Monday, May 2, 2011

US Cross Country-0: The Saga Begins

Here is the part 1 of my 16 day adventure driving 8700+ miles solo, cross country across the entire width of US and back.

Day 0:Fri 2003-Jun-20

One hour into the journey, the clock read 9:30am and I already had butterflies in my stomach. Maybe I should turn back. It was definitely a fool's venture. What on earth was I thinking? I was going back to India in a couple of months for good and why did I need this now? So much money I might waste if I don't complete it. All those advance motel reservations. Everyone who was supposed to come with me had backed out. It was four of us who initially planned this adventure. We'd drive in my car, pool the expenses, reach the Golden Gate in California the west coast and then drive back all the way to the east coast. It sounded so much fun then. But now here I was alone, driving and already bored! All friends had bailed out, and I couldn't blame anyone, each had his own personal reason and I knew they meant it.

My ex-manager Lam Nyugen had earlier mentioned that 4 of his school friends had tried driving from the east to west and back. One of them had dropped out sick by the time they reached the west coast. Couple more bailed out and flew back during the return journey and the valiant car owner now left alone couldn't take it anymore and shipped his car from Chicago and flew back to east coast. It had taken days for them to recover from their mis-venture. And here I was all alone trying what seemed to be the craziest thing I could come up with. I always doubted myself, I knew I had this perfect ability to get into bigger and bigger mess everytime I tried some stunt. I'm all alone, not even listening to some song that my CD player was playing, only could hear the pleasant hum of my Honda Civic EX 2 door coupe. So much for company, driving on R66.

1: Driving on R66
Driving alone on R66

The previous day I was still all pumped up. With full 2 weeks vacation granted graciously by my manager Paul Sigwart at CNT, Lumberton, New Jersey. I packed a suitcase full of clothes, my laptop, some 20 rolls of Kodak 200 films and lot of dry food and snacks (getting veg food deep inside the heart of US wasn't going to be easy). I had spent over a month planning this 16 day trip. The route was chalked and the motels reserved all along from east to west and back. It took me a couple of weeks just to arrive at an optimal route covering maximum number of places that I wanted to see. Then calculate the distances, the time that it could take to reach the next place, the time I should spend at each place of interest, so on and so forth and so many things. It was probably the best project plan I have ever made to date. Even got my car "fully" serviced, and withdrew about $1000 cash to carry with me. Where would one find a First Union ATM in middle of New Mexico? Rand McNally's The Road Atlas was a life saver. I mastered the art of driving into the unknown just equipped with this Atlas and boldly go where no Indian had gone before... well almost :)

Convincing my parents far away in India was a totally different matter. First it was "Mom, anyways I'm returning to India for good in a couple of months, I want to see the country". Then it was "the four of us are flying to west and back". Soon the version turned to "we can't see much if we fly and it will be too costly, so we are driving. We will take turns don't worry!" (yeah right!) Finally it was "I'm doing it alone, don't worry if I can't make it I'll just turn back. I'll call you daily mom. Come on you know you can trust me!". Slow poison they say, my folks didn't even notice how I had maneuvered them to agree to this. Maybe they noticed, but they let me take my flight of fancy. I had known a couple of weeks in advance that I might have to do it alone, but they came to know only the previous night. And all the bookings were of course made, so I couldn't bail out anyway I told them. And yes parental permission matters most to us Indians, even in this 21st century :)

So I had left the previous evening, from Maple Shade, New Jersey and drove to Falls Church, VA from where I would kick off my drive. On the way crossed both the Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake bay and could see the endless Atlantic waters on my east. Now had to just cross the continent and see the Pacific on the other side. I reached Falls Church in Washington Metro area and met my dear friends, Ram and Reshma. Had dinner with them and they bid me bye with their best wishes. I also borrowed Ram's camera for the trip. The night was spent in Niranjan's house.

Day 1:Sat 2003-Jun-21

Morning at last and I took off at 8:30am sharp. Just 5 mins into the drive and I hit the panic button. My wallet with all of the $1000 is missing! Frantic phone calls and then I trace it abandoned on Niranjan's coffee table. I head back and find him waiting at the parking lot with my wallet, grinning from ear to ear. "Go easy dude" says he. A bad start? A bad omen? Tut tut, I'm not superstitious. Maybe I should just get on with it. I wave him bye and restart my journey. Take 2 already?

A grinning Niranan with my wallet
A grinning Niranjan with my wallet

All these thoughts come back to me, the butterflies in my stomach feels more like a tornado now. I've not even covered 60 miles and thousands more to go. I give myself an ultimatum, I will drive today till night fall and if I can't make it, I'll spend the night at Nashville, Tennessee, where I had the first night booking and then head back to home in the morning. So about 660 miles (~1062km) and 10 hrs journey one way. To hell with what the world thinks! To hell with the world! I had driven non stop about 7.5 hrs earlier from Falls Church to Westford near Boston, MA, which was about 453 miles (729km) on official duty and knew that driving one full day was OK. Driving 16 days and all alone and into the wilderness and having to cover over 8000+ miles 2 way, and into the heart of US was a totally different ball game. I was shuddering!

Read the next part, day 1 of the 16 day solo trip: US Cross Country-1: A Natural Bridge and Gaining Confidence

Route Map:

Route Map - end of day 0

DayDateMapPlaceTime hh:mmkmmilesStates
StartAMaple Shade, NJ00:00
0Fri, 20-Jun-2003BFalls Church, VA03:00259161NJ, DE, VA
Trip Total03:002591613


  1. Good you decided to go and let the future be it :). I was in London when you did this and remember you talking about it. Four people going and at last Chetan K Jain alone left was the message that friends their told me. lol

  2. I hope they weren't just too skeptical :P