Journey of a thousand miles should begin with a practice run, no offense buddy

At mile 1, disagreements about the music can seem whimsical and charming: “You like that song? Eww, tee hee! It’s terrible! I feel like I don’t know you at all!”

This might be accompanied by playful shoulder punches and reluctant-but-cheery harmonizing as everyone sings along.

By mile 1,038, it can be a very different story: “IF YOU PLAY THAT SONG ONE MORE TIME I SWEAR I WILL DRIVE THIS CAR INTO A TREE!!”

Never are people so revealed, their psyches laid so bare, as on a road trip. In the confines of a vehicle, over hundreds or even thousands of miles, when everyone’s feeling gritty-eyed and grubby and there’s a weird smell that won’t go away and the temperature never seems quite right, you become aware of everything. Everything. How often someone sniffles. That habit of tuneless whistling you never noticed before. The knuckle cracking, the superhuman foot odor, the tendency to try finishing your sentences by wrongly guessing what you’re going to say.

Of the 36.1 million Americans estimated to be taking a trip this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA, 80 percent of them — or 31.8 million — will be traveling by automobile.

Taking a road trip, in other words. And as Robert Louis Stevenson advised, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”

That makes this the perfect time to propose the Practice Road Trip (PRT). Before hitting the road on what has been romanticized as the quintessential American experience, before committing to a journey of a thousand miles, it might be wise to do a dry run or two in the form of a PRT.

The PRT is ideal for determining what kind of travelers your companions are, what habits and playlists they bring to the adventure, where they stand on issues of speed/temperature/bathroom breaks, how well they respond to the unplanned and unpredicted and whether their quirks, when magnified in the confines of a car, inspire a shrug or murderous thoughts of strangulation. Because even your best friend in the whole world could turn into the most annoying person in the universe on a road trip.

In the next day or two, try a few of these PRTs to determine whether your proposed road trip may live up to all your Jack Kerouac dreams, or whether it’ll turn into “Lord of the Flies” on wheels.

PRT No. 1: across East Orchard Mesa

Approach the verdant mesa that presides over the east end of the Grand Valley from either C 1/2 Road on its west end or 38 Road on its east. Enjoy a winding, verdant route past orchards and vineyards, with a stunning backdrop of Bookcliffs, Grand Mesa and Colorado National Monument.

Keep an eye peeled for:

■ Are your travel companions people who read aloud every sign on the side of the road? Because that stops being cute after 2.8 miles.

■ Do your travel companions roll down the windows and dance their arms in the oncoming rush of air like a carefree wave? Those are fun people to have around.

■ Do any of your companions need to pee? The drive is about seven miles; it’s a bad sign if they can’t hold it.

Snack: Chile Picante con Limon-flavored Corn Nuts.

Song: “Jessica,” Allman Brothers Band.

PRT No. 2: across Colorado National Monument

The 23 miles across the Grand Valley’s own redrock treasure is a panorama of wind-blown sandstone, other-worldly sculptures and shapes and the whole Crayola box of color.

Keep an eye peeled for:

■ Do your travel companions freak the heck out if they’re on the side of the car closest to the drop-offs? This isn’t to say they’ll be sub-par road trippers, but you might want to consider a journey to Indiana, say, or Florida.

■ Are your companions pro- or anti-stopping-at-every-scenic-point? Because the views up there are nothing short of miraculous and anyone who doesn’t want to stop at every single scenic point perhaps should be made to walk home and reflect on their sins.

■ Where does everyone stand on photography? Are they “take some pictures but also experience the moment by just looking around” folks? If so, get out on the road with them!

Snack: PB&J.

Song: “Hold On,” Alabama Shakes.

PRT No. 3: Old U.S. Highway 6&50 from Loma to Westwater, Utah

All you have to do is just get on U.S. Highway 6&50 heading west, and past Loma it’ll turn into the old version of that highway, taking you all the way to Westwater, Utah (Interstate 70, exit 227, where there are no services). You can loop back home on I-70.

Keep an eye peeled for:

■ Are your travel companions the types to say, “Ugh! There’s nothing out here”? If they are, not only shouldn’t you go on a road trip with them, but consider unfollowing them on Instagram.

■ Do your companions shrug off bad road conditions and express gratitude that it simply means slowing down and enjoying the views and ride even more? Then take a road trip to Las Vegas and marry them immediately.

■ How often do your fellow travelers fiddle with the temperature knobs? Twice is acceptable, any more than that is cause for advising them to tuck and roll before you open the door and shove them out.

Snack: dried apricots.

Song: “Theme from Shaft,” Isaac Hayes.

PRT No. 4: Across Grand Mesa via 45 1/2 Road

(This is accessed in De Beque and connecting with Colorado Highway 65 near the cut-off to Collbran)

A journey of a little more than 60 miles winds through scenic wonders of oak brush transitioning, at higher altitudes, into quaking stands of aspen. And a little detour to Land’s End will reveal a panorama of the entire Grand Valley (plus cheeky chipmunks who demand sunflower seeds).

Keep an eye peeled for:

■ Do you suspect any of your companions of thinking, “How much farther?” — let alone saying it aloud — or of secretly looking at their smartphones when they should be looking out the window? Do not travel with these people.

■ Are your companions likely to notice things such as golden eagles or elk way off in the distance and excitedly point them out to you (but not so excitedly that you crash, obviously)? Because these are excellent folks to have around.

■ How much do you trust these people to drive? And are they willing to do so? Road trips are nothing if not democratic, after all, and everyone needs to pull their weight.

Snack: a mixture of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms.

Song: “Down Down the Deep River,” Okkervil River.

PRT No. 5: to Silverton and back on U.S. Highway 550

More than 120 miles one way, the happy PRT-er will go from stark desert vistas to lush valleys to some of the most glorious mountain scenery on Earth. And bonus! There’s the necessary stop at the Russell Stover store in Montrose.

Keep an eye peeled for:

■ Do your companions want to stop for lunch at Long John Silver’s in Montrose? If they don’t, what the heck is wrong with them?

■ Are your travel companions rendered practically speechless by the views of the San Juan Mountains around every corner? Do they appear overcome, even if they’ve lived in Colorado their entire lives? Do they insist on stopping just to look and breathe? These are excellent people, then.

■ On a scale of one to 10, how intrigued are your companions by history and how willing are they to stop at interesting historical sites along the way? If their score is seven or higher, these are OK people to take on a road trip.

Snack: yogurt-covered pretzels.

Song: “(Nothing But) Flowers,” Talking Heads.

PRT No. 6: to Norwood and back via Colorado Highway 141

Talk about stupendous drives: There’s the glory of Unaweep canyon, followed by the redrock splendor of Gateway (with a pristine backdrop of Utah’s La Sal Mountains) that just keeps going as the road winds alongside the Dolores River.

Keep an eye peeled for:

■ How often do your travel companions complain about other drivers? Three times is allowed, any more than that is intensely annoying and stating the obvious, a road trip no-no.

■ Do your companions get all bent out of shape by things such as road construction, the music currently playing or the hilarious results of “Marry Kill Screw”? The occasional, easily dismissed consternation is acceptable, but beware of it building into full-on apoplexy. This is not a person to have in the car.

■ Speaking of the music, where does everyone in the car stand on singing along? As long as the music is mostly acceptable to all, it’s an unspoken rule that at least one point in the road trip should include everyone bellowing along.

Snack: Teriyaki-flavored beef jerky.

Song: “Airline to Heaven,” Billy Bragg and Wilco.


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