Attention all big city hikers!

I’ve been asked to put a piece together for BACKPACKER magazine about great hikes in city parks.  Ever been in a city for a long weekend or a business trip and wanted to get some hiking in?  Do you live in an urban area with a bangin’ city park?  Can you get lost in a forest as easily as you can get lost on your streets?  Then I want your help!!

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How to Drive 1000 Miles in One Day, Revisited

I wrote an article here on Randomn3ss on how to drive 1,000 miles in one day a while back. Since that writing, I’ve made the 2,000 mile round trip to the Midwest about fifteen times. I’ve driven through every kind of weather, every season, and maybe every emotional state possible, along with five actual (U.S.A.) states, of course.

I figured it was the right time to look over the list and see what needs updating, since I’ve decided to fly and rent a car for the next trip coming up in a couple weeks. Yes, hard to believe, but fifteen trips is enough – remember that’s thirty 1,000 mile days. (Yikes. One month of 17 hour driving days. I need a nap… for a month.) It’s safe to say I’ve experienced just about every possible driving scenario. I don’t think there is any way I can make it more efficient, can take less time, or make it much different or better at this point.

All the points in my first article still hold up, though I admit I don’t play the Alphabet Game. I’m more interested in looking for odd signs and billboards – I write them down and send them on post cards to a friend of mine. One of my favorites: Set back in a large field, a huge billboard with only an 800 number and “OUR DRIVERS ARE PEOPLE” on it. As opposed to… frogs, rocks, what? Another: A bait and tackle shop named “Bite Me!” And the “Kum & Go” convenience store is always good for a chuckle.

One important time saver I would add: Only get gas/make stops on the side of the highway you’re driving on (i.e. you will make a right turn at the end of the exit ramp). You lose a lot of time having to go over/under the highway/freeway to get to a gas station. It can be a challenge. Sometimes you can’t see far enough ahead to know which side they’re on unless you see the name of the place really high up on a pole on your side. I have my stops down at this point, but I recommend writing them down as you go, for both sides – as you’re heading in one direction, also write down what you see on the other side of the road for the return trip.

Another possibly important item to invest in: A lumbar support pad/pillow. I had to get one out of necessity after my accident (mentioned in the previous article), and even though I don’t need it as much for short little trips at home, it’s a back-saver on the long hauls. It helps you not get fatigued too soon in the trip, saves you from having a sore back at the end of the day, and helps you stay alert because it forces you to have good posture.

It is critical to take really good care of your vehicle, and have emergency roadside coverage. When I stop for gas, I always circle my car and check it all out. And I never miss my scheduled maintenance.

Stay in the right lane (of a divided highway) when you are several miles away from your next exit. Nothing is more maddening than being in the left lane only to have a semi or two come up on the right and block the informational signs, and the exit. (Especially if you have a full bladder.)

Be prepared for the time zone changes messing with your head. For me, I ‘lose’ an hour coming back east, and for some reason, it always makes the day seem so much longer, even though it’s the same 1,000 miles. It’s best to change your car’s clock to the time zone of your destination right when you begin your drive, then you won’t have to sit there to figure out what time it ‘really’ is and how much further you have to go.

Use the trip counters: If you have a car that has two trip counters, use them both. I pick one for the whole day’s miles, and the other for the current driving leg’s miles. For example, on the leg miles, when I’m at about 120-130 miles, I start planning the next stop. Then after filling up, I clear that counter back to zero. The day’s miles helps me know that I’m staying on track time-wise. It’s always great to know I’m a quarter there, then half way, then two-thirds, etc. It gives me something to do, and when I’m down to that last 50 miles and I’m on time, I start smiling as I know it’s almost over.

Pack smart: Pack so that only the essentials you must have that night and first thing in the morning are in one or two bags if you are too tired to haul everything out of the car when you arrive (and you don’t have anyone waiting to help you). This is really beneficial when there’s bad weather, too. (It’s frustrating to carry luggage in the rain, sleet or in sub-zero weather.) Some things, like food, you might not be able to leave in the car overnight depending on what it is and the time of year (think -10 degrees or 95 degrees, both of which I’ve experienced) – fruit, for example, won’t last. Of course, keep valuables in the trunk and don’t have anything visible from the windows that would invite a break-in if, both while you’re driving and if you’re parking in a lot or on the street.

I have only done two back-to-back 1,000 mile days, a long time ago, driving from Boulder, CO, to southern NH/Boston, MA area. It was brutal, and I don’t recommend it in general. My feet and ankles were swollen for a couple days, and it took me a week to fully recover. This misadventure was back before I created this 1,000 mile day system, so maybe it wouldn’t be quite as hard now. But 2,000 miles is 2,000 miles and is pretty unforgiving if you’re not prepared, car and body.

Driving 1,000 miles in a day is not for everyone. Lots of people ask me how I do it, especially after so many trips. I don’t have a simple answer. Sometimes it’s a breeze and I love it: The road is clear, the weather lovely, the is traffic light and the day flies by. Other times, it honestly is really, really hard. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep leaving the Midwest, there is nothing more grueling than hitting the mountains in western PA at night at hour 12 of driving, knowing there’s 5 more hours – and if there’s snow, multiply that hard factor by 10, and add an hour or so.

