Road Trip Retrospective: Three useful things and three unuseful things

Let’s be clear: I know that “unuseful” isn’t an actual word. But you knew what I meant, so we’re all good here. That’s the blessing and curse of the English language: it’s really easy to misuse, and really easy to interpret when it’s misused.

I could have said “useless”, but that suggests a complete lack of utility value, and only one of the three unuseful things qualified in that regard. Then it would have been three useful things, two unuseful things, and one useless thing. And that’s just silly.

Moving on.

This isn’t the postmortem, because I haven’t gotten around to re-reading everything that I wrote during the road trip. Seriously, that’s a lot to go through. I don’t know how you people got through all of it without thinking, “wow, this guy’s an idiot/narcissist/over-analyzer/etc.” Or maybe you did, and just didn’t tell me. Yeah, that’s much more likely.

Anyway, months before going on the trip, I put together a list of all the gear I planned to take with me. Partly because I like making up gear lists, and mostly because I wanted to make sure it would all fit into the Miata.

Here, in no particular order, are the three most useful and most unuseful (get over it) items. Why three? Because you have to draw the line somewhere, kids.

Useful: My dark-grey GAP t-shirt with the red-trimmed collar and sleeves

I’m starting here, because this t-shirt has been with me through a lot. I’m fairly certain it was a $5 sale-rack special at the GAP sometime between 2002-2004, and it’s still going strong. If you’ve spent a lot of time around me, then you’ve almost definitely seen me wearing it at some point, because it’s my go-to shirt. Without a doubt, it’s my favourite piece of clothing ever.

Sidebar. One time in the winter, a group of us were leaving Hagey Hall after a FASS Talent-Optional Night. Hagey Hall’s main entrances have two doors–big wooden ones outside, and glass doors inside–to keep the cold out and the heat in (or the opposite in the summer). I do this thing where I open doors by stopping just short of them, pressing my shoulder and upper arm against the door, and pushing…all in one fluid motion. When I do it right, it looks pretty smooth…but not this time. This time, when I put my shoulder up against the inner door and pushed, it didn’t open. Instead, the giant pane of glass shattered around me and crashed down onto the floor in a million pieces of varying sizes and sharpness.

Luckily, my friends were all a few steps behind me, so none of them got hurt. I just stood there until Will R grabbed my other sleeve and gently retracted me from the remains of the door, where a huge piece of jagged glass was hanging over my arm, which was pointing through the door as if I had purposefully rammed my elbow through it (which I swear I did not do).

When the shock wore off, we inspected my sleeves. A piece of glass had cut a decent hole (maybe an inch and a half) through my winter jacket. It cut a hole about half that size through the long-sleeve shirt I was wearing. And it cut the red trim on my my t-shirt. But it stopped there, so I walked away without a scratch. And strangely, through all the years, the small slice has never gotten bigger or unravelled or whatnot. In fact, I still have all three pieces of clothing in circulation, and until I point out the cuts, no one even notices.

Crazy, right?

Anyway, I have a lot of great memories that happened while I was wearing that shirt, but I can’t recall most of them. The point of mentioning it here is that I wore it through one of the best parts of the trip: on the way into Yosemite, while I was in Yosemite and–because it was so cold when I woke up the next morning–on my way out of Yosemite. It will be a sad day when life finally claims my favourite shirt, but after everything it’s been through I don’t know what that could possibly be.

It better not be some stupid laundry mishap. That would be far too lame an ending for an awesome shirt.

Unuseful: My Art & Lutherie Ami Guitar

You might be a bit surprised by this one. I certainly found opportunities to play my guitar, including at the top of Mount Evans. But as the trip became more about driving, my guitar became an extra piece of luggage that took up a lot of room behind the passenger seat. Also, it was so very, very hot in parts of America that I worried about leaving it in the car, so I would lug it up to my hotel rooms only to lug it back to the car the next day.

In the end, I could have done without it on this trip and been just fine. However, if I had been in a more musically inspired mood then that might have been entirely different.

