- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2006

Road-tripping has long been a tradition in American vacationing. Indeed, the sensation of chasing the horizon — whether across country or just across town — is inextricably tied to the American dream of exploration and travel for its own sake.

It may sound nice in theory, but driving hundreds of miles on a tight schedule, in addition to sitting next to five or more passengers, is no easy task. Thankfully, much can be done to help make road trips safer and more comfortable.

“When people do long-distance road trips, people try to do it as quickly as possible,” says John Townsend, manager of Public and Governmental Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.

That is a mistake because they end up overextending themselves, he says.

“If you’re trying to do a 700-, 800-mile trip, don’t try to do it in one day,” Mr. Townsend says.

Instead, a reasonable limit would be “the usual workday,” he says. “So if you work eight hours a day, don’t drive more than eight hours.”

Bill Adams, a team driver at Willow Hill, Pa.’s UPS Freight Services, drives nearly 250,000 miles a year. His advice? Try to assess traffic volume.

“When you hit a pack of traffic, that’s when you begin to tense up,” Mr. Adams says. When that happens, he says, “we try to get away from the pack of traffic, even if that means pulling over into a rest area, going into a restaurant, [or] getting a soda.

“Even if you’re in there for five minutes, it makes the whole trip a whole lot more enjoyable,” he says.

One way to gauge road stoppages and slowdowns ahead of time is by using Web sites such as Rand McNally (www.randmcnally.com), which gives construction information in addition to detailed maps and directions.

Dennis Castleman, assistant secretary for tourism, film and the arts in Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development, urges drivers to stop once every 1 hours or two hours maximum. “Make sure [the driver] is getting out of the car every 100 miles and stretching,” he says.

Failure to do so could lead to drowsiness, which Mr. Townsend says “could be as fatal as being drunk behind the wheel.”

Mr. Castleman says, “Everybody needs to drive safe [and] take their time.”

Another potential health consequence for long-distance drivers is deep-vein thrombosis, a painful condition in which the body’s circulation is blocked by blood clots produced by long bouts of sitting in one position. The clot, or thrombus, can travel through the bloodstream and even cause fatal damage by lodging into the brain, lungs or heart.

Dr. Bruce Perler, director of vascular surgical services at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, says one of the main causes of the condition — which primarily affects the elderly, the obese and those with heart disease and diabetes — is stagnant blood flow.

“It’s probably a good idea to get out and move every few hours, move your legs to stimulate blood flow,” he says, adding that drivers should stop every two to three hours.

Dr. Perler says drivers unable to leave their cars should be “pressing your legs down against the floor or against the floorboard just to exercise the muscles, to squeeze the blood flow. Anything you can do to fight stagnation in the veins in the leg.”

Dr. Sean O’Donnell, a vascular surgeon with the Washington Hospital Center, agrees.

“Generally speaking, trips that are longer than six to eight hours are considered risky,” he says. “If people stop on a trip, get out and walk around, that’s helpful. If they can’t do that, just move their ankles up and down, or stand and elevate themselves on their toes. That activates the muscle pump” in the calf of the leg.

Another good idea, he says, is “to wear a compression stocking, which are higher pressure than normal stockings, that help collapse the veins. They assist the muscle pumps in their actions of emptying the vein.”

Tara Speisman, manager of the District-based Georgetown Yoga, says a yoga practice before and afterward would be helpful in keeping the blood moving and the muscles from tightening.

Ms. Speisman says that “if you sit in a chair for a long time and lose the curve [of the lumbar spine], that’s where it causes your lower back to ache.”

Lumbar-supporting pillows, she adds, are available in stores. For a quick fix, she says, “I would roll up a towel and put it underneath your lower back.”

Another tip Ms. Speisman gives is to keep your hip muscles and hamstrings from tightening by using “a wedge to keep those hips above your knees on a downward incline.”

“You’re padding yourself left and right,” she jokes.

Ms. Speisman also mentions that some stretches — such as the camel, in which you kneel and bend back with your hands on your lower back — can be done in the back seat of a car.

“It’s easy to become trancelike and tired,” Ms. Speis- man says. “Backbends are known to stimulate the nervous system. By opening up that part of the body, you open up a lot of oxygen.” She adds that stretching the front of the body will work the nervous system and help keep drivers awake.

In addition to stretching, Ms. Speisman says, drivers should make sure they’re well-hydrated.

But what about the little road warriors? Debbie Devlin and her mother, Donna McCabe, of Philadelphia, have two girls to keep from each other’s throats: Sam, a sulky, bright-eyed 15-year-old, and her sister Alek, a 4-year-old miniature firecracker.

“Lots of yelling helps,” Mrs. McCabe jokes. “It’s been hell.”

Mrs. Devlin laughs, saying, “It’s really hard not to be alert with kids in the car.”

Little Alek, on the other hand, is far from smiling: She and her sister had been pinching each other until her Frosted Flakes spilled on the floor. When asked about her road trip, Alek is quick to say, “It’s boring and dumb, and I don’t like being in the car.”

Fighting this boredom can be a challenge. “I listen to a lot of books on tape, just to make the day pass,” Mr. Adams says. He also listens to satellite radio because of its large number of listening options.

Music is a surefire success for families, as well. “[Sam] was listening to her IPod,” Mrs. Devlin says, “and we listened to ‘Rent’ on the way down, which was wonderful.” Indeed, the problems with the sisters only flared up after the IPod stopped working, she says with a grin.

“You have to have plenty of recreational things,” Mr. Townsend says. “Games, albums, video games, videotapes for them to play.”

Mr. Castleman suggests the “Bay Game Book,” from McDonald’s and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The free book has history questions and games for matching state license plates.

“The critical thing for parents is keeping children occupied and keeping them involved,” he says.

Food also is a concern. Robert and June Hazzard, who drove from Richmond to Hershey, Pa., have a treasure trove of Rice Krispies Treats, pecan pinwheels and crackers as well as Mountain Dew, water and Gatorade.

“We try not to drink too much,” Mr. Hazzard says. “The more you drink, the more you’ve got to stop.”

“My wife gives me heck for eating potato chips,” says Mr. Adams, a former junk-food fan. “I eat a lot of Triscuits now,” he says ruefully. “I also eat Mini-Wheats; I love dry cereal. It’s healthy.”

Indeed, the great American summer pastime — the road trip — is not as easy as it looks. It can get tiresome, uncomfortable and downright frustrating — but it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little planning, time and common sense, vacation drives can be pleasant experiences and safe ones, too.

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