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My first road trip in the States was out of necessity rather than intention. It turned out to be more than I imagined and so much better than I thought. Three thousand miles in three days isnít bad but itís not the best way to do it. My next trip will be a little more spaced out and will afford me the opportunity to make the most of sightseeing and being more of a tourist. It was a rushed trip to move some of my stuff for safe-keeping with a friend clear across the country.
I rented a car in Providence, RI and drove across to Cheyenne in Wyoming. Pretty straightforward I thought Ė take the Interstate 95 north to Boston, turn left onto the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90 West) and head off west until around Chicago. Then bear slightly south and get onto the I-80 West and carry on until you get to Cheyenne. Simple. Oh boy, was I in for a surprise. I didnít have a map with me but with those simple instructions to hand, it seemed undemanding and being alone, battling with a map wouldnít have been easy. Not like having a navigator with you. I made a mental note of where I was going and headed off. After all I didnít have the time, or money, to make too many stops even though I would have liked to. I was on a mission, sort of.
I knew Iíd be passing through the likes of The Berkshires in Massachusetts, Albany, Syracuse and Rochester in NY. If I was lucky I could make a stop in Buffalo and see Niagara Falls. Then Iíd head off through north western Pennsylvania and to Cleveland, Ohio, northern Indiana and Chicago, Illinois. Here I would take the I-80 West and proceed through Illinois, Iowa and an almost endless stretch through Nebraska and onto Wyoming. Easy Peasy. Hmmm.
I knew there was a tremendous amount of driving ahead so I took along some refreshments in the form of soft drinks and some fruit and a little candy. I also took along a box of tissues which I kept on the passenger seat and a plastic bag for trash.
As I could only set off around 3.00pm on a Friday afternoon, there wasnít much time for a lot of driving initially, which perhaps, was a good thing. Iíd never driven on the other side of the road before and although a little daunted at the prospect, I knew it was something I had to do, and had wanted to do for ages. Now was my chance. Iíd been driving for years so it wasnít the driving I was worried about as such, it was more keeping on the correct side of the road and not veering unexpectedly to the left, oblivious to the fact. Being out on the highway was reassuring as that meant I didnít have to drive in cities and confined spaces.
I picked up a white Toyota Corolla from National Car Rental in Warwick, RI and drove it back home through Providence to pick up my things for the trip. Right off the bat I was forced to drive in traffic but I was soon on the highway and almost missed the off-ramp which took me through the heart of the city and nearly scared me to death. However, I followed the bus route which I knew very well and made it home safely. In no time I was soon scooting northwards on the I-95 towards Boston. I knew the Interstate bypassed the city so I wasnít worried about getting caught up in the Friday afternoon homeward-bound traffic. It started to rain however, right before the real start of my journey, and it came down like there was no tomorrow. I could barely see where I was going and we crawled for about an hour for what should have taken about ten minutes. It dragged on and on while I tried to fathom out how to work the wipers and air conditioning in the car. The little car was a gutsy one with plenty of space in the trunk and I felt quite at home in it. I loved the three little cup holders between the front seats and also enjoyed the thermometer telling me how hot or cold it was outside. There was heating and air conditioning inside so I was kept on an even keel all the time. I could travel in a short-sleeved shirt and never once felt cold. There was also a radio and CD player and I brought along some of my favorite music to sing along to.
Eventually the I-90 West came into sight and before long, Boston and the rain were left behind. I was no sooner on the Interstate when I was confronted by a tollgate. I had no clue as to how much I had to pay but fortunately I found thousands of quarters in my purse. I took a ticket (no money yet) and I was on my way. The highway is spectacularly maintained and not a speck of trash (sadly not always the case in so many places in this country) was spotted. The drive further away from the east coast became sunnier and more beautiful. This was at the beginning of October and by now the fall foliage was looking so much better.
Driving at around 65 mph and trying to keep my wits about me, I did manage to look at the scenery and I have to say it was simply gorgeous. I so wanted to stop and take some photographs but I donít think you are allowed to stop unnecessarily on the Interstate and besides, I had precious little time to waste. How was I to decide where to stop and which scenery was worth stopping for? All along the Mass Pike I paid toll (not much, a few dollars here and there and pretty easy to do if you keep your quarters handy) and if itís spent on maintaining the Interstate in the pristine condition it was, then I didnít mind in the least. A stop for some coffee, a quick bite for my supper and a bathroom visit was all I managed on this stop.
