Three days of driving – was it worth it?

The sun rises outside Salt Lake City

I topped a hill and saw the blaring lights of the town where I had planned to stop for the night. “Awe, it’s a little oasis,” I thought because I was tired as all get out. It was an oasis, but not the kind I was looking for. The blaring bright lights were from the numerous casinos that make up the town.

I followed my GPS to the campground that I chose for a respite on my three-day, cross-country road trip. It was pretty much in the back parking lot of a giant and bright casino. As I pulled in, I saw three cop cars. “Security?” I thought, or actually hoped.

After I parked and found my late check-in information, I decided to go ahead and use the restroom. As I walked up to the women’s bathroom door, a woman stood outside it staring blankly at the door. Another boisterous woman said, “You need the code, sweetie?” She did. And I guessed she was not a guest there, just using the restroom that was supposed to be only for guests.

I drove around and found my campsite. In the campsite next to me, a homeless-looking man slept on a coat on the picnic table. “I’m guessing the cops were not security,” I said to myself. I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was a woman traveling alone. So after I parked at my campsite, I just crawled into the back of my Honda HRV and slept in the clothes I had been driving in all day.

A rainbow and storm clouds in eastern Colorado

This past week, I tried something new. I drove to the farthest destination yet. I traveled to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and Redwood National Park in Northern California. And because I have a full-time job, I had to do it within a week’s vacation. This meant I could not make the adventure about the trip there. I needed to get there and get home as quickly as possible. There simply wasn’t time for sightseeing along the way.

The driving time between my home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Redwood National Park is about 35 hours one way. Now, I love road tripping. But three full days of driving, I wasn’t sure I was up to it.

Last year I embarked on a cross-country road trip where I spent two full days driving to get to my destination. As I drove into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, I thought to myself, “Could I do another day of this?” No, was my answer. If I had a day of downtime in between, then maybe I could go more. But as I drove into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the answer was definitely “no” to three full days of just driving.

But like climbing a difficult mountain, the extent of the annoyance and pain of the challenge is forgotten after the fact, which is what keeps us going back.

Following my trip to the Everglades this past March, I was riding a travel height, like I always tend to do upon returning home. “Where to next!?” With a goal to visit all 50 states by the time I’m 50 years old, I found that a cross-country road trip to Crater Lake National Park could help me check two more states off my list – Oregon and Idaho. “Hmm, maybe that should be my next destination?”

And just like that, I went from an idea to a fully booked and planned out vacation in about 30 minutes. But I still wondered if I could drive for three full days in a row. As the months went on and the trip to Oregon and California approached, I caught myself saying, “If I go…” instead of, “When I go…”

When I told people my plans, they automatically assumed I would fly. “Nope, I’m driving!” I’d say and watch their astonishment. But I wasn’t confident in my ability to make it for three days.

As the time to leave approached, I still had my doubts. Pre-trip anxiety always seems to strike me though, so I wrote it off like that. I packed up and said goodbye to my pup and left straight after work on a Friday. The first day was short, only six hours of driving – but after a full day of work. I pushed on to southern Kansas, my first stop for the night. Then on to western Wyoming for my second night.

I was feeling pretty good after a day and a half of driving on the interstate. Then I hit Oregon and six hours of driving on two-lane curvy highways. That was taxing. I rolled into Crater Lake National Park after dark and dead to the world.

Rested the next morning I thought, “Two and half days of driving, that wasn’t too bad.” But my second park to explore was farther west and was going to take three full days to get home.

After I left Crater Lake and drove to Redwood National Park, I pulled up to an overlook and saw the Pacific Ocean stretch out before me. I could go no farther west. There was nothing between me and Japan, half a world away.

Taking a break and enjoying the Pacific Ocean on the beach at Redwood National Park

After my time of exploring the national parks was up, it was time to begin my three full days home. Again, I was on long windy two-lane highways. But this was at the start of my journey, not the end. That makes a difference. My first night’s stop was less than ideal – the casino town mentioned above. But I was too tired and had too far to go to let it bother me. I then drove for 13 hours to middle Kansas for my second night on the road. From there I only had nine and half hours left to home.

As I reached the edge of my hometown, I thought over the anxiety I felt about being leery of making the journey. “I could keep going for another day or two,” I said to myself. And I was glad that I tested my limits instead of letting my fears hold me back.

Now, where to next?

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