Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Every Whatever

(Editor's note: This recap was written by Jim. I put in a few links and my a few comments - but everything funny was Jim's - hopefully he won't mind my editing)

The following report is done without extensive referencing of notes and, sadly for the readers, without much style or hyperbole. It's merely drawn from my meandering memories of the trip, which are spotted with delirium, checkered with short naps and stained with Black Bean Pueblo Pie.

I'll topline this by saying something I didn't think I would: this is an accomplishment of which I am proud.

Of course, ultimately the real achievement lies with Dan, for having meticulously planned the trip and having served as its impetus. I suppose the most credit I could take in good conscience is this: without my carving an extra couple of days out of my offseason work schedule, this trip might have become yet another one of Dan's elaborate plans that are ingenious and just might work but are destined to never happen. Like buying billboards and retiring soon after due to the prodigious income (Ed: Billboards are big moneymakers, for your information!). Or riding every subway line in New York City. And, yes, that old sentimental favorite, the EFS tour -- a plan to visit every major league stadium hatched by 16-year-olds without girlfriends and partially funded by the sale of Skittles. The list goes on and on.

In any case, I'm proud of it because it feels like we accomplished something. Here's why:

- To our knowledge, we finished something that has never been done before by anyone. Search the Internet for a comparable feat, and you'll just find a handful of people who are planning to visit all 88 of Ohio's counties in a year, or a decade or a lifetime. Most of the time, their goal dies halfway through. As near as we can tell we three are the only people alive or dead to visit all 88 of Ohio's counties in a 24-hour period (Ed: I'd be VERY surprised if anybody else has done it in 24 or less. Kind of a random feat to accomplish, you say? Maybe. But no one else can claim the same.

- It required meticulous planning. Again, this credit belongs almost solely to Dan except for when I acted as a second set of eyes to tighten up his route. I know that the route went through many iterations and permutations throughout the course of a year or more, and that stage, of course, was the most important. We had two 2" binders detailing each section of the route. Even when we encountered a closed road, we had enough maps so that we could determine an alternate route on the fly. I can't imagine how difficult this trip might have been without resources such as MapQuest, Google Maps, Google Earth and Routebuilder.org. It would have required local areas maps of all of the counties and a whole lot of photocopying. Even then, you would only have the ability to estimate distances. The tools available to us allowed Dan to accurately estimate our distances and our times. You'll find that those times and those distances were almost dead-on.

- We still could have failed. Despite all of the planning and all of the thought that went into the trip, it honestly wouldn't have taken much to rip the glory from our hands. Just one traffic jam or lane closure or car accident in front of us might have been enough to keep us from attaining our goal. That's not to mention speeding tickets or bad weather or a blown tire or colliding with one of the 876 sets of deer eyes we saw along the way. Dan does not agree, but I truly believe this: even knowing what we know now, I think if we tried this 10 more times, we would only succeed 5 times. A lot of things went our way on the trip, excepting a little fog, a broken credit card processor, one closed road and a couple of other poorly marked ones. A lot more things could have gone wrong, and that's one big reason why if someone else were to try this, success would be far from a guarantee. (Ed: The only thing I think that could sink us would be bad weather - rain/snow. I think with clear weather, we succeed 9 times out of 10.)

- The phantasm of failure makes success all the sweeter. Let's be honest; Dan's time estimates were blind guesses. Even throughout the trip, we found that we generally gained time over the estimate on the Interstates while we ceded ground on the country roads, especially after nightfall. But on the whole, the estimate was very good. It should be known that the estimate for this trip was 23 hours, 58 minutes. In other words, if all went according to plan, we'd cross the finish line with two minutes to spare. This also didn't factor in any breaks, even to fuel the vehicle. So to accomplish the task, we'd need to beat the estimates. Rolling into Preble County with less than 26 minutes to spare legitimized the difficulty of the task. If we had found that our estimates were flawed and we finished in 21 hours, the end result would not have included such a sense of triumph. If you finish this trip in 23 hours, 34 minutes and 34 seconds, you have to have problem-solving, guile, dedication and a collection of very heavy right feet.

