I took a 1995 Subaru Legacy on a 5,000 mile road trip and here's what happened
I took this little red wagon on a proper American road trip. We made the most of an otherwise terrible situation and we saw the country at its finest.
Being from Sayreville, New Jersey, it is a given that I love Bon Jovi, he's an American icon, and I got to hear stories about him growing up through the teachers in my high school. He has a song called "Who Says You Can't Go Home". When he plays it at concerts, he typically has footage of Sayreville playing in the background, and he's incorporated the town into a few other songs as well. So when the opportunity for me to fly out to Washington State to bring one of my friends home from the Air Force presented itself, I knew I had to do. After all, who says you can't go home. Over the course of a few weeks, we sketched out a pretty awesome road trip, stopping to see a few iconic locations, and leaving time to explore on our way across the country. Now, before I get into the meat of this 6 day saga, I should mention that everything we did was outside, and we were socially distant and all of that good stuff. It should be said that road tripping during a pandemic is not the smartest choice, but we did everything we could to ensure the safety of ourselves, and others. Now then, onto the fun parts.
Day 0: Sayreville, New Jersey to Spokane Valley, Washington
I flew out to Washington on New Year's Eve, because the flights were dirt cheap. My buddy picked me up in his 1995 Subaru Legacy L Wagon, that we actively called "The L" or "The Little Red Wagon" throughout the trip. It's all stock, with about 123000 miles on it. Under the hood is Subaru's EJ22 2.2-liter four-cylinder putting out 135 horsepower at 5800 rpm, and 140 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm. Loaded down with all of his belongings, my luggage and us, the performance was less than stellar, but the L proved its worth, even as we climbed high into the mountains of the West Coast.
Without taking the age of the powertrain into consideration, most of the trip was at about 3,000 feet above sea level, which meant that we were down approximately 10 percent of our total horsepower, overtaking maneuvers had to be calculated and executed with precision. At certain points in the trip we were at 7,000 feet above sea level, which meant that we down to a measly 108 ponies.
Day 1: Spokane Valley, Washington to Red Bluff, California
At approximately 10:12am, we rolled out of the driveway, after shoving a full-size mattress into the back of a Buick Encore, which was an event of its own. We didn't have anything planned for this day, except to get within range of the General Sherman Tree in Three Rivers, California. Since it was 16 hours from Washington, we settled on Red Bluff, California as a stopping point. What we didn't know was that the route from Washington to California was going to put us on the Lewis and Clark Trail, and the Oregon Trail, which were some of the more interesting roads we would drive on throughout the trip.
The Lewis and Clark Trail runs along the Columbia River, and helped fill us with a sense of adventure and Americana, after all, we were in a classic station wagon, and we were setting off to explore. The Oregon Trail was also cool because it takes you through some of the oldest towns on the West Coast, and they truly live up to the Trail's tagline "A Journey Through Time". One town in particular, Grass Valley, Oregon, was truly incredible. Located about halfway into the trail, it is a town of 157 people, that was established in 1878. Not only does this town not have a gas station, it doesn't even have a stoplight, there's no need out here. There was one gentleman standing on the side of the town hall, waving to cars as they drove by, and I couldn't help but feel like I was out of place, all of these small towns had this liminal space to them, where you couldn't tell if you were paying attention to the towns, or if the towns were paying attention to you.
We swapped seats as we filled the tank and drove into the night as we left the Oregon Trail to meet up with Oregon's better traveled highways, which lead us through some of the most scenic views in the state, that is until it started snowing, and the snow quickly turned into a blizzard. The L's headlights were also fairly dim, which only added to the stress of trying to drive through the driving snow, but luckily, we had a Semi Truck in front us, that was a beacon of hope for most of the 70 miles of blizzard, and the L's all-wheel-drive kept us sure-footed the whole way, but it was still a rather scary experience all things considered. Especially considering if we went off the road, we couldn't tell if we were going to hit a tree, or go flying off a cliff. We prevailed though, and soon we found ourselves in California.
We pulled into the inspection station, and rather than asking about any of the belongings in the back of the car that were covered up by blankets, we were asked if we were carrying any homegrown fruit. Apparently that is a major issue, which is something I read up on after we switched seats and got more gas. We pulled into a Holiday Inn in Red Bluff at 10:32pm, and we were out like a light by 11:00.
