Weeks 1 & 2 - Leesburg, Virginia
to Phoenix, Arizona
Day 1 - Thursday, June 11th
The adventure officially began at 9 am this morning as I left a foggy Leesburg and headed
west. The planned route included driving the length of Skyline Drive, seeing a couple sights in
West Virginia, and then heading south toward Atlanta, stopping wherever the mood struck.
I hit Skyline Drive
in Front Royal at about 10 an and bought my $50 "Golden Eagle Passport", which allows unlimited
access to every National Park in the country for a year. What a deal! The gatekeeper warned that
the drive was foggy and sure enough I drove in and out of dense fogbanks most of the way down.
There must be something about me, fog and Skyline Drive - the only other time I was here was a
couple of years ago when they closed a section of the road for bike riders. Theresa and I did
the 50-mile roundtrip and it was foggy and rainy the whole way. Anyway, I didn't get any
pictures of the breathtaking vistas. I did count 7 separate "Bambi sightings", including one
mother-baby combo that decided to pause right in the middle of the road.
After a short stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which picks up when Skyline Drive ends, I
cut west into West Virginia headed for the New River Gorge
Bridge, which is the longest and second-highest steel-span bridge in the U.S. On the way, I
went looking for the Lost World Cavern,
which one of my atlases included in its top 8 West Virginia attractions. Getting to it involves
about 5 miles of one lane, semi-paved roads, which aren't terribly well marked, but the place
was very impressive. It's a huge (over 200 feet deep and 1000 feet long) underground chamber,
said to be over 300 million years old, that somebody discovered in the middle of a bunch of
farmland back in the 1940's. The only natural entrance is a gopher-sized hole that was buried
under some grapevines. Until they drilled the tourist entrance, the only way to get in was to
rappel straight down over 100 feet to the cavern floor!
I got to the bridge around 6 pm, checked out the large visitor center, and climbed halfway
down the gorge to the observation deck. They say that before they built the new bridge, it took
45 minutes to get through the gorge on the winding mountain roads. Now it takes less than a
minute - at over 800 feet up!
After pushing on for another 270 miles, for a first-day total of over 600, I called it a
night at about 11:30 pm, just over the South Carolina line at an interstate rest stop. I slept
in the Rodeo for the first of many times - it wasn't too bad.
Day 2 - Friday, June 12th
Back on the road by 8, I got to downtown Atlanta soon after 11 am, leaving plenty of time to
explore before tonight's 7:40 pm game. I visited Atlanta's somewhat over-hyped underground
shopping mall, experienced the incredibly crass commercialism of the Coca-Cola museum, and
explored the expansive Centennial Olympic Park,
including a tasteful memorial at the site of the bombing. Across the street is the International
CNN Center, which doubles as a shopping mall. I took the 40
minute guided tour of the news operation - sort of like watching an ant colony scurrying around
After the game, a quick 80-mile jaunt down I-75 took me to my first cheap roadside motel, in
Day 3 - Saturday, June 13th
I hit the road at just before 9 am, ready for a long stretch of interstate to get me to
ProPlayer Stadium in Miami for the 7 pm game. With an audiobook of "Bang the Drum Slowly"
keeping me entertained, I made good time and covered the 560+ miles in about 8 hours. In one
good stretch, a game of tag with a guy in a Dodge Stealth covered 85 miles in one hour! As I
approached Miami, a typical afternoon thunderstorm kicked in, but it was over in less than 20
minutes, well before game time.
After the game, I bumbled around looking for a cheap motel and ended up in what I later found
out was about the seediest I could have found. I think I'll try to stick to the places along the
Day 4 - Sunday, June 14th
Survived the night unscathed and with all my possessions! I had breakfast with Dee, who I
play Scrabble with on the 'net. She gave me a quick tour of Ft. Lauderdale, some Florida travel
advice, and even bought me breakfast. Thanks Dee!
Following Rt. A1A down the coast through the ritzy stores and endless resorts of Miami Beach,
I turned right when I ran out of land. It struck me that I was just about as far south-east as
it's possible to be in the lower 48 and that in a little over 3 weeks, I'll be crossing into
Victoria, BC at perhaps the north-western most point in the continental U.S.
I headed west on the Tamiani Trail, an incredibly straight and flat two-lane road and
accompanying canal that cuts through the Everglades. Stopped at the
Park and rented a bike (a pretty cheesy single-gear job) to ride their 15 mile trail that
takes you out to what seems like the middle of nowhere. I was astounded that my wireless phone
worked out there, seven miles from the nearest paved road. Just had to pull one of those "you'll
never guess where I'm calling from" on mom.
