Go West Young Man

Ever since I’ve owned a Snipe (1988) I have wanted to do the Snipe Nationals when they have been in California. There has always been some kind of excuse – work life (1992, 1995), the birth of a child (Ellie was born in 1999 during the awards party), or our “MIA period” (2005, 2008, 2015) – so when Evan arranged the 2022 Nationals in San Diego, we just HAD to go. I have the time now and the equipment (van and great double trailer) so there was really no excuse, record high gas prices not withstanding. One of the nice things about having the van, trailer and time is being able to offer to a double partner who is interested in getting a boat there but not driving, the option of funding part of the trip instead of driving. So the deal I worked out is I would do all the driving in exchange for his buying the gas. As you will see, I think we both suffered equally in different ways. But that’s the hallmark of a great compromise, everyone contributes equally.

Like with bikepacking, a lot of the fun of these kinds of trips is the planning. In recent years, my ability to do long drives has diminished, so in planning the route I tried to break it up into manageable chunks. The route I chose was about 2800 miles and the Google said about 40 hours of driving time. However, I knew it would be longer as I cant – well don’t want to because it’s hard on the van towing the double and really kills the gas mileage – go the speed limit. I arranged the route to have about 500-600 miles of driving a day (8-10 hours) which is quite reasonable given gas and WC stops. I assumed I could chill in the van in the evenings, perhaps go for a walk or short bike ride to ease the stiffness from driving and have a nice dinner either in the van or at some local establishment. The route I picked was the “middle route” through PA, OH, IN, IL, MO, OK, TX, AZ (I-70, I-40 mostly), into the LA basin and then south to San Diego. But as they say, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…”

My route out and back. Of course because I’m a nerd and a graphical guy I made a google map of all the gas stops and prices (click for an interactive version).

I left Annapolis in the evening of Monday July 4th wanting to get away from the metro area to beat any evening/morning traffic and stopped at Lisa and my favorite spot Breezewood PA where it was a nice, cool evening for sleeping. The next day’s plan was to St Louis and when I got there it was 90 degrees at sunset and stayed that hot until about 6 am. Needless to say it was not a comfortable sleeping night in the van with no AC. Once I got rolling and solidly into the midwest, I realized my plan of 5 days was not going to work because of the heatwave temperatures in the midwest. There were not going to be any reasonable stoping places to sleep. I saw like 108 degrees in Oklahoma and in the afternoon had to stop for a few hours just to get out of the heat. The time at the McDonalds was well spent on a replan effort. So I threw out the old plan and decided I had to get to San Diego as fast as possible and figure out where I could comfortably sleep. I kept going all the way to Tucumcari New Mexico where there is a nice rest area at about 5000 feet elevation which had temps in the 70s. Perfect. I got there at 1 am and slept until about 5am and rolled all the way to Kingman AZ, the last habitable outpost before you hit the Mojave. Fortunately Lisa got me a hotel room because it was 108 when I got there. I had a Planning Commission meeting that night so the cool and the wifi was worth the stop. I was still on east coast time so went to sleep at 8pm local time and left the hotel at 5am rested and ready to roll across the desert before the heat of the day.

Van*Tastic and the double Snipe trailer at dawn in New Mexico.

I have never driven across the desert and was surprised that it was so hilly. I just assumed it would be straight and flat, but there were some significant hills to climb over and it was really interesting because you could see the road wind up over a ridge from a long way away. Unfortunately, I did not really get any pictures since I was solo, but did manage to set my phone to do a timelapse video.

The middle two hours crossing the Mojave Desert on I-40 in 26 seconds. I passed a bike rider along the way since they are allowed on the interstate as this is the only route (US66 does not go all the way through).

I arrived in the LA basin about noon on Friday, basically a day and a half ahead of schedule. In the spirit of the replan effort, I decided to give the Mt Baldy climb a go as soon as I got there rather than on the way home where I would have subjected Lisa to waiting around while I went for a bike ride. Well, not sure what I was thinking trying to do one of the hardest climbs on the west coast after sitting in a car for 3 and half days. It was a beautiful afternoon, dry but a little hot. I got about 30 minutes into the climb and realized this is not working with my heart rate spiking and my legs feeling weird. Not wanting to hurt myself right before the regatta, I bailed, got back to the van and continued to San Diego arriving at SDYC late afternoon. I was beat, but had a few beers, chilled, talked with Snipe friends and had a nice pizza dinner with Carol, Kim, Andrew, Megan and Jerelyn whom I’ve not seen in a long time.

The next three days were rigging, practicing and measurement. Unfortunately, I was “crewless” until the evening prior to the regatta start when Lexi would arrive. While it would have been nice to practice a bit to get the feel of the local conditions, I used the three days to relax and do some reasonable “stretch the legs” bike riding, socialize with friends and get ready for the regatta in a seriously casual mode, quite a rare experience for me. I had a really nice ride around the bay out to Coronado on the Bayshore Trail and ride up to Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma which has great views of the ocean and San Diego.

Awesome repeat hill on the backside of Cabrillo down to the Pacific.
The view the other direction towards San Diego.

Once the regatta got underway, it was the usual rhythm of wake, prepare to sail, race, party, sleep. Lexi sailed with me for the first two days and then she headed to the Long Beach area for a US Sailing event she was working. Lisa flew in Wednesday (the second day of the regatta) after being at a work conference in Orlando and she would sail with me the last two days. The timing worked out perfectly and I got the best of both worlds sailing with my two favorite Snipe crews. It was especially great to spend two full days with Lexi to get a complete dump of everything that was on her mind without a lot of other distractions!

Super crew Lexi catching me up on everything Lexi.
Super crew Lisa steering on the tow to keep me relaxed.
A classic Alex napping picture. Lisa has an entire album of me sleeping in public places.
On the way in a spectator boat sponsored by Geauxfast Sailing tossed beers for the tow in.
Finished off the regatta with a good race and all smiles for the tow.

