I’ve been in Oregon for almost two weeks now, and between seeing the sights, meeting a LOT of people, and spending as much quality time with Lisa as I can (and a job interview!) I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and write about the trip itself.
The first thing I will say about the trip is this should NOT have been a four day drive. I seriously underestimated some of the times and distances and several of my “12 hour” days turned into 14 hour or longer days. This should have been a 5 or even 6 day drive. Yes, I made it safely and in one piece, but it was a very stressful trip when it didn’t need to be. I don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon! Next time I go back to North Carolina will be by plane!
I knew the trip would be an adventure, but I started out with a little more adventure than I really planned on. I had two more boxes of books that I needed to mail before hitting the road. I used Media mail rates to ship most of my books to make room for other things in the car. One of my boxes they refused to mail because it was in an old liquor box which is what the books had been packed in. My first thought was to use tape to cover the logos, but you could still see them even through duct tape, so I had to find a box at KMart to repack the books so I could mail them. Then I had to go back to the apartment to get the last few things (the items for the front seat now that the boxes were gone) and pack them into the car. As I was putting them into the car I realized to my dismay that it wasn’t all going to fit. I pulled a bag out of the trunk, pulled things out and stuck them into little pockets of empty space and then threw away a few things that could be easily replaced and made room for my overnight bag in the trunk instead of the front seat. Now I was finally ready to hit the road.
I left North Carolina at about 10:30 AM on Tuesday May 28th.
The first day’s drive was an easy one and I had planned it that way since I wasn’t expecting to leave until about midday on Tuesday. The first day I was stopping in Nashville Tennessee, about a 7 hour drive from Winston Salem, all of it (until I got into town) on 40 westbound. I got on the road and started heading west. Because of how my car was packed I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try to navigate through narrow city streets so I decided to forgo my attempt to get into downtown Nashville. I also happened to hit the city right at 5:30 local time in the middle of gridlock rush hour. I was stopped for a good little bit and then crawling at 5MPH and by that point I just wanted to get off the road and get to my hotel. Thankfully, my hotel was the first exit after I got off of 40 and onto I-24 that would take me North towards Missouri. My hotel was on a access road that paralleled the interstate, but I missed my turn and stayed on the road that the exit was for and as I looked for a spot to turn around I happened to pull into the parking lot of a BBQ joint. Well, I think I had just found dinner!
Jack’s had “Tennessee Style” pulled pork, which is what I got, as well as beef brisket, which I also like. They had several sauces to choose from. The first one I tried was a Texas style sauce, which had some sweetness but was very spicy and the second one was a Kansas City style sweet sauce that I liked and so I went with that one. Mac and cheese and baked apples as sides and a decently good cup of sweet tea and it was a great dinner. Settled into the hotel and relaxed, which at that point was exactly what I needed.
If I remember correctly, I think I set my alarm for 7AM local time (8AM EST), but I ended up waking up early, I think around 6:30, so after a light breakfast of a muffin and coffee at the hotel I think I was actually hitting the road about 7. From Nashville I headed North on 24(West) until I got into Kentucky and passed through the western part of that state and into Illinois. Around Paducah, Ill I took 57 west to about Mount Vernon, Ill.
How’s this for old school? This was at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Illinois and I had to drive several miles off the interstate to get to it. I had stopped one exit earlier which said it had a “normal” gas station which ended up being closed. I could tell by my mileage (and that it took 12.8 gallons to fill me up) I was running on fumes at this point. I was seriously afraid of running out of gas but along that stretch of highway there was NOWHERE to stop.
At this point I got onto 64 West and headed towards St Louis. I had left early and was making good time, and I had some fun things planned in St Louis so I decided this time I was going to stop and see things. I got into St Louis and had no problems finding Market Street (where the Hard Rock was supposed to be, it’s actually two blocks off Market but has a Market Street address because of the mall it’s attached to) and then I turned off to look for parking, and started to go into a lot that turned out to not be public parking and then I promptly got lost. I finally found parking off of 6th street which was fairly close to the Arch, but I wanted to eat first, so after calling Lisa to help me with directions I set off in the direction of the Hard Rock, which was on Market (supposedly) between 18th and 19th street. That doesn’t sound like that far, but oh it was (Lisa mapped it at about a mile) and it was HOT in St Louis, upper 80′s or low 90′s and bright sun. But that meant great pictures, like this one.
So, I finally asked someone on the street who was able to point me in the direction of the Hard Rock and I finally found it. I’m happy to say it was totally worth the effort, I got one of their “Legendary” burgers, which had bacon, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce and grilled onions on it and it was amazing. I also had a free birthday dessert coupon from the rewards club and it was a brownie with ice cream that was also pretty amazing. At this point I either needed a long walk, or a nap. Turns out a long walk was in order to get back down to the arch. I made it to the Arch and paid my 10$ and took the elevator up to the top. Warning if you haven’t ever been, the little elevator cars that take you to the top are very SMALL. They have 5 seats in them, but the way they are arranged only three adults max could get in one since the other two spots would not have room for their legs. I honestly didn’t stay at the top very long, maybe 10 minutes, but it’s such an amazing view and such a unique experience I’m very glad I did it.
