That would be great…

Christmas vacation is about to get truly under way and as much as I’d like to say I’m going to spend the evening warming my toes by a roaring fire, the reality is something more like packing out an expedition from Everest base camp. Between now and the time my head hits the pillow this evening there are hundreds of pounds of equipment and material to be toted, lifted, and strategically placed in the truck to ensure proper load placement and balancing. All of these preparations must be carried out in such a way as to avoid raising the suspicions of either of my canine traveling partners – as that would lead to passing a very uncomfortable night with a dog firmly attached to each hip from fear of being left behind.

This part of the annual rites of winter is not particularly restful or relaxing. By Friday, though, the initial mayhem and chaos should have worn itself down into something a little more manageable. If not, I’m fairly sure there’s a flask or two in one of these bags that will help smooth the way.

As much as I always look forward to the trips back into the beating heart of the little piece of geography that made me, getting there from here (regardless of where in the world “here” technically is at any given moment) always boarders on exhausting. Fortunately a good night or two’s sleep will shake that off.

For all the others out there preparing to do battle with the interstate highway system, good luck and godspeed to your destination of choice… And if slower traffic could go ahead and merge to the right that would be great. Mmmmmkay? Thaaaaaanks.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Ten hours, 500-ish miles, and three states later, I think I could be forgiven for not immediately checking in to the hotel and sitting down at the keyboard… still, that’s exactly what I’m doing – A) Because WAJTW is a weekly standard that is near and dear to my heart and B) The universe doesn’t stop pissing me off just because I’m on the road. Those two feel like reason enough to sit down and get this done. So, as always, in no particular order, here they are:

1. White Marsh. The area at and surrounding the I-95/I-695 interchange has been under construction since just after the earth coalesced from stardust. There are places where the interstate in that area is at least 20 lanes wide. At the same time traffic flow has never actually gotten any better there. I don’t know if it’s crummy engineering, worthless drivers, too many people trying to cram through too little geography or some combination of the three, but the only time I’ve ever had a good experience traversing that mess is between the hours of midnight and 4AM. For some reason, that strikes me as less than ideal for one of nation’s premier north-south arteries. I’d love to offer a brilliant suggestion for making improvements, but I’ll defer to the hundreds of professional engineers who are working on that never-ending project to come up with something in that part of the highway network that doesn’t suck so hard.

2. Interstate 81. I-81 gets bad press because of the heavy volume of truck traffic it carries on a daily basis. My experience is that 81 may just have some of the most disciplined drivers in the nation. The left lane was kept clear except for passing and even with trucks and passenger cars intermingled, the average speed never dropped much below 70. It was one small slice of the American highway where everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do. Everyone except the asshole in the powder blue Scion who couldn’t for the life of him find the accelerator but insisted for driving for mile after mile in the left lane. People like him are the reason I’ve not put a push bar on the front of the truck. If I wasn’t worried about scuffing the bumper I’d be too sorely tempted not to give them a helpful nudge in the right direction.

3. Glory days. As few as 4 years ago I use to jump in the truck and drive the 14 hour, 800 mile run from Baltimore to Memphis while only making two stops for fuel and to give back the coffee I’d rented earlier in the day. When I got there I was ready to unpack, make dinner, and enjoy the evening. Today I drove a little more than half that distance, took 2/3 the total amount of time, and made three stops. When I arrived at my destination, I limped to the front desk nursing a bum shoulder and a sore knee and utterly unable to stand up straight. Honest to God, if I remember my 30s for anything it’s going to be as the decade when my body started to completely disintegrate before my eyes.

I should have hired a Sherpa…

I’m good at a lot of things, but as I’ve mentioned previously, packing judiciously is not one of them. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to see much difference in how I prepare for a 4-day trip to a location less than 100 miles from home as compared to let’s say a 2-month expedition to the source of the Amazon. I’ve spent a very large percentage of my years acquiring items that bring me comfort, make life easier, or that I otherwise just enjoy having around. In setting up shop in a home away from home, I’m basically of the opinion that as many of those items as possible should make the trip with me. My packing calculus recognizes no actual difference between being gone overnight or wandering off for a year.

