3,000 miles, 20,000 pounds from coast to coast.
April of 2017, in the drivers seat of a Budget moving truck, loaded to the brim with everything I own, Jeep in tow, we pulled off and were underway for what would turn out to be a more fun road trip than I could have ever thought it would be.
From the time we pulled out of our driveway in St Mary’s, Georgia until the time we pulled into the parking lot of our hotel in San Diego we had traveled 2373 miles, over the course of seven days, with a lot to do and see in-between point A and point B. I had been used to the occasional four hour trips from my home in Georgia to my parents house in Tampa; what we were about to undergo was surely going to be a stressful and long trip. Up until this point the farthest I had driven in one trip was from St Mary's to Virginia. About 8 hours up I-95 and back with two weeks in-between trips. I was in the Jeep by myself, music blaring windows down and getting my first real experience of what this Jeep was capable of doing on a long distance drive and it was flawless. I had complete control over bathroom and food breaks, stopped to take pictures at each of the state borders and even had dinner with my grandparents outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Overall it was very relaxed and without stress. But this trip here? This cross country, everything I own 5 feet behind me for 2400 miles? Oh how it couldn’t be more different.
Now I don’t want to sound like I hated the trip and it was dreadful from beginning to end because it wasn’t. It was a very cool experience I got to have with my wife and I got to see parts of the country I had never seen before and in a very unique way. That part was great. What wasn’t so great was the gravity of the trip itself. As I have already mentioned, we were moving from Georgia to San Diego by way of interstate 10 in a moving truck with everything we own stuffed in the back, and my Jeep on a full size vehicle trailer attached to the back, coming in at just under 20,000 pounds. All of that rested in my hands and feet as I piloted this behemoth of a vehicle all 2400 miles. I have a tendency to get highway hypnosis if I drive for too long (or if I eat too much before I drive, food coma ya know?) Before I could ever worry about a double quarter pounder with cheese and soggy fries doing me in and careening us off the interstate, our troubles started before we got more than 10 miles from our Georgia home. From the Walmart parking lot just down the road from our house as were picking up last minute supplies, groceries and making the final checks to ensure the Jeep was secured to the trailer, I got a call from the hotel we stayed at the night before and it wasn’t anything what I had expected. In our rush to get on the road that morning, we had left our accordion file folder in the parking lot and the police were notified that a strange package had been left and it was a suspected explosive device. Great. Unstrap the Jeep, drive back to the hotel, they tell us the police have confiscated it and we need to go them to get it. They explain to me that it was an honest mistake, I filled out some paperwork explaining I wasn't a threat, and we were back on schedule.
Our first stop was at Publix (the greatest grocery store in existence) to see my brother just outside of Tallahassee, one last time and grab a bite to eat before going on to our first planned hotel stay in Gulfport Mississippi.
It turned out to be a better decision to stop than we would later realize. Because of the delayed start we already had, then having our little “bomb scare” we were much later than we had expected and were going to get into Gulfport much later than we wanted to. So we left Tallahassee, and made our way through Pensacola, Mobile, and eventually into Gulfport and we closed the door on a very long day 1 around 1am.
The next morning we were greeted by a very good friend of mine who lived in the area and had come to see us one more time before we left and say goodbye for now. However our day 2 did not involve another 8-10 hours of driving like the day prior. We unloaded the Jeep from the trailer, made our way an hour west to explore New Orleans for the day and see the sights. The city really is a sight to behold in person if you ever get the chance. So much history is deeply seeded in every nook and cranny of the city, while signs of the wake of Katrina have still yet to be settled. We made our way down the waterfront, saw farmers markets selling alligator cooked more ways than I cared to know was possible and enjoyed a dessert I didn’t know existed in Beignet’s and coffee from the world famous, Café du monde. Aside from the amazing lunch we had later that day, the historical buildings, churches and beautiful iron work on the balconies of the houses lining bourbon street, by far the most interesting part of that stop was getting my shoes washed. A man stopped me in the street, pulled out a bottle of questionable soap like substance and dirty wash rag, and WASHED my canvas shoes…I'm serious. Needless to say it was time to move on. That night we showered, packed up our bags and prepared ourselves for the next day of driving.
Mileage total: 516 miles, a bomb threat, and clean-ish shoes.
Sidebar/backstory: As you know, I rented a Budget moving truck for this trip along with a trailer for the Jeep. It’s worth mentioning just how much of a disaster that this trailer made this trip so here goes. When I placed my reservation over the phone with the rental company, I was guaranteed a specific truck, trailer, pick up time and place. All 4 were wrong and unavailable. When I got there, they had rented the truck out already, didn’t have a trailer for me, and the next best thing from them which was a smaller truck, wouldn’t be available for an additional 3 hours. Not good so far. They direct me to go to a different rental site, that was supposed to have both the truck and trailer I was looking for. When I got to the second location thankfully they had multiple trucks in my requested size as well as a trailer. The problem was none of the electrical connectors for the brake lights and reversing lights would work with the trucks, from ANY of the trailers. So after an hour of trial and error of every combination of truck/trailer they had, one of them worked. Now on to the next problem.
