Road Dawggin’ White Line Fever
If I had a booking agent who had booked this June and July for me, I’d be calling him up and saying “What the heck were you thinking?” But I went looking for my booking agent, and found her right there in the rear view mirror of the Cowgirl Camper.
See, the plan was, work really hard from mid April to mid July, packing in a month’s worth of shows in three weeks of May so I could justify taking a week off to spend with my sweet hubby when he flew out to Pasco Washington to meet me. May touring dates were pretty well packed in as a result, and while I’m not complaining to have had plenty of work, the routing and miles were fiendish. And since I was planning to fly home from Santa Barbara following my last July show in the White Mountains in Arizona, I felt that I needed to get a month’s worth of bookings in, between July 1 and July 16. Next thing I knew, I had taken “just one more” date so many times that I had 8 shows to play in the first 9 days of July, only two of those were in the same town, three days apart with other shows all over Colorado in between, and the rest were anywhere from 60 to 280 to 700 miles apart.
The fridge in the Cowgirl Camper was stocked with Diet Dr. Pepper, my favorite road dawg beverage, apples, bannanas, and a couple of those lethal little bottles of 5 hour energy drinks, the sugar free ones of course. Those do the trick, you just have to be sure you slug them down early in the day, so that by 11 PM when it is time to be asleep, that you can actually SLEEP.
Not meaning to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I just cannot relate to the women who ask me “You don’t drive all by YOURSELF, do you?”
Well yeah, Tinkerbell, I do. Who the hell else do you think is driving? “But don’t you get scared that someone will bother you at a rest stop or truck stop?” they say, wallowing in their own phobias. I don’t have a fear of heights, small spaces, large spaces, being alone, any particular animals, elevators, or any other things that reduce some people to stay at home and hide ninnies.
I said to one such fearful-ninnie type “If someone WERE to bother me at night at a rest stop, and I were not bright enough to start the engine and drive away, I deserve to get whatever happens to me” The point was lost on that one, but I know most of you know what I mean.
So, for prosperity, here are Road Dawg’s Rules for Driving All Over Tarnation and Back Safely and Efficiently.
Oil changes are cheap. On a 6 to 8 week tour I average two, sometimes three oil changes, just depending on the miles and conditions. Sometimes I will go 5000 miles between changes, if I have not been in dust or doing a lot of climbing. Oil filters are cheap. Checking tire pressure is free. When I need new tires, I get them. Maintenance on a touring vehicle is cheap, period, compared to emergency repairs. The Cowgirl Camper gets a new serpentine belt once a year, or every 40 or 50 thousand miles, needed or not.
You have to be a little bit smart about where you stop for the night. If the rest stop is full of meth addicts and they are shooting guns at each other, drive on. Not a good place to stop. If you stay there we will all just assume there is some kind of wish for peril built into your DNA. A rest stop is safer than a remote stretch of road. A wide spot where several trucks have stopped for the night is safer than an empty wide spot. Safety in numbers.
If you are a solo female traveler, and you get out of your vehicle and parade around in short shorts and a little tank top at the rest stop, pose in the grass doing your stretches, turn the interior lights on and make a show of the inside of your vehicle and it’s contents, and show that you are alone, you are just too dumb to be traveling. Stay home, you are a liability to all the rest of us. You gotta be a little bit smart about that, too. Put some clothes on. Don’t start up conversations with strangers that reveal your plans.
If I have to stop at a rest stop, and it is night, and I decide to use the rest stop’s facilities instead of my own in the camper, I take note of who is around as I pull up, and before I get out. If I notice someone who does not look quite right, I figure it’s smarter to drive on. Or, I get out the side door, and say “I’ll be right back” to my imaginary traveling companion as I close the side door. When I am walking to my vehicle my keys are in my hand, ready to unlock the door and get in, and then I relock it as I get back in. If a place just has a bad feel, best to move on.
Should you pack a weapon? If you know how to use one, how to keep it from being used on YOU, and are really gonna carry it, sure. If it’s under the seat when you are traipsing around the rest stop advertising that you are traveling solo, or you are afraid of it, then don’t bother.
A truck stop is a safe place to stop for the night, for a solo female traveler. You are surrounded by a bunch of men (and some women) who can handle anything. Most of them are packing heat, and the majority are the kind of people who would help a stranger. Once you are in for the night at a truck stop though, don’t go wandering around unless you want to be mistaken for a hooker working the parking lot. Plus, if you go to start your vehicle in the morning and have a dead battery, you are where you can get help. A deserted road is a bad place to be with a dead battery.
Don’t run a gas tank to less than a quarter tank. Fill up every chance you get.