Next, it was a little less than 200 miles up Florida's west coast to St. Petersburg. The
"Skyway" bridge and causeway that spans the mouth of Tampa Bay is quite impressive. It reminded
me of the Florida Keys - miles and miles with water as far as the eye can see on either side. I
had picked up a couple of motel discount coupon guides and the cheapest place I could find ($26)
turned out to be a quaint old hotel right downtown near Tropicana Field that reminded me of the
place in Stephen King's "The Shining". I watched the Bulls win their 6th NBA championship on a
big screen TV in the hotel lobby. As Isiah Thomas said, "Michael Jordan is a basketball god".
Day 5 - Monday, June 15th
Well, apparently the three days I've spent in Florida have each set all-time heat records.
Honestly, it hasn't been any hotter than I was expecting, but the local papers are full of
stories about the "heatwave". Based on an ad/coupon in one of the local sightseeing guides, I
headed across another of the numerous causeways in the area to Madiera Beach for a 6 hour cruise
on a casino ship. For 15 bucks, I got to see the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida coast, an
all-you-can-eat brunch buffet, and $10 worth of tokens for the slot machines. Wouldn't you know,
I got hopelessly addicted and blew another $300 before I ran out of cash (just kidding).
Seriously, how can people sit and pour money into those things, watching it methodically
disappear? The cruise was actually cut a bit short when they decided that too many of the
passengers were getting seasick on the choppy waters. Got back in plenty of time to get to the
domed Tropicana Field for the 7 pm game between the Jays and the Rays.
Heading out after the game, I decided to skip the interstate for the trip back up to the
Florida panhandle and headed up Rt. 19. For the first 30 miles, I was kicking myself because it
was literally an unbroken string of strip malls, restaurants, gas stations and stoplights. Then
it all abruptly stopped and it would be 30 miles between little towns. I kept rolling all the
way to Tallahassee, over 200 miles, before pulling into a truckstop and catching some zzzzs in
the Rodeo, surrounded by a couple dozen idling 18-wheelers.
Day 6 - Tuesday, June 16th
Four states to cover today, headed to Houston! I took I-10 most of the way, with a stop in
Mobile for a tour of the USS
Alabama, one of the biggest World War 2 battleships. That fit right in with today's
audiobook - "The Caine Mutiny", a 20+ hour monster that I started on Monday and should finally
finish on Wednesday. I took a minor detour to take the scenic route along Mississippi's gulf
coast, which includes a spate of huge casinos. They've figured out how to completely exploit the
laws that were created to allow riverboat casinos by building these monstrous buildings that
"float" a few feet off the mainland.
I hit some nasty traffic and construction delays on the section of I-10 that runs through
downtown New Orleans, but the section between Baton Rouge and Lafayette is a real fun drive. At
least half of the fifty miles of interstate is an elevated highway through the swamps and
bayous. At a little after 7 pm central time, I grabbed a $31 motel room in Lafayette, just in
time to watch the Caps finish getting destroyed by the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Bummer for DC.
Day 7 - Wednesday, June 17th
I got to sleep in 'til nearly 10 this morning, before making the 200-mile jaunt into the
Houston area. Today's tourist side trip is the Johnson Space
Center, just outside the Houston beltway. This was the actual mission control for all the
moon launches in the 60's and 70's. There are about 14,000 people working there these days,
primarily focused on the International Space Station. I also took a tour of the nearby
Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which is used for
space simulations and astronaut training. It houses what is basically the world's largest
swimming pool (100' x 200' x 40' deep, over 6 million gallons) in which they are building
components of the space station. I didn't realize that our space program is still this active.
I got to the Astrodome at about 4:45 pm, in
plenty of time for the stadium tour that I had been promised, and batting practice with Mark
After the game, I headed up I-45 towards the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Rangers game
tomorrow is a 1:35 pm start, so I wanted to get into the area Wednesday night. After about 200
miles, I crashed (oops, poor word choice) at an interstate rest stop about 50 miles outside
Dallas. I'm getting used to sleeping surrounded by idling semis. Tonight marked the end of the
first week of my trip. One down, eight to go! Four games, ten states, and 3,064 miles. It looks
like that will be the top week of the whole trip in terms of mileage.
Day 8 - Thursday, June 18th
After breakfast, I headed to downtown Dallas, where I wanted to see the
JFK museum, located in the Texas Book Depository, right off of
Dealey Plaza. Wow! Even though I wasn't born until 4 years after the assassination, the sense of
history is really amazing. The museum documents Kennedy's life and death, with every possible
detail of the fatal moments preserved. You can look out the window that Oswald fired from, see
the actual Zapruder video camera, and on and on. Right outside, you can stand in the spot where
Kennedy was hit (watch out for the traffic!) and check out the view from behind the fence on
"the grassy knoll", where the second shooter was (might have been?). Nobody should pass through
the Dallas area without seeing this.