While my Jeep isn’t very big when compared to most lifted and modified rigs, it is a lot bigger than most vehicles that will be utilizing these trailers. When it came time to roll the jeep up the ramp, it took a few tries to get the 12.5 inch wide tires to stay straight. The biggest problem however was the safety straps. At their FULLEST extension, they weren’t big enough to go over the top and around the face of the tire like they were designed. Awesome. So after a quick online search for a possible solution, a post on a Jeep forum suggested to just let some air out of the tires and tighten them after that. Well I didn’t exactly want to do that seeing as how we had plans to go sight seeing after our day of driving in all of our stops except for one. To combat this issue I bought a set of ratchet straps and used a set of tow chains that I had to jerry rig the tires down and hold it in place. So in total there was: 3 ratchet straps, the safety straps from the trailer and one of my tow chains on both front tires as well as the trailer-included emergency chain around both axles. By the end of our first day of driving, everything but the trailers chains had fallen off or become loosened. The only thing we could do was re-tighten the straps at every gas station stop and bathroom break and hope for the best. After our day exploring New Orleans and not wanting to fear the worst case scenario of our only vehicle rolling off the trailer in the middle of Texas, we just decided to let out as much air as possible to get those big yellow straps around the tires and wrap my tow chains through the wheels themselves, ensuring a worry free drive the rest of the way.
We would later come to realize that the chains were wrapped too tightly around the wheel and had a very difficult time getting them off.
Day 3 started bright and early at 6 am as we once again loaded the truck and got back on the road. Through the longest stretches of swamp lands I had ever seen, we made our way across Louisiana, and began what would become the longest and most arduous part of this drive. Texas. If you’ve never driven across Texas on I-10 than it can be kind of hard to explain exactly how barren and boring that drive can be. Without the slow down of a Pub-Sub stop and suspicious packages this day started much smoother, and with no unnecessary stops, I pressed on, stopping only for gas and a few meals. We made our way into down town San Antonio, a city that grows on me a little more each time I’m there. As we’re making our way off of the interstate and nearing our hotel, my co-pilot of a wife had decided that we would have dinner that night at a small restaurant called The Esquire Tavern, right on the Riverwalk in the heart of downtown. After a fantastic meal and a few adult beverages we set out on foot to explore the likes of the Alamo and the Ripley’s Museum, (from the outside since it was closed for the night) as well as some of the break dancing enthusiasts roaming the streets of greater San Antonio that night. It was definitely a great time and I hope to return again to fully enjoy all that is there to offer.
Mileage total: 1111 miles and a whole lot of nothin'.
Day 4: Remember the barren and boring I mentioned earlier? Yeah that was nothing. When people fecisiously say that they are in the middle of nowhere, I assume the scenario they are trying to portray lies somewhere between San Antonio and the outskirts of El Paso. With nothing but empty desert lands, long rolling hills and somewhere in the neighborhood of three gas stations, this was absolutely the longest part of the drive. By this time we were both sick of driving, and just wanted to be in California already. But alas, every day of this trip did have something memorable so here it is. El Paso. Having been born and raised in the southeast, the border between the US and Mexico was something I only ever saw in the news or online and it was always negative. Having never focused on the wall itself or what it even looked like, it was very surreal to be driving on one side of the road, 100 yards away from an entirely other country where the way of life is so vastly different as well as the center of attention for our country’s political stigma at the time. MAGA am I right? (I'm so sorry for that.) Not only was driving within a few hundred feet of another country a cool experience, it pales in comparison to our night in Las Cruses, our third hotel on this trip. We stayed at the Best Western Mission Inn and it was immaculate. Our room was beautifully laid out and decorated with fantastic wood worked furniture and fixings that perfectly fit the southwestern environment, and the full course complimentary breakfast the next morning was the icing on the cake. For those of you interested, we had dinner at La Posta De Masilla which came highly recommended to us by my family who had lived in Las Cruses many years ago and it too, was another fantastic meal. Inside the restaurant was a piranha tank and an aviary filled with parakeets. Seriously. The biggest downside of our night in New Mexico was the trying to find parking in the narrow streets that would fit this enormous truck and trailer combination, both near the restaurant and the hotel.
Total Mileage: 1707 miles and a piranha tank.
Very odd choice of interior decorations with the birds and fish tanks, thankfully neither were on the menu.
Beautiful scenery that never seemed to end. My wife and I both regret every day since the day we got to San Diego, not filming/vlogging this trip.
Day 5 started the same as the last 4, wake up early, pack up, grab some food and gas and hit the road. Except this day was especially exciting for us as we were headed for our most anticipated stop of the trip; a full day at the Grand Canyon. While our day of hiking and sightseeing would have to wait until the following morning, the day of driving leading up to it was the most nerve-wracking and anxiety filled time ive ever had behind the wheel of an automobile. And I’ve been in several car accidents, involving hydroplaning in a top heavy jeep and totaling 2 vehicles. So yeah this was a ton of fun. Allow me to explain. The first 3 hours of this days drive was rather pleasant. More flat desert lands, some hills, a few cell towers and a time change. Nothing out of the ordinary. Enter Gila National Forest.
