Road Trippin’ U.S.A

At a time in my life when I had no commitments, I decided to embark on what I would call “a once-in-a-lifetime vacation”. Flying towards the USA, this 7-week road trip involved setting foot in 24 states, visiting 9 national parks and 10 major cities.

Words: Chanel Galea 

I chose to do this trip with an organization that made all the necessary arrangements. Travelling alone was ideal as I got to meet up with fellow solo travellers, allowing us to journey together. The road trip involved a lot of van time, and our night lodging was mostly a tent in a campsite. On a good day, we’d bump ourselves up to cabins, and in big cities, hostels or hotels. 

The trip started off with a few solo days in New York City before life on the road to enjoy a bit of me-time with a touch of luxury hotel living. A few days later, the road-trip began in New Jersey as we drove west through the North of the country, hitting spots like Chicago, Yellowstone National Park, and Yosemite National Park. Once we arrived in San Francisco, we headed down the coast to LA, and drove back Eastward through the South of the country through Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Austin, New Orleans, Washington D.C, and everywhere in between. 

Camping is the definition of ‘roughing it’. Prior to this trip, I’d never camped, which makes me wonder why I thought this type of trip was such a good idea. Simply pitching a tent was no easy feat, but I must admit, that doing it almost every day turned me into a pro, and we sometimes raced to complete it the fastest.  Sleeping in a tent for 6 weeks made me miss the comfort of a bed. The most comfortable sleeping options were prone or supine, finding the right spot between a literal rock and a hard place. On cold nights, I would mummify myself in blankets, restricting my mobility but attempting to retain my warmth. The tent’s height, or lack thereof, helped me to improve my squat technique, and getting dressed inside the tent required some creativity with a touch of contortion. Experiencing this whole trip with a group eliminated the notion of privacy, even more so when sharing a tent with somebody who was initially a stranger. Having said that, once relationships were formed, my tent buddy became my best friend, and we were inseparable. 

The experience of camping allowed me to enjoy the simpler things in life. As a group, we took turns performing chores like cooking and cleaning, and sitting outside for a group meal became something special. At a particular campsite, we caught our own fish and had it grilled for dinner, something I had never done before and haven’t done since. Suddenly, chilling out around a campfire eating s’mores and sharing stories became second nature. In the middle of the desert or at a high altitude at a national park, phone service would be absent, and passing the time became a more sociable act. Occasionally, showers were timed, and I’d contemplate the actual need to wash my hair. Other times, showers were completely lacking, and we would spend a couple of hiking days without a wash, merely using wipes. I got to wind down with a book in hand, or some informative reading within the park about how to bear-proof your camping area, and how to react should an encounter happen! 

In the end, the shortcomings of such “luxuries” were nothing compared to the being in the great outdoors. Camp life may not be for everybody, but it was incredible and without it I would have never slept under the stars and heard coyotes run by in the near distance. Rising at dawn to a frost covered tent and the smell of wet grass is something that I will never get over, and the sound of the waking birds and the rustle of the leaves was a blissful wake-up call. 

With a great amount of road distance to cover, we drove through some of the most scenic spots. The winding roads leading up to a higher altitude gave us glorious forest views, and the drive along the West coast was something on a whole other level. Some camp nights were mere simplicity where we would just sleep through the night and head back on the road the following morning. However, most times, we were a short distance away from some of the most amazing places. 

The national parks were undeniably the highlights of this trip, if not of my life. Being chased by a thunderstorm as we walked a trail in Badlands National Park was exhilarating, until it finally caught up to us and drenched us in rainfall. Visiting the 2.2 million acre park of Yellowstone was amazing. Practically a volcano just waiting to blow, the park was a geological wonder, with sulphuric acid pools, gushing waterfalls, erupting geysers, hot springs, and extensive wildlife. Yosemite was simply incredible, despite the fact that the drought got the better of the lakes and waterfalls. The views of the extraordinary cliffs and valleys were an unforgettable sight, and standing at the enormous base of an 80-metre high giant sequoia tree made me feel like the tiniest being. 

Walking along the river valley at the foot of the cliffs of Zion National Park carried with it a sense of serenity. Our quick stop at Horseshoe Bend gave us an overwhelming birds eye view of the awe-inspiring marvel, and as we hiked the rim of the rust-coloured Grand Canyon, I would stop atop the edge of the cliff and look ahead, views as far as the eye could see. Watching the sunset, we observed the vivid colours of the canyon as the shadows on the peaks and valleys changed, seemingly bringing them to life. I will never forget the feeling from the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, when my stomach dropped as we flew over the threshold between woodland and canyon. 

To witness the rising of the sun behind Monument Valley was unique. The sun silhouetted the larger-than-life monuments as the sky changed from black, to red, to blue. Learning about the deep history of the natives and the way they live a spiritual life in the depths of the sandstone valley was astounding.

If we weren’t at a park or a city, we were somewhere in between making the most of the opportunities that lay ahead of us. Paddling down the thrilling white waters of Snake River in a raft, walking around the perimeter of a glorious lake, and riding on horseback in the hilly woods allowed us to appreciate the diversity of our surroundings. 

After 7 weeks of a jam-packed itinerary with constant company, I learnt that life on the road is the best way to see the beauty of a place. I may have missed the comfort of my bed and my own privacy, but once I returned home and had no plans, I lay on my bed in absolute silence, and within two minutes, I could only ask myself, “Now what?”