02 December 2014

Across the U.S. trip - Conclusions

Now that two weeks have gone by since I came back from my across-the-U.S. journey, the whole experience had time to sink in a little and I gave it some concluding thoughts. In a nut-shell, six weeks sound like a long time, but thinking back it felt like the journey flew by in the blink of an eye.

What went well and what could have gone better:
Actually, everything went very well. The weather could not have been any better, I met lots of interesting people and never ran out of gas (nor did my car)! ;-)
I did not get sick, did not have any accidents and no real issues with the car, except for those four listed below.

What did I bring and would bring again next time:
The following items in alphabetic order served me well and I would bring them again:

AAA maps & travel books: provided to AAA members for free, they cover all states and large cities I visited. Although I heavily used the GPS app on my phone I always want to have a map as well for alternative route planning, more independence from the GPS and better overview of the area. The travel books provide lots of information about a state's/city's history, good facts to know and locations to visit. I did not utilize their hotel/restaurant listing as those selected are rather on the pricy side. Non-AAA members can pick up these books and maps for $14.95/book and $5.95/map. Traveling on four wheels allowed me to carry such paper material. I would have optimized and packaged the data differently if I had been on my motorcycle instead.


Camping dishes: a mug, bowl and cutleries came in very handy when preparing breakfast or supper in my room or on the road. I even used them in the motels' breakfast rooms to avoid the use of yet another styrofoam/plastic cup, dish or plastic cutleries.

Cooler bag (30x15x15cm) & ice packs: cheese, milk/cocoa, yoghurt and such remained fresh between motel stops. The majority of rooms I stayed in had a refrigerator, some even with a small freezer section to prepare the ice packs for the next day on the road.

Ear plugs: to eliminate possible annoyance by noisy room neighbors/TVs on the other side of a paper-thin wall or busy highway, airport, rail road close by. We had good experience with the Howard Leight Max ear plugs and always use them when motorcycling. I had several sets with me. They are meant for single-use but can easily be used more than once.

Flip flops: indispensable to remain athlete's foot-free while on motel room carpets and in bathrooms.

Oatmeal, pre-mixed: very similar to our usual breakfast at home I had mixed rolled oats with nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, shredded coconut, chia/hemp/flax seed and some milk powder. Half a cup of water, some fresh fruit and low-fat yoghurt if available added to this provided a tasty, healthy and nourishing meal and a perfect alternative in case a motel does not offer breakfast or what they declare as breakfast is nothing more than a wrapped donut and some artificial juice. I brought nine portions and used all but one. I was surprised that compared to ten years ago many more places in the U.S. now provide breakfast (and of course free WiFi) included with the room.

Pepper spray: I usually don't feel the need to carry such self-defense device with me but for such a long solo getaway it just felt safer. I went for the triple action spray from Mace, which combines 10% Oleoresin Capsicum pepper, CN tear gas and invisible UV marking dye to help the police find the attacker who got spayed. I had to consider though that some monuments and locations such as the St. Louis Gateway Arch and governmental buildings don't allow entry with pepper spray (or any other kind of weapon). No idea how well the spray works. Luckily, there was no need to get it in action.

Sleeping bag: I selected the Travel Down bag from REI. It packs comparatively small (30x15cm), is light enough for indoor use and provides carefree sleeping no matter how flimsy a motel's blanket might be.

Tracking system: another "just in case" tool that provided Guido and me with additional ease of mind. We chose the SPOT Gen3. In addition to the on/off switch it has five buttons: two for pre-programmed "I'm ok" messages to check-in with family, one for tracking and to save waypoints of the route, a "Help" button to send a message in non-lifethreatening situations such as stranded due to an empty gas tank and last but not least the S.O.S. button. Pressing this button will contact the GEOS Emergency Center which will notify local 9-1-1 providers (or 1-1-2 when in Europe) and send the GPS coordinates to the response team to provide help in a life-threatening event. When setting up the device on the provider's website, it needs a nickname. I named mine "Brotkrume", (think of Hansel and Gretel). It served me well to track waypoints and to let Guido know when I arrived at my accommodation safely at the end of each day. The device requires four AAA Lithium batteries which last a long time. I had the spot placed on a small sandbag on the dashboard, but it also has a clip and can be carried attached to e.g., a backpack while hiking.

SPOT Gen3 on its sandbag

What would I leave at home next time:
Diesel fuel nozzle adaptor – I took the adaptor just in case I need to refuel and the gas station only serves diesel for large trucks which would have meant nozzles too large for my car. There was no need at all for the adaptor. Diesel for automobiles can be found pretty much everywhere.
Two to three pair of undies – Five pairs are fine, considering the fact that regular washing by hand or a motel's laundry facility is always an option.

What I was looking for and what did I find:
My goal was to learn more about peoples' culture and way of living in other parts of the country. I certainly experienced what I always hear people talk about: that there is a tremendous diversity between different states, landscapes and climate zones, (food) cultures, ethnicities and dialects. Overall however, we are not that different. Basically, we all have similar worries, are taking care of our family and are busy with the essentials of life to make a decent living.

