Planning the great American road trip

Lucy Pearson discovers that naive enthusiasm will only get you so far on a great road trip across America

4 mins

On the first day of our great American road trip our car broke down. With a cough and a splutter on a steep hill in Washington State, our white Mercury Mystique gave up the ghost.

My boyfriend and I had decided that a great American road trip would be a great way to celebrate graduating university and enjoy that last bit of freedom we had before entering the real world of a 9-5 job. We had bought the car only a few hours before from AutoTourUSA in Seattle.

Because we were both under 25, the cost of underage premiums made hiring a car prohibitively expensive. So we handed over a wad of cash to AutoTourUSA and they gave us a white Mecury Mystique.

We filled it up with petrol – or gas, as the Americans like to call it – and set off east on our great American adventure. Luckily AutoToursUSA had suggested we get breakdown coverage so it wasn't long before we were on our way again.

Our road trip dream was to see the small town America, so we made our way down through Washington State and into the logging state of Oregon. Oregon is a beautiful and scenic state with picture perfect moments almost every five miles. We stopped in Newport to see the wild sea lions and dip our feet in the Pacific Ocean. Then ventured inland to Crater Lake National Park, our first US National Park and home to a crater that formed after the collapse of a volcano around 7,000 years ago.

Despite our inauspicious start we had visited two states in one week. Soon we were entering our third – California. California means a lot of different things to different people. But to us it's Yreka, a tiny town just over the state line that survives solely on its gas stations and motels. The locals were the most friendly and welcoming people we'd met so far and were determined that we would enjoy their small and almost derelict town. Yreka was the small town America we had dreamed of finding.

Soon we left the coast and headed for the Nevada desert and of course, Las Vegas. If you have visited Las Vegas yourself you will understand when I say there is literally no place on earth quite like it. You can stand in New York and see the Eiffel Tower just half a mile away. Or look to your right and see a pyramid. We were showered with free drinks and offered tickets to world-class shows from the moment we got out of our car. It truly is something that is out of this world and is somewhere I plan to go back to many more times in the future.

From the Nevada desert we headed to the Arizona desert and back to the small town America we had dreamed of. We dropped in on the Grand Canyon – it's pretty much what it says on the tin, a canyon that is grand. Then we ticked off another one of our goals by staying in a cheap motel on Route 66.

Route 66 also marked our second breakdown. We had hoped to use a local and independent mechanic to fix all of our car problems in keeping with our small town America theme. But we broke down on a Sunday and there were no independent garages were open. We had to use a garage that was part of a chain but at least our dream could continue.

We made our way to Phoenix and on to the small southern city of Tucson. The desert here looked like something from the movies, cacti and sand for as far as the eye can see. We dropped by the Boneyard, a huge stretch of desert where the US army place old and unneeded planes to be preserved in case there is a moment when they are needed again. Tucson is also home to a large and slightly extreme science experiment where eight people stepped in to an oversized greenhouse called Biosphere 2 to see if it was possible to live solely off what the earth gives us. For nine years. They ran out of oxygen after two years.

I am writing this blog in a motel room in Colarado after a nine-hour drive over the Rocky Mountains. I have been on the road for a month now, travelling 4,000 miles and passing through eight states. We have encountered blazing hot sunshine over 42°C, monsoon rains, treacherous thunder and lighting and even a tiny sprinkling of snow. The car has broken down three times. And there with are many more states, miles and hours of driving to come.

I can’t wait for the adventure to continue.

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"I liked the towns with nobody in them. I loved driving past ghettos, gas stations or motels, empty with broken windows, with no-one in them. They were my favourite. You could almost hear music when you went through them."

Don't miss Billy Connolly talking about his recent trip along Route 66 here.

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