My commute is insane. It’s not too bad in the morning, if I leave my house by 5:45 am, but it’s bad when I come back from school. My commute takes me 25ish minutes in the morning, and then that 25 minutes turns to 60 to 120 minutes, depending on traffic and weather in the Houston area. On a good day, it’s 60 minutes home, when it rains it’s about an hour to get home, but when there’s an accident or I’m stuck at school til 4:30 for a pointless staff meeting that never has anything to do with SPED, I’m lucky if I get home by 7 pm. There’s no way around those driving times. There’s only one highway that leads to the city I live in, and to get to that highway, I have a choice of three other highways, and to be honest, they’re all equidistant to my highway, give or take five minutes. Not only that, it seems that several highways are always being worked on at once, and the road work never seems to end. Every day, there’s a new detour that I get to take. Let’s pretend that my commute never has any issues, so that would be 5 hours alone just in driving home, which equals about 20 hours, in my car every month, only going home from work. School is in session for about 10 months, I’ll round it down to 9 months with all of the holiday breaks… So, 20 times 9 is 180 hours that I spend in a car every year, and that’s NOT even including my commute to work, which would be about 90 hours. So, in a school year, all together, I spent 270 hours driving in my car, and that’s assuming I never ever hit traffic.
You would think that with spending all that time in a car, I’d want to spend my various breaks, NOT in a car. But instead, my husband and I are really into road trips. We both hate flying, I hate it because I’m claustrophobic and LOST didn’t help my fear of crashing, and my husband just hates the pressure of having to be somewhere at a specific time, and spending money just to be squished like the insides of a hoagie sandwich for several hours on a plane. This year, we went on several road trips. For Thanksgiving break, we went to Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and for winter break, we drove all the way to Key West and caught a ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park. It was about 10.5 hours one way to Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains, and it was 20 hours one way to Key West, Florida. That’s 61 hours of driving add that to the 270 hours I already spend driving to and from work, that’s 331 hours. There are 8760 hours in a year, and my trips this year were 3.7% of them.
Road trips will make or break a couple. When you’re stuck in a car, for about 10-15 hours with another person, relationships are tested. On the way to Key West, as well as one way back to Key West, I almost wanted to kill my husband. The only thing that kept us sane was Dresden Files audiobooks because it distracted me enough that I wasn’t thinking about how long I’ve been in the car. I’m not even allowed to drive on our road trips because when we went on our honeymoon, which was a road trip through the west to Yosemite National Park to Crater Lake National Park to Olympic National Park to Yellowstone National Park to Rocky Mountains National Park before we finally returned to Texas, I almost killed us. We rented a SUV because we knew there would be a lot of mountainous driving, and we needed four-wheel drive to feel safe. I had practiced driving the SUV around our town and I thought I was fine, but as soon as I got behind the wheel on a highway on the way to Amarillo, Texas, I almost crashed it into an 18-wheeler. I haven’t been allowed to drive ever since. Instead, I play DJ, and crush caffeine pills, strawberry watermelon 5 Hour Energy, and red bull to stay awake so my husband doesn’t fall asleep.
The worst part about any road trip is night-driving. There’s nothing to see at night except streetlights, exit lights, and headlights. Driving during the day is a little bit better, there’s a lot more to see from the green forests of Oregon to the Waterfalls of Washington to the snowy Mountains of Colorado. Even driving from Houston to El Paso, you get a change of scenery. You pass San Antonio, and then there’s pretty much nothing until you get to El Paso. The worst scenery is the drive from Houston to New Mexico. It starts out okay, but then the GPS redirects you to these backroads, where there’s nothing to see but oil fields and dust.
The other is going to the bathroom. When you drive to so many places in the United States, not all of them are accessible by main highway. Sometimes it’s hard to know when the next bathroom is coming up, so you learn to stop whenever you can and wherever you can.
Sometimes we hit traffic. Usually we’ve been lucky in the traffic department, however. The worst traffic we ever hit was driving to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. We were driving on a two-lane highway, and there was a car accident. Considering the highway was only two lanes, and in an area devoid of 5g or cell towers, the traffic delay was epic. Another time we hit traffic was entering California from Nevada. There’s a California Agriculture Inspection Station at the border. The inspectors are looking to make sure commodities coming into California are free from exotic invasive species within plant materials such as fruits, vegetables, and firewood. We had none of that and were waived through immediately, but imagine how much time it took, when there are only a few inspection stations and so many cars and trucks are driving on the same road. We also had a lot of traffic driving through Yellowstone National Park, and with the wildlife going on the roads through the park, as well as all the cars that visit Yellowstone every year, it can sometimes take over an hour to get from point A to point B within the national park.
