Driving Cross-Country — Vicariously

As a roadgeek and a fan of road books and movies, I’ve long thought it would be cool to drive cross-country. So I waited with interest above and beyond the parental variety for the daily phone calls from my oldest son as he drove from our home in southeastern Pennsylvania across the country — nearly — to central Arizona where he is enrolling a few days from now as a college freshman.

His driving partner was his roommate-to-be. They arrived at their final destination last night after a week on the road.

Here is their route, covering 2,499 miles according to Google Maps, as near as I can tell from my son’s reports:

Their vehicle was my son’s 22-year old diesel sedan, packed to the gills, with 304,000+ miles on the odometer — that is, at the start of the trip. There were, as one would expect, concerns about the reliability of the car, but thankfully it didn’t give them any major trouble.

No major trouble, that is, except for the air conditioning, which gave out on the second day. That the A/C was leaking refrigerant was known before the trip. We didn’t expect it to last the whole trip. He charged it a few days before the trip, at my urging, with the hope and expectation it would last most of the trip. The eventual disappointment on that score made the trip much more of an endurance test — in my mind at least.

I give them a lot of credit. I say I think it would be cool to drive cross-country, but given that I need an extra half-hour in the sack for each hour I’ve driven during the day, I doubt I would be physically up to the challenge — or would have been at his age, even with the driving responsibilities shared. And when you factor in the lack of A/C for most of the trip — well, you can pretty much forget that. Ah, youth — I remind myself that I didn’t own a car with A/C until I was in my early 30s.

My son and his friend are deserving of additional praise — and hearty thanks — for minimizing their lodging expenses. Their total for seven nights on the road was a cool $87! Night by night, here’s how they did it:

  1. Pittsburgh, PA, free in the home of a friend
  2. Bloomington, IN, free in the home of (now ex-)strangers, found through CouchSurfing.org.
  3. Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area, Carlyle, IL, camping, $20 campsite fee
  4. Kansas City, MO, free, couch-surfing
  5. Wichita, KS, free, couch-surfing
  6. Albuquerque, NM, motel, $67
  7. (backtracking) Santa Fe, NM, free with relatives

They made time to do some sightseeing in St. Louis, MO (day 4), Lawrence, KS (day 5), Albuquerque (day 7), and Santa Fe (day 7).

My son wanted to make the most of the opportunity to see roadside Americana, so they strayed quite a bit from monotonous interstate highways. Zoom in on the map above and you’ll see they went on US-50 in Indiana and Illinois on day 3 and US-54 in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico on day 6, the latter representing a pretty nice shortcut, mileage-wise.

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4 comments so far

  1. Renee on

    So glad to have that detailed info-and very glad they arrived.Spokew to Paul who had all nice things to say

  2. Sam on

    We also took ol’ US-22 from Pittsburgh through WV and into Ohio where we almost ran out of gas shortly before the interstate. This stretch was a highlight of the off-instate adventures.

  3. Sam on

    Notable as well were a stop in Gallup, New Mexico and the very final leg into Prescott, which was not via I-17 but AZ-89A, switchbacked through Sedona and up and down Mingus Mtn.

  4. QC on

    @Sam:
    Thanks for elaborating. Looks like I gave a condensed version of your route. I do now remember you saying you almost ran out of gas.


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