As a dietitian and interested in nutritional research and obesity prevention, my particular focus was on food availability in different regions of the country. Low-income areas with limited or no access to grocery stores that carry healthy and affordable food have been described by the USDA as "food deserts". The issue of food deserts and a possible relationship between food deserts and elevated obesity rates of residents in such areas have been discussed controversially in literature over the last several years. My travels do not claim nor were meant to serve as detailed research of this topic. They served the purpose of personal education and reflect my own observations during this trip and within the limited time I spent in each region. I am aware that having a car available made it easy for me to reach any kind of food store or market and to get away from possible food deserts. On the other hand, none of the areas I visited were familiar to me beforehand and consequently I missed a lot that was not directly on my route. Local residents specifically in rural areas who depend on public transportation might experience more issues than me accessing fresh and healthy food choices. In most large cities I found a well-organized, wide spread system of farmers' markets, many with a long tradition in the area and supermarkets with a good selection of fresh, even organic produces. Whereas in those sparsely populated regions I traveled through, dollar stores and fast food restaurants dominated the area. The stores' isles were filled with candies, cookies and convenience food, sweetened beverages and high calory-low nutrients/costs snacks. However, would an augmented supply of healthy food in these stores help customers make a healthier food choice??

In terms of education on healthy food I came across various advertisements and posters for educational events and cooking classes. Also, the majority of people I talked to about nutrition, healthy lifestyle and food were aware of the issues and had good knowledge about what someone needs to do to stay fit and healthy. But none of the people I spoke to belong to the low-income underserved part of the population and thus, were not representative either ...

On my route across the country I stopped at many locations that were interesting to me from an agricultural point of view: a sustainable cattle farm and an organic grain manufacturing facility in Nebraska, cotton farms and peanut production in Georgia and Texas, a pecan orchard in Texas, a pistachio tree ranch in New Mexico and an olive farm and mill in Arizona. Also volunteering at a small community farm in Knoxville, Tennessee, during Food Day was lots of fun.

In general, I'm not a fan of dust-collecting, space-taking knicknackery. Thus, most of the souvenirs I collected are edible and represent some typical, local taste from the area I visited.

Mostly edible souvenirs, to relive the journey's taste 

Only the ear-rings from the aSHEville Women's Museum made by a local artist, the Nashville Starbucks mug which perfectly complements my mug collection, the 2015 wall calendar from Oracle, Arizona and those three Atlantic Ocean shells I collected on the beach near Charleston will serve as long-term souvenirs.

Over the next weeks/months, revival of the journey's memories will happen through our taste buds. I brought several jars of honey (from IL, MS, Southern CA), rhubarb jam from the Amish of Pawnee City (NE), berry jam and meat seasoning (Dallas, TX), apple cider, black bean dip and gumbo'n things peppered lemon spices from the Carolinas, olive oil, pickled bell pepper and pickles from Phoenix (AZ) and flavored pistachios varieties from Alamogordo (NM).

Furthermore:
Pulled over by the police for speeding or other trouble-causing activities during those 8,366 miles (13,464 km): 0!
Problems with car: 4 relatively minor/stupid issues such as nails in two tires, one blown fuse and on the LAST day damage to the driver's door hinges and door due to a wind gust which ripped the door out of my hand and slammed it open (car should return from repair this week).
Critical/risky situations: 1 (wooden palette in the middle of my lane at 75 mph on the way to Tucson, AZ), a good portion of common sense, healthy self-assessment and luck prevented any other trouble.
Hours of fun time, great experiences made, life-time lessons learned: countless!!


Thank you Guido for everything that made this journey possible!

6 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed following along on your journey and especially enjoyed reading about the excursions through the markets and farms. I, also, generally pick up edible souvenirs on trips though there is a limit to what can be carried.

    Would you have considered the same trip on a bike?

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    1. Thanks Richard for being one of my virtual travel companions!

      The same trip on a bike? Yes, but. I would consider this with my R1200R, but definitely not traveling alone. Or I could see me doing this trip alone but on a much lighter bike that I could pick up by myself when (not if!) ;-) I drop it. I have to admit that I'm still hesitant and not very good with slow maneuvers on my R1200 and stopping on/taking off from unpaved surface still does not feel very good. And on such trip I want to be able to stop wherever to explore and take pictures.

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  2. Gro├čartig! What a wonderful trip, Andrea. Thanks for letting us tag along. I certainly enjoyed being one of your virtual travel companions. Next time, do the easy thing, and take me along for real ;-)
    I very much like the edible souvenirs. That's what I do to instead of buying dust catching kitsch.

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    1. Thank you for tagging along with me! Yeah, deal for next time. Trekking across the southern regions of Canada and back through the Northern U.S. would fill another gap of my traveling knowledge. ... ;-)

      Yes, aren't edible souvenirs great?! Something to share with others and at some point they are gone. No dust catching and space filling stuff!

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  3. What a great adventure Andrea - I especially liked your summary, how many undies are too many =0)

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    1. Thanks! ;-) I noticed again how nice it is to travel light. The least stuff, the better. Especially if I ever want to do such trip on a bike. :-)

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