Here is a view of downtown and Busch Stadium from the top.
This is the view looking straight down from the Arch. Surprisingly looking up at it from the bottom made me more dizzy and unsteady than looking down at the ground from the top.
Having killed about 4 hours in St Louis it was time to hit the road again, I had a long way still to go to the second stop in Lincoln, Nebraska. I headed out on I-70 towards Kansas City and motored along. Unfortunately this is where things start to get a little crazy. Eastern Nebraska including Lincoln was experiencing some bad thunderstorms including tornadoes. Lisa was very worried, although I was still 8 hours away and the weather where I was was fine, so I was trying not to get to worried about it. Since I wasn’t stopping to eat in KC I took the I435 loop around KC until I got onto I-29 North. At this point I thought I only had a short drive until I got into Nebraska. Boy was I wrong. I still had several more hours of Missouri to go, and it was starting to get dark and was beginning to show flashes lightning off in the distance. Also, I hadn’t looked at the map and instead of counting down, the exits were counting up and so I really had no earthly idea how much further I had to go which was a bit of an unsettling feeling.
I stopped at a rest stop and noticed the highway I was looking for (State Route 2) actually didn’t cross I29N until I got into Iowa. I wasn’t expecting to go into Iowa so this was a little bit of a shocking discovery. By this time it was starting to rain. As usual when you are passing through an area rather than sitting still, the rain doesn’t last long, but it would be really heavy before it went away, and then 20 minutes later, pass through another area of downpour, as I made my way through the bands of the storm. I stopped at a gas station in Iowa once I got on Hwy 2 to get a drink and I asked the lady behind the counter how far away I was from Lincoln Nebraska. She said it was about 45-50 miles. I sighed in relief and said “Oh thank God, I thought I’d never get out of Missouri” and she said, “Oh? The Black Hole?” Seriously… No kidding. It took me at least 8 hours to drive through Missouri. Later I realized I had driven the entire width of the state East to West, and then also most of the distance across the state North to South.
Not to be outdone but the rest of the day, getting to my hotel once I got into Lincoln was also an adventure. Hwy 2 would join Interstate 80, which is how I would be going out the next day, so my hotel was right on the interstate, but when I got to the exit I had two choices, I80 East or I80 West. I had written I80E on my directions, but based on a map I had looked at I thought I needed to go West, so I took I80W. First thing I noticed was I had written down exit 199 for where my hotel was, but the exit numbers were in the 300′s. The first one was 397 and then they went down from there. I called Lisa and she was trying to help me, but I had a bad signal and it kept dropping the call. I figured I probably wrote it down wrong and needed exit 399 instead of 199, but I was going the wrong way. By the time I figured this out I had passed the last exit out of town and I had to go another 12 miles before I found an exit to turn off and turn around at. So here I am in the pouring rain, at midnight trying to find my hotel somewhere in Lincoln Nebraska. Not that I could have after the day I had, but while I was driving down 80 west I had the fleeting thought of “Well, hell, at this point I might as well keep going”. I finally got turned around and got back into town and of course, much to my chagrin, the Hwy 2 interchange was exit 398 and my exit at the hotel was the very next exit. Would have saved about a half hour if I had gone the right way. After leaving Nashville TN at about 6:30AM, I arrived at my hotel in Lincoln right at Midnight. An 18 hour day. Yes, that included 3.5-4 hours in St Louis, but still that was 14 hours of “seat time” which was more than I had estimated. I had thought the third day of driving would be the worst, but hopefully it couldn’t be any worse than this.
Since I had gotten in so late, I let myself sleep until 8AM (which I still woke up a little bit early) and so I didn’t hit the road until about 8:30. The weather had cleared out and it was a nice day, but sadly there wasn’t much to look at. There’s not a whole lot going on in Nebraska to be brutally honest.
I had to drive for a while, but I found the middle of nowhere.
I did stop at a pretty good place for lunch in North Platte Nebraska, I can’t remember the name of it, but it was a BBQ type place that also did steaks and burgers etc. I got a baked potato that had beef brisket on it. It was really good, and although it was small it was really filling. Quite tasty. The best news about Nebraska was that I got 410 miles on one of my tanks of gas because it was so flat and straight. A couple hours after lunch I got into Wyoming, and I was starting to get into some hills just a little bit but not mountains quite yet. I was planning on stopping in Cheyenne, but I was doing good on gas and also not hungry so I kept going along a little bit further into Laramie before I stopped for dinner and gas. At this point I was about to get into the Rockies and wanted to make sure I was good to go.
