In lieu of international travel plans this year, I decided I’d embark on a long coast to coast road trip. From Los Angeles I ventured north towards Seattle, then cut across through the northern states, a (terribly short) jaunt into Toronto, onwards to the most eastern point of the United States in Maine, and then down to New York. Eighteen days and 6000 miles later, I was stuck in traffic on the BQE heading into Brooklyn. I met the open road every day, traversing veins that connected towns to smaller towns to smallest towns. I dined on all manner of diner food. I avoided state highway patrols. I was subject to solitude, soul searching, and summer love. Most of all, I became witness to the great American expanse.
I’d been planning the trip for a monthish before my August departure: intent on avoiding major cities, I planned out most of the drive based on a daily mileage cap and an affinity for smaller highways. I tried to avoid interstates as much as possible. With a low of 258 miles to a high of 474 miles per day, I had planned a flexible 20 day itinerary – breaks included when I would be seeing friends or family, but otherwise most destinations were for the night.
The main draw to driving across the country was to stop frequently and take pictures, but I realized I also had/have/will continue to have a strong desire to see small towns. Areas of America that avoided growth and sprawl, and not even out of choice but out of geographical position. Coming from Los Angeles, which you really can’t even call a city, I’m so used to a large and disjointed sense of community, where many smaller cities are jutted up shoulder to shoulder jockeying for importance, self worth, bragging rights for the coveted ‘best’. The thought of a small town being so singular and isolated, with no desire to be ‘best’ at anything except existing has such a purity and innocence that I can’t help but romanticize the notion. I wanted to see what I thought was so beautiful and out of reach. Even the towns that I breezed through I could get a sense of their lives and aspirations based on the commercial flora and fauna. Along PCH they were surf shops, motels, campsites. In North Dakota they were used truck lots, farmland, agriculture industries. In Minnesota they were boat sales and tackle shops. They were slices of life that were so distinct to the location yet still American.
I learned a lot about myself as well. I rented a car, the cheapest I could find(which mind you was still not cheap – a rental is fucking expensive), and with the price I sacrificed cruise control. I definitely learned how much I can stretch myself driving, alternating my feet on the gas when I was getting too tired. I figured out the least amount of sleep I can get per night to still be able to drive about ten hours per day(the answer: five). I also learned that my lack of sleep, while not affecting my desire to drive, did affect my immune system. I also learned, begrudgingly, that I can get sick of burgers.
Every day of my trip was basically driving, so much so that it felt like a job, and the distance I was gradually covering never really sinked in. Even when I finally arrived in New York, I was still incredulous to the fact that I’d just driven a distance that would cover the US almost back and forth – my trip was only one way, and I flew back out of NY a weekish later after I arrived. I’d told myself that I wouldn’t have the motivation to drive back once I arrived, but to be honest, I probably could have just driven back at the same pace to see more. I was only ending there because I’d been away for some time, and was feeling quite homesick near the end. However I most likely will be doing the trip again, going through the central belt and then returning through the south.
My favorite state: Maine. My least favorite state: Minnesota. The BEST STATE: California. o b v.
I encourage everyone that lives in the states to drive it. You’ll see vignettes of life you’ll never see from the comfort of your airplane’s window seat, from the walls of large metropolitan areas. You’ll meet random people and end up with great stories. Even a drive will seem fleeting; America is just too vast, and that’s perhaps the most exciting part: the journey will never end.