Thursday, October 18, 2012

Notes from a roadtrip

So, we just took a roadtrip from Minneapolis, MN to West Yellowstone, MT and back. Our main goal was to visit Yellowstone National Park and also drop by some family in Omaha, NE on the way back. We did what we set out to do and there were just so many things we learnt/observed along the way - some new and some fairly obvious - that were reinforced in ‘real-time’. This is a compilation of all that kept occurring or recurring – as the case was.
  • This country is BIG. Overall, we covered about 3000 miles and went across 7 states, but then, we would look at the map of the entire country on our road atlas, and hell, that is like a *dot's* worth of distance! So, wow, yeah, big.
  • The roads are well-labeled. I mean, it is so easy to "get" what you are getting into - from the plains to the plateaus to the nasty shocks there! And this is one of the major things I will miss once I am back in India.
  • I loved checking out the plates of all the passing cars and trucks! That was real fun. California and Illinois were the most common followed by Canada (British Columbia and Alberta, mostly) and Arizona. Twice, people came up to us to ask about (/after) Minnesota and that was nice too!
  • I wondered about small-towns in the interiors of the heartland. Would they be super-warm and fuzzy or would they be distrustful and cold? I was curious which way it would really go. Also, being as politically conscious as I am, I was acutely aware that we were leaving the our big ol' blue state and going into deep red territory all around. I wanted to find out in person about what the experience of meeting us strangers would be. Well, as with all worldly matters, turns out it is neither black or white, but rather a shade of grey (Not any of the infamous 50!) Folks in some states did great compared to others. Most pleasant folks: tie between Nebraska and Wyoming. The bizarre: you-know-who-you-are (hint: rhymes with “ontana”)
  • Some of the small towns, though, looked so very picturesque , especially the little downtown areas. There were some interesting names of the shops and pubs. Some were just non-descript with nothing remarkable about them.
  • A special note about the sky (something I am always infinitely interested in). Such a vast canvas of all sorts of colors, shapes, and objects! Of particular note was almost all of the journey back - there was a big storm right behind us, with clear skies in front. The sheer contrast (and the accompanying thrills) of it all felt like something straight out of a fantasy film!  
  • The only thing in the world (and beyond) I am *truly* scared of is snakes. I fear absolutely nothing else. So, all the signs (like, everywhere) warning us about rattlesnakes in Badlands National Park (SD) really threw me off! So, Chicken Little aka me spent most of our time there rushing back to the car and trying to avoid the trails as much as possible. I would like to say that I regret not getting around more…but honestly, I don’t. Besides, Braveheart next to me more than made up on the exploring front!
  • On the note of the rattlesnakes, I imagined that a particularly enterprising rattlesnake had actually wormed (ok, snaked) his way in to our car and we would discover him coiled inside one of our bags or something. So, each little sound inside our car had me jumping out of my skin for quite a bit of the next couple of hundred miles!
  • As a new-ish driver, I was both excited and also slightly apprehensive about how I would fare on the vast stretches of highway beyond the city (that I was used to so far). Overall, I think I did well in that I did not create any panic attacks (in fact, far from panic attacks, I actually saw him relax into reclined-seat-mode!) in my co-passenger. But, on a self-critical note, I learned that I am not too great in actually feeling my speed – so, there were times I reached 90 mph (on 75 speed limits) and not feel a thing. Luckily, a) this did not have any adverse impact on car control and b) it was not highway patrol that brought this to my attention!
  • Taking photographs on the move is so…futile. Yes, some of these turn out ok, but mostly, the wonderful, wondrous sights a) can just not be captured adequately (relative to seeing it in person) and b) shooting photos through the windshield involves glares and/or spots (from those on the shield) appearing on each photo and/or that ill-timed jerk that leaves you with a photo of the dash instead of what you intended. My zen compromise was that we just have to absorb these sights for our brains to store. Not-so-zen was making a mental note to get a freakin’ high-end camera next time!
  • About photographs – high-end or otherwise and at stops or on the move – how does one capture that magic moment anyway? There is so much going on that our tiny human brains are barely being able to process. The gumption of assuming that a lens will be able to convey what we are seeing long after we have passed forward is just….asinine.
  • Being mountain-starved for ages, the Rockies were a sight for sore eyes alright, but they are not a patch on the Himalayas. So, in that context, I am still starving…
  • Speaking of the Rockies, one would think that navigating mountainous roads would be relatively more treacherous and jokhim-bhara than the staid ol’ plains. As it turned out, there are some seriously strong winds that blow in the plains and it was an adventure in itself to keep the car from swerving into the trucks while passing/off the roads altogether! Heck, I saw transformer-style trucks sway and swerve, so we were small fish in comparison. That was, by far, the trickiest part of the entire driving experience.
  • As closed/confined spaces are wont to create/propagate, I expected A and I to be snapping each other’s heads off soon into the journey…but I am pleasantly surprised to report that that just did not happen! Maybe we are that super-couple from Honeymoon Travels after all! J
  • Nature! I never cease to be totally wonderstruck with the conjuring abilities of her. This world is so beautiful just as soon as we get away from the man-made urbanity. We passed every imaginable thing (except oceans, I suppose) and then some more that we really couldn’t ever have planned for/imagined. Reality-check: Can just behold as a passing tourist…if push came to shove, could never live/survive there.
  • RV-s – saw all shapes and sizes of these on the road and in the park. I am conflicted about what I feel about these though – on the one hand, travelling with these seems like you don’t experience living (literally) outside your comfort zone, on the other, living in these can open up so many choices too - you don’t need to be confined to areas that have hotel rooms to spare.
  • Yellowstone National Park (YNP): I first read/heard of the mysterious YNP when I read “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. As anyone who has read the book would know, Bryson covers such great areas of science (as he says “…nearly everything”!) and in such engaging detail, that for one such place and its context – such as YNP was for me – to remain particularly stuck in my brain, is in itself remarkable. But it did. And since, it was one of my top places to visit (provided it didn’t all blow up first!) So, you could imagine my excitement when we finally entered the park. and it did not disappoint either. If anything, it has grown in my estimate/understanding (I use this word loosely here, because if anything, it is as far from human comprehension as…I don’t know…landing on the surface of the sun?) of it has grown. I think it is a microcosm of the entire universe right there – all just-under-9000 square kms of it. A lifetime would not be enough to cover each inch of it and especially, since it shape-shifts – both perceptibly and imperceptibly – as we stand on/speak of it. Relegating the experience to a mere bullet point entry in the context of our roadtrip is in itself a gross impertinence…and so, I will write about this separately - with the disclaimer - if I can conjure the coherence to articulate it!
Overall, I am just eternally grateful that this trip took place at all and the fact that it turned out so spectacularly successful at that is just special.