Those are the reasons that this trip became a lot more than a cool way to spend a couple of days with two guys you've been friends with for 25 years. I know it sounds silly, but this is something difficult that we did. It might not rank on the top things to get checked off of my life's "to-do list," but nonetheless it was beyond a crazy thing to try and a story to tell.

Of course, there were plenty of good times to qualify this trip in that category as well. Referencing Dan's previous post, reciting the words "No can do" after you've been awake for the better part of 30 hours causes steering wheel-pounding hilarity.

We found out early on that small things might have the capacity to derail the successful completion of the trip. Jay's flight was delayed, meaning that we had to sacrifice some sleep on the front end. When we returned, Jeff turned on the X-Box, costing us more sleep. And then there was the rental vehicle.

We made a reservation for a compact car (a Dodge Caliber or similar), but true to most every rental car experience I have ever had, Thrifty Rent-a-Car didn't have the car we rented. They offered two options: a minivan with satellite radio or a minivan with satellite radio. It was a free "upgrade." And it was all they had. There was more room in the minivan than there would have been in the Dodge Caliber or similar, but there was distinct drawbacks too. It didn't get good gas mileage. The center of gravity was too high, causing us to slow down on treacherous country roads. And the big one: the last time I drove a minivan on an interstate highway, I rolled it over three times and landed it on the median while all of my possessions spread themselves out along the highway. (Ed: Under definitely suspicious circumstances)

I retold this story at the Thrifty rental counter to Dan, Jay and Jeff. We also joked that the minivan would hold some advantages, like having enough room for the midgets. This made one of the Thrifty workers erupt in laughter, and although we clearly had bad intentions for the minivan, they nonetheless inexplicably rented us the vehicle. Fools. We drove away in our minivan (which did NOT have satellite radio nor did it even pretend to have satellite radio).

The last laugh was on Thrifty Rent-a-Car, though. Two days later, we'd return the local-radio-only Town and Country with a broken arm rest, 1600 miles of wear, and an engine light glowing amber. All for $135 and change, including the insurance and tax. They should have given us the Dodge Caliber.

Or similar. Similar would have been just fine.

The Thursday morning drive to our starting location in Monroe County was lively. None of us were operating on a full measure of sleep to begin with, but it didn’t seem to matter. Debates crackled about Firehouse’s greatest hits and the namesake of Zanesville (Ed: Not Zane Grey). At a gas station in Noble County, three colons were emptied. A wife and two girlfriends were called. I bought some Sour Patch Kids for a quick boost and Jay bought his first bag of jerky. He would tear open three more bags of jerky before he met his mattress next.

At the Monroe county line, we all piled out. Rotating pictures of us in pairs were taken at the start line. No picture of all three of us exists from the trip, in part because the only on-lookers at the beginning of our trip were some very confused and discourteous looking cows. Little did they know that they sat in mud adjacent to three worthy claimants to the legacy left by de Gama, Cook, Balboa, Magellan, Coronado and others. I stared down one cow and wondered if she would hold such contempt for us if she only knew.

With the simultaneous blip from two digital watches at a bit before 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the trip began. A third watch was brought along to measure “pansy time,” which could simplistically be described at time used that was not figured into the pace. Missed turns and even fuel stops were counted as “pansy time,” simply because they weren’t on the timetable. We’ll discuss more about pansy time later.

One lesson learned very early in the trip is that minivans aren’t built for the twisting roads of Southeast Ohio. Now, perhaps if one of us had been a mom living in a suburban neighborhood, one of us an infant and another a child headed to soccer practice, the minivan would have been a perfect choice. In the rural, twisting outlays of Southeastern Ohio, though, the minivan did not perform like it was on rails. Many were the hills which we crested blindly, without specific knowledge of which way the road would turn on the other side. Many were the turns into which we careered at speeds where centripetal force wanted to carry us into a guardrail, along with our local-radio-only Town and Country and our maps and our Mini-Oreos. Many were the soft curves which forced the driver to become familiar with both lanes, lest he hit the brakes too often and cede valuable time.