Day 2: Red Bluff, California to Three Rivers, California
After a night of California dreamin', we woke up to see that all the leaves were brown and the sky was gray. As we continued our trek through the Golden State, my co-pilot mentioned that we were getting relatively close to Golden Gate Bridge, and when I found out that we were only an hour and a half away, the thought of eating In-N-Out on the banks of the San Francisco Bay seemed really appealing, so we got off of the 5 and got onto the 205 and the 580. As we got closer to San Francisco, we were met with mist and low-hanging clouds that kind of made our spontaneous detour a real letdown, not to mention that the time that we took to get into the city meant that we weren't going to be able to see General Sherman like we planned on. After we were done taking our photos and basking in the magnificence of the Golden Gate Bridge, we set off for In-N-Out.
Now, if you couldn't tell from the photo above, I'm no stranger to fast food. I have even written a few reviews for FoodTribe about some of the best fast food meals in the states, needless to say, I know that In-N-Out has an extensive secret menu. I got a Double Double Animal Style and an order of Animal Style fries, and I have to say, I was genuinely disappointed with the outcome. It was a "never meet your heroes" situation at its finest, it was good, but it wasn't life-changing like the Californians would have you believe. We eventually set a course for Three Rivers, California and set off on a four-hour drive. We arrived in Three Rivers with not enough sunlight to see the tree, and not enough moonlight to consider calling it a night, so we figured we would figure out how to install snow chains, because the website for Sequoia National Forest said that snow chains were a necessity for getting up the mountain roads at this time of the year. It was actually easier than I anticipated, and with our newfound knowledge, we went to go get food from the Quesadilla Gorilla, which I highly recommend stopping by if you are ever in the area. We checked into the hotel and went to sleep.
Day 3: Three Rivers, California to Tusayan, Arizona
We got up before sunrise and made the hour-long trek up into Sequoia National Forest. Our little red wagon conquered the mountains with relative ease, and we pulled over for some photos as the sun was peeking over the mountain range. We wound up driving past the parking area for General Sherman and stumbled upon this snow-covered road which made for some excellent shots before we got to see what we really went up there for. General Sherman is the largest single-stem tree on Earth. Estimated at anywhere between 2,300-2,700 years old, it is an incredible thing to experience in person. You can definitely see where Toyota got the inspiration for the Sequoia full-size SUV from, since both the vehicle and the tree seem to have been around for much longer than their modern counterparts.
After taking in the glory of General Sherman, we got back the L, and made our way back down the mountains and onward towards our destination for tonight, Tusayan, Arizona. After realizing how bad the headlights were, I made the executive decision to pull into an AutoZone to upgrade them to Sylvania Silverstar Ultras. I put them in my Buick Century and I loved them, plus I figured that once we got out into the desert, there would be a lot less people to help see in front of us. The bulbs were actually easy to replace, except I was under the assumption that we needed to remove the entire headlight to get access to the bulb, which was not the case, but now I have a new set of wrenches, so I can't complain too much. After taking a half hour to do a five minute job, we drove across the street for some Chick-N-Tater Munchie Meals from Jack In The Box and made our way towards Arizona...well, kind of.
Day 3, Part 2: Three Rivers, California to Las Vegas, Nevada to Tusayan, Arizona
We were making fairly good time getting out of California, and as we were nearing the border, my co-pilot told me that if we wanted to add an extra hour to the trip, we could drive straight through Las Vegas and pass the Hoover Dam on the way to the hotel. The thought of cruising The Strip at night was something I simply couldn't pass up, so we made our way into Nevada and found ourselves on the strip. Among all the lights, I found myself at a red light, so I grabbed my phone and jumped out of the car to snap a couple glamour shots of the L.
I had never been to Vegas, and unlike other cities I have visited, it was everything it was chalked up to be. As we made our way down The Strip, we started to figure out how we were going to see the Hoover Dam, and when we looked at the GPS, we saw that we would be on a bridge that ran alongside it and connected to Arizona. Brilliant. A few up-high photos of the Hoover Dam and we'd be on our way. Well, the state of Nevada outsmarted us, because not only were there signs saying that stopping on the bridge was a big no-no, the bridge had huge concrete walls that blocked our vision, probably to keep congestion in the area to a minimum, so we failed big time, and with our arrival time inching towards midnight, we put the hammer down and drove into the dark desert of Arizona. We pulled into Tusayan at 11:39pm, checked in and passed out.