I would like to take the time to recap exactly what is going on here. I am piloting a 20,000 pound truck, everything I own in tow, on a one way trip. We are so far outside of civilization, that if something were to happen to us should we need some kind of emergency assistance it would likely take hours for help to arrive. The truck we were in probably made 12 miles per gallon in its current state of towing on flat level ground at a constant speed. A terrain we were not offered driving through this forest. Now back to the scary part.
As we were driving along we slowly started to lose cell phone reception and GPS connection navigating through the mountains and thick forests. When I say mountains I’m not talking about those plebyain hills we encountered in West Texas. Oh no. These were tall, curving, narrow mountain roads that could only be enjoyed in a small sports car, tearing through the hills on a relaxing Saturday morning drive. This was not that. At all. Not even in my imagination. Several times throughout this mountain my foot was flat on the floor, maxed out input, and I was LOSING speed! I didn’t exactly have a whole lot of faith in Budget trucks maintenance of the brakes either which made the other side of these mountain roads just as terrifying with the threat of brake failure and a runaway truck. All the while our fuel level is plummeting in a way that I can only compare to a 747 falling out of the sky with the ground getting taller through some unfortunate series of events in backwards physics.
Running out of gas, probably running out of brakes, no gas station anywhere in sight, no GPS or cell reception. I was losing it, and whatever IT was, I was losing it fast. As we neared the small town of Luna, New Mexico, so did our cell coverage and GPS and priority number one became a bathroom and a gas station. At which we paid almost $6 per gallon of gas presumably because it was the only gas station ANYWHERE near there and it had to be decades old. The two ladies working there had never even met someone from as far east as we were coming from.
After my heart attack was over and were in Arizona, things went much smoother. Figureatively and literally. No more losing cell coverage and no more mountain roads. Just flat desert roads all the way into Grand Canyon National Park. Where once again the hotel was immaculate and just a few miles from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and the South Rim Trail.
Mileage total: 2218 miles and a heart attack.
Day 6 of our trip would bring us the most beautiful part of the country I have ever seen and left us wanting more from the minute we left. Our hotel was inside the park which saved us the 50 something mile drive from the nearest hotel into the park which was great considering the Jeep still had no air in the front tires and trying to park this truck/trailer combination would have been a nightmare. With buses taking guests from the hotels to the South Rim, we were able to go see the Canyon, hike and enjoy our full day without having to worry about driving. I cant begin to put into words what this stop was like so I’ll save effort and let the photos do as much as justice as they can.
It truly is breathtaking, and almost doesn’t look real when you’re standing at the edge of this marvelous place. It’s IMAX-esque, if I had to give it my best description. But you know that you’re not looking at an oversized screen showing you a movie. It was so far outside of comprehension just how massive and beautiful this place is. We started our day with a hike a mile and a half down Bright Angel Trail and back up for an even closer look at one of the natural wonders of the world. But after all of this, the amazing views from the top of the canyon that morning, the hike down and back up, all of them absolutely pale in comparison to what happens here during the last hour of sunshine of the day.
Mileage total: 2729 miles and the most beautiful scenery I have ever witnessed.
Day 7: Our final full day of the trip and emotions are running high. Our big crescendo of this cross- country ballad of shady shoe-washers and deflated tires, finally coming to a close. Not without a final 547 mile day of driving however. This portion of the drive however did not have a special stop, any crazy environmental obstacles or interesting sights to behold. Our only goal for the day was to simply GET to our San Diego hotel and put the wraps on this amazing trip. A full day of driving, food stops, gas breaks, and a few trips to the bathroom, came and went as the signs on the freeway started to read, Temecula, then Escondido, onto Carmel Mountain then finally San Diego. WE MADE IT! As our GPS directs to the hotel parking lot, I pull in glistening with excitement and joy as we put in park and let out a sigh of relief. After going inside, getting checked in and our room keys, I asked where I should park seeing as how the parking lot didn’t lend itself to over-sized vehicles and I was directed to the back of the parking lot. Get in, put the key in the ignition and turn it and try to put it in drive. Except…yep. Even at the very end of this long trip, did something have to go wrong. The cable connecting the column shifter to the transmission had come loose and fallen off, not allowing the gears to change. After a long call, or better yet a long time on hold with Budget’s roadside assistance line (which is an oxymoron) a tow truck driver came out and made the fix with a few zip ties and a few pieces of metal cable. He even refilled the Jeeps tires with air for me. One less thing I had to do the next day. Truck is fixed, Jeep is ready to go, and our life began in a hurry here in San Diego. Now here for right at a year, it was a fitting time for me to reflect on this trip and all the memories we made. All of them of course wouldn’t be possible without my beautiful co-pilot of a wife next to me the whole time. Keeping me focused and awake, she made it all the better.