Six weeks & 11,000 miles

by Jarrett Retz February 9th, 2017
travel road trip hiking featured

Many of the links in this post for images were lost when I was moving the site. Sorry if it throws off the article flow.

I had been thinking about going on a long road trip for a few months. I had the time, and I was able to save money living at home while working at the golf course. I tried to plan the trip loosely. I did not want to feel rushed. What I did to prepare for the trip;

  • take the back seat out of my car (so I could sleep in it)
  • budgeted $500 per week to last six weeks
  • canceled automatic payments, subscriptions
  • bought ExOfficio underwear (great for traveling, easy to wash)
  • Mapped out major destinations to guide trip (Moab, UT; Denver, CO; St. Louis, MO; New York, NY; New Orleans, LA; Costa Mesa, CA)
  • Notified family or friends that I planned on staying with
  • checked tire pressure, oil, tire tread, antifreeze
  • researched living on the road tips
  • bought a journal
  • downloaded podcasts

Most of the things I brought were for camping. I had clothes, tools for small jobs, books, and toiletries. I mentally prepared for some dirty living. Not showering every day, wearing clothes more than a normal person would, and eating an inconsistent diet.

I filled up my car, said goodbye to my parents, and left. My first destination was Moab, UT. It's an awesome feeling. The general uncertainty that comes with a road trip. I had a vague understanding of who I will meet, what I will do, or where I will go.

For safety, I told myself I wouldn't drive at night. I ended up driving in the rain, at night, the first night, so I could make it to Walmart parking lot to sleep. Great start! After that, I settled into a better groove. I went through Boise, ID, and cruised down to Salt Lake City to stay with a friend. Heading to Moab from SLC was the furthest East I had ever been. My jaw dropped when I got to Moab. The red rock is mesmerizing, and the possibility of things to do was seemingly endless.

I spent the most nights in Moab (5), camping in a different place every night. The visitor center was a good place to get information on campsites. I bought a National Parks pass when I first got there ($85) to go to Arches & Canyonlands, which I knew I would use other places on the trip. Moab is an amazing place. Everyone seems to be on the same team. So many people are their for the same purpose and I never had trouble finding someone to talk to on hikes or camping. The fall is primetime for Moab. The sunrises, sunsets, landscape, atmosphere, and things to do in Moab are overwhelming. It was the first major stop on my trip, and was exceptional. I hope to return some day.

Next stop was Denver! The ole' Saturn made it over the mountains, and what a drive on I-70. I met a friend from home, slept in my car north of Denver and drove up to Rocky Mountain NP in the morning. I was getting into a rhythm of coffee shops in the mornings, and an occasional bar at night.

Unlike Moab, Rocky Mountain NP was heading out of season quickly. I spent the day hiking up to Mirror Lake, and then got a campsite in Moraine Park (temperature got down below freezing with a little snow that night!). The Rockies are a profound beauty. Elk were rutting and were EVERYWHERE. Big herds in town and in the park. The road connecting both side of the park was closed and I only stayed one night. However, the place made quite the impression.

Mirror Lake

Elk by Estes Park

Moraine Park

And then I drove across Colorado and into Kansas. Very uneventful. I stayed at a motel in Salinas, KS. Before showering here I had only showered with camping shower (bag you can fill, then have to hang somewhere, small nozzle on the end). It was a needed stay.

I visited my Aunt & Cousin in St. Louis. We packed a lot into a short time there. Had dinner at Blueberry Hill, spent a couple hours in the art museum, toured the Anheuser-Busch brewery, visited the Arch, and I got to see the muddy Mississippi for the first time. I liked St. Louis because it is such an iconic city. It has history.

This is where my "playing it slow and loose" plan came in handy. I was able to detour north to Chicago so I could go hang out around Wrigleyville during Game 6 of the NLCS. What an atmosphere. First, Chicago's skyline is an impressive sight driving in. Wow. The southside looks as decrepit as the news make it sound. I parked my car two miles away and went looking for a bar. I didn't have a plan to stay anywhere the night (everything close was expensive), so I said 'eff it' this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Everywhere was was packed. It was chaos. Lines out the door to anyplace that sold booze (including the liquor store).

I ended up watching the game through some windows from the street outside of a bar with some college guys. We bought beer down the street and celebrated homeruns with anyone walking by or stopped to get an update. Once the Cubs were about to win we all made our way to the stadium. What followed was crowds, yelling, cheering, chaos, partying, jubilation, endless friendliness, and a solid black out. That was an angry hangover the next morning. I spent most of the day laying out along the shores of Lake Michigan before I drove East to South Bend.

Slept at another Walmart in South Bend.

