Dude, that’s Gangsta – Driving across the USA

I apologize for the lack of updates lately. Work is busy! Please enjoy (or don’t) this boring, non-coding writeup. A big article about recent work with trace compilation is coming up soon, I promise!

Back in May I drove across the country – from Rhode Island to California – with my friend Dan. I’m not sure how he managed (or why he even agreed) to put up with me through this, especially when our only entertainment was two Killers’ CDs, a Lewis Black CD, and some Family Guy. Our destination was San Jose where twisty lives (a friend from WPI).

The plan was simple: We’d drive out, stopping at random hotels when we got tired, and hit CA within four days. Dan would fly back after we relaxed for a bit, and I’d stick around for my new job.

As we drove across the country I took mental notes about the various states we went through. For all of these states we pretty much stayed entirely on I-90 W. It was a strange road. It can’t quite decide what its name is. Near the start of the mid-west it becomes “I-90/I-80” and then just “I-80.”

Along this highway, up until Illinois or so, “rest stops” were big plazas with restaurants and tourist information. This fanciness stopped fairly quickly and as we delved further into the west, rest stops became so far apart and dilapidated (if not entirely closed) that we gave up using them.

All of our experiences were based on that highway, as in, these comments apply to a rather small and quickly applied vignette of each state.

Day 0
New York: We completely avoided any cities and mostly only saw trees and hilly regions. Our stop for the night (we got a late start) was Weedsport, NY at a Days Inn.

Distance: 333.7 miles (333.7 miles total).

Day 1
Pennsylvania: We cut through PA pretty quickly. If I recall correctly it was overcast and maybe raining. It seemed to be mostly farmland in the area. We drove straight through Erie and didn’t even visit sawce.

Ohio: This is our least favorite state, as it’s the only one we got a speeding ticket, for 87mph (I think our record to that point was 97). It was the last state with a speeding limit of 65mph. Going through Cleveland was a pain as the traffic was bad, and I also don’t recall any other part of the highway going through such an annoying area.

After Ohio we used cruise control the entire way.

Indiana: I can’t recall anything particularly interesting about this state. The speed limit got raised to 70mph or so.

Illinois: The last state with a decent rest stop, sadly at the very beginning. If I recall correctly the speed limit was down to 65mph again. We stopped in Morris, IL overnight at a Holiday Inn.

Distance: 687.7 miles (1021.4 miles total).

Day 2
Iowa: Long and boring drive with endless farmland. No crops were actually growing yet so there was quite literally nothing to see except for farm structures/equipment and cows. The speed limit was bumped back up to 70mph here.

Nebraska: The first state that was really, really long. Luckily the speed limit was bumped to 75mph (effectively 80, though we played it safe). At this point and until Nevada, most other vehicles on the road were trucks. Amazingly enough, a blizzard approached and I-80 was shut down. We narrowly missed it, though a good deal of the night driving was through heavy rain and winds and pretty unsafe. Surprising for early May.

Nebraska, like Iowa, was very boring. An endless day sky combined with increasingly little to see was tiring, though there were still frequent towns and stop points. It was a very weird experience to drive hundreds of miles and not feel like you’ve moved. Everything was literally so flat from there on that we had no frame of reference for where we were. Talk about feeling like a speck.

Nebraska was the end of Dunkin’ Donuts for Dan. Surprisingly NoCal is pretty lacking in equivalent drive-thru breakfast/coffee shops.

The area was mostly farms. Gas was cheapest in NE, with the higher quality gas being less expensive for some reason (at around $3.35, compared to RI’s $3.70 and CA’s upwards of $4 — this was in May, again). We stopped in Kearney, NE overnight at a Days Inn.

Distance: 635 miles (1656 miles total)

Day 3
Wyoming: This state was endless. Unfortunately the real interests (Yellowstone National Park and whatnot) are up north, and I-80 is down south. I have to say Wyoming was the weirdest state of all and Dan would probably agree.

The whole state felt off-kilter from the start, like we had entered the twilight zone. I can’t really explain it. There was tumbleweed on the highway and the scenery felt dated. After we got through Cheyenne things got weirder. Highways turned into very sketchy roads clinging rocky structures full of construction.

We stopped at a Pizza Hut (hey, I love their cheese-crust pizza!) which was a mistake. It was full of loud kids. The table next to us was occupied by a strange family. Four really, really, morbidly obese children with an equally corpulent father. The mother seemed really thin. One of the kids, a girl, went up to the salad bar and came back with a plate full of cookies. The dad kept yelling at her, “stop eating that plate of cookies!” She didn’t. Interesting parenting.

After escaping that we went to get gas, and Dan freaked out because the gas was all 85 octane. My Toyota Corolla takes 87. He scoffed at the vendors “ripping people off,” but later we read on Wikipedia that high elevation (such as in Wyoming) means you can use 85-octane gas without the “knocking” effect. Thank you, Wikipedia.

