"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sisterhood of the Traveling Scribes

My Sidney friend reading Ordinary Aphrodite
I’ve heard stories about traveling buddies—they’re like the Three Bears: some are too demanding, some are too wishy-washy, and once in a while, one is Just Right.

That’s what happened when my writer friend Arletta and I paired up for an unstructured trip to Seattle and Vancouver Island a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to learn travel methods that involve quirky detours and unplanned sojourns to land’s end.

A view of the Olympic Peninsula 
We were clear on our goals—we wanted to take a road trip to the Northwest to research our novels, write for long periods in our motel rooms, and see lots of museums and local spots along the way.

We wanted to start as friends and end up as better friends. And that’s exactly what happened. After thirteen days on the road I feel qualified to write a few words. I can’t really call this advice.
Call it Observations on the Sisterhood of the Traveling Scribes.

       1. Lay out ground rules in e-mails until you both agree—starting and ending dates, expense
        sharing and expectations, anything that would be awkward to discuss absolutely should be!

  1. Assess expertise. Like Click and Clack, the Tappitt Brothers on NPR, we brought different skills to our adventure. Arletta’s a whiz at city driving. I’m great with long distances. She’s OCD (her words, not mine) about researching sights along the way. She can find travel consultants in Canada that book amazing B&B’s like the Gatsby Mansion cheaper than on-line.
  1. Be adventurous. In my experience, freeway off-ramps hide creatures from the dark lagoon, luring the unwary traveler to her death. For Arletta, these same off-ramps are paths to adventure. We found ourselves quite happily lost a number of times on our way to glass museums, walking bridges, German colonies, artists hide-aways and short cuts on country roads. But her cool confidence was contagious.
  1. Make sure one of you reads maps. Arletta was intrepid with her extensive collection of maps, with each anticipated town circled. We had a GPS, but where’s the adventure in THAT? She enjoyed estimating mileage using the one-inch legend at the bottom of the page. Weird!
  1. Pack for the weather. We were blessed with fine, clear weather, probably the longest streak Seattle had all year. Rain boots, coats and hats stayed in the trunk and we could have made it fine in sandals, but, get real! We watch those Northwest weather reports and for California girls, Seattle means rain. 
  1. Check compatibility variants. We are both Virgos, both former social workers, both writers and white-haired grandmothers. On the ferry from Port Angeles to Vancouver, the customs form we had to fill out made us look like Irish twins. There it was in black and white—our birthdates—month, day and year—with almost every number the same. It was for me an incredible bonding moment—like running into someone in Paris from your hometown high school and realizing you both like horsemeat pot roast with frites.
  1. Be playful. We egged each other into doing things neither of us would ordinarily do. The third Embassy Suite cocktail comes to mind, or twenty-five cent BBQ wing night at a rowdy sports bar with a trivia contest where we acquitted ourselves nicely. (I won a contested point for our team by threatening our talents in a Karaoke medley of Neil Sedaka tunes.) We got the point. Baby bats are called “pups”. My wild guess was “dogs”, but coming so close was a sign, in my opinion, that we deserved the point.
  2. Going “Dutch” means half of everything. Meal tips, maids' tips, hostess gifts, everything. We divvied up on the spot so we had no convenient “forgetting.”
  1. Concede to the most bargain-conscious. Arletta could speed-read highway gas signs on the Interstate. She chose the fill-up spots and the hotels. We did Continental breakfasts, ate one meal out and supplemented  with PB&J. It worked for me.
  1. What happens on the road stays on the road. If we had had a gripe, we would have settled it there. Sharing common values—like minimal chatting in the motel, focusing on the positive, and being ready for whatever--allowed us to see more, write more and create memories that will stay with us always.
Me with my LAURA Award
I arrived home last night exhilarated and refreshed, with not a single regret. I'd pack up and leave tomorrow if my travel partner was ready, but she's still out on the road. Read Arletta’s version of the trip on her blog for details. She's the facts gal. I'm the feelings gal.  
I won a LAURA Award for short fiction. And what a surprise--when I returned home I found my essay at Women’s Memoirs blogsite. Life's not always about winning, but it's nice when it happens.

Now on to the next part of the journey.

Got any pointers for a great road trip? Any horror stories? Come on, ’fess-up.