On to The Ballpark at Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers. It is located midway between
Dallas and Fort Worth, right next door to one of the Six Flags amusement parks. I didn't have
time to try this one out, but I've got several of the others around the country on the
itinerary. Some of their new coasters are supposed to be pretty wild.
This place takes the prize for easiest postgame exit. Despite a crowd of over 35,000 and a
one-run game, getting out of the ballpark was the easiest and quickest I've ever experienced.
Elapsed time from the last pitch until I was cruising west on I-30 at 70 mph: 6 minutes! I
challenge anyone to beat that at any pro sports stadium in the country.
I pushed westward, "deep in the heart of Texas", making good time and marveling at the vast
expanse of the Lone Star state. Huge ranches, oil wells, and monster truck stops dominating
every exit. I picked Odessa as a stopping point for the night, from where I can head pretty much
due north into New Mexico tomorrow.
Day 9 - Friday, June 19th
Today's theme: The wonders of the American Southwest. As I set out from
Odessa Texas to head north into
New Mexico and eventually Colorado. I had my first minor automotive mishap of the trip - a blown
tire. I'm sure glad it happened when it did and not later in the day (more on that in a bit). As
it was, I limped into an Odessa tire repair place to see if they could repair the puncture. It
turned out that the tire had been damaged too much and we had to use the spare.
After the hour delay, it was 2 hours north and then west to Carlsbad New Mexico, site of the
Caverns. I got the lost hour back, in a sense, when I crossed into the Mountain Time Zone.
Along the way, a bird decided to emulate the countless insects that have been splattering
themselves on my vehicle, flying headfirst into the grill. Not pleasant.
The caverns were well worth the minor detour, and they made the Lost World Cavern in West
Virginia look positively puny. The visitors center is 7 miles off the road and getting to it
provided some terrific scenery. I took the full walking tour of over 3 miles, the first mile of
which winds you steeply down to more than 700 feet below the surface. Then there's another
couple miles or trails through the "big room", which they claim would hold 14 Astrodomes. At one
point, you can look down into what is called the "Bottomless Pit", which goes down another
140-some feet, accessible only via rappelling. At the end of the walking tour, this being
America, is a gift shop and snack bar, plus a quick elevator ride back up 775 feet to the
Heading north through New Mexico, I stopped for lunch in Roswell, the worldwide mecca for
"reality-challenged" individuals who like to ruminate about little green men. Coincidentally,
today is the day that the X-files movie opens nationwide - spooky, huh? Only because they don't
charge admission, I walked through the UFO Museum, aka
Kook Central, which has a minute-by-minute chronology of the 1947 crashed weather balloon that
has been turned into an alien invasion.
North of Roswell, where the local bank's time/temperature display read 114 degrees as I was
leaving town, I delved deep into the desert. It was 90 miles before the next gas station, and at
one point I went over 30 miles seeing exactly one other vehicle! I stole more than a few glances
at the Rodeo's temperature indicator, but despite the AC cranking and the 75 mph speeds, it was
rock-solid. After passing through the tiny town of Villanueva New Mexico (see if you can find it
on a map), one of the most remote places I've even been, I was real glad to see that wonderful
blue interstate sign for I-25.
With a posted speed limit of 75, I set the cruise control at 85, and for the more than 120
miles to the Colorado border, I literally did not touch either the gas or the brake. The
scenery, especially those other-worldly mesas, was breathtaking. I had planned to stop for the
night somewhere near Pueblo Colorado and head in for the Rockies game on Saturday, but, with the
promise of a free bed n' breakfast at my uncle's place just north of Denver, I pushed on. In
what most likely will be the longest driving day of the whole trip, I ended up covering 825
extremely scenic miles.
Day 10 - Saturday, June 20th
And on the tenth day, it rested. After nine days and just over 4300 miles without so much as
a hiccup, the Rodeo got a day off today. Today's driving consisted of only a quick foray into
downtown Denver to replace the spare tire that was pressed into service yesterday and to get a
much needed car wash. My uncle, Rich Marshall, drives a bus from the suburbs into the city on
most game days, and I hitched a free ride to the Rockies game with him. For the first time so
far, I had some company at the game - my 14 year old cousin Cam (being on duty, Rich doesn't get
to actually go to the games).
Cam and I rode the "Rockies Ride" bus back home with Rich. For the first time, I spent two
nights in a row in the same place.
