Top down driving through the desert may suit the faint of heart just fine, but not the fair of skin. The rules of the road for convertible travel are similar to those for a hike in the Galapagos, starting with sun protection. Our everyday routine begins when we lather up every exposed area of arm, face, ear, neck, and leg with sunscreen. You could tell how out of practice I was the morning after day one, after we had wound our way over mostly rural roads from San Francisco to Bakersfield: I had failed to adequately coat the back of my hands, and an area at the base of my thumb, along with a tiny strip of my wrist where I wear my watch, was lobster red.
Proper hat selection is also key. A broad-brimmed model may be fine for protecting the back of your neck as well as your face when you're walking a wildlife trail, but in the Miata you'd have to lock it down with bungee cords to protect it from being carried away by the constant buffeting of the wind. A baseball cap is the only viable alternative. Even that has to be pulled low over the eyes to keep it on, especially when there's a strong crosswind across the highway.
Another similarity to a hike: the need to pack plenty of water. Dehydration happens almost as fast when you're sitting in a bucket seat at 60 MPH as it does walking down a dusty trail.
Then there's the packing. For this trip, the nearly-unused custom luggage we bought a couple years ago from a Miata parts web site finally came in handy on this journey. It's a four-piece set designed to fit into every corner of the miniscule Miata trunk, plus a long, narrow bag designed to fit on the deck behind the seats. My knapsack-style camera bag substitutes for one of the smaller bags in the trunk without destroying the symmetry of how they fit together, and we've squeezed our travel toiletries kit and one or two other small items into the slivers of remaining space.
When you've already done the round-the-world tour, there's only one logical sequel: the drive across the country. Or at least, that's what we're telling ourselves as we spend our first night on the road on our latest grand-yet-entirely-unintended adventure.
Three months ago we were back from our globetrotting, the holidays were over, and we had just moved into a short-term rental in SF, leaving much of our the contents of the three-bedroom house we sold in late 2008 in storage as we began looking for work. We had already decided we weren't going to restrict ourselves to the Bay Area in that process. If the right opportunity came up on the East Coast, where we were both raised, we would consider returning. Our families were (mostly) there, for one thing, with Eileen's parents in Florida and mine in Connecticut.
We were barely settled into our temporary digs and making career plans, however, when tragedy intervened: on January 29th of this year, Eileen's mother Mary Ann and her sister Kate were driving in Kate's family minivan on a two-lane county road near their respective homes in central Florida when a woman at the wheel of an SUV in the opposite lane lost control, crossed the center line, and plowed into them. Mary Ann was hurt. Kate was killed.
I won't dwell on what this has meant for Kate's husband and children, or her four other siblings besides Eileen, or the many other people in her life. I will dwell on what it has meant for us, which is a change in focus. One virtue of our current joblessness is that we were able to spend the six weeks following the funeral in Florida staying with her parents while Mary Ann recovered from her physical injuries (thankfully nothing serious). It was then that we knew we'd be moving back to the East Coast for good, that SF was just too far away now. So it's back to our roots in the Northeast (for us, anyway, Florida is only for visiting, not for staying). Where, exactly, will depend on the job, but a city is a must.
Last Friday those few things we had taken out to furnish the temporary apartment went back into storage, to be shipped to us whenever we end up. A few bits of clothes and a camera bag went into the trunk of our 16-year-old Mazda Miata. With top down and sunscreen on we're off for a meandering trip across the Southwest, with no real plan or schedule except to make it East eventually. As much as we can we're going to stay off the interstates and on the Blue Highways. We'll visit at a few places we haven't seen yet, take a few pictures, and share as much of it as we can here.
Following our early-afternoon departure yesterday, we spent the night in Bakersfield, on our way to Death Valley National Park today, where the desert wildflowers are supposed to be blooming.