On roads that bent to the left, one could take the turn a bit faster by first crossing into the left lane. On roads that bent to the right, the turn might well finish in the opposite lane. Either way, this strategy widens the arc of the turn. And both ways lead to high comedy.

Whenever the yellow line was crossed, it became apropos to yell out British-sounding phrases in a thick English accent. For instance, at the end of a turn when the Town and Country crossed into the oncoming lane, someone might yell out, “FISH AND CHIPS!” or “’ELLO, GOV-NUH!” or “PUT ON YOUR KNICKERS, WE’RE GOING TO A PUB!” because, as we all know, the English drive on the left side of the road, and they love pubs and fish and chips.

The trip was only three counties old when we encountered our first difficulty. On Ohio Highway 800, the twisting road ran smack into the back of an orange ODOT truck, placing orange cones on a freshly-painted white line. The truck was moving in concert with a truck ahead of it, which, with protruding nozzles on both sides, applied fresh paint to the road. A 2-foot sign on the back barked “DO NOT PASS,” and the meandering road with blind turns seconded the notion. About three minutes was all I could take of looking at the back of that orange ODOT truck. We sped past both trucks on a harrowing turn. The trip was back on track, and I idly wondered whether it would be okay to return the Town and Country to Thrifty with road paint misted on the side.

We discovered very early that a minute was going to be a big difference. If we were going to do this thing in time, it was going to be close.

Harrison. Tuscarawas. Coshocton. We bowled through the first hours of the trip, gaining a few minutes of advantage on the pace. As I noted above, the pace would have had us finish the trip in 23 hours and 58 minutes, not accounting for fuel stops (or ANY kind of stops). At 2 p.m., I crossed the van into Jefferson County and picked up the 12th domain of 88. It remained in Jefferson for 22 seconds and we were off again. Ironic to have a Town and Country inside of a county. Wrap your head around that one.

In any case, we were 23 minutes ahead of schedule and building a lead. We knew that we’d have to get ahead of schedule early because of a couple of factors:

- Nightfall would hit and last for 14 hours. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to make “British” turns under the veil of darkness.
- At some point, we’d have to let Dan drive. (Ed: Bite me)

When we hit the booming dual metropoli of Shanesville and Sugarcreek (combined population: 9,702), we discovered another reason that we’d need this cushion. School was letting out and we’d trail a schoolbus or two. We were also clogged behind (of all things) an ODOT truck, which slowly tooled by the antique malls of Tuscarawas County. If this was the traffic we’d hit in the sparsely populated Southeast, what did we expect to encounter in the truly metropolitan areas of the state?

It was also in Tuscarawas County that we encountered out first jaunt off of the pavement. Coated in dirt and gravel, Haas Road led us exactly where we wanted to go. I smiled. Now, this seemed like an adventure.

We learned interesting facts along the way about, for instance, the percentage of water coverage of each county. At my urging, Dan had printed the Wikipedia page for each county and brought a separate binder full of that information so that we could learn, for instance, what percentage of Carroll County’s residents were aged 65 or above (Ed: 14.20%). The astute macroeconomic minds that we are, we were appalled by the low median household incomes of Southeastern Ohio (Ed: Morgan County? $28K). No doubt Jay wondered how we might help. No doubt Dan wondered how he might buy up the entire area and use it as a springboard to world domination.

Before it got too late, Dan took the wheel. I believe it was on Ohio Highway 86 West at a red light (Ed: Actually it was on US 6, west of Chardon). We changed positions in the style of a “Chinese fire drill” at the traffic light, and when it changed to green before all the doors were closed, two seconds of pansy time were tacked on. The docile drivers of Geuaga County didn’t seem to mind. The Town and Country, however, was angry. It insisted, with a repeating and ear-splitting beep, that everyone in the front of the vehicle have their seatbelts fastened at all times. We wondered for the rest of the trip who was the fussy one: Town or Country. (Man, these jokes just don’t seem as funny now.) (Ed: But they were dang funny on the trip!)

On Interstate 71, the trip encountered another problem. We hadn’t planned very well for fuel stops. Although the Town and Country had a digital readout of “Miles ‘Til Empty,” we didn’t know exactly where we’d be when it neared zero or what gas stations would be around. So when the MTE display got to about 20, we determined that we’d pull off the interstate for gas. This takes a much longer time than pulling into a gas station, for instance, on a state highway. I figured the stop might take as long as five minutes.

