Solo Road Trip: Part VII – Return Trip & Conclusions

In case you missed previous posts:

We’ve made it! The last two days of the trip and some quick conclusions:

Day 7:

After a fairly chilly night in Albuquerque I got up, showered, and ate yet another amazing breakfast consisting of chocolate chip/s’mores granola bars and a few Slim Jims and hit the road. Driving through eastern New Mexico is as boring as driving through Utah was exciting. Also, eastern New Mexico and west Texas reminds me a lot of driving through Kansas (not a compliment). I was traveling on Interstate 40, which combined with Interstate 44 (which I would take once I hit Oklahoma City) runs along much of the old Route 66. Every once in a while I would pull off and follow Route 66, not because it was faster, but because of its historical significance. Four hours after setting off I was ready to chew my arm off, my granola bars and Slim Jims did not hold me over as well as I had hoped. I had just entered Amarillo, Texas, the first city of any significant size, and I decided to find an old fashioned Route 66 restaurant to eat at, I settled on Smokey Joe’s. Oddly enough, my great uncle who drives through here every year also stops here when coming through. After a beer and a burger I was back on the road.

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So over the next 4 hours there was a lot of nothing, other than the fact I had crossed into Oklahoma, a state I had never been in (not that you’re missing much if you’ve never been there). Of course with my luck I hit Oklahoma City during rush hour, even with all my drive time and the few major cities I drove through, I always seemed to hit them around rush hour. Luckily I went around downtown and avoid the worst of the traffic. I hoped off of I-40 and onto I-44, which eventually runs to (and ends in) St. Louis. Unfortunately for me I-44 between Oklahoma City and the Missouri border is a toll road (I hate toll roads). I had very little cash left after tipping at the restaurant at Amarillo, fortunately I had enough for the first toll when entering the toll road (Will Rodgers Turnpike if you really care to know). The only thing I appreciate about toll roads is some of them have gas stations and fast food places off the turnpike and you don’t really have to get off on an exit and hunt those places down. So I got off to fill up and grab a sandwich somewhere between Tulsa and the Missouri border. I knew I was out of cash and had one more toll to pay when exiting the state so I went to the ATM to get cash (the tolls don’t accept card). Unfortunately my debit card had seen better days and it wouldn’t read at the ATM, even though it had worked everywhere else. My credit card wasn’t set up to get a cash advance at an ATM so I was SOL. After several minutes of contemplation I decided I would just go. The ticket for an unpaid toll fee was about $35 and I was fed up with wasting valuable road time.

I hit the road and by the time I got to the last toll road exit, where everyone paid to leave, it was dark. I “accidentally” got into the EZ Pass lane (EZ Pass is something you have on your windshield and the camera scans it as you drive through and the toll is deducted from your account). For some reason there was a heavy police presence at the toll, so I was a little nervous I would be detained and jailed for being such a criminal and not paying the $3 for the toll. Luckily no such thing happened and I was on my way into Missouri! (It’s been 4 months now and I never did receive a ticket for an unpaid toll, fingers still crossed I never see one!).

After entering Missouri you quickly come across Joplin, MO which was ravaged by an EF-5 (sustained winds over 200 mph) tornado that killed 116 people in May of 2011. Over 5 years later there’s obviously little evidence that it had ever happened. I decided to stop in Springfield, MO for the night after over 12 hours and 825 miles on the road. I also made plans with my parents to meet just across the river from St. Louis to pick up my pup who had spent the week with them. I hadn’t spent this much time from him before but my mom would send me photo up dates like this:

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I showered and finished off the last few snacks I had and fell asleep quickly. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold that night.

Day 8:

Per the usual, I was up early and back on the road. I texted my parents an ETA for our place to meet up so I could pick up Hershey before heading back to Springfield. Not much to note for the drive between Springfield, MO and St. Louis, MO. I did see a bunch of Trump signs as the election was coming up in about two weeks. I’ll leave politics out of it and leave it at my observation :). St. Louis was a short drive considering how much driving I had done over the past week. I met them and got Hershey, who was incredibly excited to see me after a week away. After some quick chatting and hugs I was back on the road, this time with my co-pilot. It was nice to have some company for my last 2 hour leg back home. Upon arrival I unloaded the Jeep and sat down for a while to relax. Sunday would be my day to unpack and catch up on some yard work and chores and it was back to work on Monday.

CONCLUSIONS

I’ve always been independent and enjoyed my alone time. That being said, before taking off on this trip I was nervous. I’d have never admitted that to my mom though, she was nervous enough for the both of us already. I began every day not knowing where I would sleep that night. I had no predetermined plans for each day, only knowing what I wanted to see over the course of the trip. Something else I wanted to mention was showering at truck stops. I wasn’t sure how that worked or how they’d be. All you have to do is go on the “trucker” side of the truck stop and ask for a key for a shower. They range in price but the established truck stops, that I stopped at, like Love’s and Pilot, charged about $10 for a shower. $10 for a shower is expensive, but compared to a hotel room, that’s cheap. You couldn’t find a motel room for less than $60 and I don’t think I’d have wanted to stay in one of those anyway as the rooms, in my experience, can be pretty disgusting. The showers at truck stops are large, probably 8’x15′ complete with sink, toilet, and large shower area. The spaces are incredibly clean and you have fresh, warm towels. It was actually a pleasant experience and I would highly suggest it for those traveling on a budget and whose car is large enough and equipped for sleeping like mine was. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep in the Jeep had another person been with me, the space was cramped enough and I had to sleep diagonally to fit comfortably. Someone with a large SUV, especially those with third row seating could easily use it to sleep in. Their vehicle would be insulated much better than mine as well, as the hard top isn’t exactly well insulated.  If you don’t have a vehicle then renting a large SUV for a week would be a cheaper option than hotels as well, as long as you check mileage limitations. Plus that saves you from putting wear and tear on your vehicle as well.

The places I visited were amazing and photos do not do these places justice. I remember being in some locations and just looking around in absolute awe, I had no idea the scale and beauty of these places could exist. I had no idea the trip would be such a cathartic experience for me. You can get into such a routine, where days, weeks, and years seem to pass by so quickly. This trip helped me put life into perspective a little more and furthered my belief that life should be defined by your experiences, not by possessions.

You learn a lot about yourself on a trip like this, I had almost 60 hours of windshield time to think about anything and everything. Much of the time driving while out west was spent planning the day ahead and of course you can listen to music and dance and sing, but eventually music fades to the background and your thoughts come to the foreground. I spent a lot of time thinking about my life. Am I happy where I’m at and what I’m doing, is there more out there for me to be doing? My answers changed slightly from when I left to when I was on my return trip. I realized how big the world was and how I wanted to go out and experience more of it. Three months later I was packing up a UHaul and moving 800 miles to Baltimore, Maryland. If you’re going alone like it did, be prepared to be faced with an existential crisis at some point. Seeing the world in the way opens your eyes in a way you might not be ready for, but it’s an amazing thing and something that should be embraced, not shied way from.

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