#RoadTripMore Part 1: The 40 Hour Cross Country Sprint

I’d like to think that everyone has a specific pleasure in life that is both fulfilling and relaxing… but a pleasure that also tests them. The kind of thing that requires you to leave a comfort zone and take on a challenge that not everyone can bear. Something that is special to you. Something that forces you to come to terms with a side of yourself that maybe you’ve ignored or didn’t even know existed. Something strong and beautiful… yet very difficult.

For myself, road trips are that something. I love taking them, driving for thousands of miles by myself or chilling in the backseat rolling spliffs and picking the music for the car. I love being in a moving car and watching the country go by, reflecting on what it means to live on this planet and digging deeper into myself, using the time to find self-awareness and true purpose. Road trips are my ideal setting for lasting introspection.

Adding the “sprint” aspect onto it amplifies the physical and mental endurance properties of the already trying test.

Cross country road trip sprint

The 2014 expedited cross country route, done in about 40 hours.

2,300 Miles, 40 Hours, 1 Driver

Cross Country Sprint (noun): best practiced spontaneously, this form of road tripping applies to drives taken across a major expanse of a large country such as the United States, coast to coast, where the driver proceeds with maximum speed, minimum sleep, open windows and hearts and limitless curiosity.

Earlier this year, I sprinted across the country solo for the second consecutive year, and for the second time, west to east. It’s crazy how much difference a year makes and really, how little difference a year makes. I started each adventure in different locations, physically, mentally and emotionally. The first time I was excited to get on the road from San Diego, eager and maybe even naive… the history here is still too recent to completely understand. I had planned a handful of scenic routes even though I was going for time and sped through them all. The second drive, I was apprehensive, haunted by recurring nightmares of death the week leading up to the road trip and unsure of my endurance behind the wheel. I was leaving Los Angeles already exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. And as a result of the first trip, I was overwhelmingly intimidated by the reality of the next 40 hours. Both trips started with self-loathing and both ended with a more sound understanding of myself, exhaustion and a self-satisfied smile. Different scenery, same destination.

“The Sprint”, a Brief Anecdote

I left my apartment in Los Angeles around 10 am and didn’t get out of the city until after noon, partly because of traffic, but also because of two stops. The first, to see a woman whom I respect deeply and had to pay said respects to before dipping out. The second, to spark a blunt and chop it up with one of my first LA homies. Good stops to start, but I was behind schedule, something that regularly happens on impromptu trips like this.

My timing on this cross country road trip was way different than the year before. In that first sprint, I left shortly after the Super Bowl in February, around 11 pm, I think. And while I was making good time then, pacing to be in the heart of the southwest US at sunrise, my flow was stemmed by border patrol going north in Arizona. The drug dog caught a whiff of pot at a checkpoint and the officers tore the contents of my car apart, looking for headline-worthy weights of that Mary J. I didn’t have that much any, so ha! Even though the joke was ultimately on me, since they unpacked EVERYTHING in the car and I had to fold all my shit and repack Veronica at 3 am, with badges and German Shepherds prowling around me.

I wish I could say I made it west to east without any police trouble this year, but that’s not so. I had a really weird encounter with a cop in Missouri who pulled me over for not using my turn signal before pulling onto a toll road. And, I’m guessing as a result of my youth and California license plates, made me sit shotgun in his cop car, drug dog and all, while he printed out the ticket, both of us anticipating the dog to bark. (Be smart on road trips!)

By the time I was +1,000 miles out of LA, through Texas and finally making my way due north towards Illinois, Indiana and eventually Ohio, my body was exhausted. I’m not sure now how long I had been driving by then but it doesn’t matter. Fatigue is a real thing on this sort of road trip and it should be respected. In 2013, I made stops to stretch and pee, but never slept. By the time I was in Ohio, ~40 hours after leaving San Diego, I was hallucinating. So this year, I applied a lesson learned and made stops when I was tired. 3 in all. Granted, they were for only 20-60 minutes at a time, but it made a hell of a difference. I was still exhausted in Ohio yet the lines on the road never started moving and I was thankful for that.

GoPro for Travel

From my west coast bound return trip. I was way too strung out to operate a camera on the drive east.

“The Sprint”, a Brief Reflection

The challenges I’ve faced on my two solo cross country sprints are so unique that encountering them has been a shock. I’ve panicked and been stricken with anxiety while driving and from more than just flashing lights, too.

When you’re alone for hours on end in the solitude of a moving car, your mind wanders. There are limited distractions when you’re in a hybrid getting 40 miles to the gallon, locked in at 80 mph through the more uninhabited parts of our country and no one around to affect your train of thought. Self-awareness is something I’ve been repeating lately and it’s through experiences like this that let me get there. I’ve faced my true self on these solo drives and come to terms with low points in my past that I’ve otherwise learned to block out. It’s impossible to understand the many intricacies of your song over the constant hum of society.

Road Trips My Sanctuary

Social life is a beautiful part of life and one of the most fulfilling parts of my own. But when people are moving through your world, they become distractions good and bad, diverting your focus outward. Instead of looking inward and understanding your true physical, mental and emotional state, in society we look outward at others. We spend the majority of our time evaluating how others perceive us and how we can move efficiently through social groups, seeking some form of advancement through relationships, whether it’s conscious or not. We share our experiences in elaborate and often exaggerated stories not to understand how the event can be used to make “I” a better person, but to spark an emotion in someone else. There’s a lot of noise out there.

Introspection requires quiet, calm and solitude. There’s continuity to those 3 conditions on cross country road trips and it’s their uninhibited continuation for hours and hours that allows me to clear out the corners of myself that I normally disregard.

But maybe road trips aren’t how you get there. In fact, they probably aren’t. I would encourage you to find a setting where you feel comfortable and quiet enough to get below the surface of and learn from the pains you quietly carry. Take some time to yourself, REALLY to yourself (be greedy when it comes to your insides!) and don’t be afraid to recall shortcomings and failures. There’s no reason to feel ashamed, guilty or worse, self-loathing because of past mess ups. Learn from missed turns and next time when you pass that sign you’ll slow down and turn where you used to pick up speed, miss your exit and get pulled over.

There’s no reason to let a little ticket stop you from getting the most out of your journey. Put it out of sight, pay the fine and next time, put your turn signal on in Missouri.

More #RoadTripMore:

Author: Eric White

Eric graduated Ohio University in 2012 with a degree in Advertising and immediately went out to San Diego, California to start not using his degree. At the start of 2013, Eric quit his job, let his lease run out and started backpacking North America. Eric has worked with Amtrak, Crowdtap, HootSuite and others, and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA... when not on the road.

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  1. Amen brother. A solo road trip is where I get my most constructive and critical thinking done. It’s usually a liberating and fulfilling venture– and a challenging one. Especially when, as you said, it “forces you to come to terms with a side of yourself that maybe you’ve ignored or didn’t even know existed.” But that is healthy all the same. Ask Louis CK>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c

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  2. I love this, Eric, and I agree. Last summer I drove solo Cali to Maine and I loved every second of it. (Okay that’s a lie, I had a bit of a breakdown around upstate NY because I was so tired.) I made the trip more more slowly than you (6 days w/ a few stops to see friends) but it was amazing for all the reasons you wrote. It’s funny because everyone I talked to before I left told me that they would NEVER do the x-country trip solo (a woman at AAA told me she’d be AFRAID!?!?), and I’ve only talked to one person since I’ve gotten back who said they’ve done it and very few have said they’d think about it. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. Really excellent post.

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    • That’s a helluva trip! And the breakdowns are all part of the fun haha. Thanks for stopping by per usual, Julia. Stay tuned for the rest!

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