Driving Across the USA
From the Pacific to the Atlantic
When I moved from Oregon to New Hampshire in 1999, I decided to make it a real adventure and drive across the country by myself while avoiding the highways. Maybe you'll want to try it, too. You don't have to be moving to make a drive like this. Do it for the wonderful process of discovery.
Why the Trip?
I had lived in Oregon for almost 20 years when I decided to move to the other side of the country. Crazy, huh? It was for love: the only thing that would be able to pry me away from such a beautiful place.
My possessions went east by moving van, while my trusty, packed Toyota Tercel would take me all the way to New Hampshire. I had to make some choices. What route should I take? How long should I allow for the drive? Would I have to hurry, or could I take my time? There was so much I needed to consider.
I knew this was an opportunity that might not come again. I like to explore on my own, so the thought of driving by myself was exciting. I wanted to make the most of it.
Here's The Travel Book I Used - This helped SO much
I knew I wanted to take my time and that I did not want to deal with traffic on the large highways. I needed a gentle, interesting and inspiring trip. I knew that life in Eugene, Oregon had been very nurturing and had helped me to pay attention to and appreciate everything around me. I wanted to continue to experience my life in that way and enjoy every mile of my journey. This book provides information on taking, what we think of as, the "back roads" across the country. It became my primary reference.
All about taking the "back" roads across the USA.
Where to Begin?
Just Begin, Already
The desire to say "goodbye" to some friends who lived one state away, encouraged me to head up into Washington as I left Oregon. I thought that, perhaps, it would also soften the blow of leaving behind my home of the last 20 years. If I made a gradual exit out of the Northwest, I thought, maybe it would be easier on me. I had already delayed my trip by several weeks as I kept coming up with more things I wanted to do and more people I wanted to see before I left. I'm sure it was really just my sadness in leaving that held me back.
The Puget Sound area of Washington is a floating collection of bedroom communities for Seattle joined together by ferries. After visiting my friends, I drove onto one of those ferries, enjoyed the ride across the Puget Sound, rolled off the ramp on the other side and began to finally move in an easterly direction. I was on my way.
Document Your Trip With More Than Photos
I decided to do something different that would document my trip and help me remember it later. I bought a small artist's sketchbook so that I could not only write about it, but I could do some drawings along the way, too. When I included people in the drawings, I had them sign the book and add a little note if they wanted to. Some people thought it was really cool and others, I'm sure, thought I was kind of weird. Still, it was a fun experiment and I enjoy looking through that little notebook.
Sketched on My Trip at Arches National Park, Utah
On the Road : : Discoveries Along the Way
Wagon Trains and Tumbleweeds
I found a beautiful, out-of-the-way spot in Idaho where, amongst the fields of grasses and flowers, you could still see ruts of the early wagons trains that had crossed the country. There were several graves along the path, as well, of those who had died on the long and difficult journey. Amazing. Here I was traveling by myself in my car and here were the ruts from the wagons of others who had done so in a very different time in a very different way.
As I continued on through parts of Idaho, giant tumbleweeds had knitted themselves together and seemed to be nesting up against fences and inside roadside ditches. Solitary tumbleweeds rolled across the road, coming to a stop at a fence or continuing on into the open fields.
How lovely they were, I thought--nothing new or special to those who lived there, I'm sure, but fascinating to me.
I love these Moleskin brand books! Great for sketching.
The Oregon Trail
Would you like to learn more about the Oregon Trail? Hundreds of wagon trains followed each other as they ventured across the country, their wheels cementing a groove into the ground that still exists today. The people traveling in these wagons must have been very brave and adventurous or, perhaps, desperate. They traveled so far through terrain which was, at times, treacherous. It was humbling to see those ruts in the ground, worn in by the passing of so many.
Here is some information on what is called "The Oregon Trail".
- Oregon Trail
Â Learn more about where the wagon trains traveled. Â Â Â
- Pathways of Pioneers: Idaho's Oregon Trail Legacy (Idaho Public Television)
Here are some details about Oregon Trail sites in Idaho.