I drove for about four hours and once it had turned dark I decided to take it easy and rest. I found a little motel around Phelps, NY. If you follow my trip on a map youíll find it (and other places) easily and you can see exactly where I went. By this time I had left New England and was in northern New York state. It was a lot flatter and only a smattering of what was to come. It was dark but well-signposted so even though I was a little nervous, I made it to a little motel off the beaten track. I think it was called something like Relax Inn and there was a gas station next to it. I checked in and had a shower which felt really good. My legs were just beginning to get a little sore so the timing was good. It cost $60.00* which I thought excessive, and said so, for what it was but I was informed that it was because they were so close to all the lakes that they charged a little more. It was a little raggedy for that price but comfortable.
The next morning feeling refreshed and so very excited, I was well on the way to doing something I had always dreamed of doing. A friend had told me on numerous occasions, that driving across the USA was so easy and that I should do it. The next thing I had to do was fill up with gas. I knew there were long stretches of road ahead and I didnít need to run out of petrol. I drove over to the gas station and realized that I had never personally pumped gas before. So I had to be shown how to do it and the sweet lady who helped me, joined me in chuckling about how itís never too late to learn something new. A cup of coffee in hand and after a breakfast burrito, I was back-tracking to find the highway once again. I was literally tingling with excitement as I had enjoyed the drive and couldnít wait to get going again. Of course the two and a half days I had given myself was about as much as I could afford to spend on renting a car so I didnít want to waste time gawking at the sights.
I set off around 7.30am and headed west. I passed the city of Rochester and continued towards Buffalo. Unfortunately I didnít keep track of mileage so I donít know how far it was between cities. It was Saturday and I planned to go for it and spent the day and some of the night driving. After a brief and intentional detour in Buffalo (I couldnít help myself seeing as I was so closeÖ) to see if I could catch a glimpse of Niagara Falls. Unfortunately I didnít but I did drive along what has to be the longest Main Street Iíd ever seen. Then, driving through the northern part of Pennsylvania and bringing the total states I had been through in the last four hours or so, to four, it was a feeling of actually moving on and getting further and further away.
Next detour was totally unintentional and came about because I was intimidated by the rapidly flowing traffic. I just couldnít change lanes and keep going to the left so I carried on and ended up leaving the Interstate and cruising nonchalantly through the streets of Cleveland, Ohio. I came up next to the Rock Ďn Roll Hall of Fame and so wanted to make a pit stop. This was a hard one to resist. Time beckoned however and I followed the signs and was very quickly back on I-90 West and on my way. Cleveland looked like a really pretty city and there was lots of water in the form Lake Erie which you saw from time to time along the way. This was quite a stretch and my second gas stop was in a little place called Maumee, just outside the city of Toledo. Itís not difficult to monitor your gas as all along the highway there are signs telling you how much further it is to the next stop, for both food and gas. I chuckled to myself when I saw the signs for ďGas Food LodgingĒ and recalled the movie of the same name. America was coming alive for me. There didnít seem to be a shortage of eating places or sleeping places and the choices are endless.
After Maumee I continued westwards on I-90 through Indiana and virtually all along the Michigan border. I passed South Bend, the home of Notre Dame University and should have kept my wits about me as I came to the city of Gary. It is here that I should have veered left onto I-80 West but I had it in my mind that the ďleft turnĒ was at Chicago so I kept going. I reached the outskirts of Chicago around 6.00pm and being a Saturday evening, it was heaving with traffic. This was the only time I really got nervous but I held it together and made it through the awful road works on the Interstate and even though I was on the wrong road and had hundreds of off ramps to choose from, I just couldnít find it within me to change lanes, even though everyone else was and at break-neck speed too. Still, I persevered and made it through some extraordinarily scary bits and by the time I bypassed the city on my right, it was pitch dark and things werenít getting any easier. It seemed as though the whole of Chicago was out that night.
Just outside Chicago I started looking for the familiar signs pointing me in the right direction. I saw I-90 West and figured I was still on course. I had no idea where exactly I was as there was no opportunity to pull off and look at a map at a gas station which is what I had been doing all along. I thought I would drive some way out of town and then stop and see where I was. I was somewhat comforted knowing I was still on I-90 and sure that sooner or later I would spot the I-80 West sign. It was so very dark out there and I just followed large trucks that were adequately illuminated.
Thankfully the signs are clear and abundant and you can hardly get lost. Well, so much for that. I realized I was horribly off course when I saw a sign that said ďMadisonĒ. For some reason that name resonated in my confused and tired mind. It struck me that Madison was in Wisconsin and what was I doing there. Iíd reached my eighth state and just knew I was going in the wrong direction.