I wrote a more detailed piece about the regatta itself on the Annapolis Snipe Fleet site so rather than repeat it here and end up making this one of my obnoxiously long posts, I’ll leave it there for anyone to read if interested. That said, I found the regatta very challenging, perhaps more than last years Nationals in Annapolis. As I predicted at the outset, I’d end up midfleet and midfleet it was: 25/50. See the full results on Clubspot. It was not a self fulfilling prophecy, just a tough regatta, but it is pretty amusing that in the last year or so I have ended up essentially midfleet in every event I’ve sailed in, regardless whether it was 5 boats or 50 boats. C’est la vie. But I really enjoyed the varied conditions in the two venues (ocean off Point Loma and South San Diego Bay south of the Coronado Bridge) and was really glad I made the effort to get out there. Carol Cronin captured the sentiments well in her blog post about the event. In what’s becoming a “thing” Evan lead the charge for the after party at a local establishment Club Marina. I said I’d go as long as they don’t beat up guys in bow ties. Needless to say, I was not moving very fast on Saturday morning. Fortunately, we had the whole day to pack up and chill. We had a really nice harbor cruise in the afternoon courtesy of Mary and Chris Snow and it was fun to catch up with them.

Things were starting to get a bit fuzzy.

On Sunday, we started the trek home by way of Carlsbad to see an old college friend Dan Morilak and we spend the afternoon with Dan and his wife Fran. It was great to see them (I was the best man at their wedding) and even though we see each other infrequently, it’s always interesting and comfortable, like it was just yesterday. It’s a wonderful thing. We were all having such a good time, we never thought about getting any pictures!

From there, we headed to Seal Beach where Lexi was staying with one of her college besties prior to the next US Sailing event she had to work. Thanks to iOverlander we found a great street parking spot in Seal Beach. Not an easy thing when towing a double Snipe trailer into a tony California beach town. The most touristy thing we did was a morning walk on the beach before we picked Lexi up and headed to Alamitos Bay YC where we arranged to leave the trailer for the day. We finally headed up to West Hollywood to see my Mother whom we haven’t seen in a number of years and had a really nice visit over sushi from “Meshuga 4 Sushi”, how LA, LOL. We bid adieu and headed back to ABYC to get the boats and drop Lexi off.

We planned on “staging” our Mojave Desert crossing for early the next morning, but at 6pm Lisa and I looked at each other and said “how are you feeling?”. We both said “good” so decided to keep rolling. As with the drive out, we knew it was going to be hot as we went east so we rocked all the way to Wilson AZ just outside Flagstaff where it was a nice cool evening at altitude. As on the drive out, we got going early with Lisa’s brother’s place at Lake Lotawana MO (just east of Kansas City) as the goal. We got off I-40 and headed north on US54 a 300 mile straight two lane road with a speed limit of 75! Along the way we had olfactory pleasure of passing a number of CAFOs (Consolidate Animal Feeding Operation) which are distinctly nasty places. While I I’ve known about these for a long time, I had never actually experienced one. I’ve been half heartedly not eating CAFO beef for a while, but after this visceral experience, never again. Unless I know where it came from, I’m not eating it. Eggplant parmesan is going to have to suffice. We made it to Liberal KS where Lisa got us a hotel room, again because it was 100 degrees. Lisa drove a car out to California for my sister right after we were married and she went through “Scenic Liberal Kansas” (the sign says that) and she always said it was not so scenic and she suspected not so liberal! But again, the AC was nice.

A nasty CAFO. Cows jammed on top of each other being stuffed with corn, hormones and antibiotics as far as the eye can see.

The next day we had a short day to Lake Lotowanna and stopped to see her high school friend Cathy before getting to her brother’s. We spent a day at the Lake catching up with Glenn and Lori and their two girls Elena (and her BF) and Mariel and neighbors BOB/Beth whom we haven’t seen in a few years. We did some boat rides and I did a bike ride to scout out the route to the Rock Island Spur of the Katy Trail from the lake. I had thought about doing the Katy Trail (3 days) on the way home while Lisa hung at the lake (she would pick me up in St Louis) but we just didn’t have time and it might have been mildly unpleasant with the ongoing heatwave.

Great to see the Lotwana gang!
The Katy Trail is a must do next trip west.
The east gate.

But, we were feeling the pressure to get home after three weeks (for me) and decided to do the trip from Kansas City to home in one marathon 18 hour day. We left the lake at 5:30am central time Friday and dropped the boats off at SSA at 1:30am eastern time on Saturday. I told Lisa, we should just camp in the van and sail the SSA Snipe Summer series in the morning. She said you are nuts, no way. So we went home; but in the morning, the fleet was under postponement so we headed down to discuss the upcoming Women’s Nationals we are hosting. One thing lead to another and I unloaded the boats, rigged and when AP cam down, we said, eh, what the hell, let’s sail. So in the end, we were nuts because we were wiped and sailed with our heads where the sun doesn’t shine. But that’s the way we (she!) rolls, packing 10 pounds of shit in a 5 lb bag. We went to Davis’ Pub after and eventually got home and collapsed. We had a better day sailing on Sunday and amazingly won the series (mostly due to several notable no shows). On top of that, it was my birthday and she got me – really the Snipe Fleet, but that’s a difference without a distinction – a 3.5 HP blender. This will have a permanent place in Van*Tastic for regattas.

Leaving Lake Lotawana at sunrise.
Blender time!

All in all, I was glad I made the trip despite how much of a grind the drive was. In the future, I look forward to another longer cross country trip that either doesn’t include the boats or a way to dump them somewhere so we can do more rose smelling and bike riding!

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