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Travel Story by Alexy Dury

  10 Days Driving in the USA!
United States of America

Map of Route 40

America was my last stop on my 8 month round the world trip before going home. After a bumpy flight from Melbourne I arrived in LA (Los Angeles), California and stayed with a friend for the weekend. During my first nap I felt a rumble beneath me and thought my friend shook the bed but he hadn’t. I realised it was a slight earthquake tremor! And I found out later that he lives at the epicentre of all earthquake activity in LA!

My dream was to drive solo across the USA but I forgot that the Americans drive on the other side of the road. This was a first for me as I have driven all over the world on the left hand side and never on the right hand side. If you see the roads in LA you will understand. So I decided to drive round California, along the beautiful coastal road which is highly recommended in many guidebooks. I searched high and low for a cheap hire car on the internet and came across this special offer - $20 a day to return a van to New York in 10 days. This sounded like a good challenge to me! I grabbed the opportunity and picked the van up the next day. It was huge! And there were 7 seats in total with a folding bed. It was certainly very luxurious as it was equipped with a TV and a VHS player! But it didn’t have a toilet!

Day One – A difficult start to get out of LA with a 6 hour drive straight to Las Vegas. The highway was so wide – 6 lanes! And it was hard keeping the vehicle off the cats eyes. But after 2 hours I had got used to it. It was a relaxing drive along Route 40. This is a new road to replace Route 66 – some parts of Route 66 are being kept in the cities along Route 40 which is now a dual carriageway and bypasses these cities from LA to Chicago.

It was an amazing first night seeing all the neon lights and illuminations in Las Vegas. A cheap motel was quickly found before I discovered a superb display in the middle of a shopping centre. A screen above was showing films and was surrounded by a dazzling array of lights, etc. I will definitely return to Las Vegas again one day. It is so typically American!

Day Two – Due to jetlag I had a late start before exploring Snow Canyon and the Bryce Canyon region. Words cannot describe how beautiful it was! The drive from Las Vegas to these national park areas was absolutely spectacular.

Day Three – My journey continued into the Grand is huge and is like a massive crack with the earth’s crust exposed. There was a long drive through Monument Valley to see its famous landmark and that familiar background in John Wayne cowboy films as well as in ‘Forrest Gump’ where Tom Hanks ends his cross-country run from one coast of America to the other. Also I managed to squeeze in a visit to Mesa Verde where I stood at the Four Corners, the only point where four states meet: New Mexico, Colorado, Arzona and Utah. I almost ran over a stag in the state of Colorado!

Day Four – The scenery changed immediately. The picturesque scenery of Colorado was stunning, rather like Switzerland. I saw snow on the mountain tips en route to Santa Fe, an artistic haven and full of traditional adobe buildings.

Day Five – The realisation hit me that I wasn’t even halfway across America so I had a lot of catching up to do on the road. 1,000 miles straight! It was a record for me and the longest drive of my life on the road! I only stopped for toilet breaks. I wanted to stop somewhere to buy a pair of genuine cowboy boots. Part of today’s marathon journey took me through some cities along Route 66. Lots of Harley Davidson motorbikes cruised past with long-haired women in bikini tops sitting at the back!

Day Six – Finally reached Memphis...Elvis Presley’s hometown.

Day Seven – I wanted to see Graceland, Elvis’s home. I have always been curious about Elvis and wanted to see what all the fuss is about! I was surprised to see so many tourists at his home. There was a queue to go through his property, and musuems with 2 aeroplanes, cars, motorcycles and a display with his records, original clothes etc. It was very impressive. The house itself wasn’t that big really. But the interior was beautiful except for the carpet room and pool room downstairs. I loved his living room. Elvis was hugely repected by his fans and family despite his fate. I thought better of him afterwards.

Then it was a quick drive to southern Tennessee where I wanted to visit the Jack Daniels Distellery but it was closed. So it was early night for once at a local motel.

Day Eight – It was an early start for a tour of the Jack Daniels Distellery. Much to my amazement it is free to get in and with a tour guide too. Unfortunately no sign language interpreter was provided but they said they would arrange one if you let them know in advance. I have learnt so much about this whisky making business. It did kind of put me off Jack Daniels for several months!

I continued to drive on the bourbon trail recommended by ‘1,000 Places to see before you die’ and saw other infamous brands of bourbon such as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, etc on the way to Georgetown. It was too dark to see anything at Georgetown.

Day Nine – A long journey today through the valleys to Washington DC.

A short afternoon was spent exploring Washington DC. The city itself was much smaller than expected. The US president was staying at the White House while I was there. Red, blue and white ribbons and flags were everywhere as it was a few days before Independence Day. I tried to locate Gallaudet University on this specific road but I couldn’t find it so I gave up and continued to Cape May, famous for its Victorian country-town atmosphere. Decided to sleep in the van overnight...

Day Ten – Woke up in the van with a parking fine. Oh great! Parking was free until 9am but I woke up at 9.18am! I thought I would get away with it by not paying up. (They took it off my visa later when I left the country! Groan!)

It was my last day of driving and I took a lovely route from Cape May to New York. New Jersey is a nice place to stay outside New York. I wished I had another 2 days so I could drive to Niagara Falls. It was sad leaving my lovely van which I had grown fon of. And I was tempted to buy one back home in England a few months later!

On average I was on the move from 11am to 11pm every day. On the road I only ate croissants and muffins (taken from breakfast at hotels I stayed at) and drank water. Amazingly I never felt tired while I was driving and I kept myself amused all the way across the country.

I covered 4,500 miles across 19 states of America in 10 days! And through 5 different time zones! During that time I spent about $1,000 on van hire, hotels, food, fuel and other stuff. I would definitely do it again. But maybe next time on a Harley Davidson motorbike - who knows? I have already bought a speciality guidebook for many of the different routes you can drive along in America.

One piece of advice: Buy the book, ‘1,000 places to see before you die’ - it helped me to decide what to see along the way as I drove across the USA...America is too big to see everything.

Surprisingly this epic drive was the best journey of my life. Sorry, Australia!

Click on photo to enlarge

The bright lights of Las Vegas  Monument Valley  Route 40 sign

Date Submitted: 23 Jan 2007

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