28 days || 5,800 miles || 15 states
This trip began as many vacation plans do… with an unwavering compulsion to get the fuck out of my house.
I texted the closest friend I knew in a different state that fit the criteria (1. was also as lonely as I was during this pandemic; 2. was equally as conscious as I was about our desire to risk the safety of their health to see a desperate friend; 3. was willing to spend more than 72 hours with me, who had not realllly spoken to humans in 100+ days.) That friend just happened to be one of the furthest pals from me in the contiguous United States, and that was one of my best pals, Stacia. Stacia had moved to LA right before the pandemic hit and her life had also been put on hold.
I mapped her house from mine. 30 hours, 2027 miles.
At this point in quarantine, I could barely make a grocery run without needing two days off from any form of mental exertion. So I waited for the right time.
Spoiler alert: that right time never came, but enough shit came that fired me up to get out of the city by any means necessary. So, I mapped it. Genuinely. With the plan that I was gonna take advantage of the fact that I have a tiny bit of savings saved for my Paris vacation that is inevitably not going to happen in October, and what better time to see the United States before it gets walls built up in all the animal preserves and we run out of Native land to destroy and need to start coming for the rest of the damned planet. (Please vote in your Federal and local elections.)
I have taken road trips on my own before. In college I drove Tampa to San Diego without internet or a fuckin’ clue and I learned a lot from that. Ideally I would plan for no more than 10 hours of daily driving, knowing I could do 12 if need be. I would pack only the essentials. Everything else becomes a burden. I would camp if I could, to save money. Though, I needed to remember I’d be traveling to various harsh microclimates and I can be a persnickity bitch sometimes, so better to budget for lodging just in case.
I told a few friends about my trip and one of my quarantine pod pals, Natalie perked up. She had scheduled time off of work for a previously planned vacation that was canceled in regards to the pandemic. Natalie admitted she had always wanted to take a trip like this but was never able to commit because being a young Black woman wanting to travel alone across the United States is fucking terrifying.
We planned a way for her to meet me, debating between rental cars and flights. She eventually found an affordable train ticket that would bring her to San Francisco right in the middle of my travels, which was perfect. This way, Stacia and I could drive up together, Stacia could rent a car to get back down to LA and Natalie and I could finish the rest of the trip together. Stacia then got a call from her brother who needed to move a car down from Washington and she would no longer have to rent a car. All of the things began to line up.
Another close friend of mine, Megan lives in Yuma, Arizona right on the Mexicali border. Naturally, I contacted her, since she was a short five hours from Stacia and had been following social distancing protocols safely since the start of the quarantine. We would spend a few days together and explore some natural parts of Arizona together that she hadn’t yet gotten to see in her time there.
A few resources I used and recommend to make travels breezy:
Roadtrippers App: maps your route with all the cool roadside attractions, natural wonders, etc. right on the route for efficient sightseeing. You can set your preferred distance to derail from the highway. The free version allows ten stops but I just made several maps and saved ’em.
Booking.com: If you called the hotels and asked about the booking.com rate, often times, if they had availability, they would offer you the same rate and the fees were less. We always had to call ahead because the variance on “pet fee” was insanely drastic, ranging from $10 to $75 and it’s important to ask.
I mapped my way the first 9 hours to Topeka, Kansas taking Route 66 for the stop alongs.
First of which, was the Gemini Giant.
We stopped for gas and across the street was a diner attached to this giant friend in an otherwise quiet, residential neighborhood directly off of the highway.
It was about 3 hours out of the city, which was the perfect time for a stretch and the first fill up outside of the city prices.
Pontiac, Illinois featured a Route 66 museum which I skipped and opted to see the masterfully named Paul Bunyan with a Hotdog from my car, instead.
It was a straight stretch to Topeka where I booked a very inexpensive hotel with a pool for me to dip into quickly after making sure Clementine was settled and had a treat to chomp.
Luckily it was empty. I ate vegan wings and drank $2 beers from the hooters across the street and chatted with a friend going through a breakup before tucking into bed.
The next morning I headed directly to Taos, New Mexico where a very good friend of mine’s mother lives on a gorgeous farm.
She gave me a tour and fed me homemade enchiladas and greeted the horses, turning them in for the night. In the morning, we watched the sunrise over the mountains with fresh hot coffee. Then we hiked down the hill to let the horses out and slowly packed a bag now equipped with her farm’s dried mulberries, apricots, and fresh jams.
This trip was already delivering magic and I’d only just begun.