Part of my motivation, as mentioned in the previous article, is saving money, and part of it is personal, having to deal with the reason for the trips in the first place – I need to go and be of help, and so it helps me feel good about the sacrifices needed to make the traveling work. I suppose part of it is to prove a point to myself about my ability to be focused, to have the necessary driving skills, and the physical and mental strength to do it over and over. Really, I just do it because I can and because I must.

The bonus is that I still like the solitude, the countryside, the hum of the road, even after all these trips; and, I love to drive, plain and simple. Also, being pretty untouchable for a whole day ranks pretty high. Other than saying “thanks” to some service folks, I have a whole day completely to myself to think and not think, to turn the phone off, to have no distractions or things pulling at me that I “should” do. My job as I see it is to drive (safely and efficiently), and more importantly, listen to and know my own mind and heart. That is worth it for me right there.

Go Fly Yourself: Must-See Video

If you’ve had flying dreams where you just spread your arms and go, you can really do it in waking life. Completely amazing. Absolutely stunning landscape as well. Norway, anyone?


Steve Jobs Knows Customer Service

It always seems to happen this way: as soon as I am about to embark on a long trip, my big iPod breaks. This occurred two years ago three days before I was to leave for Japan – and let me tell you, a Nano would not do on a 13 hour flight. Same thing – a week before I take off for Colorado, my 30GB iPod gave me the sad battery face (seriously, it should just say “$70 repair” instead because that’s what it means). So I prepared myself to shell out some cash for a new battery and call it a day.

Because it’s me, this is totally not what happened.

I went to my local Apple Store in Suburban Square (Ardmore, PA) on Wednesday and spoke with a concierge about my problem. He assured me that the fix would be done by Saturday at the latest, since I had to leave town on Sunday. We scheduled an appointment with a “Genius” for Friday at 1pm, the next available appointment. He didn’t check to see if the battery was in stock then – and in retrospect I should have asked – but assumed that he would get the part in by Friday if they didn’t have it, since he knew a customer 1) needed that part and 2) could not wait to have it sent in and 3) with only a Nano, would end up killing her friend Kim on their cross-country drive.

I show up on Friday, surrounded by people with iPhone issues (dude, I’d totally be on that bandwagon if they hadn’t contracted with AT&T, but that’s another story). My personal Genius said yep, you need a new battery and OF COURSE they were completely out of stock. I state, somewhat irately (the first Genius wasn’t really that nice and blamed me for not checking on the stock on Wednesday), that it needed to be done, please call the King of Prussia store – anywhere from here to Delaware – and get me the part and an appointment. He stated that he didn’t have time to help me and grabbed the man who eventually become my Apple Store savior – Dan in the black shirt.

Thank god for black shirt Dan. After hearing my sob story about the stresses of moving across the country (I know – I’m moving to freaking paradise, finally going to grad school, and getting a dog… my life is soooooo tough), he called KOP (who OF COURSE also didn’t have the part). Sensing that I had completely given up hope (literally, head down on my Fat City Reprise purse, completely dejected, and wondering how many times I’d hear Miley Cyrus on shuffle all on my Nano), Dan vowed to figure something out. I expected, I guess, that maybe they would forward my info to the Apple Store in Boulder and hook me up or maybe let me purchase a replacement 30GB (since they no longer sell them) for the price of the repair.

I was offered neither of those options. I saw the Holy Grail of ridiculously amazing customer service.

Since there were no 30GB iPods in stock (OF COURSE!!!), I was going to be given a brand spanking new 80GB iPod for the price of the repair. Holy shit. Insane – I don’t even have enough music to fill that. I looked at Dan and tried to not cry, which freaked him out I think, because he got that “Oh Christ, please don’t freak out” look on his face. I assured him that I was thrilled, just because shit like this doesn’t ever happen to me and I had been super-stressed out. He then made it better by telling me that it would be easier if they charged me nothing. NOTHING.

Because Apple cares about their customers, I got an 80GB iPod for free.

Now, I think this is just an instance of good karma… I wouldn’t expect to just be handed iPods when you walk in. They definitely saw my case as a special circumstance, especially since I had been promised that the repair could be completely by a certain date. And I tried to keep my composure (although I’ve been an emotional headcase because of this stupid move and leaving my friends), which I think helped my case a bit. I was just really pleased to see that they value their customers – I’ve been pretty loyal to that store, having purchased my two iPods, my mom’s iPod, and my MacBook there. But I think this was just Gaia’s way of telling my misanthrope self that humanity have some redeeming qualities (like the patience of Dan in the black shirt). Well done, Sub Square Apple Store – not only have you redeemed my faith in humanity, but you made a long road trip much more bearable.

Warm pee and baked pastries

A recent trip to Philadelphia to visit a friend who I have not seen in a few years brought bake memories that I had nearly forgotten about. For a four year span in my early 20’s I traveled to New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. several times a week to attend electronic music events, also known as raves. Not working a real job, I was able to go to more of these than the average Joe and ended up working in the industry as a photographer. Being that I don’t live in any of these cities, traveling to them started to increase my awareness about the different nuances each place possessed.

Philadelphia smells like warm pee nearly year round, maybe thats why it has the nickname of Filth-a-delphia. Drive on 76 under the bridge by the South Street exit though and you will be engulfed in the smell of donuts and pastries from the nearby Tastykake bakery. I had nearly forgotten these smells and being introduced to them again brings back a rush of memories. It’s funny how our senses can instantly recall memories that have been nearly forgotten by a simple smell, all to welcome me back to the city of brotherly shove.