I decided that if I was wrong then it would just have to wait until I became exhausted and had to pull over for the night. I didnít really like driving in the dark but I pressed on until around 10.00pm when I reached Wis Dells and had to fill up with gas. I went into the shop to pay and asked the young guy behind the counter where I was. I got a strange look back and when he told me, I ran to get a map and see exactly what had happened. It was a shock. I should have been in Iowa. It seemed as though I was in another world. I continued for another few hours until my eyes nearly closed (I realized how easily tired drivers can fall asleep and decided that I was more responsible than that and called it a night around 1.00am Sunday morning. Iíd driven almost seventeen hours (and through five more states) virtually non-stop. I was exhausted. It had started to rain again and I pulled in to a sprawling little place called Altoona and found a motel that looked okay. Of course most people were safely in bed at that hour but there I was, knocking on the reception door, praying that someone would hear me and let me stay the night. A dear woman came sauntering through, in her night clothes and despite being woken up, greeted me with a smile. My heart warmed. It was a little cold and wet outside. She let me in and gave me a room for $39.38#42; (including tax) at the Euenox Motel. I fell asleep instantly as I knew I wanted to be up and out early. There was still a huge way to go.
After a shower around 6.30am I drove in the dark on the wet and shiny roads in search of some coffee. I felt fine after my short sleep. I found a McDonaldís open so I stopped and filled my cup with coffee and decided to have a hearty breakfast to get me going. I eventually left around 7.30am. The sun was beginning to rise but there were lots of heavy clouds about. I wasnít worried because I could stay in the warmth of my car. Memories came to mind about how people were often stranded in severe weather conditions without the necessary survival goodies. All I had to survive on was that cup of coffee and a light jacket on the back seat.
Sometime after I left Wis Dells, the Interstate became I-94 without my noticing Ė I said I was tired! Had I taken the I-90 West, I would have cut short my detour enormously. I could have traveled along southern Minnesota and on towards Nebraska. Not me. My plan was to go as far as Minneapolis and then head south on I-35 and at De Moines, turn right and Iíd be back on track.
I pushed on through and suddenly noticed on the outside temperature gauge that it was dropping rapidly outside. I opened the window and stuck my arm out only to feel it was icy cold. In no time the rain came lashing down and then the biggest snow flakes I had ever seen. Iíd never personally driven in snow before and I suddenly became scared that there would be icy patches and with trucks trundling by at 70 mph, I wasnít too keen. Still, I reduced my speed and drove responsibly until the snow and rain stopped and it was suddenly bright and sunny again. The temperature gauge gradually went up.
I reached Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota (a beautiful part of the world) and decided that I would carry on a bit more. I donít know what I was thinking at the time. Perhaps I was just too tired and wasnít thinking properly. Before long, I found myself at Fergus Falls so I filled up with petrol and pushed right on, getting to Fargo, North Dakota, shocked and angry with myself. Now I had prolonged the agony and put myself further and further away from my goal.
I rattled on to Fargo and then had the arduous task of wending my way south. I had stopped just outside Fargo to get coffee and I asked someone which way was best. Stifling their laughter, one man suggested I just carry on until I got to Belfield and then turn left onto 85-South which would take me all the way to Cheyenne. Yeah right, I thought. I wanted out of North Dakota and that flat line of a road and so I turned left at Sterling and left the safety and luxury of the Interstate to try driving on a smaller highway. It was a single lane all the way and up and down hills and dales though some really pretty countryside. It was here along this road that I decided to briefly stop and take a photograph. There was no traffic at the time and it only took a second.
At Herreid, South Dakota, which I reached sooner than I thought, I stopped for gas, food and directions. A gorgeous truck driver told me to carry on (gave me some tips about the detour in Pierre) along 83-South through Pierre to Vivian then a right onto I-90 West until Murdo and then left to get back onto 83-South. Okay. This was about mid-afternoon so I had really motored from Altoona, WI that morning. In the back of my mind, I rather thought that I could make it to Cheyenne that same day but that was unrealistic and I resigned myself to getting there on Monday and having to spend a little extra on car rental. I did ask that truck driver if he would put the car in the back and if I could drive with him to Gillette, WY. Okay, I was tired.
I pushed on and was really angry with myself for a while but decided to rather make the most of what I had to hand. I was so very close to the Badlands National Park and if I wasnít in such a rush, I could have gone to see Mt. Rushmore. I could also have seen Niagara Falls, and more! Next time.
