If driving across the country and back was considered a vacation, there were so many times when it felt like a lot of work. I realized this on my drive back east. I realized how hard it was to do it alone- to drive all day without another pair of hands to take the wheel; to navigate; to arrive in a new town and have the energy to interact with strangers, or the confidence to pretend that you know what you’re doing. It’s hard, but not impossible. Did I mention I never used cruise control?
Near Colorado/Utah border (June 12)
New Mexico Plateaus
There is something freeing about being in so many places and not know a single person. It was an unexpected relief in some respect. Folks at home would suggest I see a certain monument, or hike a certain trail and I felt no pressure do anything besides what I wanted to do. Having things planned to do in towns really took a backseat to the actual drive. The most meaningful moments to me during this trip were experienced from behind the steering wheel. Maybe that’s not a coincidence since this is all I did for days and days. But it surprised me.
Flatlands of Western Kansas (June 10)
I enjoyed small moments of seemingly serendipitous signs that I was ok out there. Many times a song would be playing in the car and I would get a visual to match a tune. Like the Martin Sexton’s Diner lyric, “Like a locomotive they were streamlined,” played as I drove along a train. Likewise, the Allman Brothers’ Ramblin’ Man “I was born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus, rolling down Highway 21,” played as I passed a Greyhound bus. And I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a Greyhound bus. There would be a rare, familiar Florida license plate, or in one case, another FSU plate parked at a cafe just outside of Zion National Park. I stood outside in the parking lot as the car owner got back into his car. While he was pulling out of the lot, we looked at each other and bonded over a subtle tomahawk chop.
Entrance to Zion National Park, Utah (June 12)
Entering the Rockies, Colorado buffalo (June 11)
Flipping the car eastward in Arizona was a welcome change in direction. But it was the same time when I really started feeling the distance. Before that point, I didn’t have time to look at the big-picture map- the one that magnifies the nearly 3,000 miles away I was from home. Like watching someone close grow up, I couldn’t tell how far I actually drove just based on the visuals around me. The change was more gradual than I expected.
Utah canyon driving
Austin, TX was the “home” I began accepting, just to have a short-term goal to keep my mind off of how far Florida still was. It was familiar to me (I had just visited in January), and it meant I wouldn’t be alone anymore. Mike was flying in on Tuesday, June 16, a day set to have tropical storm conditions. But they held off!
Trina, owner of Se7en Bites, Mike and Me on South Congress in Austin, TX.
Additionally, Austin meant vacation time. I mean, the type of vacation that doesn’t involve driving all day. We even saw the owners of Se7en Bites Bakery in Orlando enjoying coffee at Jo’s Coffee on South Congress. It’s a small world after all.
Jennifer Sponsler and me at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX.
After South Congress, Mike and I went to the Beatles Exhibit at the LBJ Museum and visited Mellow Johnny’s bike shop. I even caught up with a friend who moved to Austin recently and got to sit down and watch Jurassic World. We got to experience more Austin flavor with Mike’s brother’s family at The Salty Sow and Gourdough’s, a donut shop/bar. Those crazy Austin geniuses.
The next day, it was refreshing to share the driving duties on the 7-8 hour drive to New Orleans to see my cousin and her family. Beignets and cafe au lait set us up for the long journey back to Orlando on Friday. It took nearly 12 hours with stops and traffic. I couldn’t help getting antsy.
The lush green trees and wet air were welcoming. I wanted to kiss the soggy Florida soil. It was good to be home.
While telling a good friend of mine about my trip, the lesson to her was balance. Life needs balance. It’s great to get away, and it’s great to come back home. Living on the road for 12 days was amazing.
Driving to Utah made this country seem smaller. To know I can and did drive a good chunk of the US is pretty empowering. It also made me feel bigger, to take on this adventure, and accomplish what I set out to do. I don’t know if it was supposed to work this way. Don’t worry, I’m humbled too…
Those missed sights (northern Utah, Sedona, staying longer in any given area), were not that big a deal to me. I’ll be back that way again. Because I did what I did and I plan to see those places again. Hopefully with some company this time.
Here’s my trip by the numbers:
- Miles driven: 5,339
- States driven through: 15
- Rocky Mountains summited on accident: 1
- Rock slides: 1
- Rainstorms: 4
- National Parks: 2
- Time Zones: 3 (although AZ doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings)
- States I didn’t know were on my trip: 2 (Kentucky and Illinois)
- State I was in the longest: 3 nights in Texas
- Missed destinations: 2 (Provo, UT and Sedona, AZ)
- Mix CDs: 5
- Podcasts: at least 20
- Books on tape: 1.5
- Times I washed my hair: 2
- Times I did laundry: 1
- Non-travel days: 1
- Times Cruise Control was used: 1 (for about 30 seconds)
- Breakfast tacos: 3.5
- Regular tacos: 4
- Doughnuts: ½ at Gourdough’s and 1.5 Beignets
Emergency contact – not just for others to contact. Having an emergency contact makes things go a lot smoother. If your contact has some freedom to be available to you, even better. My contact calmed me down in some hairy situations and was a reassurance that I was on track.
Book hotels/campsites – I was a little ambitious and did not plan to book hotels ahead of time. A panicked moment before the trip urged me to take the time to plan ahead. Not having to stress about where I would end up that night made such a difference.
localeats.com – I used this website in so many cities and found some gems. Thanks, Mike!
Social media – brag away, I say! Sharing with a community not only makes you feel less alone, but a trip like mine really touched people. I even got some feedback that I inspired individuals to do something similar.
Playlists, Podcasts, Audiobooks – have them loaded and ready. It’s important to alternate between music and Podcasts while mixing the occasional Audio Book in there. I recruited friends to make “mix tapes” for me pre-trip. It’s music you don’t have in your library and it’s personal. I felt like Mike, Glenn, Elizabeth and Amy were right there with me.
Paper maps – I knew this would be a good idea going in. It really came in handy when I had to take the detour in Colorado. Maps and Google Maps doesn’t always work. Although it seems that if you have an app running, if your phone goes out of service, it still seems to work. Don’t quote me on that though.