Day 4: Tusayan, Arizona to Roswell, New Mexico
We woke up at the crack of dawn to get photos of The Grand Canyon at sunrise, which might be some of the best pictures I've taken in my life. The Grand Canyon is a lot like General Sherman in the sense that your mind cannot comprehend something that vast, so after a while, it starts to seem fake, as if you are in a diorama at a museum. The rocks that are close to you seem real, but at a certain distance, everything starts to look like a painting. It's only when you see the way the sun slowly creeps into the rock formations that you realize that it's all too real.
There was more to see today though, so after we were satisfied, we hopped back in the L and made our way back to I-40 and onward to our next destination, Horseshoe Bend. On the way, about an hour out from our destination, we came across this stretch of road that ran up the side of one of Arizona's many red rock formations. I pulled the car over about halfway up the hill and took in the view of the vast nothing that is Arizona. After a few minutes and a brief photo session, we jumped back in the car and found out that the road cut through the rock formation. It was truly incredible, until I got yelled at by some locals that were coming up through the pass because I left the car in the middle of the road, but looking back at these photos, it was totally worth it.
We eventually arrived at Horseshoe Bend, which is totally worth stopping to see. The Colorado River created this breathtaking valley that definitely resembles a horseshoe, and it is another reason why Arizona is a state that everyone needs to visit at some point. After a while, we hopped back in the car and decided that Sonic would be our meal of choice. I mean, what is a road trip without a hot dog and tater tots brought out by someone who can casually roller skate better than I ever could?
After lunch, we found out that Four Corners was going to close at 4:45 and our ETA was 4:40. In an effort to make up some time, we blasted through the remaining portion of Arizona, and managed to shave ten minutes off of our arrival time, which would've been useful, if Google actually told us that Four Corners had been closed by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department. We filled up in Shiprock, New Mexico and made our way to Roswell, pulling over to take some pictures of the night sky in hopes of finding some UFOs. We arrived in Roswell at 11:08pm to find that the Holiday Inn, along with several businesses take their Roswell locations very seriously, as nearly every building had aliens in some way, shape or form hanging out. After telling them that we came in peace, we passed out for the night.
Day 5: Roswell, New Mexico to Conway, Arkansas
Much to our dismay, the UFO museum was closed because of the pandemic, so we settled for breakfast from the coolest McDonald's in the country, and a nearby gift shop to satisfy our craving for some extraterrestrial shenanigans. I got out in the parking lot to take some pictures of the L with the Play Place of the McDonald's which is housed inside of a giant flying saucer, but not only were the photos I took terrible, I managed to drop one of my masks, not notice, and leave it in the parking lot. I knew I had misplaced it, but when I was looking over the photos that I saw it laying on the ground alongside the car. With our alien fun cut short, we made our way onto the only destination I picked for this trip, Cadillac Ranch.
Yes, Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation that is absolutely absurd, and at the same time, awesome. Created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, it is a brilliant display of what America is all about. Someone had the thought to bury ten Cadillacs in the ground, and then leave them to be covered by graffiti. This makes Cadillac Ranch an evolutionary art project. It is timeless, because it is never finished. There are pictures of all ten Caddies being painted pink for a wedding, all black to honor George Floyd, and two days ago, I decided to leave the DriveTribe Logo as my mark, and at least from what I can see on Instagram, it's already been covered by other travelers, but it lives on forever in my memory. Cadillac Ranch is also the title of an absolute bop by Bruce Springsteen, so in honor of another famous New Jersey rock star, I had to make the journey out to it.
