My (Not Quite) Coast-to-Coast Trip Report

I have been living in Gringolandia for a month now, and the Mexico City chapter of my life is over.  This reality only fully set in a few days ago, and I’m filled with mixed emotions.  Alas, it is what it is.

My return to the U.S. began in Los Angeles, where I spent a few days running errands – monetary and such – and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in almost two years.  I even made it to the beach!  From LA, I cleaned out my storage space, loaded everything onto a U-Haul, and drove cross-country to my new home in eastern Tennessee.

The journey went without incident, but it had some logistical challenges and cost more than I expected.  As such, I thought you’d appreciate a brief write-up, Loyal Reader.  Hopefully it’ll provide some insight should you ever have to make a similar move yourself.

The Truck Rental

It is important to get this right, lest you be forced to leave something behind because it won’t fit in the van.  My belongings were stored in a 5’ x 5’ x 10’ storage locker, so I figured a 10’ truck would be fine.  (It was.)  I shopped around – on-line and over the phone – with three different companies, and here’s what I found (prices are not exact, but are off the top of my head):

  • U-Haul: I selected 10’ truck from their website, then entered my starting and ending zip codes and selected pick-up and drop-off locations (several to choose from). I was quoted a price just under $1000 for an eight-day, one-way rental.  No-hassle insurance was another $180.  Pads and dolly were extra, but at a cost of just $10.  I had to provide my own lock, which – strangely – they didn’t sell.  You need a credit card to hold the reservation, but nothing is charged until you pick up the van.  Full payment is expected at that time.  http://www.uhaul.com/

U-Haul it was.  The truck I picked up had just over 16,000 miles on it.  FYI: U-Haul and Penske trucks have automatic transmissions.  I don’t know about Ryder.

The Route

Considering where I was and where I had to go, this part was easy: Interstate 40 all the way.  I-40 crosses almost the entire United States, from Barstow, CA in the west to Wilmington, NC in the east.  2,555 miles.  The interstate highway passes through such cities as Flagstaff, AZ; Albuquerque, NM; Amarillo, TX; Oklahoma City, OK; and Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville, TN.  Numerous points of interest – national parks in particular – are within an hour’s drive north or south of the highway.  The Grand Canyon, Humphrey’s Peak (highest point in Arizona), Petrified Forest, Cadillac Ranch, Fort Smith National Historic Site, Elvis Presley’s Graceland…all here.  Various “Route 66” towns in various states of preservation…those are here, too.

Lodging

With minimal stops, you should be able to drive from one end of the country to the other in no more than six days.  That’s how long it took me, including a late departure my first day, three hours wasted in LA traffic, a day (more-or-less) of sightseeing, and a full day’s rest before tackling the last 400+ miles.

I did the drive over the Fourth of July, and had no problems finding affordable lodging.  That said, I avoided busy places like Williams, AZ, the busiest I-40 Grand Canyon gateway town.  Even so, Route 66 follows I-40 from California to Oklahoma, and most surviving Route 66 towns are chock-a-block with hotels.  Motel 6 and Super 8 served me just fine, and cost less than $80/night, including tax.  If you prefer Days Inn or Holiday Inn Express, expect upwards of $100/night.

Some people prefer sleeping in their cars at highway rest areas.  I’ve done this before myself; however you should note that it’s next to impossible to sleep even semi-comfortably in a moving van with non-reclining bucket seats.

The Stopovers

With just seven days to get there and without a lot of money for hotel stays, I made almost no stops, and spent just two nights in hotels.  I ate at McDonald’s just once.  🙂  For purposes of time, I bypassed the Arizona and New Mexico national parks, most of which I’ve seen before anyway.  In fact, I drove all through the night without stopping, and passed through AZ before sunrise.  Further east, however, a few roadside attractions piqued my interest.

Have you heard of Cadillac Ranch?  It’s one of those “Americana” pieces of kitsch (World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle, etc.), and I spotted it out of the corner of my eye while driving through Amarillo.  I turned around at the next exit, pulled onto the Frontage Road, and grabbed my camera.  It’s set back from the highway, so the visit took me perhaps 30 minutes.  Below are a few photos that can describe the bizarre site better than I can.  I apparently visited during caterpillar season.  Hundreds – thousands – overtook the muddy path to the site.  If you ever go…tread carefully.  Pics:

Cadillac Ranch 4

Cadillac Ranch 3

Cadillac Ranch 9

Cadillac Ranch 8

Cadillac Ranch 10

I made it through northern Texas and southern Oklahoma in a single day, and stayed that night in the first Arkansas town I came to, a literal and figurative Arkansas River backwater called Van Buren.  My plan for the next morning was to drive straight through to Memphis, where my sister lives, but instead something beckoned me to check out downtown Fort Smith, AR.  I’m glad I did.