Useful: JetBoil Flash Cooking System

The JetBoil exists to do one thing and one thing only: boil water. It does that very well, and when you’re done, it packs up into a neat little package that’s easy to carry around. Though I only camped three nights, it was invaluable for making tea and “cooking” freeze-dried meals.

Speaking of which, I don’t think I mentioned that I ate the freeze-dried lasagna at Crater Lake, and it was pretty darn good.

I think the JetBoil just brought me peace of mind, because I knew that I could always have a hot meal if I got stranded somewhere. Say, overnight on a highway in the middle of Wyoming after running out of gas.

Unuseful: Mobicool Soft-Sided Power Cooler

On the flip side, the 12V power cooler I bought at Canadian Tire wasn’t useful at all, and I strongly considered ditching it at a Goodwill on a few occasions.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the cooler–it just wasn’t suitable for my purposes. I was thinking that I would get groceries before going into campsites and keep them cool while driving. What I didn’t factor in was that I could get groceries pretty close to most campsites, so there wasn’t much time for the cooler to be of use. I couldn’t power it at night, lest I drain the car battery, so…yeah. It ended up taking more space than it was worth. Ah well.

Useful: Joby GripTight Micro Stand

This Joby tripod was actually a bit of an impulse purchase right before I left Waterloo, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a compact tripod for their cellphone. It folds up super small and converts into a very stable platform, with a spring clamp that comfortably holds your phone for photos or video. Also, the clamp separates from the tripod base, so that the latter can be used with a compact camera.

Love it. $30 at Henry’s, which is a decent price for a well-designed piece of equipment.

Unuseful: Goal Zero Guide 10 solar kit

Another piece of solid equipment that just wasn’t necessary. I got a great deal on this Goal Zero solar panel during a BestBuy sale, so I don’t regret it. And it’s really small, so it didn’t take up much space. I just didn’t use it very much, and could have done without it.

This is mostly due to the fact that I ended up camping for only a few days, meaning that my devices never ran out of power before I plugged them into my car charger. If I had stayed in one camp spot for two days or more, then this would have proven its worth. But as I learned over the course of the trip, I was all about constantly moving forward.

And those are the three most useful and most unuseful things I brought with me. Oh, plus one more thing.

Special Achievement Award: the envelope from a wedding invitation

Remember the paper hood I made for my GPS while staying in Toronto? Well, I made it out of the envelope from a wedding invitation that I received just before leaving on the trip. I didn’t think it would last through the journey, but it’s still attached to my GPS. It’s certainly a little worse for wear, but that’s still pretty awesome. At some point I’ll find/make something to replace it, but I’m in no hurry.

And on that note, earlier today I booked my flight to Toronto for the wedding, which is in mid-October. So, I’ll see some of you again in the not-so-distant future.

Before I go, a quick update on where I’m at.

I’m checking out condos to rent this week and hope to lock something down pretty soon, with the goal of moving at the start of September. There are some interesting options, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble. I was briefly tempted to look into buying a place, as the market in Victoria has fallen a bit, but then I remembered that I’m unemployed and have no mortgaging power.

No job yet. I’m starting to look into that.

My cats are healthy and sorta happy. When my nephew is around, they spend a lot of time hiding in places where he can’t reach them. I think they just don’t like that he’s loud and unpredictable. But then…why do they like me? Seriously though, my cats have always been easily startled and jumpy, so it’s understandable.

My car is in surprisingly good shape. I have to have it inspected before I can get insurance in BC, and it came through needing only a minor part and new tires. I was prepared for the tires and much more, so I’m quite happy about that. I’m also going to look into replacing the windshield and getting some of the various scratches and dings cleaned up. I seem to think that there are more tiny dents in my passenger-side door now than before I left Waterloo.

Lastly, it was really easy to get my BC driver’s license, because they just had to reactivate my old number from when I was first licensed in 1994. Crazy, eh? Sadly, I had to surrender my Ontario license. That was unexpected, but it makes sense since that one wouldn’t expire and I’d technically have two pieces of legal ID for different provinces.

And that’s all he wrote.

Russ