I've been living abroad in Seoul and haven't been behind the wheel for nearly two years now, so I'm very much eager to roll the windows down, put on some good music, and feel the wind rushing through my hair when I return "home" to California in early March.
Back in the summer of '03, just having finished my undergraduate studies, two college friends and I decided to hit the road in a converted full-size van for 31 days for a coast-to-coast trip beginning at Sacramento, hitting the Atlantic Ocean in Boston, swinging down south to New Orleans, and making our way back through the deep south before taking Route 66 back to Los Angeles. Of course, we stopped along numerous national parks, middle-of-nowhere towns, and sprawling metropolises along the way. Fast forward five years, plus an advanced degree I find irrelevant to my true passions, and some experience living overseas, I'm dying to hit the road again, in what I hope will be an epic journey, both geographically and personally.
This time though, I'm roughly tripling the days I expect to be on the road (not driving all the time, of course) and missing two companions, meaning I'm going solo for what seems a very, very long time. So, I was hoping to pick the brains of all the travelers on this forum to get some advice, suggested attractions, and practical considerations.
Very rough and basic route:
1.) Start in Monterey, CA - Travel North on the PCH.
2.) In Washington - Travel east on the Great Northern.
3.) In Maine - Make a short trip Southwest to Vermont, where the Appalachian Trail begins and travel South.
4.) In West Virginia - Begin traveling West on the Loneliest Road.
5.) In Missouri - Switch from the Loneliest Road to Route 66, all the way back to California.
The rough date of departure is set to 5/7/2008 and I'm very flexible with the length of my trip, which I'd like to be as little as 60 days and as many as 90+ days. Finances aren't a huge concern and I'm hoping for suggestions for stops and a possible way of including the following attractions that appear a bit out of the way of the major routes I'll be taking in a practical manner:
Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina)
Zion & Arches National Parks (Utah)
I'm not too concerned about Smoky Mountains NP, since I could just swing further south on the Appalachian Trail while I'm there, but the parks in Colorado and Utah seem a bit trickier to pencil in, since I'd probably be much better off sacrificing the drive back through Route 66 in favor of taking most of the Loneliest Road. However, I'm also open to the idea of zigzagging my way up and down the States at some point(s) throughout my travels.
Anyhow, there are many more questions and concerns swimming through my head, but I think having a more refined itinerary with rough numbers of days to spend on each route / location and possibly adding in the four National Parks listed above will be a good start. The last time I was on the road, my friends and I had a fairly flexible and daily-revised itinerary, coming up with routes on the go with a laptop and the latest version of Microsoft's mapping software, but I figured since I won't have the luxury of having two brains doing the work while one is steering the wheel, it might be a good idea to have more pre-planning arrangements this time around.
Oh, and if you haven't managed to fall asleep or lose interest while reading through the preceding drivel, here are some more quick facts regarding the trip:
+ Vehicle: 2008 Honda Pilot. Yes, given the poor state of economic and environmental affairs, I might be committing a grievous sin. However, early into my time abroad, my loyal Civic was sold and all that's remaining in the States now are three(!) SUVs. I've decided to go with the one that provides the best mileage to reduce the smallest bit of my guilt. At least there will be plenty of room for the tent, canned/boxed/dried/packaged goods, gear, and anything else I might want to bring.
+ Lodging: I'm hoping to camp the majority of my days (5 days a week) and rejuvenate / refresh in motels when necessary, not so much for financial benefit, which is great, but because I love the experience of camping. If not near State or National Parks, I'll look for KOAs or other campgrounds. In more urban settings (NYC, Portland, Seattle), I'll be staying with a variety of friends.
+ Activities: I'm not a huge fan of the idea of doing back country hiking, spelunking, or mountain climbing alone. If I had travel companions who were able to leave for a 2-3 month break, I'd be more eager about and open to the idea. So instead, I'll be largely relying on sightseeing in the semi-wilderness of more populated campgrounds and crowded trails rather than exploring the unknown of the more unappreciated wilderness. The most memorable moments during my previous road trip were the sights I saw while on the road: the rolling hills in Idaho, barren stretch of desolate desert in Nevada, and the blood red rocks in Arizona and New Mexico. I'm moderately enthusiastic about the curios and Americana as well.
Thank you all in advance for your time and suggestions!