We’re on the eve of our roadtrip, Lucy and me, and we’re almost packed. Unlike my usually rigorous light packing, I’ve got the Prius crammed full. That’s because the theme of the trip is the name of this post: The Road Less Traveled. We’ll be motoring nearly 1700 miles through landscapes and places that most tourists avoid. Not that these less traveled places aren’t worth seeing. They just tend to be not on the way to any place special. Or any place with exciting dining options, water slides and tourist spots. Which is fine with us. Traveling with a terrier severely limits what you can do and where you can go anyway. My shopping and dining will be limited to places that allow dogs. Or places where I can run in and run out within five minutes while a terrier waits in a crate. I’m predicting we’re going to be eating a lot of meals from roadside stands or out of the confines of our cooler. Although I do hope to review some dog-friendly restaurants I’ve scoped out along the way. Because, while Mark Twain will be one of our guiding spirits, we don’t exactly plan to “rough it”. Surprisingly, the further you get from big cities, the more amenable motels are to admitting dogs. Lucy and I already have our reservations for the first four nights. After that, we’re playing it by ear.

While I’m not going to give the whole trip itinerary — let it unfold as a surprise — let me say that our plans may be upset by forest fires. So after the first few days, we may need to consult the road atlas and find some detours or maybe new destinations. That doesn’t give much away as a good chunk of the West is on fire as of this writing. In fact, if I wanted to avoid wildfires, I think I’d have to stay home as it seems every possible road from San Francisco eventually leads to a wildfire. In fact, we will skirt the Topaz Lake Fire by only 50-60 miles on the first leg of our journey.

In some ways, traveling toward flames is very appropriate. Because the first days of our trip will be an homage to Mark Twain, following in reverse, some of of the journey he chronicled in Roughing It, his somewhat truthful account of his first trip West from Missouri. Twain’s motives were, first and foremost, to escape being drafted into the Civil War and secondly, to have grand adventures. His much older brother had been appointed Secretary to the new Governor of the Nevada Territory. Until he convinced his brother to take him on as “secretary to the Secretary”, the young Sam Clemens was wildly jealous:

He was going to travel! I never had been away from home, and that word “travel” had a seductive charm for me. Pretty soon he would be hundreds and hundreds of miles way on the great plains and deserts, and among the mountains of the Far West, and would see buffaloes and Indians, and prairie dogs, and antelopes, and have all kinds of adventures, and maybe get hanged or scalped, and have ever such a fine time, and write home and tell us all about it, and be a hero.

From Roughing It by Mark Twain.

But Sam did get himself attached to the trip and finally made it out to Virginia City, Nevada — then the territorial capital and our first stop. Fans of Mark Twain know that you can’t walk three paces in Northern California without tripping over some place that Mark Twain has been before you. Just living and working in San Francisco, I’ve walked by, eaten at, and visited dozens of Twain haunts without even planning it. But Virginia City is different. It is the first place where someone actually paid the young Sam Clemens for his writing. You could say it’s the exact spot where Sam Clemens of Hannibal Missouri became Mark Twain, literary giant and citizen of the world.

lucy in old roany the prius

“Old Roany” is all packed up and ready to hit the trail. Lucy will be riding shotgun.

So, while we aren’t hoping to be hanged or scalped, we are planning to have a lot of Twain encounters and experiences. Fire is an appropriate one of them. Twain, who was a spectacularly inept businessman, was always losing everything in “get rich quick” schemes. One of his first was when he and a partner bought a stand of timber up at Lake Tahoe, hoping to make a killing in lumber. The two of them proceeded to leave a campfire unattended and burned down most of a forest on the Nevada side of the lake. I expect the blowing cinders from today’s wildfires will add that extra bit of atmosphere as Lucy and I speed along. Especially since we will be listening to an audiobook version of Roughing It as we drive.

So off we go bright and early tomorrow morning — with just a quick stop in Sonoma to drop Oscar off for a week with John the Baptist and his Border Collie, Maria. Oscar thinks he’s getting the better end of the deal as there is currently zero chance of him being hung or scalped or burned up in Sonoma.


Here’s some of the stuff in our survival kit:

Roughing It in this audio version from Audible. I’m highly recommending the narrator, Grover Gardner, as he sounds just as you would expect Mark Twain would.)

Roughing It and Lighting Out for the Territory by Roy Morris, Jr. on the Kindle Touch. The latter book is sort of a fact-checked version of Mark Twain’s actual journey, as Twain never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Road Trip USA. This book and the companion website are a great guide for planning quirky, off-the-beaten-path roadtrips from one end of America to the other on two lane highways. We’ll be patching together bits and pieces of the itineraries which always break for roadside oddities, petroglyphs and weird monuments to kitsch.

While Lucy is a good traveler, I’ll be taking her crate just in case. But I’m hoping that most of the time, she can ride shotgun while restrained in the Kurgo Tru-Fit Smart Harness — an ingenious doggie seatbelt.

Basket Muzzle. Lucy hates wearing it and she doesn’t really need it. But a little known secret of doggie travel is that some non-dog friendly places, like smaller museums, can be talked into letting your dog accompany you if he or she is properly leashed and muzzled.