Sumeet Jain
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11 Jul 2011

Around America (Part 2)

Recap

Back in October 2010, I began a trip around the USA. I visited several cities by train and eventually drove home from the east coast.

I kept a not-at-all comprehensive journal of the trip. Its last entry in late December puts me in New Orleans on the way back home. After spending a day in New Orleans (“B” on the map below), I continued my return drive through Houston, Austin, Flagstaff, Joshua Tree, and Santa Monica.

New Orleans, LA to San Francisco, CA The drive home.

In Houston and Austin, I picked up two passengers whom I’d met on an online forum. They were college students interested in visiting San Francisco for their Winter Break. Together, we drove straight through beautiful Texas highways1, sleepy New Mexico, and storm-ridden Arizona2. We finally stopped in Joshua Tree, where we camped for a night at Indian Cove.

Indian Cove at Sunrise Indian Cove at Sunrise

Climbing in Joshua Tree Climbing back down some boulders.

The next day (Thursday, December 23), we left Joshua Tree for Santa Monica. I had never been to Joshua Tree before, so going there did not feel like returning home. Rather, it felt like yet another new place in my travels. The Pacific Ocean was my real homecoming.

Pacific Ocean Photo by jaredé.

The drive from Santa Monica to San Francisco felt short. Before I knew it I was home with family just one day before Christmas Eve. It was a joyous holiday.

Over the next few months, I stayed at home to build a small web consulting business, learn to garden, and meditate on some new thoughts related to Hindu philosophy.

On the Road Again

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I left home again at 6am. Salt Lake City would be a 12-hour straight shot from Fremont, where I had been living for the past few months. This part of my trip would differ from the first in two significant ways:

  1. I’m driving instead of taking trains. The drive home from Charleston back in December convinced me that driving is the way to go. It’s “lower to the ground”, the perspective is straight-ahead instead of out a side window, and the food is better.
  2. I’m not unemployed. I quit my job before starting the first part of the trip. I thought I would learn technologies and code more with all the new free time. It did not turn out that way. This time around, I have clients for whom I need to meet deadlines. The enforced breaks to get work done will - I think - be useful.

Driving to Salt Lake City was truly a gift. Through California and Nevada, the scenery was the same as when I took the train. But the train had passed through Utah during the night, so I was not able to see anything at the time. Now - driving myself through during the daytime - I saw Utah for the entrancing landscape that it is.

Driving through Salt Flats Salt Flats (Photo by p.folk)

Salt flats - like the ones in Utah - are created when wind moves thin layers of water from the Winter months around huge expanses of land. The water evaporates in the arid Summer, leaving behind hard minerals. The result is a flat, hard surface covered in salt. In addition to serving as the subject of stunning photos, it’s also where scientists take cars to set worldwide land-speed records. Like driving on the moon really, really fast…

Not all of Utah is a wintery salt land. Much of it is a more traditional desert. But the evaporating water creates such wide mirages that distant mountains look like they’re floating islands in a sea of vapor.

Mirage in Utah Photo by chicadecasa

I reached Salt Lake City by evening. The campground I tried was not yet open, so I checked into a hostel. I ate a meal at Bayou, where the would-be Cajun food was unfortunately over-spiced and under-loved. Afterwards, I walked to The Republican Bar for a drink or six. There I met interesting people - like Cockroach, a compassionate vagabond who had spent the early ’90s panhandling in the streets of San Francisco. Cockroach was sure of the truth of reincarnation, because he knew the identity of his previous body (He showed me the person’s picture on his phone - I think it was Mark Twain).

I met other people, too - though they were unfortunately not as interesting as Cockroach. Most of them said they worked at various coffee shops in the city. I confirmed this fact the next morning, when I walked into a random coffee shop to do a day’s work. Lo and behold, two of them worked at this very place! Minutes later, my waitress from Bayou the previous night sat down at the table next to me! Just a small-city coincidence? Or a hint at the veracity of Cockroach’s philosophy? Make of it what you will.

  1. Our path to I-40 was US-287 on which we had the pleasure of driving into the sunset.

  2. One stretch of the freeway in a non-stormy part of Arizona was so smooth that it felt like our vehicle was flying through the air. There was no sensation of tires on road or even G-force from turns. The only indication that we were not literally flying through the air to our deaths was the curving road in the glow of our headlights in front of us.