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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Art And Science Of The Road Trip

I love road trips. I don't mean the kind that your favorite team takes while you wait for them to play another home game; I mean the kind where you get in your car and hit various destinations, with or without an objective, time frame, or itinerary.

I think in order for something to qualify as a road trip, there are at least four standards that must be met: (1) You must spend a night in at least three different locations other than your starting and ending point. (2) You must drive at least 100 miles between locations. (3) Four consecutive legs of the trip must be done by car. (4) No more than three nights can be spent in any one place.

This rules out road trips that I took when covering Cornell hockey, such as the Harvard-Brown weekend. Providence and Boston, besides being less than 100 miles apart, were the only two stops on the trip. My 2003 Great American Baseball Stadium Tour trip is also ruled out, because although we stayed in Louisville, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, we flew into Louisville and out of Pittsburgh, only driving the middle two legs of the trip.

Using these criteria, I've been on four true road trips in my life. The first, during winter break my freshman year of college, was with three friends from high school. For some reason, we got tickets to an NFL playoff game in Jacksonville. On the way, we spent nights in Chapel Hill, N.C. and Atlanta before arriving in Jacksonville for the game, which turned out to be the second-biggest blowout in NFL playoff history. The Dolphins, in Dan Marino's final game, lost to the Jags 62-7. Following the game, we returned to Philly.

Road trip stats:
Philly to Chapel Hill - 417 miles
Chapel Hill to ATL - 380 miles
ATL to Jaxville - 346 miles
Jaxville to Philly - 858 miles
Total distance - 2,001 miles on my dad's 1995 Chevy Tahoe
States covered - 8 (PA, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, plus DC)

The second road trip was during spring break of my junior year of college, when my girlfriend and I bounced around the Northeast following the Cornell hockey team through the postseason while mixing in family visits. We saw a heartbreaking double overtime loss to Harvard in the ECAC final, then went to Boston to visit our brothers. After visiting my family in Philly, we went to Worcester, Mass., to see the Red smoke Quinnipiac in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing to UNH in the quarterfinals.

Road trip stats:
Ithaca to Lake Placid - 253 miles
Lake Placid to Boston - 309 miles
Boston to Philly - 313 miles
Philly to Worcester - 270 miles
Worcester to Ithaca - 288 miles
Total distance - 1,433 miles on my 2000 Chevy Blazer
States covered - 6 (NY, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA)

Road trip No. 3 was the summer before my senior year, when I flew out to Idaho to meet my girlfriend and drive her car back to Ithaca. We got to see all kinds of natural beauty - Yellowstone, Devil's Tower, the Badlands, Craters of the Moon - as well as Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the Mitchell Corn Palace, a building made mostly out of corn. And we also went to a Big Tymers concert in Peoria, Illinois ("Pee-or," or "P-Town," as they called it).

Road trip stats:
Mountain Home, ID to Sheridan, WY - 638 miles (not counting getting lost in Yellowstone)
Sheridan to Mitchell, SD - 517 miles (not counting leaving I-90 to see various sights)
Mitchell to P-Town - 617 miles
P-Town to Philly - 848 miles
Philly to Ithaca - 224 miles (although I drove separately on this leg)
Total distance - 2,844-plus miles on my girlfriend's 1992 (I think) Chevy Corsica
States covered - 11 (ID, MT, WY, SD, IA, IL, IN, OH, WV, PA, NY)

My latest, most ambitious road trip to date was last summer, when I moved from ESPN HQ in Bristol, CT, to Los Angeles. Along the way I went to a friend's wedding in Pittsburgh, visited another friend in Chicago, saw a minor league baseball game in Lincoln, Neb., swam in hot springs in Colorado, and won $55 in Vegas. My dad flew out to Nebraska to meet me and drive the second half with me.

Road trip stats:
Bristol to Pittsburgh - 472 miles
Pittsburgh to Chitown - 479 miles
Chitown to Lincoln - 528 miles
Lincoln to Glenwood Springs, CO - 641 miles
GS, CO to Vegas - 592 miles
Vegas to L.A. - 286 miles
Total distance - 2,998 miles on my '03 A4
States covered - 13 (CT, NY, PA, OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, CO, UT, AZ, NV, CA)

In a couple of weeks, I plan to add road trip number five to this list. I'm still figuring out all the details, but right now, my plan is to leave L.A. and go visit friends in San Diego on Thursday, March 3. I've got tickets to a concert of a band I only know two songs by (OK Go), but I like the songs, so hopefully the concert is good. From there, unless I find someone to take the rest of this trip with, I'll drive solo to Phoenix. I'm planning to stop in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, on the way for lunch or dinner or something like that. In Phoenix, I'll catch a Spring Training game - something I've always wanted to do. Then it's off to Vegas, where I'm planning to meet up with my brother, who'll be there on his spring break to launch his pro poker career. I'll get back to L.A. on Sunday night. It's a lot to cram into one weekend, but in the scope of road trips, it's fairly small.

The potential road trip stats:
L.A. to S.D. - 125 miles
S.D. to Phoenix - 363 miles (not counting detour into Mexico)
Phoenix to Vegas - 287 miles
Vegas to L.A. - 286 miles
Total distance - 1,061-plus miles
States covered - 3 (CA, AZ, NV, plus Mexico)

Now the real trick will be to pull this off. We know how the Jacksonville trip turned out. (My Super Bowl Jacksonville trip, not the aforementioned road trip in 2000). Of course, the beauty of the road trip is that everything is controlled by the driver, and there's nothing an airline can do to screw it up. So in a little more than a week, it'll be me and my car, beating the open roads of the southwestern United States. And there is something beautiful and American about that experience.


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