There are plus sides to road trips, however. We always stock the car with our favorite junk food before we leave. For me, that includes at least three different pringles flavors, vanilla frosted cupcake pop tarts, and every and all trail mixes with peanut butter anything. For my husband, it’s usually goldfish crackers, s’mores pop tarts, and cheez its. If you don’t pig out during a road trip, you’re not doing it the right way. There’s also nothing quite like Flying J and Pilot Coffee, or seeing a Dunkin Donuts en route to wherever, and knowing I can get a frozen or iced coffee from there. [We sadly lack Dunkin Donuts in my area]. On the East Coast, there’s Sheetz and Wawa, my two favorite convenience stores, which sadly pwn Bucc-ees, in my opinion… Sorry Texans… There’s also the fun of discovering random restaurants wherever we are, such as that time in Kennewick, Washington, where we discovered the best Indian food ever. I also love seeing so much of the United States, I’ve been to 45/50 states, 44 of them via driving and road trips, and there’s so much beauty in this country that people never get to see because they take planes to get from point A to point B, or they just ignore visiting national and state parks all together.
The scariest drive we had was driving from Saguaro National Park in Arizona to Zion National Park in Utah. The drive started out fine. We took a detour to Horseshoe Bend. On the way to Zion, after that, we got distracted by the Glen Canyon Dam, and like all the other tourists, we parked our car on the road so we could take pictures of the Dam during sunset. It started getting dark as we left the Dam, and at the same time, we entered a different time zone. About an hour or so after left the dam, it started snowing. It was pitch black, there was pretty much no light on the roads, and the snow swirled in the air making blurred shapes at such a rapid pace that we couldn’t see two feet in front of us.
We passed a Hampton Inn, a little before we were about to drive on the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway. I told my husband that we should just get a room for the night because the snow was getting bad and I was worried about making it to the park. He insisted that we would be fine. This was December 2018, and the national park shutdown had just happened. This trip had been planned over a year ago just to get lodging within the national parks, and we didn’t want to cancel it due to something beyond our control. Utah was paying money to keep their park open during the winter tourist season, but they still had a reduced staff. As we drove down the highway towards Springdale, Utah, the snow got harder, and visibility was reduced to pretty much nothing. The highway was filled with curves and switchbacks. There were no safety railings on the road as we started our descent down the cliff, and we couldn’t see anything in the snow. At one point, we just stopped moving. We didn’t move for over an hour, and I kept on thinking this was the end. I wasn’t sure if we had enough warm clothes or food or water to survive a night in the single digit temperatures of Utah. After a very tense hour, a national park service employee tapped on our window and explained that a car had slipped on the ice and nose-dived headfirst into some of the packed snow on the road. A plow was helping to dig the car out, and she told us we could follow the plow down to Springdale, Utah. Later, my husband confessed that he really thought we weren’t going to survive that drive, and that that was the end. At least, we would have died together, in the car, where we had most of our adventures in.
Another frightful drive we had was when I moved from New Jersey to Texas. We decided to make a pitstop at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We drove all the way to Clingman’s Dome at the peak of the mountains, and as we got to the top, took our pictures, and as we were driving back down the mountain, the beautiful blue skies turned a smoky gray color. Suddenly, it started to pour. When I say pour, I mean that I couldn’t see two feet in front of me, the windshield wipers weren’t strong enough to fight the rain, there was thunder and lightning everywhere, and we were driving down a mountain with no safety rails and some very impressive curves.
One of the coolest drives we had was through Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Maybe it was because it was the middle of June, and desert temperatures average around 90 t0 100 degrees, or maybe it was because the Petrified Forest isn’t as visited as the Grand Canyon, but we had the entire park to ourselves. We drove the 28.6-mile scenic drive throughout the park and saw the Painted Desert and the Blue Mesa. The colors and landscape made it seem like we were on another planet. We bought our national park passports there, and got our first cancellation stamps and stickers, which is a tradition we’ve kept up since we visited Petrified Forest. We’re both on Passport number 2 now because we’ve filled the pages with so many cancelations from different parks we’ve visited over the years.
Another favorite drive was driving the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at Big Bend National Park from Rio Grande Campground, where we had been camping, to the Santa Elena Canyon. Big Bend National Park is so big that you could probably spend about a week there, just driving from destination to destination. The landscape at Big Bend is so different from the landscape in other parts of Texas. There are the swampy marshlands by Rio Grande Campground, the natural hot springs on the Rio Grande River, which are always open, and I highly recommend visiting them as the sun rises. Then there’s the limestone cliffs of the Santa Elena Canyon, and the mountains near Chisos Basin. The Chisos Mountains are the only mountain range in the United States to be contained in a single national park. The stars at night are amazing. The best time to visit is during a new moon, where there’s no light from the moon to disrupt the endless stargazing. There was one night during our three-day camping trip there, when I saw at least ten shooting stars, and during certain times of the year, the Milky Way is also fully visible.
We’re taking most of next year off from going on vacation. It’ll be kind of weird NOT being in a car for one of our breaks, and just staying at home and playing video-games and marathoning Netflix and Hulu. Our next trip is in June 2021. We’re going to Glacier National Park, crossing the border to Canada, and driving to Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, and Kootenay National Park. Altogether, the driving for that trip totals 1018 miles and 14 hours or 841 minutes in a car, starting from the Spokane airport.
With how much driving to and from school and how much my commute pisses me off. I guess it’s kind of ironic that I spend most of my free time, choosing to be in a car for very long periods of time, but it’s worth it for all the things that I’ve seen during those long drives even though it seems like the majority of my waking hours are spent driving in cars.