We made our way through Texas, which had a lot of roadwork, then we got to Oklahoma, which had the worst roads of the trip, and even more roadwork, and then we got to Arkansas, which had the best roads of the entire trip by a long shot. Arkansas's roads are so smooth that I am thoroughly convinced that they make community service workers go out onto the highways with sandpaper, that's how incredible they were. We got to our hotel at 11:15pm and prepared ourselves for the 1,076 mile haul to Virginia the next day. We wanted to see a couple of friends in Norfolk, and their schedules are pretty tricky, but since we were still ahead of schedule, we were able to squeeze in a visit with them. We knew that we had to cut time where we could, so we went to sleep thinking about how we could save a few precious minutes in spots.
Day 6: Conway, Arkansas to Norfolk, Virginia
We woke up late, because I forgot to adjust the time on my iPod, which I use as an alarm clock, so we frantically packed our bags and ran for the car. Luckily, we got gas the night before, so we didn't have to worry about stopping before we got into the long haul. When we left the hotel in Conway, our ETA was 12:15am, which we knew we could beat, but it was the matter of by how long. The roads in the Southwest helped us refine our skills as a driving team, so whoever rode shotgun was in charge of calling out whether or not the right lane was open to pass by slower drivers in the left lane. It was like we were mini cannonballers. We fueled up and switched off, and then in a stroke of brilliance, after about 100 miles, I pulled in to a Pilot that also had a Wendy's attached, so while I fueled up, my co-pilot ran in and ordered lunch, I finished fueling, parked the car, then ran in to use the bathroom. I grabbed the food on my way back out and started wolfing down my burger in the parking lot as he came running out, the whole of that took about 10 minutes, and saved us from having to make an extra stop.
We kept the hammer down, and our little red wagon was such a trooper. She definitely earned her "Radio-Flyer" decals that day, and when we pulled up in front of my friend's house, we were genuinely surprised that it was only 11:05pm. We shaved a more than an hour off the trip which meant that our average speed was...well, that's not important, the point is that we were able to see our friends for a few beers in their backyard.
Day 7: Norfolk, Virginia to Sayreville, New Jersey
After the 1,076-mile day the day before, the 350 mile drive back to Jersey felt like child's play. Since we weren't in a rush, we were able to stop at a Wawa, a genuinely brilliant rest stop on the East Coast. After a bacon, egg and cheese on a croissant, hash brown, and a chocolate milk, we began the home stretch, and that's when things got a little more interesting.
See, after driving this entire nation in six days, the one thing that we both had forgotten about was tolls. We hit one for a bridge in San Francisco, but other than that, the routes that we had taken, which also included interstates, didn't have tolls or toll booths, which was unsettling. We had to pay out about $25 in tolls between Virginia and New Jersey. Luckily, one of the tunnel tolls in Virginia I was able to use my debit card for, because I only had about $15 left in cash. My co-pilot was able to find his change jar among his stuff and start sorting out quarters to get us through Maryland, Delaware and Jersey. Fortunately, we had scrounged together enough change to pay the final toll on I-95 and we pulled off and headed towards Sayreville.
We pulled up to his house at 3:20pm with Bon Jovi blasting through the speakers. In total, the journey took us 6 days, 5 hours and 8 minutes, and we drove 5,080 miles. We averaged a rather mediocre 21.89 miles to the gallon, but we also blew the doors off of most of the south and midwest of the country, so its a wash.
The truth of the matter was that the L was not the least bit concerned about the fact that it drove coast-to-coast in less than a week. Nothing went wrong besides the several rock chips in the windshield, and the hood release was pulled at some point near Cadillac Ranch, which I noticed as we came out of the gift shop, but neither one of us could figure out the cause of it. Honestly, the best thing about the little red wagon was that because it was so old, it had an old-school odometer, so we could watch the miles roll over which earned it major nostalgia points.
Video Credit: Kyle Ferlita
Oh yeah, and we saw some really cool stuff too.
Driving cross-country has been on my bucket since I first got into cars, and now I can cross it off my list, but there are so many things out there that I haven't seen yet that I'm already working on my next trip. My advice would be to find an old wagon, and start throwing darts at a map. Get yourself a couple friends and go explore. There are plenty of faded map dots that can make for some incredible stories, and plenty of things that are waiting to be explored. Sure, you could also wait for the pandemic to be over, but if you're safe, and smart, then the world is your oyster.
What's a cool road trip you have taken? Is there anywhere that you're planning to road trip to in the future? Comment Below!