Around 6.30pm I was getting tired and the sun had just set. Alongside the road I noticed two deer grazing. That was my signal to pull over and to stop for the night. All the way I had noticed signs warning that wildlife were around. I had also seen a lot of road kill too but thankfully hadnít seen any live animals. I wasnít about to take my chances with anything jumping out at me on such a narrow road. I drove into the teeny, teeny town of White River where you had to crawl through town at a drastically reduced speed limit. The main street was a continuation of the road I was on with a few stores on either side of the two or so blocks that made up the little town. I donít even recall a stop sign anywhere. Just on the outskirts of town I noticed a little motel called the Thoroughbred Lodge. I pulled in and got a room for $34.24#42; (including tax) a night. A quick shower and I was in bed and watching a movie on TV.
At 7.00am Monday morning, I left and drove as far as Stapleton, Nebraska where I filled up with gas and proceeded on my way. I really wanted to get the car back before sunset and that was in Denver, Colorado. Would I be able to do it? A little further and I reached I-80 West and burst out crying when I saw the sign. I had made it and now I had to hurtle along to get to Cheyenne in time. I turned right at North Platte and knew that at last, I was on the right road.
Around 1.00pm I reached the outskirts of Cheyenne, yelled ďThank You GodĒ, and made my way through the city and to my friendís place. I was relieved and exhausted but I still had to get the car back to Denver. After a quick chat I buckled up and drove to Denver in one and a half hours. On the right of I-25 South were the mighty Rocky Mountains which I glimpsed on and off throughout the last leg of my trip. They are truly wonderful and I plan to go exploring as soon as possible. Upon reaching the drop-off site at National, I was told I would have to pay a levy for being late returning the car even though I did call from the Thoroughbred Motel to alert them that I would be late. I tried to plead my case telling them I got lost and that it was my very first time driving in the States, blah blah blah. She wasnít very amused and said I should take it up with National Car Rental in Rhode Island. I caught their courtesy bus to Denver International Airport and then took the Armadillo bus service to Cheyenne. Another two hours on the road but at least I wasnít driving. Colorado was the fourteenth state Iíd been through.
I thoroughly enjoyed my detour, and as much as I was angry at my stupidity, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. However I would make sure I had more money on me and that I could spare the time to look around. In particular, I would stop at Niagara Falls, the city of Cleveland, South Bend, Minnesota/St. Paul (which are two very pretty cities and which are on the Mississippi River which has its origins just a little further north), Rapid City and Badlands among others. I vowed to do another trip but next time, I shall definitely make better plans and take along a map! After all that, I had driven about three thousand miles in about three days which is pretty good going. I guess we all get a little lost at times and, better late than never, right? Iíll be out there again very soon and will bring you my next adventure.
At least the route I ended up taking was a lot more interesting because looking at the map, from Chicago westwards through Iowa and Nebraska, the road resembles a flat line. My route meandered somewhat which in the end, was very interesting and scenic. I saw some of the most gorgeous fall foliage ever. The Interstates were terrific and wonderfully comforting to know that all along the route there are food stops to suit all tastes. Mostly fast foods (what else) and great, clean bathrooms and lots of friendly travelers. Not once did I feel scared about being out there on my own. Of course thatís not to say that thatís the case everywhere Ė it all depends where you are and you should always be on the lookout and aware.
I havenít done Ďratingsí on this trip as it was too rushed to give justified ratings. However, all motels were comfortable and clean and I would recommend them.
Oh, and National Car Rental did take off that fine for the late return Ė thank you. The total spent on car rental from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon came to $386.12#42; (after their credit and including taxes and insurances). Too expensive at $128+#42; a day! Some car rental companies charge approximately that for a week! I will do more homework before hiring another car.
Total spent on accommodations was $134.00#42;
Total spent on gas was $98.30#42;
Euenox Motel - 2067 S. Hastingsway, Altoona, WI 54720
Thoroughbred Lodge - Hway 83-44, White River, SD 57579
Tel: (605) 259 3349
National Car Rental - Toll-free telephone number 1-888-868-6204
Armadillo Express Bus Service
(from Denver International Airport to Cheyenne and Laramie)
They no longer offer the shuttle service but only the charter service.
Tel: (307) 634 1123 or 1-888-256-2967
All prices were correct at the time. Please check prices carefully.
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Travel Home Page
Photographs and Website design © Adrienne Petterson 2003-2023.
Photographs and Website design © Adrienne Petterson 2003-2023.