We quickly located a shining beacon in the nighttime desert: the Goasis gas station. It was near the off-ramp and looked to have dozens of pumps. After some initial indecision, Dan pulled next to a pump and handed me the gas card. He and Jay bolted inside to use the Goasis restrooms. Meanwhile, I swiped Dan’s card and stared at the screen, which displayed “Authorizing Credit Card” for a solid three minutes. My mind called Dan’s credit into question. Four kids is a lot to buy toys for! And diapers! What must have happened to his credit score? After a prolonged and impatient wait, I pressed the button to talk to the attendant. She explained that their phone service was down and the outside credit card readers were not working. She said, “you can come inside and we can try this one.” Try? TRY?!?!?! Such incompetence! I didn’t have time to TRY anything! As I hung up the pump, Dan and Jay were trotting out to the van. “Perfect!” they yelled. But it was not perfect. Not a drop had been pumped. I dashed inside while rifling through my pocket for cash. I paid for $35 on the pump and dispensed the gas, while the pansy watch hummed a tune. With no time for proper etiquette, I transformed into Bo Duke. I jumped inside the van cannonball-style and into the back-row seat. SNAP! I’d jumped into the arm rest and cracked it. The floppy bar will no longer offer support to anyone sitting behind the passenger seat.

But at least I’d shut up that pansy watch, as it sneered at me from my right wrist.

By the time our tires met I-71 again, the pansy watch proudly displayed 10 minutes and 30 seconds. Admonishing the watch that this was just an isolated, fluke incident, I mashed its RESET button. This type of trifling was, hopefully, behind us.

With 29 counties in the taillights, the Town and Country’s headlights flashed on Knox County. With the left blinker on, we were about to turn onto Darlington Road, which would take us to Morrow County and on our way. But ODOT struck us a blow. Darlington Road was closed to through traffic, and we had to figure a way around it.

I have to say that this was probably my favorite part of the trip. Immediately, two binders were raised and the driver was on high alert. We problem-solved our way around Darlington Road (thanks, in no small part, to Dan’s maps), and we even caught a potentially catastrophic wrong turn before it took us too far off course. Pulling it past two dogs who chased us out of Knox, we got back on track. Little did the dogs know that we were only too happy to be in Morrow County. They could go back to defending their street all they wanted.

At some point, someone intoned “has that engine light always been on?” It was not good. The Town and Country had less than 8,000 miles on it! Why would the engine light be on unless it was dangerously close to systems failure? We decided to take our chances anyway.

Across the state we went, remaining just South of Lake Erie and Michigan as we forced Northwest Ohio into submission.

And there, in Fulton County, we were humbled to meet the King.

Ohio Highway 66, AKA “The King,” dances along the county boundaries of Northwest Ohio. We would visit seven counties with The King that would have otherwise taken great difficulty to reach. The King doesn’t stay exactly straight as he runs south. As we noted, The King likes to jog. That’s how he visits so many counties.

From Fulton, we followed The King to Henry, Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Putnam and Van Wert. As we drove east on US-30 toward Allen County, we gave three cheers for The King. Long may he live. (Ed: Hip, Hip, Hooray!)

Just after Wapakoneta, at around 11:30 p.m., I decided it might be a good time to catch a quick nap. Even though the late night fog was thickening, there were interstates and limited access highways ahead; not much to slow down the trip’s progress.

Just west of Franklin County (#54!), my head arose from the roll of paper towels it had been using as a pillow. We were slowing down. I couldn’t explain it until Jay said, matter-of-factly, “yep, we’re getting pulled over.”

The patrolman was prompt in getting out of his vehicle and was brief in his inspection through the side window. It was normal, apparently, to encounter a minivan with three 30-year-old men in it around midnight. That one passed out on the back seat? Ordinary. The ground is strewn with maps and papers? Typical. A large cooler is sitting in the middle of the van? Par for the course. Besides, what could that cooler possibly contain, other than Powerade Option and a 4-pack of Mountain Dew Amp?

