Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life - The Long Trip To The 2011 Keith Berger Crit, Part 1

When we got home from the Rent on Tuesday night, we had a whole new mission in front of us:

Prepare for a Road Trip.

For the Missus and myself it would be the longest trip together, two days each way in the car. We traveled well together on day long trips, but two days each way, that's a lot of time.

We'd be making a couple stops on the way. The first stop would be in Chicago, dropping in on some friends. Ironically they'd been in Connecticut just the week prior, but other than a chat on the phone, we couldn't catch up with them. Instead, we'd catch up with them on their turf.

The second stop would be out in Wisconsin, for a cousin's wedding. She's a fiesty one, a scientist, marrying another scientist, but both so modest that you forget that they do all sorts of crazy stuff in their everyday life.

We'd catch up with the Missus's mom and stepdad too, since we'd seen little of them once they moved more than a few hours away. They'd spent the night Sunday, making basically the same road trip, just a day earlier.

One more traveler would accompany us. After Thomas the Train Engine and Cranky the Crane, we decided that we'd name our navigator Nina.

Nina the Navigator.

Nina resides in my phone, a DroidX. She's the most forgiving of them all. We'd deviate from her route and she'd just nonchalantly tell us how to get back on track, even if it meant taking totally different highways. She'd sometimes lock up, requiring a reboot (twice requiring removing the battery), but for 6 or 8 or more hours at a time she'd drone on, content.

Nina would navigate for us through most of the trip. We'd give her a break once in familiar territory, but west of the eastern part of New York, Nina held power over us.

We packed the car in segments. The rear bit held the bike, racing and training wheels (since I'd be training one day in Wisconsin and racing just before we got home), my bike gear, pump, some spare parts, SRM, helmet, various bottles, etc. Except when I rode, this stuff stayed untouched for the duration of the trip, and we'd packed it pretty much before the Rent race Tuesday night.

The middle sides (behind the driver's and passenger's seat) held the Wisconsin/sleep-over stuff - our rolling bags (carry on size), computer bag (just the Mac), various shoes (I brought 3 pairs of shoes plus my Sidis), umbrellas, stuff like that.

The middle center and the front seats held the driving stuff. Cooler (in the back) with sandwiches (on the way out), drinks, bottles in the door pockets and the center console, Nina on the windshield, and either Nina herself or a camera or two charging in the center console. We also had one full size pillow so the co-pilot could sleep. I didn't realize just how useful that pillow would be - we both took advantage every time we "co-piloted".

Once under way we discovered to our dismay that we'd be driving into a pretty serious cross-headwind most of the way out west. Our mileage, so nice going to Virginia and back (48-52 mpg), dropped to about 43 mpg for each tank. We had the AC on, and we drove at cruising speed, but still, we expected more. The wind killed it for us. A few storms slowed us down too, forcing us to radically slow down to keep from hydroplaning.

Luckily, by midday, the storms dissipated, leaving bright blue skies for most of the trip.

We stopped mainly because of biological limitations (i.e. we needed to use the restrooms). The car could go 600 or more miles between fills; we could only go about 150 miles before we had to stop.

By leaving at just before 7 AM, we'd hoped to avoid some of the traffic in the New York area; the weather handled that for us, the storms and near tornados encouraging people to stay indoors.

But with a solid 14+ hour drive ahead of us, we'd have to push to make a 7 PM dinner date in Chicago. Knowing Chicago's horrendous traffic, we'd have to arrive before 4 PM or after 7 PM. Anything in between would spell traffic. We chose the 7 PM target time since we'd be hard pressed to get up for a 3 AM start.

(See, being realistic about stuff helps. We wouldn't be in any decent shape to drive all day if we slept just a few hours after a Rent night.)

Luckily Chicago is one hour past our time zone so we'd get an hour extra time, at least on the way out. Plus, based on, ahem, past experience, it's perfectly possible to make the drive in 13 actual hours. It seemed pretty safe to aim for a 7 PM dinner date in Chicago based on a slightly-before-7-AM start time in Connecticut. 13 hours flat, no problem.

Well, after getting pretty far into the drive, I realized that my 13 hour trip from Chicago to Connecticut was a total fluke. I have no idea how I managed it - it even started out with two hours going 50-ish mph over unplowed interstate highways. Traffic luck, legal luck, and even traffic light luck got us into our driveway in Connecticut 12 hours and 59 minutes after we left Chicago.

(I think my little brother and my mom's encouragement helped immensely. We all cheered when we pulled into the driveway and the clock went from 12:58 to 12:59. We'd started when the clock turned to 12:00 so we'd done the whole drive in 12:59, real time. We left at noon because we'd been in Chicago to see another brother play in their band's last gig. I paid tribute to that gig here.)

Eons later, the Missus and I didn't have the same luck going out. The rain slowed us down, but ever optimistic, I figured that we could push through, just like we pushed through that initial snow stuff way back when. Prudence slowed us down on the open stretches of road, and no truckers appeared magically to pace us at some of the higher speeds necessary for a 13 hour trip.

(An additional handicap - we'd be starting almost 90 minutes further away as we live in a different part of Connecticut.)

I've also gotten older. I barely slept during that 13 hour stint, wired to the max, focused on maximizing speed and efficiency. This time I slept solidly through pretty much most of Pennsylvania and let the Missus drive in some of the last bits going into Chicago.

I guess getting older slows you down, and not just on the bike.

We ran out of legal luck in Ohio, when yours truly got pulled over by the most polite State Trooper around. He cheerfully notified me of why he pulled me over (80 in a 70), asked if we were in a hurry (not anymore), and, after glancing around the trip-kitted car complete with formal clothes hanging in a window, decided we weren't a threat.

After a (relatively speaking, compared to Connecticut) less expensive ticket, we set back out. We gave up the extra mpg we get when not using the cruise control - we needed to eek out the highest possible average speed to get to Chicago before our hosts went to sleep. Cruise control at 73 mph (at first) then 74 mph (a bit later) and then finally 75 mph (since everyone was passing us) meant we spent as much time possible at legally safe speeds.

We ended up a bit slow in the tolls, since I learned the hard way that EZPass will suspend your pass if you speed through tolls. I got my initial suspension lifted when I pointed out that I may have been doing the highway speed limit until just before the much lower toll booth speed limit sign, but that it's unclear if I'm supposed to be doing the lower speed limit before the sign itself.

After my EZPass got reinstated, I played it safe. I drive through every toll at the posted limit, even the 5 mph ones. The Missus, having lived through my EZPass commuting days, does the same thing.

Our Chicago hosts understood our situation and forgave us for showing up a bit late. 8:30 PM, about 14.5 hours after we left home base. Factoring in the fact that we started almost 1.5 hours further out than my previous trip, we did pretty well.

We dined with our friends and their dog Dexter. Luckily the store dog has taught me how to handle largish dogs who like running around, and we all got along fine.

After a lot of catching up, some much needed food, we called it a night. We'd have another 4 or 5 hours of driving the next day, with our goal only to get to the rehearsal dinner on time. Check in at the bed and breakfast would open at 3 PM so we had plenty of time.



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