University of Notre Dame

I was heading to Cleveland ("Believeland"). I kept snacks (goldfish, protein bars, granola bars) within arms reach as I went on longer stretches of driving. This allowed me to save some money, and time, I enjoyed the convenience. After dropping some cash to drive the Ohio turnpike I made it to Cleveland. This became a big theme in the Northeast. Paying to use all the roads between major cities. Cleveland was the first place I used Airbnb. I booked a place fairly late, but the host was friendly and accommodating. I went downtown early, walking around.. looking around. It was an great atmosphere with Game 1 happening right next to the opening game for Cavaliers.

I went to a bar (naturally) and tried to start some conversations that fizzled. Eventually I started talking to a guy around my age who was waiting for friends. As the place became more packed we started talking to more people around us. We had a small group of acquaintances now, some guys, some girls, drinking and getting to know each other as the anticipation was building for the game. We went to a different bar, while some of us branched off, and continued the night at a place called Barrios. Lots of laughs and some new faces, but eventually my friends left and I went to a different bar to catch the end of the game.

Struck up some conversations with the people at a bar, got my beer knocked out of my hand onto an old lady (she hated me for it, forever. Probably still hates me for it), and after a long afternoon—and Cleveland win—I rode my rental bike over the river, across the bridge, and fell asleep in my car by the Westside Market.

It was slow leaving Cleveland. Following the baseball playoffs had been fun and produced some eventful nights but I had my sights set on the 'Big Apple'. I stayed at another Airbnb, this one more interesting. The bed was a mattress on top of work desk, a foot-and-a-half underneath a florescent light. I loved it. It was cheap and in Jersey City, so I took the Path over into New York the next morning. Figuring out transportation was the biggest hassle that day. All my forms of transportation were;

  • rental bike
  • jitney
  • The Path (goes underground from ground from Jersey City to WTC Memorial in Manhattan)
  • walking
  • subway

I spent a lot of time figuring out how to get place-to-place, and New York is definitely an acquired taste. Despite the setbacks I was able to see Times Square, Central Park, the Highrise, and Chelsea Market. Riding my rental back in New York was madness, but I got quite a thrill out of it.

I caught the sunset across the water at Liberty Park in New Jersey. This was a beautiful moment in my trip. I had finally made it coast-to-coast. The sunset was bouncing off the skyscrapers in Jersey City to my left, off in the distance I could see uptown and the Empire State building, the centerpiece was the Freedom Tower, to the right of that was Brooklyn, and further right, just off the boardwalk I was standing on was Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

Then I got lost. This was brutal. My phone died and I got turned around. Got on the wrong bus, asked four strangers for directions that couldn't help me. Finally, the fifth guy I asked helped a little. I spent two hours trying to make it back to my bed. Getting places in New York and Jersey took a lot out of me.

I had another Airbnb lined up for Philadelphia in Fishtown. I was staying with a musician and his girlfriend. They gave me suggestions for the evening (I had already been to Independence Hall earlier that day).

This led to a fun night. I went to Joe's Steaks, then took the sandwich over to a bar to watch the UW game. Some people there told me there was a musician playing across the street at Johnny Brenda's. I figured I would check it out. I hadn't heard of the musicians, but one of the guys—Dan P.—was a hell of a performer. I had a great time out in Philly without venturing away from the cross street I was staying on. I also had THE BEST coffee of my trip at a place called Girard's (on Girard).

Leaving Philadelphia I looked up some cool places and went to an old overgrown cemetery. Old gravestones, overgrown areas. It was an eerie place, but incredibly interesting to explore.

My next stop was D.C. I stayed with some family I had never met before in Annapolis. Seeing the Chesapeake, Annapolis, Philadelphia, and New York gave me an overwhelming feeling. There is so much history and signs of old life.

Washington D.C was a tourist trip. I saw all the main sights, went into some of the Smithsonians, checked out the memorials, but I was tired. My streak of big city action from Chicago through to Washington D.C was wearing on me, and I can admit I was excited to get back into the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains. Here are some of the classics.

I blew a tire in the Smokies! This was a minor setback. Took a turn too hard and hit a curb. No big deal. This stuff was bound to happen. For anyone who has never been to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, you are in for a surprise. It's a tourist style town where you don't expect it! I even met a couple who was honeymooning there. I went to a restaurant to watch Game 7. A couple there told me that is became a tourist destination after the NP system was established.

Later that night, as I headed up to Max Patch, (a place suggested to me by a friend I met up there) I had the most Tennessee experience ever. I was in a roadside bar (more like a shack) drinking beers with a bartender who was missing half her teeth, while the only other two people in the bar—the bartenders daughter and her boyfriend—played pool. This escalated into a drunk, cigarette smoking bartender, telling me stories of her youth (she had been a bartender since she was seventeen), while the daughter made some fries in the back, and the boyfriend mumbled through a story of how he was a competitive arm wrestler. I loved it.

