Driving cross-country

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 20, 2011, 2:14 PM | comments: 0

I was thinking today about my cross-country drive a few weeks ago, and realized that I never really captured my feelings on the event. Driving down 2,400 miles of I-90 (well, mostly I-90), alone, with four cats, sounds like it might be a real drag. The truth is, it wasn't bad, and my take-away is that everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime.

The alone dynamic is something I have mixed feelings about. That's a long time to have your thoughts to yourself. On the other hand, it's also a pretty unique opportunity to reflect, take stock and think about your future. If it's just you, you can devote the time to you! On the flip side, it would be nice to take a slower pace and enjoy the trip with another person. If you're on a schedule with someone, it's less fun. Diana and I did it in the other direction, and it was stressful, in part because she was so uncomfortable much of the time, being pregnant and all, and partly because the weather was scary through the Rockies and Cascades. Only our stop at Mt. Rushmore demonstrated how fun the trip could have been.

The route matters as well. Almost any way you go, "the middle" is going to suck. That's just geography. Get ready for around five hundred miles of flat, straight, blah. The fields of wind turbines are interesting for the first few hundred you see, but after that, you get tired of fighting the wind and seeing corn stalks blow across the road.

Those western parts of the drive are pretty amazing though. South Dakota, from Rapid City to points west, is kind of neat, particularly with Mt. Rushmore. Wyoming has an almost alien looking landscape, reminding me of photos from Mars. Montana is easily the best kept secret in driving trips in the US. It's absolutely gorgeous. Clearly a side trip to Yellowstone would be in order if there was time. The best part of I-90 is between Spokane and Bozeman, MT. Second best is between Seattle and the Columbia River in Washington.

I was surprised how little I was fatigued in any particular day. The first day in particular, with stops, clocked in around 13 hours, and you "lose" an hour because of the time change. I didn't realize I was tired until I sat down in the hotel room. The GPS keeps your expectations in check, because it shows you the expected time. Obviously I didn't need it, since almost the entire drive was I-90, but it really helped me. I really dreaded it, but during the drive, I actually kind of enjoyed it.

The biggest struggle, which was the same the other way, was the lack of good restaurants. There is seemingly a Dairy Queen franchise every exit, but that's it. Not even local places, just fast food. Missoula and Rapid City seem to at least have the big national franchises, but otherwise, it's so much crap. I tried to at least stick to Wendy's, which is the most tolerable among fast food options. I also did a Buffalo Wild Wings in Rapid City, just out of sheer desire, since there are no locations in Seattle.

Before doing it, I would have never considered a driving trip out west. Now, when Simon's old enough, I'm leaning toward it. Maybe not starting from the east, but at least flying to some point out west and renting a car. You just can't see that part of the country any other way. Highly recommended.


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