It was less than a week ago that I pulled into my driveway here in Chesterfield, Missouri after a 9-day, 10-state, nearly 3,500 mile odyssey.
As I’ve written in the About the Trip section, this was something I wanted to do for a few reasons. I wanted the time alone. I wanted to drive. I wanted to see the country from the ground level. Even today, I read a few reviews in the NY Times Book Review of travel books where the authors took the trips alone. Mission accomplished.
While I wrote the daily travel logs about what I visited and saw, here are some more general thoughts, now that I’ve had a chance to reflect:
- Mount Rushmore. Wow – what an unbelievable site. “Majestic” is the primary word that comes to mind. The park is located at the top of a steep incline, meaning that you see the mountain well before you enter the park, and you just get closer and closer and closer. In addition, you can walk right up to the base of the mountain. It was just awesome.
- The Changing Climate. The scenery was different everyday. I started driving along the Mississippi, with the breeze and the water. Across Iowa was very flat, with fields yet to be sown. South Dakota was rolling hills. Nebraska and Wyoming were again flat, but with some neat land features, including Scott’s Bluff. South of Denver, I started to see snow-capped mountains, and those lasted through to New Mexico, where it got brown and green (and no other color). Texas and Oklahoma were drier, but then Arkansas was green and lush like Missouri.
- Starbucks. For me, Starbucks was a godsend. Coffee, fruit, snacks, and, above all, clean bathrooms. Let’s be honest between us and the entire Internet, going #2 on a long road trip is problematic. Starbucks in the solution. There was one almost everywhere I needed it. It will say, however, that there was a dearth of the local mugs that Starbucks used to offer everywhere.
- The Speed Limits. In most parts, the interstate speed limit was 75. This meant putting the cruise control on 83 or so and zooming from point to point. As a side note, there wasn’t a single toll road the entire way.
- The Gas Mart Names. Three come to mind: Kum & Go, Toot & Totem, and Loaf n’ Jug. Really. Gutsy names, really. In general, these were also safe havens for bathrooms, where I found clean ones even in the most remote locations.
- Mexican and Chinese Restaurants. They are simply everywhere. Pick a small town in the middle of nowhere, and I’ll bet there is at least one, if not both. It became a point of laughter for me after a while.
- Casinos. Want to gamble on trip like this? No problem. I stayed at two (in Council Bluffs and Santa Fe), but could’ve gambled nearly every night, had I wanted to. I didn’t stop, but it looked like every bar in South Dakota had slot machines called “casinos.”
- Lunch. This was problematic. Breakfast is when you get up. Dinner is when you stop at the end of the day. Lunch was a challenge. I got going in the morning with a list of things to see, and then it was suddenly lunch time. If I stopped, then I might miss another stop. Randomly finding a lunch spot that isn’t fast food is a challenge as well. I would say that too often, Cliff Bars and trail mix was lunch.
- Too Much Driving. If I had to do it over, I’d prefer to add days and slow down a bit. I was in Denver and Santa Fe from dinner to breakfast and saw nothing. I also suspect I wouldn’t have gotten sick with a rest day or two. I did this for the driving, yes, but a bit more rest would have been nice.
- The Solitude. The quiet is probably not for everyone, but it worked for me. I was on my own schedule; I didn’t have to wait for anyone to finish their meals or go to the bathroom. I picked the radio stations, the music or the baseball/hockey/basketball games. I decided when to go to sleep each night.
One last thought on structure. The travel writers I like have tended to travel unstructured. No hotel reservations each night. No set schedule at all. Just a number of days and ideas where they want to end up, but with freedom to go where they wanted. Someday I’d like to do that. It’s risky, as you don’t really know what hotels might be available. At the same time, there are plenty of apps now where you can find hotels at the last minute. So maybe it’s doable. Maybe next time.