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Road Rules

Here are the 10 steps to taking a successful skiing road trip.
By Rob Story
posted: 01/28/2003

Think of it as kerouac for dummies.

T -shirts and wise men often say that "life's a beach." Well, not for everyone. For many of us, life is a long process of development and degeneration, bookended by birth and death. If we're lucky, the in-between will include lots of time ignoring the beach, heading to the mountains, and playing in the snow.

To that end, here's a little guide to embarking on a great skiing road-trip.

1. Choose a car. The best vehicle fits the following criteria: It's big and it's someone else's.

Skiers are conditioned to overpack, haunted always by that voice saying, "It's easier to take a sweater off than to put on a sweater you don't have." (This, incidentally, is the same voice that informs us, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity.") Other reasons for a big car: room to stretch out and room to get away from your dear, dear friends who've been eating 7-Eleven burritos all week and who never digested food that well at altitude in the first place.

When it's someone else's car, the road-trip's a lot more fun. You can play "hide the gumwad" all day. You can test that theory you've had about the physics of shifting from fourth to reverse. And you get to write things on the dusty back window as often as your childish heart desires-things like "Wash Me" or "Warning: The driver of this vehicle is a known ax murderer."

One final thing: Throw out all the above criteria if it means driving long stretches in a convertible. Remember how anxious Thelma and Louise were? The howling wind in a ragtop has led even God-fearing pacifists to approach gas station attendants and slay them in cold blood.

2. Pick a destination. Don't go anywhere you can reach in three hours or less. It's an adventure, dammit. Don't go where just any chump can go. On the other hand, more than seven hours in a car with anyone is dangerous. It doesn't much matter who's in the passenger seat. Take a long drive with smiley Katie Couric and soon you'll be calling her "uppity bitch" and accusing her of stealing all the Tic Tacs.

So stick within the three- to seven-hour window. Where to go is your call, but maintain the flexibility to change destinations at any moment. Spontaneity, remember, is what separates you from the Greyhound buses. That, and Greyhound's nice little seat doilies.

3. Surround yourself with people you love. Well, at least people you can hang with for extended periods in close quarters. This could entail weeding out good friends with annoying habits. For instance, Steve, the guy who gets a few inches too close when he talks to you. "It looks like nice dental work, Steve, but why not send the X-rays so I can be sure?"

Generally speaking, the perfect road-trip mates are people who go with the flow, wear watches that don't beep every hour, bring extra goggles, share their M&M's, laugh at your jokes, pay the driver for gas, ski like you do, and would rather die than let the speedometer needle fall below 55.

4. Bring the necessary gear. The ski gear part is somewhat obvious (though it never hurts to bring an extra sweater). We're talking road-trip gear. A short checklist:

COOLER: chills tasty and refreshing beverages
CD CASE: supplies uplifting music (more on that later)
FRISBEE OR SIMILAR FLYING DISC: turns rest stops into playgrounds
READING MATERIAL: the most educational way to tempt car sickness
DISPOSABLE CAMERA: captures the madcap hijinks and wacky shenanigans borne of any good road-trip
MAP: informs you of scenic byways and closed-in-winter highways
BLANKETS: there's probably some emergency application to them, but better yet, they help your car-mates sleep through your turn at the wheel. That way you can enjoy your 3 a.m., sleep-deprived hallucinations in peace. After all, it sucks to be interrupted when you're discussing the theory of relativity with a band of lime-green goats.

5. Pack the rig right. Don't bury your sunglasses with your long underwear. Don't put the cooler in the trunk.

Above all, never put anything on top of the car for "just a sec" before putting it in the car. I once partook of a ski road-trip where a shaving kit rode on top of a car for 60 miles before someone reached out and rescued it. Usually, though, you lose what you put up there. This results in comments such as, "Anybody seen my shoes?" or "Which of you lard-butts is sitting on the CDs?" or "I don't think Bowzer has ever gone this far without barking."

6. Bring rockin' tunes. Even if you listen to nothing but drum and bass most of your life, get some American rock 'n' roll for the road. Foreign acts just don't understand the loneliness of our roads, except perhaps for those early '70s Stones songs where they sound country. Widespread Panic, Neil Young (so he's Canadian-big deal), John Hiatt, Los Lobos, Johnny Cash, and Phish all work well. Confused? Just remember that guitar solos and white lines were made for each other.

Caveat: Don't ignore variety. Nothing, and we mean nothing, snaps you out of wee-hour drowsiness like Public Enemy blasting into the Utah desert.

7. Respect the rules of the road. A true and false quiz to review:

A. Believing that the British really drive on the correct side works fine as opinion, but under no circumstance should you institute it as policy.

B. Commercial trucks are 10-ton monstrosities piloted by strung-out amphetamine freaks who are fighting mad about all the wrong done to Reba McEntire. Nonetheless, letting them pass is considered a sign of weakness.

C. It's better to floor it than it is to brake when a dear/elk/moose/bison crosses your path. The theory being that momentum and mass will serve to cleave the animal, leaving you and yours unharmed.

D. Just by looking at steel poking through worn-out rubber, highly trained mechanics can determine that you need new snow tires.

Answers: A: True; B: False; C: False; D: True.

8. Eat a well-balanced diet. Choose from the four basic food groups: Fritos, jerky, Oreos, and milkshakes. Seriously, it's hard to eat well on a road-trip. Gas stations just don't carry wheatgrass juice in any dependable quantity. Take advantage of the little time you're on the road and splurge. Enjoy dashboard-warmed Pop-Tarts at breakfast, mozzarella sticks at lunch, and cheeseburgers at dinner. Considering the state of roadside commodes, corking your intestines isn't such a bad idea.

9. Never say, "May the road rise up to meet you." If you think about it, it kind of gives you the willies. Let's hope the road just stays on the ground where it belongs.

10. Juggle questions of political correctness. Radar detectors, cold ones (for nondriving passengers), and other road-trip necessities are all sneered at by right-wing moral guardians. They're also embedded in the fabric of road-trip culture. Just ask yourself one question: If road-trips aren't about freedom, what the hell are they about? Politically correct zealots simply go against the one ski road-trip rule that outweighs all others. No whining. Ever.

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