The rest of Wyoming was very, very, sparse. The lack of civilization was amazing. Every 40 miles or so we saw a trailer camp and maybe a small industrial rig that looked like something out of Half-Life 2. There were occasional billboards. They were always for gambling, porn, or fireworks. Even gas stations and random convenience stores had slot machines. Weird.

The most amusing spectacle was an old school bus dumped along the side of the highway. It had a giant banner strapped to it for “ADULT VIDEOS.” Someone had decided that an abandoned school bus made a good porn billboard. We henceforth dubbed this the “porn bus.”

All that aside, it had some very nice views. Mountains were viewable from a good portion of the highway (Rockies, I think?) and there was a high-elevation rest stop that made for some decent pictures.

Utah: Even having started during the day we didn’t get into Utah until night, since Nebraska and Wyoming are endless. There’s not much to see at night and we tried to speed through most of Utah, missing any sights such as the Great Salt Lake. Unfortunately it was around 1:30AM by the time we approached the Utah border. I was already dead tired and hopped up on Monster (which after two cans makes you feel hung over). The nearest city was another 80-100 miles away so we couldn’t claim conquering Utah in its entirety — we stopped at a Days Inn in Wendover, Utah overnight. It was a mere two-miles from entering Nevada.

Distance: About 870 miles (2526 miles total)

Day 4
Nevada: Border to border dust and desert.

The desert was this weird amalgam of completely foreign sand compositions. For example, bright white patches of sand (or sometimes even seas of the stuff). Sometimes it was hard to tell whether it was giant pools of liquid. I can’t really explain it. Not terribly interesting, just strange.

Along the roadside a common phenomenon was small black rocks being arranged into letters/words. This occurred randomly throughout the entire stretch of Nevada’s I-80, often sprinkled throughout the sparse vegetation. I regret not stopping for pictures because I can’t recall any of the phrases now. I just have to wonder:

Who’s been writing things with rocks on the roadside for hundreds of miles? We could go thirty minutes and not see a single car or sign of life, but rock graffiti would be there. Judging by a google query, I’m not crazy. Perhaps we should have stopped and added our own — AlliedModders!

It was very surreal. The worst was exiting Nevada (near Reno). We hit some combination of a dust and rain storm, which meant my car got CAKED in this thick battering of mud. All the cars driving out of the storm with us had this layer of crap. I didn’t get my car washed for a few months, mostly to keep this “battle scar” as a souvenir.

As we approached CA we were stopped by some sort of customs booth asking if we had any foreign fruits or something. The elevation started getting pretty high after (7k feet or so). We tiredly cheered seeing the “Welcome to California” sign. The driving instantly changed at this point. CA drivers are crazy. Apparently we were driving too slow from the start, and a guy on a motorcycle wearing a skull mask gave us the middle finger as he sped by.

Crawling down the high elevation was interesting as the degree of slope on some roads was high. There were long stretches of gravel on the sides of roads, which Dan told me were for trucks — if their brakes failed and they plummeted down the roads, they could aim for these gravel stretches and sink in. And then probably explode.

We stopped at a random point at Lake Tahoe to stretch for a bit. It was evening though and the views were getting cloudy. We finally got off I-80 (a big milestone!) and landed on I-5, and then a few hours later I-680. We reached our destination in San Jose at 10:45PM.

Distance: About 700 miles. The grand total ended up being around 3,300 or so.

Would I do it again? You betcha. I don’t get out much so this was an adventure for me. When I do it again I will change some things:

  • Leave more time. Rushing makes me testy.
  • Go through areas where things are worth seeing. Who wants to drive through a thousand miles of corn? The CA coastline is amazing (my youngest brother drove it with my dad) and I would like to see it.
  • Bring along more entertainment. I listened to those Killers CDs about a hundred times each.
  • Stop for pictures when I see a porn bus.
  • Better pacing so the boring driving gets done at night.
  • Stock up on energy drinks beforehand. In general, keep a cooler with food — fastfood gets old and it’s the only thing in many areas.

When twisty’s neighbor saw my car parked outside, he said “Rhode Island? How did that get here?” “Oh, I drove.” “You drove the entire way?” “Yep!” “Dude, that’s gangsta.”

7 thoughts on “Dude, that’s Gangsta – Driving across the USA

  1. twistedeuphoria

    californias a pretty cool guy eh drives fast and isnt afraid of anything

    Hahahah, i’d forgotten about that “gangsta” line.

  2. aGent

    I’d recommend taking a route through the middle U.S. (Tennessee, Missouri, Southern OK, then driving up to northern CO and going through to CA via some mountain roads… That’s pretty scenic, although you will have crappy hotels most of the way and not many rest stops. :)

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