Have a good basic tool kit and know how to use stuff. You can span an arc between battery and frame with a pair of pliers and start a vehicle with a faulty battery connection in a pinch. Know what stuff looks like under the hood. Carry a set of spare fuses, in several sizes, and some heavy plastic tagger locks. You need a good tire pressure gauge, and a can of flat-fix can get you safely to a place where you can get a flat repaired, instead of changing a flat on a busy highway. When you have tires rotated, check the spare for inflation and condition too. If you have an RV, replace the scissor style jack that comes standard with it, with a good hydrolic bottle jack. Also replace the standard socket and blade tire iron with a crossbar tire iron and make sure it FITS the lug nuts before you head out. Pack a folding shovel in your road kit, and a tarp. Carry a flashlight and some first aid basics. I have a battery-less lifetime flashlight that rides on a hook right behind the front seat, and it is in easy reach when I’m sleeping.
AAA is a good investment, though I bypass that in favor of Geico’s roadside coverage: it is excellent, and they have never let me down.
Use a credit card for fuel purchases for easier tracking, and so you are not flashing cash…again, this falls into the “being smart” category.
Keep your cell phone charged.
Keep a quart of the correct grade of motor oil on hand, just in case, as well as transmission fluid. That is cheap insurance. When you refresh the radiator fluid, stash the empty gallon bottle for an emergency: should you need to hike for water for a hot radiator, you need something to carry it in. In a RV, you have a water tank, and can fill your gallon bottle from there for a radiator. Carry drinking water…a minimum of two gallons (two days worth) at all times.
If you drive through deer, elk, pronghorn, and other large wildlife areas, for less than the cost of a movie and popcorn, you can install a set of deer warning whistles on the front bumper of your vehicle. They work.
A current GPS device is a great tool, used with common sense. If it tells you to drive off across the desert on a dirt road to get to the highway, though, you have to remember that it knows only satellite co-ordinates, and you have to be smart about stuff like that. It does not know that roads are flooded, icy, rock strewn from an avalanche, or shut down for construction. Carry a full size road atlas, and double check when in doubt.
I don’t travel without a laptop and a wireless card, so I can get on the internet to check road conditions, and keep up with business in general, anywhere I have a wireless signal. Verizon has pretty good nationwide coverage, so I have a cell phone and wireless card through them. Most GPS units will find the nearest gas station, etc for you…if your unit is more than 2 years old, update the maps, or get a new device. They are relatively inexpensive nowadays, and getting better all the time. Yes, I have read the stories about people who followed GPS directions and got lost hopelessly in the wilderness where the satellite signals were not clear, or were scrambled…Darwin’s law will prevail when it comes to the really stupid of our race.
Know how long you can reasonably drive in a day, and plan accordingly. I can do 600-700 in a long day, but I have been doing that for many years. If 200 or 300 miles in a day is your limit, don’t push it further when you are scheduling your travels. Being alert and safe is more important. If you are driving for two days to get somewhere, allow an extra half day grace time. A full day grace time for a four day trip is nice to have if you should run into mechanical problems, become ill and need to lay low in a hotel or motel an extra day, etc.
For the really bonehead people in your life, pass along these Travel Tips for the Stupid.
Some people, no matter how much GOOD advice they get, still do stupid things, so what the heck, I give up, might as well tell them ahead of time the things they are gonna do any way.
These are from actual reports…really!
Hey, here is a real stupid idea…go on Facebook and announce that you and your spouse are going off and leaving the kids at home alone while you go somewhere for the weekend.
Take the dog along so it can roast in the vehicle while you are sight seeing, stopping to eat, having your vehicle serviced, etc. Also, it can be more unwelcome than YOU are when you stop in unannounced at the homes of “friends.”
Eat your way to your destination at fast food joints and be sure to get the extra large fries.
Here’s another Real Stupid Idea:
Put your name (if you are a musician) on the side of your vehicle, advertising what you do, so would be thieves will know there is some good stuff to steal in your vehicle. Stop in the seedy parts of towns for directions, and leave the car running while you dash in to ask for directions.
Leave on your trip with $20.00 in cash for a week long trip. No sense having cash on hand in case of an emergency.
What the hell…keep those bald tires on the car another year.
More Real Stupid Travel Ideas
Put your wallet, CDs, camera, I-pod, and other good stuff on the dashboard, or on the console so everyone can see them when you park, and leave the windows down, or better yet leave the doors open.Make a really big deal of carrying your instruments out and setting them down outside your vehicle while you load up. That way thieves can scope out the goods.
If you are going to stop over for a night at the home of a “friend” be sure you take along some extra people…what the heck, the more the merrier.
Stay an extra three or four days. Do all your laundry. Use their computer, their phone, their spouse, if you’re really ballsy.
Try out that new colon cleansing treatment the day before you leave on your trip.
Take along a friend who is a big time whiner, who is going through some daily personal drama. That always makes a trip last longer, or at least seem like it does.