It didn't matter whether the destination was a new home in California, a family reunion in New York or a Fourth of July bash after 68 days on the road, the worst part of those three cross-country road trips—as well as 15 other across-the-USA adventures—was always the same: the end of the road. Sure, it was nice to stop for a few days, but then, I was ready to roll again somewhere, anywhere. Reaching the Atlantic or the Pacific was never the reason to stop: time, money or work was always the culprit.
My first crossing, now 45 years in the rear view mirror, conjures up visions of smoke stacks (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Gary, Indiana), buffalo (the Black Hills of South Dakota and Yellowstone) and stretching my legs as far as possible under the car seat to “get to each new state before my brother.”
My most recent Atlantic-Pacific journey started as a Washington, DC to Washington State move, but pleasantly morphed into a 17-day, 6,834-mile trek as a Miles/Brand USA national sales meeting and some territory jiggering added some pleasantly unexpected detours to Florida, Oklahoma, Nevada and Colorado. Instead of a wavy line from one Washington to the other, this trip joyfully resembled a mountain trail with a series of switchbacks.
In between my first and eighteenth ocean-to-ocean journeys there have been USA crossings with and without a purpose. They have varied from an insane three-day straight shot to a saunter lasting almost 10 weeks. Some routes dipped in Mexico, others poked into Canada. On all but that ridiculous 76-hour dash from Savannah to LA in 2010, we worked hard to avoid interstates, restaurants and hotels we knew by name and CDs, doing our best to enjoy local radio, even when there really were only country and western on the dial.
Most trips are a balance of planning and serendipity. We always let a few friends know we’ll be passing through and absolutely visit a few landmarks we've never seen before (or want to see again). But the wing-it part is still priceless, especially in today’s overly scheduled world.
Yes, on several occasions, our car has become our hotel. Sure, we've mismanaged our caffeine intake and driven much further than planned. And oh yeah, we have had the “Wally World is closed” experience. Still, I prefer to let the novelty overwhelm the inconvenient.
No matter who I have the pleasure of crossing the country with—my wife, mom, dad and bro, friends—one game from childhood always prevails: the license plate count. We reached 45 on the last trip, and also saw Guam, seven Canadian provinces and two Mexican states. Also, on the 18 cross-country trips, I am happy to report no tickets, no accidents, no break-ins and a grand total of two flats (both way back in the 20th Century).
I've been looking at a map of the USA the whole time I've been writing this blog, and it’s driving me crazy sitting so still. So I've got to stop here and get packing and then go fill the tank. I need to go, somewhere, anywhere, now . . . more soon.