40 days. One Subaru Forester. 8,546 miles. Bike trails in 12 states. Two more MLB ballparks. Several National and State Parks visited. A 32nd Wedding Anniversary and two birthdays celebrated during the trip. Four more state high elevation points gained. Breakfast with Charles and Di (the working ones) and meeting old friends and family in eight different locations. Most importantly, we learned some tips that we will use on future long road trips!
Every day had something different. We saw some of the best of America and some of the worst too. Starting from the Central Oregon steppes we experienced a number of different ecosystems and cultural regions. We ventured through the Desert Southwest, the Texas Hill Country, regions of the Deep South from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle to Georgia and then returned home via I-40 crossing the Great Plains and arriving at the Colorado Plateau, before heading north through Utah’s Canyonlands and Wasatch Valley to Idaho’s Snake River Ecoregion and finally home across Eastern Oregon via U.S. 20. Central Oregon was still experiencing winter-like conditions in early April when we left, as was the Grand Canyon and the Mogollon Rim of Arizona a few days later. Winter quickly changed to summer by the time we descended into the valley of the Sun to watch an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game.
We took Beth’s Subaru Forester that she bought in the Fall of 2020 specifically for a trip like this in mind. This is her fourth Subaru and the first one that is a Forester. She named the car “Summer Breeze”, and it performed admirably. Unlike her utilitarian Subaru predecessors “Spooky” and “Lazarus”, Summer Breeze had all the bells and whistles like an automatic transmission, a sun roof, a navigation system, and a subscription to Sirius XM. It had enough leg room and trunk space to hold our gear to make it a comfortable and fun ride, with enough power to safely accelerate onto crowded freeways in urban areas.
We chose to stay in mid-range hotels most of the way instead of opting for camping, but brought sleeping bags and extra food and water just in case we got stranded somewhere. We never needed to use the sleeping bags. Most nights we searched for and found a Best Western Hotel to stay for the night. With their rewards program, we got a hot breakfast almost every morning and qualified for three nights of a free room. We brought our bikes into the rooms each night to avoid possible theft. Each of the rooms had a mini fridge, a microwave, and in-room coffee. Many hotel breakfasts can end up being a carb-fest, but most of them had fresh fruits and egg options. A couple even had Greek Yogurt and bacon.
Eating healthy can be a challenge on a road trip across America. Most restaurants along the way are dominated by the fast food industry. Even many other dine-in restaurants have vegetables that come from a number 10 can. We passed through not only physical deserts along the way, but began to realize how many food deserts exist in our country. The South was a particularly difficult place to find healthy food, but Beth did a lot of internet research while I drove, and she did manage to find a couple of gems of places to eat healthy. It was heartening to find a place like the Tallahatchie Gourmet Restaurant in downtown New Albany, Mississippi near the start of the Tanglefoot Bike Trail. We dined there a couple of different days and I had this salad in the picture below, which was a wonderful way to end a 38 mile bike ride!
Another wonderful restaurant on our road trip was the Farm Bistro in Cortez, Colorado. It was recommended by a lady working at the Retro Hotel where we stayed. Their menu relies on locally sourced healthy food. There were other places along the route…too many to mention. But many times there are no healthy options in a food desert. That is why it is important to carry a cooler with you and make purchases at either a farm market or an organic grocery store when you can find one. Staying in a hotel with a mini-fridge will help keep your food fresh longer.
When making a trip as long as this one, it is important to have an activity each day if possible. We averaged 213.6 miles of driving per day, but some days we stayed in the same place and didn’t drive at all. Our longest day of driving was the first day from Bend to Hawthorne, Nevada, a distance of 511 miles. We tried driving out of Winter in one day, but starting in Arizona we began to take our time and make sure that we got some kind of exercise each day. When there were no safe bike trails to ride on, we opted for a walk, whether it was a nature hike in a park or an urban hike in a city exploring different cultural landscapes.