Another On-the-Road Sketch
Keeping in Touch Along the Way
My father, my fiancé and my friends were worried about me traveling by myself. My trip was made in the days before iPhones, iPads and Facebook.To help them feel more secure about my travels--and for fun, too--every day I would "check in" using the message function on my landline voicemail. I had kept my telephone account in Oregon just for this purpose. (I think that, perhaps, the term landline may not have been even used back then, though it wasn't long ago!) Each morning I called in and announced my leaving time and intentions for the day and each night I recorded my overnight stopping location along with a bit of news from the day. In turn, people would leave me messages. It was a great way to stay in touch.
I had actually rented a cell phone to have with me in case of emergencies, but I never used it. I kept it in the big box it had come in. Cell phones were an unusual thing to have with you at that time. We have so much more available to us now in order to stay in touch. It wasn't that long ago that I made this trip, but the changes are tremendous. I'll bet most of you can't imagine being without your cell phone, texting, Facebook, interactive map functions and the ability to surf the web for info. In that respect, I was MUCH more isolated and I'm thinking that was probably a good thing. It helped me to stay more aware of and connected to the places where I was stopping or passing through.
Have You Ever Driven Across the USA?
Have you ever driven across the USA from coast to coast?
Staying in Cheap Hotels
There are some drawbacks!
I did try to save money by finding little motels to stay in along the way. I would drive until I felt I needed to stop and then start looking for a place. Some of those I chose were lovely places, like two charming bed & breakfast homes I stayed in in Indiana and in New York state. Others, however, turned out to be a bit less than acceptable.
Now, many of us have access to all kinds of information to help us make decisions as we travel along. We use smart phones, iPads and GPS devices, but none of these were available to me in 1999. It would have been very useful to me back then.
For my first night on the road, I stayed in a tiny motel on the outskirts of a small town in Idaho and awoke before dawn to the sound of long and loud screams a few doors down. It turned out to have been a domestic dispute. Then, while driving through rows and rows of corn fields in the midwest, I settled on another small motel. Unfortunately it turned out to be used mostly by people during hunting season and the mattresses on the already uncomfortable beds were sealed in very noisy plastic. I didn't sleep well that night.
Where to Eat
Mmmmmmmm...Trout in Idaho
I found that the "big rig" truck drivers usually know about all the good places to eat along the road. Aaahhh...take the wonderful fresh, fried trout at a rural restaurant in Idaho and the homemade pie to go with it. Indeed, that restaurant was full of truckers.
An Old Friend
Stopping for a visit along the way
It's great to have someone familiar to stop and visit when you are on a journey by yourself. I took a break in Utah to see a former college roommate and, though it had been more than 20 years since we had last seen each other, it seemed like no time had passed. I stayed for 2 nights and it felt like a gift.
My Favorite Place - Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
My friend in Utah steered me toward Arches National Park as my next stopping point. She was so right to recommend it. When I drove into the park, I was so overwhelmed with it's beauty that I had to pull over and stop the car because I started to cry. It is that beautiful. I stayed 3 days and it was hard to leave.
Crossing the Rockies
Chugging along in my little car
I found out the hard way how challenging it is to drive a little packed, Toyota Tercel up the Rocky Mountains. Staying in the far right lane I chugged up the incline as if I was driving a riding lawn mower. It was the beginning of summer, so my car was a bit overheated when I reached the top, but I made it.
Take a Virtual Drive Through the Rocky Mountains - Behind the Wheel
This is not my video, but it gives you a driver's eye view of what it is like as you are driving through the Rocky Mountains. The poster's on-line name is rodedawg74. It's set to music and is a fun virtual ride.
Encouraged by someone who had reserved a hotel room for me along the way, I got onto a major highway. I needed to reach the hotel that night, or my friend would have to be charged for a room that I never used. If I made it that night, there would be no charge because the room was reserved with points he had earned in his travels. If I didn't make it, they would bill him for a cash payment as a penalty for holding the room.
As much as my friend had tried to be helpful, it turned out to be a horrible experience for me. After taking so much of my time to explore and enjoy the rural areas, in order to reach the hotel, I found myself needing to fight the fastest-moving, most congested traffic I'd ever seen. By the time I reached my destination and after almost causing a terrible accident, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. The hotel was kind enough to allow me to spend almost the entire next day in the room trying to recover. I learned a good lesson: it's much better to follow my own rhythm and time clock, not someone else's.