Also, what if the patrolman had questioned Dan and me? Would it have been commonplace to find one person from Ohio, one from Alabama and one from Massachusetts driving at night in a minivan that didn’t contain at least one child going to soccer practice? This was no workaday situation. But it arouses this thought: what would it have taken to pique the suspicion of the patrolman? If I had been flanked by two Mexicans in the back seat, would he still have considered this a garden variety traffic stop? What if we weren’t really joking about those midgets? What then? (Ed: It really was surprising the lack of hassle we got there)

The patrolman smelled nothing suspicious and let us go with a warning. It’s a good thing we hadn’t dipped to heavily into the Black Bean Pueblo Pie, or we might have been looking at a full vehicle search.

I was done with trying to sleep. How could I, when we might face more unexpected challenges? Sure enough, less than an hour later, we did.

We were in Perry County as we neared the Muskingum County line. Dan barked out “take a left here!” And Jay’s response came back, “you mean through this garbage dump?” I was quickly reminded of a conversation Dan and I had a week prior – about roads being listed on the map that either didn’t exist or weren’t open to the public. Some roads led right up to nuclear power plants and armed guards.

Shortly thereafter, I harkened back to an earlier “Every Whatever” tour, and I remembered the disastrous failure it had become. In the late summer of 1993, we had planned to drive on every road in North Olmsted. The map showed a little-known road named Elston, which, we came to discover, was in the middle of a patch of forest. It doesn’t matter, we reasoned. After all, what part of WE HAVE TO DRIVE ON EVERY ROAD was less than crystal clear? It had to be official! We drove into the woods, only to stop at a log that cut through the path. When we tried to double back, the tires whirred in the mud. Well, four hours, two broken taillights, one severed brake line and two tons of mud later, we made it home, never having quite reached the elusive Elston Road.

It’s good to know that we’ve learned something in those 13 years since. With the same sense of bravado, we hit the dirt road which went around the trash dump and plunged into a patch of forest. We hit the road which, at least on the map, led us where we wanted to go. After all, what part of WE HAVE TO BE IN EVERY COUNTY was less than crystal clear? It had to be official!

In that patch of forest, at about 3 a.m., I clearly saw a flashlight beam searching around and I saw it wash over our vehicle. Clearly someone was trying to kill us. What’s more, the “roads,” if they could be called that, no longer had street sings. Clearly, we’d been lured into some sort of trap by ODOT or a similar foe. It was reminiscent of a colonial ambush scene. We were on a path in a valley in the forest, with slopes on either side. There was nowhere to run and hide if berserk ODOT workers rushed at us from both sides. Our flanks were exposed!

Luckily, after a few miles, we saw a road sign: Palmer Road. It wasn’t on the map.

We headed back through the gauntlet and I saw the flashlight again. Jay and Dan decided to try another way into Muskingum County, and I decided to call my brother. For somehow, even though my cell phone had been getting no reception in more developed areas, it got three bars’ worth at a trash dump near the Perry/Muskingum County line. With the help of MapQuest, Joe confirmed that Palmer Road lay in Muskingum County. “Turn it around!” I shouted. “We’ve been in Muskingum!”

Thus was county #61 brought under our control.

I stayed alert through Hocking and Athens and Morgan and Washington and Meigs in case I was needed. I also remained at the ready for Vinton and Jackson counties. But in Lawrence, I allowed myself to drift off again. Sure enough, 20 minutes later, we would encounter trouble.

The entrée to Gallia County from Lawrence County is at best sketchy and at worst downright shady. I awakened to find our Town and Country in a similar situation to the Muskingum County debacle, in the middle of a patch of forest. Dan and Jay were disagreeing on where we were. This was dire. I shuffled off my sleep and manned a binder.

We made not one, but two jaunts onto unmarked roads, hoping that we had made it into Gallia County (Ed: We had). It was one of the few counties that was not marked with a sign. By the time we got back on track and on the way to Scioto County, we’d fallen a few minutes behind schedule. The country roads leading us back through Lawrence County made us fall further. At our nadir, we were wanting for 9 minutes.

