Monday, January 4, 2010

Holiday Excursion

I'm back from our semi-regular holiday excursion.  At odd intervals we pack ourselves and our dogs into a car and drive from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Chicago to visit family.  To many this sounds insane, particularly when done during the middle of Winter.  For us, though, it's the only way to do it that makes sense.

Gas, hotels, and food for the trip winds up costing a bit over $1000 the way we do it.  (It's 2250 miles one way, and while I'd love to do it in a more fuel efficient vehicle, our Honda Element is the one that can haul us, two big dogs, and our stuff.  Our 2000 Insight could do it for a less than half the gas used by the Element but there's no room for the dogs in there.)  Anyway, we make the trip in three days, weather permitting, and thus stay in two hotels in either direction.

Now, imagine purchasing two tickets from SFO to ORD, renting a car, and kenneling two dogs for that same duration.  The total cost is a lot more than driving.  Heck, just kenneling costs more than our entire trip.

And for those who claim that six days of driving seems like a waste I can only say that I'd rather drive for three days than wait in even one security line at an airport.  Traveling by plane used to be glamorous, or at least fun.  Now it's just insulting drudgery.  I'm not worried about safety - even after the recent scare - but being treated like dirt for that long and then being packed into a metal tube for several hours with a couple hundred total strangers just doesn't appeal to me.

Anyway, we do the trip, visit with two sets of in-laws, and return.  We change drivers roughly every two hours, which makes it possible to go 800 or 900 miles in a day without too much trouble.  That's how we can do the entire trip in just three days.

We get to see some really pretty country (Wyoming and eastern Utah come to mind) as well as some staggeringly boring terrain (most of Nebraska).  We also see some oddities.

This trip we noted that drivers in central Iowa were the craziest, weaving and speeding like they couldn't die, and that was despite a string of wrecks all across the state after a recent snowstorm.  We counted a dozen once we started, and we're certain we passed more than that before we started counting.  I guess Iowans simply aren't worried about their personal safety.

But the award for the place where people speed the most still goes to Chicago.  70 MPH on a freeway posted at 55 will get you run over, even when it is snowing.  There were fewer crazy drivers in our experience there than in Iowa, but it's clear that every car sold in Chicago comes with a brick on the accelerator pedal.  Oddly, the Illinois police seem just fine with this and never seem to pull anyone over for "just" being 15 or 20 MPH over the limit.  Go figure.

I have a few other observations that came from this trip as well.  I'll post them in coming days.

This time, though, I'll leave you with a picture taken at 75 MPH on I80 in Utah's western salt flats.  In places the surface water was frozen and rugged, and in others - like this one - it was almost mirror smooth.

I hope the holidays were good to you and yours, and may 2010 be better for us all than 2009 was.