The Great American Road Trip

by Britta on 18 August 2013

in Across the USA,The Great American Road Trip

At Nevada Falls in Yosemite NP

At Nevada Falls in Yosemite NP

Nearly 20,000 miles has taken us from Alaska to Maine to California, and through a fair bit of Canada. We’ve dipped our toes in the Atlantic and in the Pacific, but we’ve spent most of our time in the mountains and around the lakes and streams both near and far from the coasts. We’ve been through 27 states and 4 provinces, 16 national parks, several state parks and a dozen national forests. We’ve hiked along flowing rivers and dry lakes, in the pouring rain and the desert heat, along razor-edged ridges and through broad open valleys. We’ve slept everywhere from 4-star luxury hotels to dingy roadside motels to the guest rooms and couches of gracious friends and family, and we’ve pitched the tent in some of the most beautiful and wild places in the country. If you can drive to it, we have been/are going there.

The Equipment

The Trusty Subaru

The Trusty Subaru

A 2009 Subaru Forester with a Yakima rocket box on top. The rocket box holds our camping gear and extra fuel, and things that get too dirty or smelly to keep inside the car. The car holds everything else, our backpacks, cooler, electronics including phones and a car USB charger (indispensable!), an extra blanket and of course, the spare tire. It’s a comfortable ride, gets decent gas mileage and it’s got enough room to hold all of our stuff without feeling cramped (most of the time). We haven’t had to sleep in the car yet—so far we’ve always been able to find a place to pitch the tent, or a roadside motel that doesn’t look like it was the setting of a horror movie. However, there’s enough room in the back that it seems we would be able to put the seats down and spread out our Thermarests for a comfortable sleep, though that theory has not yet been tested. It’s been washed once, by Brian’s nephews, at about 5,000 miles, and it’s in dire need of a second washing (it may take a couple, to remove 15,000 miles of accumulated dirt and funk).

The Passengers

Brian usually drives. He likes driving, and also he’s a terrible backseat driver when I’m driving. He has started thinking of the driver’s side as “his side”, and the passenger side as mine. If I want to drive, I have to beat him to the driver’s seat. I’ve driven so little on this road trip that I feel I need to drive every once in a while just to stay in practice. We’ve got our roles down pretty well, though. Brian drives, I shoot photos out the window, and Siri navigates (though she doesn’t always pick the most scenic or most pleasant route—we have a road map just in case).

The Route

In Acadia National Park

Acadia NP, the Road Trip's Easternmost Point

It was over 3,000 miles just to get to the Lower 48 from Alaska. We hit 10,000 in Maine. We’re in California now and we’re nearing 20,000. Our route has taken us through 12 state capitals and 3 provincial capitals, we’ve visited some of the major cities in North America, including Chicago, Toronto, St. Louis, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles, and we’ve played in some of the well-known and incredible wilderness areas on the continent, including Banff & Jasper, Yellowstone & Grand Teton, Mt. Hood, the Sierras and Acadia.

Starfish in Olympic National Park

Olympic NP, the Trip's Westernmost Point (not including Alaska)

We haven’t exactly been driving the country in an efficient manner—we’ve backtracked a few times (we hit a few places twice), driven out of our way on others (Chicago to Portland in a couple days to see my nephews), stopped and gawked at landmarks only a few miles apart (we stopped every 2 minutes to take pictures in Jasper and Yellowstone) and missed others entirely (World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas, anyone?). We’ve stopped to visit family and friends—in Canton, Ohio; Hannibal, Missouri; Chicago; Colorado Springs; Portland, Oregon; and Lake Tahoe and Victorville, California, not necessarily in that order—who were all happy (or so they said) to put us up, for a couple nights or a couple weeks, and we’ve met up with long lost relatives and run into random acquaintances in unexpected places, like the day we ran into a friend of my dad’s in a Yosemite campground.

The Stickers

Destination Stickers

Destination Stickers (more on the other side!)

We’re collecting stickers from each place we stop, or at least we’re trying. We’ve forgotten to look for stickers in a few important places, and we’ve lost a few stickers that we did buy. We’re sticking them on the rocket box, and we get sticker envy whenever we see another box or car with more stickers than ours. We currently have 30 stickers on the rocket box, and have lost about 10 more, including Mesa Verde NP, Gettysburg, Goonies/Astoria, Niagara Falls, and Columbia River Gorge. We have two from Banff and two from Yosemite, we have a sticker from my college, and we have a Girdwood Forest Fair sticker, given to us by a friend in Lake Tahoe. My favorite stickers are the white-on-black hiking icon we got in Acadia—that’s on the very back of the rocket box—and the one with the Banff National Park initials—which happen to be my initials, too.

When we were in Yosemite, tucked into our tent, some late arrivals claimed the campsite across from ours and while they were setting up camp, they marveled at our Alaska license plates and then at all of the stickers on the rocket box. We felt a moment of sticker pride.

Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake

Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake

We’ve been on the road since May 1; that’s three and a half months of constant traveling–of driving, camping, hiking, looking for parking, beating the ETA on the GPS, doing laundry in the bathtub, arguing over what music to listen to, and simply deciding where to go next. Whenever we tell people we drove all the way from Alaska, they always remark, “Wow, and you still like each other?!” And it’s true, we do still like each other. It hasn’t all been rainbows and unicorns (see, Great Smoky Mountains), but we’re still happy to be together, still looking forward to our next destination. Our biggest problem is the same as it has been since we began: Where should we go next?

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