Making the most of traveling on the road
The snowy sand dunes of New Mexico were still fresh in my mind as the setting sun framed the entrance to California’s Mojave Desert. It looked like “The Hangover 3” in our car, and my brother, cousins and I were laughing at something that wasn’t remotely funny to sane people as our Odometer slowly crept up, up, up from 3,343 miles, to 3,450, and finally to 3,500, where it stayed.
To get back and forth between home and Biola, most people fly if they live far away. All you have to do is pay an excessive fee for a checked bag, get felt up by some very aggravated airport workers, cram your knees against the person’s seat in front of you, breathe some stale air, and then land. It’s uncomfortable, but easy, and it’s what I have done many times before to get back to La Mirada from Richmond, Va. But this time I didn’t. Instead, with John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” in hand, I ordered free state maps, bought a road atlas, looked up gas prices, bought some food and hopped into a 1998 Camry for a trip across the country with one of my brothers and two cousins.
Road trip addict
Ever since driving from Kansas to California with my best friend to get back to Biola in 2010, road trips have been a staple of my college life. I have taken a trip from Minnesota to California, and many from La Mirada: to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, other parts of Arizona, Yosemite and Big Sur, Calif., and even a trip to Redwoods National Park at the northern edge of California. Through these trips, I was inspired to start writing in the Chimes about places I go, the things I see, and the strange people I meet — all the while giving tips about what to do and what not to do when taking a road trip.
Do: Bring paper maps of most of the places you will be traveling through. Even if you have maps on your phones, you never know when you will lose service.
Don’t: Stay on the beaten path. The highway is a suggestion of where to travel, and it’s often wrong.
If you’ve never taken a trip like the one I took, let me warn you that traveling across the country, or driving for a few days straight, requires meticulous planning. You have to figure out how many hours to drive each day, what sights you will want to see, the general direction you want to be heading, and where you can spend the night. You must plan for the worst — anticipate traffic, multiple stops along the way and getting lost. Expect to deviate.
A prime example of this was New Orleans. It was evening, we still had three hours of driving to do, and we were in the most fascinating city we had ever seen. My cousin Stefanie put it aptly.
“I will regret it forever if we don’t stay longer,” she said.
Two hours later we had seen a vibrant city of night life, street jazz, restaurants and strange people that can’t be duplicated.
A common misconception is that Alabama has almost nothing that is interesting. Wrong. Alabama has absolutely nothing that is interesting. We stopped in Montgomery, saw the First White House of the Confederacy and listened to a museum worker talk about different types of marble. We capped off this exceptional experience by learning that Helen Keller calls Alabama home.
Do: Stop as frequently as you can in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, especially Austin and San Antonio. Arizona and New Mexico are stunning, with classic desert settings of red rock, cacti and dramatic mountains. San Antonio has the riverwalk and the infamous Alamo, while Austin is a strange combination of live music, bizarre art, and is the only Democratic county in Texas, which is worth checking out.
Don’t: Go the convenient and fastest route. If you do, just fly.
Fun, slow and cheap
An airplane ticket from Richmond, Va. to Los Angeles was roughly $185, including the cost of one checked bag, around the time I was looking to come back to Biola. At the end of our trip, after seven days across 11 states and 3,500 miles our total cost of gas, lodging and other fees was $165 per person — $20 less than flying.
If I had flown I would never have known the Grand Canyon is more beautiful in winter. Nor would I have seen 200-year-old cacti, eaten at El Charro, my new favorite Mexican restaurant, jaywalked across an abandoned railroad track spanning a gap four stories high in the New Mexico snow, discovered an ancient yellow bus in Texas, visited the Alamo or wreaked havoc at a hotel’s indoor pool with my brother until 11 p.m. The road is much more fun than a cramped airline seat, even if at some points you lose your precious iPhone service.
Do: Ask people along the way at rest stops, restaurants, hotels and parks where you should go; they offer the best advice.
Don’t: Go to rest stops at night without a safety buddy, unless you have brass knuckles.
Where to next?
On the drive through the Mojave Desert with a trashed car and three other insane people, I thought about California and all the things I have thought I know about the state. I never thought much of Joshua Tree National Park, and now it is one of my favorite places on earth. Los Angeles seemed like just a huge, useless mess, but that was before I discovered the metro. Beaches, mountains and celebrities are the stereotypes of L.A., Southern California and sometimes all of California, but what about the rest of it?
This is my mission for this semester: to bring you to places you didn’t think were there, and to try and persuade you to go a little further for adventure’s sake. There are so many places I still want to see, so if you want to come, I will be here all semester writing about places we all should experience. Whether it’s in SoCal, California as a whole or epic road trips, I hope to stretch your imagination and concept of America, but not your bank account. So let’s go.
All photos by Ethan Froelich/THE CHIMES