Lesson Learned from My USA Road Trip

2015 was a rough year for me. My dog died, my girlfriend left me, and I was stuck at a dead-end corporate job. As the chilly Kansas winter set in, one thing was clear: I needed some serious change in my life. After some soul searching I decided to move out of the flatlands, set off on a major USA road trip, and travel across the country in pursuit of my climbing dream until I could find the perfect place to call home. At the start of 2016 I was one of 53 million people who moved that year. Here’s what I learned on that journey from Topeka to Boise.

Check the Car Before you Leave

Check your car first. usa road trip
Check your car first. Flickr: Conrad Petzsch-Kunze / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Before this trip my car, a tough old Ford Focus, had seen me through plenty of USA road trips and pretty much every weather condition imaginable. My surprise was palpable, then, when only 200 miles out of Topeka my muffler came loose and rattled on the sketchy pavement for about 3 miles between me and the nearest town. In retrospect, I probably should’ve gone over a USA road trip checklist before leaving. Then I would’ve known to bring some wire with me to prop up my misbehaving muffler and I could’ve avoided the nasty look from my reluctant mechanic.

The Scenic Route is Beautiful Until it Ain’t

Scenic route. Flickr: Nicolas Raymond / CC BY 2.0
Scenic route. Flickr: Nicolas Raymond / CC BY 2.0

When I got to Colorado I had the choice of cutting up through Wyoming and staying on the high-speed interstate the whole way or sticking to the allegedly scenic mountain highways and roads of the Rockies. At the time my choice seemed obvious. The Rockies are, after all, legendary for their beauty and majesty and I considered myself lucky to get to see all that. In fact, I’d say I was and it’s a drive I’d make again.

road trip

That is to say, I’d make the scenic part of the drive again. What they don’t tell you about scenic routes is that once you’re past the main event, they’re not so great. After the Rockies came miles and miles of uneventful western Colorado Desert and boy is that boring. By all means, take the scenic route, but know what you’re getting yourself into.

On a USA Road Trip Fast Food is Your Friend

Burger for the road. road trip
Burger for the road. Flickr: ulterior epicure / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Before my USA road trip I hardly ate any fast food. Even today it’s a very rare occasion that I go into a major fast food joint, but when I was on the road fast food became the only kind of food for me. It turns out that when you’ve been driving from dawn ‘till dusk with only a banana and some nuts for sustenance, a greasy burger or a crunchy taco starts to sound really, really good.

When you have zero energy left to start a fire, go to the store, find a hotel kitchen, or do whatever else you need to do to make your own food on the road, having someone take your cash from one hand and put a warm meal in the other is a religious experience. It’s crazy for me to say this, but I was never so happy that the fast food industry rebounded from the recession like it did.

Sometimes Silence is Golden

Silence on the road. road trip
Silence on the road. Flickr: Murat Livaneli / CC BY 2.0

Usually when I drive from one place to another locally I have some music playing in the car. Either a CD that I’ve put in or whatever is on the local radio. Well let me tell you, after a few days of nothing but driving you start to run out of music. The radio stations will either play the same old hits or pick up cheap tunes to fill the less popular hours and a reasonably sized CD collection will only take you so far. Eventually, it’s nice to just turn the sound off and leave yourself with nothing but the sound of rubber on road for a few hours.

Home is Where the Heart is

Boise, Idaho at sunset. USA Road trip
Boise, Idaho at sunset. Flickr: Jeffrey W. Spencer/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When I first arrived in Boise I knew that I’d found the right place to settle down and call home. The mountains, foreshadowed by rolling foothills, welcomed me with open arms. After everything I’d been through and the hundreds of miles I’d driven, I was ready to put the past behind me and look towards my future in Idaho.

About Nick Cesare

Nick is a writer and violist. After finding a penpal from Latvia he was struck with passion for the country and decided to study abroad there in 2010. You can reach Nick with questions or comments @cesare_nick.

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