During the long rides through the desolate parts of the American Southwest, we stopped by the roadside and walked and enjoyed the desert in bloom. Spring time is the best time to view the desert, and the Spring of 2023 was one of the wettest on record. The desert was in full colorful bloom, with yellow cactus flowers and red Ocotillo blossoms and purple flowers painting the landscape.
While Interstate Highways may be the fastest route across the country, you will not experience any hometown culture while traveling these routes. To get a sense of a place one must travel local highways and explore small towns. The concrete jungles of the interstate highway system are filled with rude, aggressive drivers and tired and overworked long-haul truckers. Rarely are there options for healthy, local food. It is no coincidence that they only two times we had fast food was once at a McDonald’s and once at a Wendy’s, which were our only options on long stretches of Interstate highway.
We got off of I-10 through Texas and explored the back roads of the Texas Hill Country and found enchanting little towns like Boerne and Marble Falls. In larger towns like San Antonio and Austin, we took urban hikes.
Four times during the trip we stayed multiple nights in one location. Not only is it important for rest, but it gives you time to experience and know a place is a less superficial way. When visiting family or friends along the way the extra time also allows for deeper connection to the people we love. Instead of trying to drive all over town to see as many old friends as you can, you might want to have them all meet together at one place, like we did when we stayed in Rome, Georgia and met at the Cosmic Dog Outpost on the edge of downtown, adjacent to the Etowah River.
We managed to bike in 12 states along the way as we chipped away at Beth’s Bucket List of a bike trail in every state. We mostly stuck to Rail Trails where we didn’t have to contend with car traffic. Spring time can be a difficult time for weather in the Midwest and South, as it is the season of tornados. We were pretty lucky with the weather for the most part, but just after we finished biking on the Tallahassee- St. Marks Trail in the Florida Panhandle a tornado touched down a few miles from there.
Road trips are great excuses for wildlife enthusiasts to make a sojourn. Different ecosystems offer habitats for a myriad of different types of wildlife, from avians to reptiles to mammals. Beth got her first encounter with Javelinas (Peccaries) in the Texas Hill Country near Fort Davis State Park. We also got to see a group of wild turkeys while hiking in Chiricahua National Monument in SE Arizona.
Mick also had a couple of Bucket Lists to chip away at. In his quest to see each major league baseball team at their home park, we saw both home teams win their games: The Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the L.A. Dodgers 11-5 at Chase Field, and the Texas Rangers bested the Oakland A’s 4-2 at Globe Life Field. He now has seen 23 of the 30 teams in their home parks.
Mick’s other bucket list includes getting high in every state. No, not that kind of high! Since Marijuana is not legal in every state, he gets high the natural way—-by climbing to the highest altitude elevation of that state. We visited the highest elevations of four new states on the trip- Louisiana’s Driskell Mountain, Florida’s Britton Hill, Alabama’s Cheaha Mountain, and Mississippi’s Woodall Mountain. Regrettably we did not have enough time to make it over to South Carolina to tackle Sassafras Mountain. But he was sure that the previous climbs of Mt. Whitney, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Kilimanjaro adequately prepared him for the summits on this trip! He now has 43 state high points accomplished.
Other things we learned along the way
- It is a dangerous world out there! Much of the road system in this country is in very poor shape. The potholes on I-17 from Flagstaff to Phoenix were huge and the road surface looked like it was in a war zone. Shredded tires littered the whole road. I have seen better roads in Bolivia and Uzbekistan. I know the winter was tough near Flagstaff, but I-10 in southern Arizona was bad too, and you can’t blame that on winter. We had LOTS of other examples of bad roads in several states.
- There are a lot of angry drivers out there. Too many people are driving dangerously. We had speeders doing rapid lane changes, tailgating, and taking lots of aggressive moves on the road. In towns, a stoplight is a mere suggestion to some. Look both ways when the light turns green. Be careful out there on your road trip! On the interstates where the speed limits are often 75, we saw many folks driving in the mid 90s.
