My engine roars and I scream with joy as I blast off Interstate 15 through the San Gabriel Mountains. Behind me, Los Angeles. Before me, the Mojave Desert and the mountains of Utah and Colorado, the Great Plains, Appalachia and, as if beyond the curve of my hood, the Atlantic Ocean.
I have an epic adventure planned, and this is the beginning. Leaving home for the first time in 15 months. A stay of over a year after traveling the world for six years. But he’s behind me now, just like in Los Angeles. The high desert awaits, and then the breadth of North America.
I have divided the journey, in my mind, into four unequal but logical sections. The first phase is from LA to Denver. Then it’s on to what I call Big Upper Middle. North Dakota is one of two states I haven’t been to (the other is Alaska, planned for next year), and it’s one of the main reasons for taking this adventure. From there, I turn right, and head to the East Coast for the third segment: several weeks in New Hampshire with my family.
After that, it’s the long road home. Through New York and Washington, across the Midwest and Great Plains and over the Rockies again, before burning down in the desert to Los Angeles.
With so many miles ahead, and so much time to do it, I don’t feel the need to rush. There is so much to see, and even five to six hours a day on the road is plenty. I plan to be careful too. Not only with the long days on the road, but with all but one being fully vaccinated and dutifully masked, there is still a pandemic. That’s all the plan anyway.
What happened, despite a few setbacks, was the kind of daring adventure I’d dreamed of for over a year. This is the story of my 10 weeks on the road.
Week 1: Los Angeles to Denver
My journey starts early because I have to get to Denver very early. I have two Nerdshala photo tours to do, and they need to be finished fairly quickly, lest I succumb to the wrath of my editors.
When I arrive in St. George, Utah for my first night, I am exhausted and dejected. I’m not off to a good start – the six-hour drive took about nine hours. Technical issues with the cameras and Android Auto, as well as a stand-still traffic jam in the middle, conspired to make this adventure a gruesome, ominous slog.
I also can’t sleep well. Alien beds and alien surroundings mess with my mind. But getting up early to explore some beautiful rock formations on the edge of town is a diversion I didn’t expect. Rusty red rocks, lapis blue skies and a little vigorous exercise are perfect reminders of why I am doing this. After a refreshing day, I am ready for the miles ahead.
The next day I head out, and I am greeted by unfamiliar streets through absolutely stunning central Utah. This end of Interstate 70 is a gem and easily one of the most scenic stretches of highway anywhere. This is what I was looking for.
I arrive in Denver a few days later after weaving my way through impossibly picturesque valleys that cut through the Rocky Mountains. Now my eyes are towards north.
Week 2: Denver to South Dakota
Denver is a lovely city, but I’ve been here several times. It’s a strange feeling – I’m happy to be here, but I’m also ready to go. The need to see new places is pulling me to the horizon.
Before I leave, there are two extraordinary museums I will photograph. NSIt is one of only two B-1A Lancer bombers, the curved Mach 2-plus machines that looked sharp even parked inside.
then there isand a collection of locally and nationally important locomotives and railcars.
They even let me put a small action camera on one of their model trains.
I finish as soon as possible, ready to move on. I’m going north now. Waze takes me on short two-lane roads that still have highway speeds. Nice work, Waze, that’s gorgeous.
I land at Deadwood in the western part of South Dakota. The steep, shaded canyons of the Black Hills make for some excellent driving roads with low-speed curves.
This is also the first time it has been cold enough for camping. Most of the little trunks on my Mazda Miata are packed with gear. The tent takes up surprisingly little space, followed by bulkier sleeping bags and air mattresses that are oddly large, even deflating. The latter probably fills up 30% of total trunk space, but there’s 0% of me who wants to find out what it’s like to sleep on bare ground and then fold myself into a Miata for six hours.
Week 3: South Dakota
South Dakota is a beautiful state, and I think people who haven’t been there unfairly fall into the “flat and boring” category. On the edge of the Black Hills is my favorite national park, and by far the best name: the Badlands.
Welcoming a rare day without rain or oppressive heat, I wake up early and go inside. The heat stops, it doesn’t rain, but I still see a lot.
I have to stay in one place for a few days, and this area has turned out to be an excellent place for that. Apart from the Badlands, there are several museums nearby worth visiting. one of the most amazing. Yes, the defunct Swedish car company Saab.
I feel like it’s been a while since I left L.A., and in a way, I’m on the run. It’s been eight days now and I’ve already run 1,654 miles. It’s time to slow down a bit, enjoy where I am and get some work done. I visit another extraordinary museum,. It has the second B-1 Lancer of the itinerary – this time the new, slower, but more versatile B-version.
I’ll be spending more than a week in South Dakota, but then it’s time to move on to the great unknown (for me, anyway).
Later, I head north across the rolling farmlands of central South Dakota for one of my favorite drives so far. absolutely stunning.
Week 4: North Dakota
Western North Dakota is similar to Western South Dakota, with smoother pointed parts. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is like the Badlands, but more muted and mixed with the green meadows of the Great Plains.
It’s also impressively empty. If I stand on the roof of my L.A. home, I can see more people than I live in the entire North Dakota state. There are few cars here, little farmland, and after finally turning east, even the hills fade into the flat prairie as far as the eye can see.
There is, however,.
Week 5: North Dakota to Minnesota and Wisconsin
I now turn straight east for the first time. The weather has also taken a turn. After the scorching heat of the Southwest and the cool, clear skies of the Dakota, Minnesota welcomes me with sheets of rain. Heavy trucks, pickups and trailers crash into walls of water, crushing my little car.
The weather prevents a lot of sightseeing. so it goes. but i travelIn Green Bay, Wisconsin, where I walked from trainshed to trainshed amid the rain. I’m wet, but it’s worth it. They have an Aerotrain!
And then it’s on to the unexpected: a.
Week 6: Michigan to New Hampshire
I cross Lake Michigan on one of the last coal-powered ferries in the world, SS Badger. This allows me to spend the weekend with my cousin and his family in Manistee, Michigan. It is a nice respite from hotels and camping sites.
more rain. So much rain However, I continue my first such stint with three long driving days in a row, driving the entire five states.
After 5,000 miles, I hugged my parents for the first time in almost two years. Worth it.
Weeks 7 and 8: New Hampshire
I spend three weeks with my parents, eating homemade food, relaxing and playing with my father’s dog, Booker. Booker is a normal poodle and a very nice guy.