bathrooms are often terrible to borderline unusable.
  • A credit card with enough to deal with a emergency situation. If you’ve got one where you can earn frequent flyer miles by buying stuff like gas on THIS trip to help fund your NEXT trip, even better.
  • Get an oil change/check your fluids before you go. Get a tune-up! If anything is going to go drastically wrong with your car, it’s going to happen on these longer trips when the car is running for 12+ hours a day instead of in 30 minute bursts across town.
  • Above all, have a plan. You don’t have to plan every minute, but you should have a rough idea of how long you’re going to travel each day, potential stopping points, and for what you’re going to do at night. Drive in shifts? Stop at a rest stop? Check in at a hotel? You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere, exhausted, and have to face the question of sleeping somewhere you feel unsafe versus continuing to drive and risk falling asleep on the road. If you decide to sleep in your car for whatever reason but you’re closer to a town than a highway rest stop, keep your eyes peeled for a Wal-Mart. Regardless of how you feel about their business practices, their parking lots are generally open to car campers and are well lit and potentially more secure than a rest stop. Use your personal discretion, as always, and never stay anywhere that makes you feel unsafe.

Some of this stuff you’ll use, some of it you’ll toss in the trunk and never use. The important thing is to have it if you need it. This stuff keeps you safe, keeps you going, and keeps you from having to wipe with your sleeve. It’s a big, beautiful country out there–go see it!