- Gas prices vary widely across our nation. The cheapest fuel was below $3/gallon in Mississippi and West Texas. Oregon and Arizona had the highest prices which were above $4/gallon. Not all of that is due to state gas taxes. Refinery capacity and market manipulation by the oil companies are also factors. Also, each state has different requirements for what constitutes the lowest octane that can be sold. Many states require that the lowest octane that can be sold is 87, with 89 and 91 Octanes listed as premium. Some states with low prices sold a lower grade of Octane, sometimes as low as 85. Summer Breeze didn’t like to drink anything lower than 87 Octane. Everywhere we went except for Oregon let you pump your own gas, so pay attention to the Octane level as well as the price.
- A long road trip with your spouse or partner can bring you closer together. Or it can tear you apart. Which outcome you will achieve depends on acknowledging each other’s needs and meeting them. When your wife wants to spend time in a dress shop and you don’t, bring along a book and sit on the husband bench while she shops and don’t rush her. Lots of pre-planning before the trip starts is important too. But allowing yourself to change plans on a whim is also a good idea. Good tasting coffee doesn’t hurt either! In the past, I would have camped many nights to save money. This time we stayed in a comfortable bed each night. I learned that a comfy wife leads to a happy life (for both of us!) For our anniversary we splurged on an expensive dinner and a luxury hotel on Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The lasting memory made for money well spent.
- Roadside billboards can give you an insight on reading the cultural landscape of a location. Some states restrict billboards or don’t have any at all. Others have no restrictions as to the number. What is advertised on billboards changes by location. For instance, in the Deep South the number of billboards advertising for Personal Injury Lawyers was staggering. The only other ones which came close in number were either fast food ads or ads for Jesus. Ironically, we saw an accident somewhere on the road almost every day of traveling in the South. Apparently, if Jesus didn’t end up protecting you, it would be easy to find a personal injury lawyer to sue someone with deeper pockets and blame them for the consequences of your bad driving. Interstate 20 in East Texas had a multitude of right wing anti-education billboards warning you that your public school teacher is a Marxist. In other states, you may only find billboards that advertise businesses that you may encounter ahead. Taking a multi-state road trip allows you to see changes from place to place.
- There are actually nice people who exist in this crazy world, if you make the time to engage with them. We had a nice chat with Charles and Di (the Woodfords!) after breakfast at a hotel in New Mexico. Two families who were strangers to one another the day before made a connection in half an hour. Kim from Minnesota was another person we met on a trail in Colorado, who was kind enough to send us a picture of one of the petroglyphs that we had missed on the trail. I had a nice conversation in Spanish with two chambermaids in a motel in Gulf Shores, Alabama who fled horrible conditions in Honduras and lost family members during their migration. Moral of this story—-it is easier to find nice people when each of you are not behind the wheel of a car!
- Google Earth can be a valuable tool for planning your trip. Many of the hotels show their best side on their websites, but by using Google Earth you can not only see the outside of the property, but learn about the neighborhood that it is in. It also helps to compare different road routes that you may choose from to get to a destination. Pay attention to the bottom of the screen to verify the altitude of the location, as well as the time of year the pictures were taken to avoid any misreading of the landscape.
- We learned from a friend that there are three phases to retirement; the Go-Go phase, the Slow-Go phase, and the No-Go phase. We want to do another long road trip soon, before we get to the third phase.
This post was a general overview of the trip, with some general tips and few specifics about the various locations that we visited. Subsequent posts will focus more in depth on particular locations, so stay tuned in the weeks to come to more fully experience some of the neat and surprising destinations we encountered. As always, we appreciate you readers for virtually traveling with us!
Mick and Beth
3 thoughts on “One Epic USA Road Trip: Bike Trails, Ballparks, and Natural Highs- Oh My!”
Love it! Great observations and insights. Looking forward to future posts🙂.
Epic travels. Food desserts, just like Bryant Terry mentioned the other night, are found in urban and rural communities. Finding them in rural communities is strange and disturbing. Kind people are everywhere you go – I’m glad you found many.
I forgot to include the most important lesson….”Without Geography, we’d be Nowhere!”
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