In 2011, my girlfriend, my mate and I completed an incredible road trip around the western USA – this is our story.
So I’m writing this from the hottest place I’ve ever been to, Death Valley National Park in California. It’s currently 7.40pm and it is a breezy 104 degrees Fahrenheit with the sun having just set. All day we waited as the car’s thermometer hovering at 99 degrees only for it to skyrocket to a staggering peak of 123 degrees as the afternoon progressed.
Let me set the scene before I carry on waffling about temperature superlatives. This summer, for the second year running, I worked at a children’s summer camp in Northern Michigan and once again decided to travel after camp. Last year I used public transport – Greyhound buses, flights etc – and stayed mainly with Americans I met at camp across Ohio, Washington DC, Miami and many more East Coast spots. It was an amazing experience and one I will never forget. This year, however, I fancied even more of an adventure, in particular, a road trip.
So after a night at a friend’s place using a hot tub and being driven through pitch black forests in a Jeep (they know how to have fun in Michigan) myself, a mate and my girlfriend headed downstate in a friend’s car and stayed with friends in Detroit. The best bit was after eight weeks at camp we got to have proper showers and wash our clothes better than they had been at the local Laundromat upstate! The camp we worked at was a predominantly Jewish camp and therefore many of the friends I’ve made in the last two years have been Jewish and without doubt some of the kindest people I have ever met. We stayed with a family I stayed with last year who are the best hosts in the world, took us all over Detroit and helped sort out cashing our paychecks, getting us maps and booking our rental car out for us. Their house in surburban Detoit is huge and beautiful – forget what you hear about Detroit going downhill, the suburbs the kids I worked with live in are very rich indeed. The attitude, though is very much “you looked after my children all summer, it would be an honour for you to stay with us” – incredible people.
Whilst there we met up with about 15 other mates from camp and caught a Tigers baseball game where we saw a fella from the Minnesota Twins score his 600th home run – good day to go! The cool thing about seeing an evening Tigers game is that the tigers on the large sign overlooking the ballpark have eyes which light up green when the sun sets, which it did beautifully that night. Apparently sometimes they play “Eye of the Tiger” at this point but sadly didn’t on the occasion we were there. We also shopped, ate at a great deli where I had a sandwich with nineteen layers of amazing corned beef (no joke) and used the Internet (which had been very lacking at camp) to plan our road trip. Then it was time for a Megabus trip across Indiana to Illinois.
We spent a couple of days with a friend in Chicago eating deep dish pizza, being driven up Lake Shore Drive, going up the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower – where you can sit in glass boxes and feel like you are flying at the top of the third tallest building in the world), having photos taken with the reflective “bean” Cloud Gate sculpture and visiting the free zoo. Next, we flew to Los Angeles to begin the greatest adventure of our lives. None of us had been to the West Coast before and only I had driven in the States before.
The sight of the LAPD cruising around Inglewood stirred something inside – this was going to be a trip when all the iconic cultural sights we had grown up with in movies and on television would become real. After being five hours behind the UK in Michigan and six hours behind in Chicago, we were now eight hours behind on pretty much the other side of the world. We turned up to the rental place early and as a result got a brand new Chevrolet Cruze and free Sirius XM satellite radio which allows us to listen to international radio stations. The only main expense was insurance as we agreed it probably was not a good time to be taking risks so went for the slightly more expensive option. We saved ourselves $1100 by not following through with our original plan of road tripping all the way across the United States from Detroit to Los Angeles. The condition of us making this saving was that we return the car to the same place we pick it up from, ergo the journey would begin and end in Los Angeles. Many people drive down the west coast but we chose to start the journey by driving up it, then heading inland and clockwise back to LA so that we could time it to meet up with friends from camp in Las Vegas at the end of August.
After a couple of nights in Los Angeles at a hotel not far from LAX airport getting used to the car, driving to Beverley Hills, Santa Monica, Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Fame and checking out the hippies on Venice Beach, we hit the road. Incidentally, one of the driving highlights of that first couple of days in LA was our failed attempt to drive up to the Hollywood sign via the observatory and many random hillside suburbs – thank goodness for GPS we had purchased at Walmart! We ended up starting off a day early as we were already up the coast and out of town the afternoon before the day we were due to set off and could not be bothered returning to Los Angeles. So with nowhere to stay that night and no real idea what we were doing, we headed up the coast and the adventure proper commenced.
Naturally the first dilemma was where the jimminy cricket we were going to sleep that night. I’ll explain that and how we got from there to a staggering 123 degrees in a desert in my next blog.