In 2011, my girlfriend, my mate and I completed an incredible road trip around the western USA – this is our story.
In the previous nine blogs I wrote about my trip of a lifetime with my girlfriend and my mate where we rented a brand new Chevy Cruze in LA and road tripped to San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Lake Powell and Las Vegas. On September 1st, Jodie and I drove back to Los Angeles, where it all began.
Jodie drove as we left Las Vegas so that I could hang my right arm out the passenger window and at least attempt to match my crazy left arm tan from driving through the scorching desert of Arizona for five hours a couple of days earlier. We were listening to Stone Sour’s “Zzyzx Road” and ten minutes later, spookily, we saw a sign to the actual Zzyzx Road, so we pulled off and I ran back down the slipway (a stupid idea given that it was over 100°F again) to take a photo of the sign. The road itself seemed to not be much at all other than an exceptional score in a game of Scrabble.
We had had a chance earlier in the trip in after Death Valley to drive on the original Route 66 but had chosen to press on and had regretted it a little ever since.
Route 66, for those who don’t know, is perhaps the most famous and iconic of all American roads which cuts across a huge part of the US, connecting Chicago and LA.
Unfortunately most of it has been replaced by freeway and it has all been split up, but large parts of the original road do exist and pass through historic areas, ghost towns of economic depression personified and crazy tourist venues.
Billy Connelly is currently doing an excellent series on Route 66 and our chance to drive the original road came halfway between Vegas and LA before the Mojave desert.
There is nothing quite like driving the original Route 66. I took over driving at this point for the remainder of the trip and we put on The Good the Bad and The Ugly soundtrack again as we passed through a crazy boarded up ghost town which was incredibly atmospheric.
Then we were driving through a beautiful sunset across the desert as a freight train with over 50 wagons shot past. Route 66 is iconic in every way you expect and there’s just something about driving it that is so, so special.
We stopped at one ghost town (sorry, that’s just the best way to describe them) and took photos of the sun setting over the famous Route 66 logo on the tarmac.
That whole area, just like Arizona, reminded me so much of my GCSE American West history course from years ago. We read incredible stories in our Lonely Planet guide about perfectly normal Christian upstanding families heading out west to seek their fortunes in the late 1800s, getting lost and stuck in Death Valley when a hard winter came early, then rescuers the following spring finding only a few of them in caves with evidence of cannibalism rife everywhere. It’s a crazy, vast, terrifying and beautiful place all at once, that part of America.
We got back to the Royal Century Hotel in LA where we had stayed exactly two weeks before at the start of the trip. It’s incredible how much we had done since then – people we spoke to about it were astonished that we had achieved such an adventure and it’s without doubt the best thing I have ever done.
The following day we took the rental Chevy back which was heartbreaking after doing 2828 miles in it, surviving bear country, an off-road adventure in Monument Valley and 123° heat in Death Valley. I had driven the bulk amount of days but Jodie racked up at least 1000 miles including the longest mileage day on that hottest day of our lives in Death Valley.
Thankfully after our cleaning of the car the handover was smooth (we could not have afforded any surcharges!) We walked back to the hostel and packed and chilled ahead of a crazy journey back. Martin had already flown back east to meet more people from camp and Jodie had two weeks left of travelling Canada and the east coast but the main bit, the trip of a lifetime, was over and for me it was nearly time to leave America.
The following day proved to be challenging, beginning with our cab to the airport turning up with a puncture and us having to get another. Fortunately we had time and we said goodbye at LAX, which was strange after over eleven weeks together non-stop, and I headed to the gate. There was confusion with the people in front of me’s luggage and all three women from the Delta gate escorted them onto the plane, shutting the door behind them. I waited and waited and eventually they returned and told me quite rudely that I had missed my flight even though I had been there in plenty of time. Naturally I kicked off and demanded I was put on the next flight which was in fact better as it was direct to New York JFK rather than having two stops as my original flight did. Except I got to JFK and my luggage had been lost in Minneapolis. No one could assure me it would be found by the time my flight left for Heathrow the following day so I was quite stressed. Things would only get more stressful, though…
My taxi driver from JFK misunderstood me and took me to 86th street Manhattan, not 86th Brooklyn, which cost me $50. I got the subway to 86th Brooklyn only to find I needed East 86th which is in a whole different part of Brooklyn to 86th. After a long time waiting for a cab and another $25 I couldn’t afford, I got to the right street but the hostel was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully it turned out to be just very poorly advertised with no sign and only a tiny sticker on the buzzer saying “Adventure Hostel”. Inside it was one of the friendliest hostels with one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever experienced – you are treated as part of the family.