Whatever their sinister intentions to foil our trip, ODOT must be commended for its excellent demarcation of county boundaries. Except for when we entered on Elston-like roads, there was always a nice green sign to greet us. We were able to photograph most of them, and I figure those snapshots will find their way onto this blog soon. (Ed: Maybe if someone will get the pictures off his camera and email them to me?)

Whatever troubles Gallia presented, they were behind us. Jay had driven for 9 hours through the worst part of the night, and clearly Gallia had frayed his nerves. We were behind the pace and the fog was almost intolerable. Imagine driving for 9 hours in the darkness, with fog in front of you and two lights on in the van. Jay’s last act as driver was to slip into Ross County and pull a quick U-turn back into Pike. But he missed the turn and potentially set us back another minute (Ed: Pansy time!). What’s more, he’d had to poop for roughly four hours. When he pulled into a gas station off US-23, we discovered that he’d gained back the time he’d lost. And as I pumped gas, Jay and Dan went inside to poo down. But there was no time! Jay sacrificed his #2 for the good of our pace and hopped back in the car. It could wait another four hours. Jay is to be commended for his determination and his mental, optical and intestinal fortitude.

Negativity had dominated the previous hour, but optimism was burgeoning. Dawn was breaking. A limited access highway was ahead. And I was taking over at the wheel for the anchor leg of the trip.

Ohio 32 West provides a straight shot through five counties for 75 miles at a 65-MPH speed limit (Ed: Highland county? 13 seconds). Since I needed no navigation, it was suggested that both Dan and Jay sleep.

Jay was out and snoring within a minute. Dan slept only partially in Ross and Brown counties and all the way through Adams (Ed: The only county I entirely missed). It was a grand total of maybe 20 minutes. While both of them were incapacitated, I drove and snapped pictures of the county signs. Adams. Brown. Highland. Clermont. (Ed: You were definitely the king of picture taking)

Worry set in that I-275 around Cincinnati or I-71 just north of Cincinnati might be congested. It was 9 a.m. on a weekday, and folks might still be getting to work, tied up in a traffic jam. We found the roads clear, however, and we realized that we had leapt our last great hurdle. We were clear of Cincinnati and 23 minutes ahead of schedule. We tried to admonish ourselves to not get too excited. There were still countless things that could prevent successful completion of the trip. Only when we got 3 miles away (close enough to know that we could run there in time, if necessary) did the celebration begin.

We crossed into Preble County British-style, for effect, and soon after, piled out of the car to drench the ground with stored up urine.

23 hours, 34 minutes, 34 seconds. A new record. Something to be proud of.

Unfortunately, no “Entering Preble County” sign exists. One last middle finger from ODOT. (Ed: Word)

The two gas station stops we made immediately after completion was by far the trip’s longest. Jay bought bag #3 of beef jerky. We waited, with full colons, for someone to come out of a locked bathroom. They never did, and the clerk didn’t have a key. We moved on to the next one and befouled the bathroom at the Shell station.

On the way back to Columbus, we encountered something we really hadn’t the entire trip. Traffic. It was just a reminder of how the trip, had things been slightly different, could have easily failed.


Carolyn said...

Wow, that was long. And informative.

annahannah said...

verrrrry interesting. i feel like i was right there with you, though i am glad i wasn't

dan's mom

Carey said...

Hey guys,

I just want to say I love your blog. It's actually inspired me to do an "every whatever" of my own. I've spent countless hours planning to ride every one of the 61 local buses in Houston (where I live). I have a friend lined up to go with me with a camera. We're looking to do it this October. I posted my own blog entry about my plans here: http://careyj.com/2007/05/22/to_ride_every_local_bus_in_houston/

BM said...

I randomly came across your blog while googling something completely unrelated about PC. I'm from West Alexandria and I find it totally hilarious that you ended your trip through every county of Ohio in the extremely small town I grew up in! Great blog and great idea for a mini-road trip! My friends and I might just have to attempt to do it ourselves. Oh and for the record, there are "Welcome to Preble County signs" elsewhere, just not on 35 for some strange reason! ODOT works in mysterious ways!