Down the Road

In one full revolution around the continent, life led me back to California, where this journey began almost 2 years ago. As with every transition as a traveler, yet again began the planning: what’s the best way to get myself, my car, and all of my belongings there? When my Dad brought up the idea of driving from Florida to California with me, I saw the makings of an adventure of a lifetime. As my Dad is a recent retiree, he has excellent potential to partake in the gypsy lifestyle. So we began planning the trip across 9 states- of which each of us had only been to 2, the starting point Florida, and the destination California. My Dad had been my travel partner the first time I moved out to California, so he’s been getting pretty good at moving his daughter 3000 miles away. But this trip was going to be more meaningful than getting from point A to point B. For me, it felt like a beautiful opportunity to share this big adventure I’ve shaped my life to be, with one of the two people that were the foundations I built it from. When I had first thought about becoming a traveling PT, my Dad confirmed that it was a no brainer. And even though my life plans now change literally every month or less, he listens and supports me every time, knowing full well I’ll have a whole different story soon. So essentially, he told me to tell him when when/where to book a flight, and he’d be my copilot for the journey across the country.

We gave ourselves 9.5 days, driving mostly the southern route, with a few detours to hit some bucket list destinations of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. The first few days were big driving days, which I think worked out perfectly because (1) we still had a ton of energy and (2) the Florida panhandle, southern Alabama, Louisiana, and most of Texas are a whole lot of the same. We had cruise control on 90% of the time and once measured a 30 mile stretch that we didn’t even turn the steering wheel. The second day we drove over 700 miles to get ourselves to the border of Louisiana and Texas because we knew Texas was going to be another big haul. The landscape started to change a bit in Mississippi which began to open up into more luscious green trees and really pretty wild flowers in the medians. Besides that, it was very rural, one highlight a stand selling “Mayders and Tayders.” We didn’t stop too often. Day three was all about Texas. That was the start of our lower mileage days so we devoted a whole afternoon to stopping in Dallas. We went to Dealey Plaza where JFK was assassinated and toured the Sixth Floor Museum which was an incredible history of JFK’s life and death. The rest of Texas was fields for literal hours, oil rigs, high wind turbines, and red dirt roads. We ate Texas BBQ and watched an Amarillo sky sunset.

On day four we woke up and had about an hour drive until the border of New Mexico and suddenly there was an abrupt change in scenery. It seemed like just a turn of a corner changed the entire landscape to canyons and mesas. Red striated rocks extended upward from the Earth and the mountains grew taller. We spent the afternoon in Old Town Albuquerque. The architecture and colors were vibrant and full of Southwest native style. We hiked a loop at Rinconada Canyon, a 200,000 year old volcano escarpment loaded with 400-700 year old petroglyphs. Day five we made it to Arizona where we spent most of the day at the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Parks. It was a 28 mile drive through them with a dozen stops en route that were a scavenger hunt for rock layers and colors, mountains you could see from 100 miles away, blue mesas, and petrified trees. We took a side trail into a petrified forest where the trees were hardened into amazingly colorful and sparkling rock from the silica that caused chemical reactions when downed trees became stuck in mud of riverbanks millions of years ago. That particular land used to be a mile lower in elevation and a rainforest. Not only the sights, but the magnificence of our country’s natural history was extraordinary.

From there, we had a few hour drive to the Grand Canyon when I was too excited to keep the secret anymore that I had booked a helicopter tour for us in the morning. *Dramatic pause: this is a must do for a trip to the Grand Canyon. For both of us, this is the first we had laid eyes on the Canyon and it was hands down the coolest moment of my life. Add that the pilot played the song “Danger Zone” from my Dad’s all-time favorite movie Top Gun as we flew over the rim and I think he can say the same. It’s honestly something I can’t give justice to with words.  The emotion you feel taking it in with all of your senses is indescribable. We spent 9 hours at the Canyon the rest of the day, experiencing every bit we could. Another meant-to-be moment: my travel friends I met in Alaska happened to be at the Grand Canyon on the same day and we all got to meet up. We watched the sunset turn the inside of the canyon into dusty purple shadows and it was majestic.