Fort Smith is perhaps the easternmost Civil War town in the country.  Its National Historic Site features a fort, jail, museum, and cemetery, with the fort picturesquely situated on the east bank of the Arkansas River.  It was the Fourth of July when I visited, and though early in the afternoon when I arrived, people were already setting up lawn chairs and picnic baskets in the lovely Riverfront Park, presumably a good vantage point for the evening’s inevitable fireworks show.  (An even better vantage point, IMHO, was from the impressive bridge that spans the river and connects Arkansas with Oklahoma.)  I didn’t stay for the show, but I enjoyed my brief visit and I recommend Fort Smith as a worthy stopover if you happen to pass through the area.  A few pics:

Fort Smith NHS 40

Fort Smith NHS 1 - Sepia tone

Fort Smith NHS 23

Fort Smith National Cemetery 17

Arkansas River crossing 1

Lots of driving!  After a rest day in Memphis, I continued east for my final, 430-mile stretch of highway.  I stopped off in Nashville for a few hours, grabbing lunch with my friend Chris, who gave me a quick walking tour of downtown.  Dusk was already settling in as I left, and I knew Nashville would be a city that I’d like to explore more in the not-so-distant future.

Final Thoughts

Despite (or because of) the fact that I was alone for the entire drive, I had a blast.  The truck handled well, traffic was not an issue once I left L.A., and there were no problems.  A few cell phone dead zones but that’s to be expected.  I do wish that the truck had a USB port for charging my phone, but I made do.  I was pleasantly surprised by the music variety as I drove.  Barstow, Flagstaff, Amarillo, and Little Rock each had that perfect radio station, with an emphasis on good music and few commercials.  Perhaps I simply lucked into a holiday weekend music marathon, but the stations were leagues better than the promotions-heavy ones I was stuck with during 12 years of California living.

I recommend U-Haul.  As I said before, the truck handled well and had less than 20,000 miles on it, even after I completed my journey.  There were no hassles and no hidden charges, and their website is easy to navigate.  The only thing – and this would have been the same with Penske and Ryder as well, I’m sure – is the fuel cost.  It cost over $100 to fill the tank, which I did perhaps eight times.  I averaged 12 miles a gallon.  If I was towing a car, it would have been even worse.  Goodbye savings account!

If you have any trip-planning questions of your own, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Thanks for reading!

Unloading day 1

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food, history, and women, all while weathering the culture shock. Life's journey has since brought him to rural Tennessee, perhaps the biggest culture shock of them all. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, and travel in general.

6 thoughts on “My (Not Quite) Coast-to-Coast Trip Report”

    1. Often it’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination. For me, this time it was mostly about the destination…but I did find the trip relaxing, and the few stops interesting. I hope you found the trip report interesting as well. 🙂

  1. sounds like an interesting journey… I’m glad you got safe home (Mario and I miss you around). Take care and don’t forget about Mexico City.

  2. My L.A. to Tennessee drive was anything but relaxing. It was nightmarish once I hit Texas and the whole state was hit with an ice storm just as I arrived. There was one day that I was on the road for 10 hours and had only gone 60 miles. There was nowhere to stop other than the side of the road where some 18 wheeler could jack-knife and slam into you. So I kept going.

    I left at night so I didn’t get to see the low desert or crossing the Colorado River, something I’d always wanted to see from close up. My main highlight was White Sands National Monument. It was practically deserted and amazing to see with no crowds and a colorful sunset.

    I drove from the Dallas area to Nashville in one shot. About 12 hours. The sun set around the Texas/Arkansas border and the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful.

    Damn, so $1000 for the rental and $800 for gas? Holy shit. That’s exactly why I sold all my belongings and put as much as I could stuff into my car and stuff it I did. My entire trunk was filled to edge, couldn’t even have put an extra towel in there. My back seat was so piled high I just had a little sliver of space to see through the rear view mirror. I had stuff under my seats, over the seats, between the seats. I fit stuff in every space I could find like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle. I ended up sleeping in the car twice, one in Phoenix and once in some some small town in Texas, I think it was Midland. I just know everything was covered in a layer of ice and it was in the low-mid teens at night. I slept in the car since it was 4am when I stopped driving.

    At about $50 per refuel I spent around $300 on gas and averaged 25mpg which is better than I thought I would get given that my car was so weighed down that the rear wheel wells were nearly scraping on the tires. And three nights of motels at around $40-50 a night or so, one of them being an absolute disgusting shit hole with roaches crawling around. But everything was booked due to the ice storm and the only option was sleeping in my car in single digit temps. All in all, not much money spent. Plus selling my furniture gave me some extra cash. I liked my furniture but it wasn’t irreplaceable either. It was quite a feeling to pull out of my apartment with every possession I owned in the car with me. Kind of liberating in a way.

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