Every year since 2009 I have driven from Edmonton, Alberta to San Jose, California in the winter, and then I do the journey in reverse each spring. I don’t rush. I mostly keep to the speed limits (give or take about five miles per hour), I don’t drive in bad weather if I can help it, and I stop when it gets dark or I get tired, whichever comes first. It takes me four days, and I just completed the trip last week.
I usually do this journey alone, although I once had the company of my youngest son who was a great travelling companion. He managed all the technology for me, and he reminded me when I should stop to eat something. The route I take covers 2744 Km (or 1705 miles), and because the days are short in the winter I try to start each day by about 8:30 and stop at around 4:30.
The Basic Necessities
Some friends and family members have expressed their concern for my safety, and I love that they care about me and that they like me to check in on Facebook to let them know where I am on the route each evening. I do my best to be prepared for the trip by making sure my automobile association membership is up-to-date, having my car serviced, and having winter tires put on before I leave Edmonton. I also carry with me a roadside emergency kit that my oldest son gave me as a gift last year, extra windshield washer fluid, and an ice scraper/snow brush. The truth is, though, that I feel a lot safer on the highways than I do in city traffic. Most of the time there are fewer distractions and drivers are more predictable.
Keeping the Mind Active
The biggest problem isn’t road safety so much as it is boredom. Boredom can lead to tiredness, which can cause me to lack concentration, so I have made sure that I have entertainment during my journey. I have Sirius/XM satellite radio in the car and I can listen to my choice of music or comedy channels, and occasionally some news and public radio talk shows. (There are also lots of sports channels, but they don’t interest me.) I tend to tire of the music channels quite quickly because they are all very genre- or decade-specific, and the comedy channels offer a nice change of pace from them.
On this trip, the entertainment that gave me the most lasting pleasure was found in audiobooks. I downloaded on to my phone several books from Audible, and I enjoyed listening to various murder mysteries, short stories, biographies, and personal development books. A long journey is a great opportunity for binge-listening!
Knowing Where to Go and What Happened
The other technology I have is a dashboard camera and a GPS system. I like having the dashcam just in case there is an incident that I might need to have recorded. Two times I wished I had had the camera operating were, first, when I was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light and, second, when someone with road rage yelled at me through my driver’s side window, also when stopped at a traffic light. Now, the dashcam gives me a little peace of mind knowing that if something untoward occurs, I will have a record of it. Last year I also used it to record parts of the trip; my son turned the recordings into a ten-minute video that I shared on Facebook.
The GPS system is great for giving me a sense of how far I am from the next gas station, how long it will take to get to the next decent hotel, and which lane I should be in for a change in direction. Also, it tells me what the speed limit is on roads that may go for many miles without a speed sign. When I get to a town or city, I use the GPS to find my way to a gas station, or a hotel, or a restaurant, and then to find my way back on to the highway. When driving alone, the GPS becomes my co-pilot and navigator and I would be lost without it. Literally. It’s also another voice, and I sometimes talk back to it.
From Serenity to Gridlock
Most of the journey is usually quiet, with very little traffic—until I get to Reno, Nevada. Suddenly the quantity of traffic is massively increased. Once over the Donner Pass, we get down the mountainside into California, and this increase in traffic becomes multiplied. Seriously, it’s like hitting a wall, and at one point on this trip, there was actual gridlock for about half an hour.
Around Sacramento, there are five lanes (or more!) of traffic in each direction. There may be 99% of drivers who are steady and predictable, but 1% who are just too fast and too furious. After three days of wide open spaces, this comes as a shock—every time. I look at these characters who are whipping between lanes without signalling, and I hope that every one of them has a good reason to be so dangerous. It’s statistically improbable that they could all be rushing to get someone to a hospital, so most of them are likely to just be impatient and selfish. I always hope that they don’t cause an accident, but I confess to having been very satisfied when I saw one of them pulled over by police a little further down the road after he had cut me off.
After I have survived three days of monotony and one day of busy-ness, I finally make it to my apartment building. The only anxiety left to cloud my thinking every time I do this is whether or not the remote control for the garage will still work.