Day 11 - Sunday, June 21st
Rocky Mountain high. The drive from Denver through the Rocky Mountains into Utah was
fantastic. Somehow I've managed to avoid experiencing America's signature mountain range up
until this point in my life. Today, I made up for lost time. Leaving Denver on I-70 west toward
my cousin Jim's place in Silverthorne, I took the amazing drive to the top of
Mt. Evans, via the
highest paved road in the country. After the road ended at about 14,100 feet, I climbed the last
150 feet to the true summit. What a view! Continuing the "extremes" theme, I noted that in
exactly one week, I'll be visiting the lowest point in America in Death Valley.
A few exits west, I stopped in at Jim's place, where I got to meet the newest Lathom, 6-month
old Hannah. Jim and his wife Michelle gave me the grand tour of the cluster of laid-back resort
towns that they call home. Right outside their backdoor is
Forest and several peaks that top the 13,000-foot mark.
Onward through the heart of the Rockies, I passed the snow-free slopes of the
Vail ski resort, then followed the winding Colorado
River through Glenwood Canyon and Grand Junction Colorado into Utah. There, I picked up the
incredibly scenic Rt. 128 south into Moab, where I got a room at the Prospector Lodge (there are
no motels in Moab, everything is a "Lodge").
Day 12 - Monday, June 22nd
I visited the Arches National Park just north of Moab,
where a 60-mile loop winds in and out of some of the most unique natural arches, mesas and
plateaus anywhere. Quite a bit of the park can be seen up-close only via dirt roads marked
"Four-wheel drive vehicles only - very high clearance required" - and the aren't kidding! After
a couple of miles of serious, bone-jarring 4-wheeling, I chickened out and turned back. I had
visions of myself bottoming out the Rodeo 10 miles away from the nearest assistance.
Heading south on Utah's secondary highways (today marked the first completely
"interstate-free" day of driving so far), I went a few miles out of the way to visit the very
unique Four Corners Monument
, which is the only place in the country where 4 states come together at one point. Out in the
middle of nowhere, an amazing number of people show up be photographed standing in 4 states at
once and purchase hand-made Navajo Indian crafts.
On into Arizona, it was over 200 miles to the south rim of the
Grand Canyon . Although I didn't realize it until
Tuesday, I gained another hour because Arizona, unlike any of its neighbors, does not observe
Mountain Daylight time. After stopping at several of the overlooks along East Rim Drive, I
flaked out in the Rodeo in the nearby town of Tusayan (it seems they are very strict about not
letting anyone sleep in their vehicles within the park unless they pay for a campsite).
Day 13 - Tuesday, June 23rd
OK, let's get this straight up front: I'm an idiot. Now, my day at the Grand Canyon. I got up
early and joined a surprisingly large contingent of tourists to watch the sunrise over the
canyon. Then, at a little before 6 am local time, I set out on the
Bright Angel trail to hike the canyon.
Here's where I get stupid. There are signs everywhere and all kind of notices in the park guides
that tell you NOT to attempt a day-hike all the way to the Colorado River and back. Of course,
those dire warnings that "Heat Kills" and about how deceiving easy the hike down is are meant
for the old and out-of-shape, not me! I told myself that I would follow the guideline that it
takes at least twice as long to hike up as it does to hike down, and see how far I could go in
2-3 hours. Well, I hit the river at 2 hours 10 minutes and pushed on across the foot bridge to
Phantom Ranch, more than 9 and a half
miles in. When I headed back at 2 hours 45 minutes, I wasn't even breathing hard. Then reality
kicked in, my legs started cramping badly, and I started to wonder if I was going to make it
out. Eight hours later, including over three hours at various rest stops trying to get my second
wind, I struggled back to the south rim at about 4:45 pm, more tired than I can ever remember
being. I had covered over 19 miles and a more than 4500 vertical drop - and I'll be sore for a
Luckily, I only had 75 miles to cover to Flagstaff for a desperately needed shower and bed.
Day 14 - Wednesday, June 24th
Another easy driving day, just over 150 miles straight down I-10 to Phoenix. On the way, I
made a quick stop at the Montezuma Castle National Monument,
a 600-year old, 4-story dwelling carved out of the side of a cliff. Interesting, but I was a
little disappointed that you can't get any closer than 100 feet or so. At least it was only a
couple miles off the interstate and didn't cost anything thanks to my all-you-can-eat-for-a-year
National Parks pass (see Day 1). I got to Phoenix around 2 pm and found a motel near the
Diamondbacks downtown Bank One Ballpark, known affectionately to everyone around Phoenix as BOB.
With time to kill before the 7 pm game, my extremely sore legs (see Day 13) and I took a walk
around scorching downtown Phoenix. People say "it's a dry heat", but 100 degrees is just plain
hot if you ask me. I noticed that a quite a few buildings have these little "misting" sprinklers
overhead to cool people off.
Another 15-block walk back to the motel. Good night.