The good news is that whenever I get where I’m going, I almost always have what I need – sometimes (often) to the point of being duplicative. The down side, of course, is that since I don’t have a Sherpa, I’m the one who ends up toting and hauling this mess from Point A to Point B and back again to Point A with whatever additional provisions I’ve laid on during my stay. It’s particularly bad when I’m driving from place to place with basically unlimited capacity to tote more “essentials” with me. The $50 a bag fee on most flights helps keep my over packing in check when I fly, but certainly doesn’t eliminate it.

I’d like to say I’ll try to change – that I’ll try to mold myself into that kind of traveler who can set off at a moment’s notice with just a carryon bag and a passport, but I know that’s not me. That’s never going to be the way I travel. Traveling with me is always going to be more akin to supplying the Normandy landings than it is to backpacking across the Continent with a Eurail pass. Sherpa or not, I’m totally alright with that.

Home again…

Having made the drive and settled in with 2/3 of my critters leads to the inevitable question – What now? I’m not exactly known for my comfort level with “just being.” There’s always one more thing to do. One more post to make. Laundry to do. Etcetera and so on. You see, as much as this was home for 19 years, it’s still a place other than my own. It’s a feeling somewhere between being 17 again and being a random out of town relative stopping in for a visit. Maybe “unsettled” is the best descriptor even though I’ve done my level best to temporarily reposition all the essentials here with me.

So it’s safe to say we’re now well into the period of sitting around wondering what it is I’m supposed to be doing. With nowhere to be, nothing here to tinker with, and even less on the “needs done now” list, I’ll do my best not to drive myself crazy with a day and a half days marked off with only a vague “to be determined.” I’m glad to be here and it’s always good to be right back where I started from, but it does a marvelous job of making mince out of my routine. And that always makes me just a little extra crazy for the holiday.

Preparations for getting underway…

You’d think after spending four Christmases fighting my way home across 900 miles, a quick hop from on side of a small mid-Atlantic state to the other could be accomplished with a minimum of fuss. If you thought that, however, you would be exactly wrong. Traveling with Maggie and Winston in tow is a task table_3_supply_classesso complex that it makes even the planning for Normandy look like amateur hour. Beds, food, fuel, clothes, sundries, health and welfare items, medication – if I added barrier material and ammo I could cover down on all the classes of supply getting loaded into the truck in preparation for getting underway.

There’s a fair percentage – maybe 30% – of what’s getting packed that I won’t actually use or need. Still, I like knowing that I have it. You could fill warehouses with things I like having along “just in case.” For me, apparently it’s just in case I need to rebuild my life from the ground up starting only with what I have on hand with me in the truck. Almost disturbingly, that’s only a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t travel as much as I use to, but when I do, I travel heavy. After all, you never know what just in case might pop up requiring you to rebuild civilization using only contents of your luggage.

Out of practice…

Once upon a time, I could pack a bag and be out the door in half an hour. That probably has as much to do with spending three out of every four weeks on the road as it did with having any actual skills worth mentioning. When you pack, unpack, repack, keep the bag under 30 pounds, narrow enough to fit in the overhead, wash, rinse, and repeat six times a month, you get proficient if only through the force of habit. It’s apparently one of those skills that atrophy when it’s not in regular use.

The reason I know this is because I had to swap out the bag that use to work for a week on the road for what use to be the “two week” bag. Then I added a backpack for good measure. And then I thought, “Eh, I’ll just throw in a cooler in case I need it at some point.” I’m pretty sure the planner in me died a little bit with that decision. It strikes me that a normal person would be able to know up front if they were going to need a cooler, but apparently now, I just stock one for “just in case” moments. One of the great drawbacks of traveling by truck instead of airliner is that it doesn’t actually force you to make decisions. You’ve got a nearly limitless maw of emptiness just waiting to take on all the junk you might, but probably won’t, use at some point in your journey.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go rent a pallet jack to get my luggage outside.

Archival quality…

It’s Sunday again and I know everyone has been eagerly awaiting their taste of what live was like way back in 2007. I’m happy to present for your perusal, five new (old) posts – the first five from September 2007. From what I can piece together there was alot of travel work work going on during the first half of the month – so interesting that apparently I forgot that September 11th was a thing. Fortunately the drudgery of business travel didn’t keep me from finding something wrong with the neighbors and being sure to tell the whole world about it. Overall, I think it’s a good cross section of the day-to-day mundane thoughts and the more epic ranting that you’ve all come to know and love over the last seven years of blogging.

Without further delay, enjoy your taste of September 2007.