This is the point I wish I could have taken pictures while I was driving. The Eastern Wyoming landscape is just amazing. There are no trees (it may technically be High Desert but I’m not sure) and the hills and mountains just look like random piles of rock strewn about. It really reminded me of Radiator Springs from the movie Cars, I even saw a rock that almost looked like a hood ornament. The other thing was, the Rockies at that point don’t seem so high, but when you’re already at 8000 feet elevation, that’s deceiving. I could see snowcapped mountains both to the South (in Colorado) and to the North (Possibly in Montana, or northern Wyoming) but that one spot was a pretty straight shot through the mountains without getting to curvy or high up. I imagine that’s why they put a wagon trail through there 200 years ago. Makes sense.
At this point it was getting dark, and I knew I was going to have to stop for gas soon, and I was passing through the town of Rock Springs, which really did make me thing I was driving through Cars Land. Just this little town dwarfed by these huge rock formations. I kept looking for a Shell station since I had gift cards but didn’t see anything, and then as I got back out of town I was thinking, well I hope I can make it to a gas station. I knew I was getting close. I had seen signs for a huge truck stop that was about 30 miles away, and I figured I could make it there. My “get gas” light turned on about 15 miles away from the exit I needed, and in my head, I know I had plenty of time to get to the place, but it was a little nerve wracking since I knew I was going to be coasting in on fumes again. I stopped and got gas and also a cup of coffee since I still had a couple more hours of driving to do. I was about an hour away from the Utah border and then had about another hour until I got to Ogden where my next hotel stop was. It was dark now so no more sight seeing, just driving.
The roads getting into Ogden were very hilly and curvy and yet had a very high speed limit (65MPH) which made me very uncomfortable. If I was a local who lived there, or if it had been daylight it might not have been that bad, but as it was in the dark after another long day of driving it was extremely tense for the last hour or so. I finally got into Ogden and had a little bit of a mini adventure as the exit numbers were not even remotely close to what I was looking for. But in this case it turned out to be because another highway joining in and then the numbers changed. This hotel was much easier to find and I got settled in for the night. I checked into my hotel in Ogden at 11PM local time. My watch was still on Eastern and my cell phone was updating automatically, but at this point I really didn’t have a clue what time it actually was, and I wasn’t even sure what day of the week it was anymore, I just knew I had one more day of driving.
Good morning from Ogden Utah.
Finally, the last day of the trip. The day I get to Oregon. I was ready to hit the road, but also by this point I was so done with driving. Each of the days weren’t too bad until late into the night when it was dark and I was tired, but this day I was only about two hours down the road and I was mentally done. I was just ready to be done driving. There wasn’t really anything exciting about this day, but Utah and Idaho were fairly scenic up in the mountains. I stopped for lunch in Boise Idaho at a place called McGrath’s Fish house (a chain that is here in Portland as well) and got Rainbow trout for the first time (it was really good!). It said it was “from Idaho” so I figured why not give it a try? I’m glad I did, it was very good. At this point I was about an hour away from the Oregon border. I still had a long way to go, but at least at that point I would know I was almost there.
I made it!
I had finally made it to Oregon. I had about 6 more hours to go before I got to Portland, but at least I was in the right state. Lisa had asked me to pay attention to what I thought about Eastern Oregon so I could compare it to Western Oregon and I have to say, Eastern Oregon really threw me for a loop. It was like driving through a topographical map. The hills and mountains were grass covered but had NO trees. You could see every dip and crease and crevice in the hills and it was like driving along the surface of a 3D globe where the surface was 2D but it had “depth”. It was pretty surreal.
This is what they mostly looked like, many of them with even less trees than this one has. It was kinda crazy. After I passed through the Cascade mountains the scenery changed to more of what you expect of the Pacific Northwest with very tall evergreen trees (Mostly different types of Fir trees as opposed to the Pine trees back home). At this point I was following the Columbia river right along the Oregon/Washington state line as I made my way into Portland.
At about 7PM Local time (which my body still thought was 10PM) I finally made it to Portland!!!!
This is what it’s all about! Finally get to be here with Lisa. I’m glad I finally made it.
So, all told I drove about 2800 miles, starting at 10:30 AM on Tuesday and finishing at 10PM (eastern time) on Friday for a good 84 hours of travel (about 42 of which was “seat time” in the car). I passed through 11 states along the way counting North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon (and made it to Washington State my second day here to visit Lisa’s family).
This is my state’s visited map from before the trip – 16 states (and DC), although I feel like I’m missing a couple from here.
And this is my states visited map from after the drive (including Washington from Day 2), 26 states (plus DC). I’ve now visited half the country! You can see where I cut a swath through the middle of the country. I’ve got the Eastern seaboard from Pennsylvania – South and most of the Southeast taken care of. The Northeast is still unexplored (I’ve been to Mass. for a job interview and NYC for an airport layover, but those don’t count). Somehow in all of my adventures in the midwest, Indiana got missed but I’ve been everywhere around it. I’ve got the entire West coast covered now, but I know me and Lisa are planning a trip to Seattle at some point, and also eventually a trip to Disneyland, so Washington and California will be repeats I’m looking forward to!
And that my friends, is how you drive across the country in 4 days.. although I don’t recommend it.
(Totally worth it though!!)