I have driven across the country four times now. Once with my mom to drive my Ford F-150 from school in North Carolina back home to CA. We went along highway 40 which follows the same route (in parts) as the famous Route 66. Later that summer my cousin and I drove back to school taking the southern route on Highway 10. Once college was over I made what I thought would be my last trip across the country. My friend and I opted to take the northern route going through Chicago on highway 80. We were in a rush to get to the Bay Area for Warp Tour so we did the whole trip in three days. All of these trips were unique experiences full of Texas cops, dilapidated buildings that resembled the building in House of Wax and driving through mini tornados in Oklahoma, but on none of them did I stop to take in any amazing US landmarks. When Rob and I were planning our big move back east I suggested we drive ourselves and our stuff. Rob had never been on a cross country trip and we both had a list of places we wanted to see. I took that list and plotted out our journey.
The biggest differences between these trips and the last three were that (a) I planned out our route using the website Roadtrippers instead of on napkins and toilet paper, and (b) we didn’t follow one particular highway or route. We travelled from San Francisco -- Los Angeles -- Grand Canyon/Antelope Canyon -- Monument Valley -- Santa Fe/Albuquerque -- Boulder, CO -- Mount Rushmore/Badlands -- somewhere in Wisconsin -- Chicago -- Mebane/Raleigh, NC -- Washington DC/Baltimore -- Philadelphia -- New York City.
Our favorite stops were Boulder, CO (mine) and The Badlands (his) but the stop we both equally loved was The Grand Canyon. This was the biggest US landmark on our list that neither of us had ever been to. We arrived just before sunset and casually walked around the rim. I struggle to describe how magnificent the Grand Canyon is. Vast is all that comes to mind, but even that doesn’t do it justice.
We spent one night in a regular car camping site, and prepared to hike down part way into the canyon the next day. We hiked the Bright Angel Trail which is the most common trail hikers use to go to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. The full length of the trail is 9.9 miles (one way). We went about half way down to the Indian Garden Campgrounds--only 4.9 miles. It was perfect for our first trip down. We were deep enough to get a new perspective of the canyon by looking up, but we didn’t overextend ourselves by going all the way to the bottom. The Indian Garden campsites were surprisingly lush and green for being in the middle of a desert. We felt like we were in Thailand again. We watched the sunset and then the sunrise create beautiful golden light on the walls of the canyon. Because the canyon gets so hot in the middle of the day, we began the journey back up at sun rise. The climb out is pretty intense because it is almost exclusively uphill. There are bathrooms and rest stops at the mile-and-a-half and three mile markers which made for a great way to break up the walk back up. We plan to go back someday and hike that same trail all the way to the bottom. Maybe we’ll even convince a few of our friends to come with us!
I wish I could report some crazy story that happened to us, but nothing really out of the ordinary happened. We did hit some gnarly weather driving through Iowa. The rain was so thick you couldn’t see even 10 feet in front of you. I had to pull off the highway several times to wait it out.
We made a delicious ramen in the parking lot of a Walmart, paid less than $2/gallon for gas in Virginia and saw various filming locations for Breaking Bad, The Wire, Bull Durham, and North by Northwest. We listened to books 1- 3 and most of book 4 of the Harry Potter series. We had many discussions about our future, saw a lot of friends and family and even got a few workouts in. It was a successful trip, but we know we will be doing another one at some point. There is still so much of this country to see and I won’t stop until we have seen it all.