Day seven was the big day that we made it to Cali. We stopped first in Nevada to tour the Hoover Dam power plant which was massive and gave us more incredible history of our country. Five more hours to SoCal through the Mojave Desert which reached 100 degrees and I talked nicely to my car not to fail us now. We eventually crossed over the mountains into the valley and then my soul started smiling even more. I had bonded so much with California last year, being the first place I traveled to, that it always feels like coming home. After a day with family in LA, we made the last leg of the drive. The “cherry on top” of the trip, we drove up the coast of California, on my favorite road the Pacific Coast Highway. It was beautiful day, like most in California, and the perfect way to end our trip. We had one more day together and I showed my Dad around all the San Francisco sites before he took a red eye back home to CT.

Driving home from the airport was an interesting feeling. I was first and foremost exhausted. It takes a great amount of energy to travel like that for over a week- mentally draining yet physically stationary for the most part, constant stimulation, adventure around every turn, an interesting mix of amazing and crazy. The difference a year and a half makes from when I dropped my Dad off at the airport in LA, about to start this adventure all on my own, to where I am now, a seasoned gypsy if you will, now comfortable with the chaos and constant brand new. The trip highlighted how much I’ve grown on the road.

When I was little, my Dad carved a street sign for the trail behind my house and named it “Hannah Rd.” The earliest childhood memories I have of adventure include hiking down that road, dog walks, trail rides with our horse, and playing with my sister in those woods. Back then, literally and figuratively, my Dad built a road for me. My world is a little bigger than Killingworth, CT now. The 3,000 mile road we just traveled was jam packed with incredible sights new to both of us, bucket list checks, and memories we’ll always have. But to me it’s an extension of the open road I’ve had my entire life. To share it with the man who hung my name on a tree and raised me my entire life to believe that I can go anywhere I wanted, was so gratifying.

As I’ve said before, some of my biggest pleasure through this whole journey has come from sharing it with other people. If there is anything that anyone can do to change the world, I think it is to truly take in everything you experience. Recognize the opportunities that you have, take chances, explore, learn, grow. You owe it not only to yourself, but to the people you love, and your role in making the world better for everyone.

Hannah

Road Trip Tips:

  • Have a good / be a good copilot: the road can get monotonous and it makes it a whole lot better to stay stimulated (and be provided regular snacks). Enjoy the time you have with that person.
  • Pack healthy snacks: it makes sitting a car feel a little better. Road food/unfamiliar food can get your energy down
  • Budget for the nicer hotels: after a long day of driving and adventuring it’s such a reward to sleep in a cozy, clean, quiet room. Usually they have more solid breakfast options and it could be nice to have a gym/pool to move your body a little before getting back on the road. On the same note, book hotels as you go each day. Have a general mileage plan, but if you end up feeling good one day and want to squeeze some extra miles in (or the opposite), it’s nice to have that flexibility.
  • If you have Triple A, order a Trip Tik: you provide them your destination, any stops you want to make and what kinds of roads you want to take. They’ll send you a custom book that breaks up all parts of the route, where to stop for food/gas/hotels, guide books, and maps galore. If anything, it’s reading material in the car.
  • Plan your stops based on destinations, not routes: it may be a shorter route a certain way but if you have great destinations to stop at, it gives you more to look forward to and really breaks up the driving
  • Move yourself: plan stops get the blood pumping , whether it’s hiking a mountain, strolling around a town, or doing squats at every rest stop, your body will thank you as the days go on
  • Plan music ahead of time: it’s tough to find new radio stations every few hours, if they even come in certain areas. Download playlists, use Spotify, or my personal fav, old school mixed CDs
  • Account for time zones: heading west is super helpful to get some extra hours built in as you time travel
  • Take it all in: observe how the scenery changes, picture how people live, pick up on things you’ve never seen, learn about your country, broaden your perspective.

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