The next day I went into the park and climbed the Chimney Stacks in the middle of the park. It was a perfect time to being in the park. The leaves were changing colors and in some places of the park the forest was absolutely lit up.

Max Patch

Chimney Tops

I encountered a through-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. He had been hiking since July 1, and had covered around 2,000-2,500 miles. People are cool. After a night of drinking beer, shooting a bow and arrows, and swapping stories with a friend EWU and his buddy I was headed for New Orleans.

Coming into New Orleans in the morning I picked up a guy who's truck had broken down. The last thing he said to me before he got out of the car was, "They [people in New Orleans] will FUCK YOU UP."

There is way too much to say about New Orleans. The French Quarter was something I'll never forget. New Orleans is such a different landscape than anything I had seen too. I stayed at the most interesting Airbnb on my trip. It was $15 and located in Bywater. An easy walk to the French Quarter. The owner was an old, half there/half not there, stoner lady. I shared the place with a young musician from Canada, an ex-convict with a Masters in Theology, and multiple other characters that I didn't get a chance to know better.

That night I ended up doing push-ups outside a gay bar, consoling a crying older woman, arguing with some girls at a bar about why I was justified in reading the book The Game, eventually jumping a face trying to avoid a girl that was teaching me how to dance the 'Lindy-Hop'(?), and avoiding a small dog that was attacking people on the street. There is something eternally special about New Orleans, but also saddening.

I got my oil changed in Louisiana, somewhere, and was amazed by the landscape out there. It is such a different environment than I had ever been in. I am talk about bayous, and the highways that connect them. Not much happened between Louisiana and New Mexico (a.k.a Texas). I drove through it only stopping to sleep.

I hit some NP's on the border of New Mexico and Texas. I liked the emptiness out there

I was camping in Arizona, in a part of the Coronado National Forest when Donal Trump got elected. I was happy to be away from all civilization when it happened. I passed a sign on the way in to the camping area that warned of smugglers and illegal aliens. This was funny. I was only 80 miles from the Mexican border.

After a quick shower in the woods I headed North, for the Amboy Crater in California.

I got pulled over in 3:00 a.m. in Needles, CA after I slept in a random neighborhood in my car. I had lost four hours since (3 plus 1 for daylight savings) Louisiana. I didn't get a ticket, but it was nerve racking nonetheless.

I enjoyed a calm sunrise on top of the Amboy Crater on my way to Joshua Tree. A really cool part of this drive is across "The Heart of the Mojave". It was like a different planet. Anyway, Joshua Tree's are awesome.

I left Joshua Tree to visit my Aunt & Uncle in paradise, a.k.a Rancho Mirage. It was nice to get cleaned up around some long travel days, and see what the good life is like in the desert during the summer.

I met my friend Anna back at Joshua Tree and we had fun exploring the park and then camping out in B.L.M property. Next destination was my brother's place in Costa Mesa, CA.

I had now gone coast-to-coast-to-coast. I planned to stay three nights at my brothers and hit the reset button before I finished the last stretch up the coast. I took a nap on the beach while my brother & girlfriend were at work. It was so peaceful. Later that night, I met a guy, Michael, who had killed a lion as a rite of passage in his tribe back in Africa.

It was pleasant to be back around family.

I headed north to Big Sur, which did not disappoint.

Highway 1 is serene, and it was easy to find a place to sleep in my car in Carmel. I did not have that many more stops left on my trip. A quick visit with a college friend in San Francisco, a stop in the Redwoods, and a night in Vancouver. Honestly, I was feeling ready to be home after more than five weeks.

I had been to the Redwoods before, but they are still jaw-dropping. They can draw my eyes immediately.

The trip had an awesome ending. I stayed with Tyler, one of my best friends, and went on a hike to Punchbowl Falls with some other really good friends from college. There would be pictures of that awesome hike, but a few too many edibles caused a very dysfunctional—but joyous—daze.

The next morning I drove up through Washington and back home. Crazy thing? The budget held up.

I met a lot of people on the road that had done, or was doing, what I was. Travel, and travel stories are a great way to connect with other people. Everyone I talked to seem to have some kind of advice, opinion, or story about somewhere (anywhere) they had been.

I encountered so many friendly people on my road trip (maybe not in New Jersey and New York haha) that were open, willing to help, and easy to talk to. There are so many beautiful parts of this country, some places I didn't even talk about, but all these memories are cherished. I didn't find my soul, redefine myself, or change in many ways.

What was really cool to me about this road trip is that I can pick various cities around the U.S, states, areas, and put a story to that place. A story about what I saw there or friendly face I met along the way. That's the truly meaningful part to me.