Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vacation Drive: California and The Start

We drove from California to Illinois recently (and back) as part of a vacation. We saw relatives in the Chicago area, but we didn't stop for even one attraction along the way in either direction As we've got limited time and tolerance for highway landmarks.

Driving that far may sound stupid with $4/gallon gas, but the alternative was even more expensive. Have you looked at what it would cost to kennel two dogs for a couple of weeks and buy round trip tickets from SJC to ORD? No thanks. We'll drive, stay in hotels, take the dogs along, and still save considerable money.

Our driving pattern is a bit odd, and it would probably make no sense for most people. We stop every 120 miles or so, or about every two hours. At these brief stops we walk the dogs, walk ourselves, gas up the car (or not) and change drivers. These stops tend to be between 10 and 20 minutes long, but they make all the difference in the world. They allow us to go for 15 or 16 hours and cover 900+ miles in a single day without falling asleep behind the wheel. The dogs get a bit bored by it all - particularly the Siberian Husky - but if we remove a day or two from the trip we all do better in the end. We also eat both breakfast and lunch in the car, stopping only for a sit down dinner.

The trip turns out to be a bit over 2200 miles along I-80 between the Bay Area and the Chicago suburbs. (The exact distance depends on the specific route taken at either end.) We do it in three days, and along the way we've developed some opinions and thoughts about the states and sights along the road. I'll share them with you, working from west to east, in separate, state specific posts, beginning (obviously) with California. Sadly, California is the least interesting in terms of our commentary. I hope the others are more amusing.

First off, the bay area is way too crowded. We went well out of our way to avoid rush hour traffic on the way out, but tried a more direct route on the way back. In hindsight I wish we'd gone the long route both ways, but such is life.

The roads in California vary wildly. I-5 between Sacramento and Stockton was very rough, but I-80 in the central valley is fine. For the really awful pavement, through, nothing on the entire trip beats I-80 through the Sierra Mountains. It seems to be paved with tiny cobblestones. It's incredibly loud to drive on, and very rough. Lots of other states get snow and I've never seen similar pavement anywhere, so I don't understand what they were thinking when the road was paved this way.

For scenery, California does reasonably well. The coastal mountains (the Santa Cruz Range in our case) are quite nice, and the Sierras are gorgeous. The central valley is dull, but it doesn't last long and you're fighting the traffic most of the way through it, so you don't have time to think about it.

Our outbound route included 341 miles in CA, while the similar portion of our homeward trip was only 275 miles. That's the above mentioned difference in our routes. At rush hour I think the extra distance is worth it, since it adds less than an hour to the length of the trip and drops the stress levels a lot.

We never stop and stay anywhere in California on these trips. We're too close to home no matter which direction we're going, so we always press on into Nevada or to home itself. That means we don't really know much about anything except a couple of gas stations along the way.

Posts in the series: