Road Trip - Day 5

I wake up to that disgusting cigarette smell, which motivates to get the hell out of this place as quickly as possible. I take a shower, no breakfast, I pack, and get out of the room to checkout. I see through a window a large indoor room, that kinda looks like it could be used for meetings, but it’s filled with plenty of furniture all over the place, lots of junk. This motel is really going down. I get in the car after checking out, then search for a nice coffee shop on my phone, I need comfort. I find one that’s on the other side of the city, on my way West.

I go back on the highway to cross the city to get to the coffee shop. There are hot air balloons in the sky North-West outside of the city, it’s pretty cool. I reach the coffee shop, called Prismatic Coffee. It’s in a neighbourhood of new condos, all the buildings around look recent. The place looks new too. I get an Americano and chat with the waitress. She tells me the hot air balloons are out every morning, whenever the weather allows it. The coffee is good, and it reconciles me with Albuquerque. I ask the waitress to put some hot water in my thermos so I can make some coffee with my Aeropress later, and I take off, heading towards Flagstaff, Arizona.

So back on Highway 40. The scenery looks better with mountains that start red at the bottom and are yellow on top. Again, it feels like a western movie. It then evolves a bit, on my right mountains are dry and red, on my left they’re covered with bushes and green. Again, I see long trains on the side, makes me think of my friend who came to hate try after a job she’s done that turned sour. I wind the clock back again as I enter Arizona, Pacific Time! There’s a tall mountain with snow on top in the distance, I think this is where Flagstaff is. I almost arrive in the city when I see the first sign to Los Angeles, I’m getting close!

I have lunch at Red Curry Vegan Kitchen. I have green curry with vegetable and rice. It’s good, spicy as I like it. After the McDonald’s incident, I’m happy that I avoided fast food restaurants, and managed eat well during the trip. It’s 1pm, and I should get going to see the Grand Canyon now. It takes over an hour and a half to get there. I make a quick stop to fill up the tank as I leave the city.

The road to the Grand Canyon is nice. It starts in a pine forest, there’s still snow on the ground, but not on the road fortunately! Then the road goes through a large open valley with tall yellow grass and snowy mountains on each side. Then back in the forest as I approach the Grand Canyon park. I haven’t had coffee yet and I feel it. I still have the hot water in the thermos, I just need to find a spot to make it. As I’m getting closer, there’s a sign on the side of the road that says there’s a wait time two hours. What?! I’m thinking about bailing. I stop at the visitor center to ask about it and the lady says it’s much better now and it’s probably about 20 minutes. So I go. It ended up being pretty fast. Also luckily I was in the fastest lane at the toll booth. There are more tourists than the last time I was here, but it’s not too bad. Picnic tables are spread around the parking lot, I can finally make coffee! Relief!

The Grand Canyon is still grand! Huge! We’re tiny. I really want to come back during a warmer season and hike down. I take photos, chat with other tourists, and take the time to appreciate the view. The sun is starting to set and the light in the canyon starts to fade, so I get back in the car to drive back to Flagstaff. The road from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon makes a kind of loop. So you can get there from one side and leave from the other. Which is what I intend to do. I arrived from the West and will leave from the East. I guess I should have done it the other way to see the sunset but I don’t want to go back from the same road.

As I go on the East part, I stop at several more spots that offer nice views of the canyon. It’s still huge. The road goes down slowly and winding, it’s fun. I’m back in the city and the night has come down. I need to find a place to stay for the night. I drive on Route 66 to check on the various motels, I don’t want to repeat last night’s experience! I find one that looks good, so I stop and book it. The room has been renovated recently, it’s nice. And no cigarette smell!

Flagstaff is a major train hub, and a lot of cargo trains cross the city. And historically the train tracks are along Route 66, or is it the other way around? And because the motel I stay in is on Route 66, I hear trains. They’re loud and I hope they won’t wake me up in the middle of the night. I don’t have diner again as I’m not hungry. I get to bed around 10pm, today started not so well but ended up great!

Road Trip - Day 4

I wake up, and it’s already 7:22! Right, we lost an hour last night with daylight saving. Okay, I have a lot of driving today! This is the day I’m the least excited about as I’ll be going through the flyover states. I have the usual yogurt and oats, shower that works this time, checkout and take off.

But first, I stop by a Walmart right in front of the motel. I wanna see if I can return that debit card. Unfortunately they don’t refund them. I’m not surprised and was expecting it. The lady says I can try calling the assistance number. I’ll do it later. And if this doesn’t work, I guess I’ll have to set it up. To be continued…

I refuel, and go back on the highway. The landscape is boring, the sky is grey, and there are still lots of trucks on the road. I’m bored already. I could use some company… I continue to listen to the podcast I’ve been catching up. It’s more interesting than the drive so far today. I’m going through a couple of tolls, which are taking a toll (pun intended) on my cash reserves. I’ll have to figure this debit card soon.

I enter the state of Oklahoma, it bring me back memories from my last road trip here in 2013. The only thing I remembered from the state is the bright orange dirt. I make a stop in Oklahoma City to have lunch at The Loaded Bowl, a vegetarian restaurant not far from the highway. So far I’ve managed to find healthy restaurants while avoiding long detours. I try to find a parking space near the restaurant, but all spots are taken. I end up finding a small one and notice a flower pot at the end, so I get in backwards slowly and boom, I hit the pot! Damn! I go check it and there are plenty of scratches on the plastic bumper. I’m mad. I have a fancy luxury car, the base model that has plenty of nice things, but no rear-view camera or sensors! It should be standard!

Anyway, I go to the restaurant, there’s a no-gun sign on the door, which reminds me that weapons are legal in this state. I hate this, it makes me feel unsafe. One of the dumbest thing in the US. I have a breakfast burrito at the restaurant, it’s good and appeases me.

Back on the road again, I can’t wait to leave OKC and leave that flower pot behind. Thirty minutes after I leave the city, it’s starts raining. Then it gets foggy, the visibility isn’t great and I don’t see very far on the flat country. The windmills’ motors are hidden in the low-ceiling fog, I can only see the blades as they go down, then they disappear in the fog as they go up. Funny! The fog dissipates, and I finally see the red dirt. It’s not as bright as last time because of the grey sky. I’m bored again, and listen to more of the podcast until I finally catch everything up, no more episodes to listen to.

I enter Texas and remember that on my last road trip I stopped by the Midpoint Cafe, which is halfway on Route 66. Unfortunately it was closed 7 years ago, and I suspect it will be this time again. And it is. Mom calls as I’m there, we talk a bit and I’m back on the road. The landscape starts to get less flat, less boring. I enter New Mexico, and it’s raining again. And I’m bored again. I call my best friend as I keep driving. It’s nice to talk a bit and catch up, I feel less lonely. We hang up and I feel like I have a second wind. I make a quick stop to fill up the tank and decide I’ll reach Albuquerque tonight. It’s far, but it’s Mountain Time in New Mexico, so I wound the clock back again today.

The landscape is getting much better, with large desert valleys like we see in western movies. There’s a 100-car train going along the highway, it adds to the charm of the scenery. I wish I could take pictures, but can’t stop on the highway. The sky is getting darker as the sun is setting. However, as I enter a new large valley, the horizon looks clear and there’s a beautiful sunset in the back. It’s like the end of the tunnel, the light that guides me West. The colours are gorgeous. First it looks like there’s a fire in the horizon, then the colours turn from orange/pink to yellow/blue, until the night sets in. Still a lot of trucks on the road. We’re all going fast.

The road goes downhill as I approach Albuquerque. Again, I bet the scenery is beautiful but can’t see anything in the dark. I finally arrive at a motel near the highway. My credit card is denied, twice. Mmmh… I use another one, which works. I hope that credit card incident is a one-off. If it happens tomorrow, I guess I’ll have to call the credit card company. I’m tired and don’t want to worry about it tonight. I get in the room, it’s spacious, noisy (the highway), and smells like cigarette although they have a no-smoking policy. I bet the motel is old enough that people were allowed to smoke and it still smells.

I brush my teeth, the sink get clogged in no time. I’m too tired to go complain in the lobby, I wanna sleep, I’m tired. I turn the lights off, get into bed, then someone knocks hard on the door. What again?! I go look through the peephole, someone with their hat reversed is walking by, not really looking at the door. Maybe it was a mistake. I get back into thinking about that gun thing from earlier, maybe that guy is a dealer? This cheap motel that now makes me think it’s a shady place. I’m considering leaving and finding another place, but I refuse to worry about all this, I’m too tired, I need to sleep.

Road Trip - Day 3

I wake up, it’s 6:30am, I slept well. I do some stretches and push-ups, then go to the shower. I can’t figure out how to get the water come out of the shower head! So I use the water as it comes out of the bath’s tap. Old school!

I have more of the yogurt and oats for breakfast. I make coffee, pack my things, checkout and bring my stuff to the car, which is frosty. There’s a beautiful clear blue sky but it’s cold this morning. I remove the ice from the car’s windows, and quickly get in to warm up.

I’m heading towards the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I’ve watched the famous 500 miles race several times, so I’m looking forward to seeing the track! As I get closer, I’m surprised that I can’t see the grandstands. With its banking, the circuit should stand tall, but I can’t see it even just a block away. When it’s finally in sight, I’m surprised that it isn’t that tall. I go through the tunnel under the track to get to the museum. There, I buy a ticket to get on a bus that drives around the track. I visit the museum as I wait for the bus to start boarding. There are a lot of cars that won the 500 miles, helmets of drivers who raced here, and the history of the track and races. They call for boarding the bus. I get in and we get started. It’s slow. We go on the track, the banking are definitely not steep at all! I went to racetracks that have much steeper ones. The bus stops at the famous “Yard of Bricks” at the starting line, so we can take photos. The tradition is that race winners kiss the bricks. I didn’t win a race here so I feel I don’t get to kiss the bricks.

Alright, it’s all fun, but I need to get going. Direction St Louis, Missouri, to see the Gateway Arch. I make a stop on the way in Effingham, Illinois, to have lunch. I found this nice corner restaurant called Joe Sippers. It’s a nice cafe that serves vegetarian food. I have a wrap. Several families stop by, looks like a popular place to go on a beautiful Saturday. I get back to the car, drink some of the coffee I made this morning, and go back on the road.

I arrive in St Louis around 2:30pm. Seems early? That’s because I moved the clock backwards as I am now on the Central Time timezone. I park near the arch, and get to the monument. It’s taller than I expected. The clear blue sky is perfect to take photos of it! Because it’s a nice Saturday afternoon, there are a fair amount of tourists, many teenagers on dates. I buy a ticket to go on top of the arch. The ascension is very interesting. Because it’s an arch, the lift can go straight, obviously. They built trams on each side that go to the top. The trams are made of 8 capsules each. The capsules swing as they ascend, like a ferris wheel. Genius! The capsules are tiny though, not recommended if you’re tall and/or claustrophobic. They can hold 5 people. The view on top is not very exciting, maybe because it’s still winter and there’s a lack of green trees and grass, or maybe because the city just doesn’t look great. I was more interested by the actual arch’s architecture and the trams!

I leave the arch around 4:30pm, back to the car. I research how far I could go, Springfield seems reasonable so I book a motel there. As I leave St Louis, I get stuck in a massive traffic jam on the highway, which ends up being the worst I have ever been in in my life. After an hour, I am finally back to a normal speed. There are a lot of trucks on the road, my mom would be horrified, she hates trucks taking over the country roads in France. The night comes down, I’m still driving. It looks like we’re going through hills, and I wish it was day time because I suspect the landscape is nice.

I finally arrive at the motel in Springfield. There are loud American muscle cars having fun on the road, I hope it won’t be like that all night. I get in the room, I’m exhausted, it’s 9:30pm, I didn’t have diner and don’t feel like going out to eat something. I’m not hungry anyway. I have some pita bread that I brought as snack, that’s good enough. I watch yesterday’s Lakers game against Milwaukee, the 2 best teams in the league, possibly a preview of the NBA Finals. The Lakers win, I can sleep happy.

Road Trip - Day 2

I wake up to the lovely sound of geese. Are they migrating North? I check the time, 4:47am. Damn! That’s too early, and I already feel very much awake! It’s supposed to snow a bit later this morning, so let’s just get up and drive further to avoid it.

I shower, pack, checkout, and leave. I need to fill up the tank and luckily there are plenty of gas stations around. I fill up, then go to a Walmart nearby so get some yogurt and a prepaid credit card.

You know when you get cash at the ATM with your credit card, the credit card company charges crazy interests? My banker recommended that I get a prepaid card as it’s an easy way to get cash at the ATM. The lady asks me how much I want to put on the card. $200 should be enough cash. Turns out you need to pay with a debit card to buy these kind of cards, can’t use a credit card. I don’t think much and pay with my debit card. As I leave I realize that was a dumb move. If I used my debit card to pay for it, I could just get cash at the ATM with my debit card. Facepalm!

I get back to the car, read the instructions to activate that prepaid card, sounds way too complicated, I start to regret this. $200 dammit! I’ll check it out this evening.

I get some oats that I had packed in Montreal, and mix them in the yogurt, and have my breakfast in the car!

Last night before going to bed, I looked for a place in Columbus where I could eat healthy food, I want to avoid fast food as much as possible. I found a vegan place, which doesn’t makes a big detour, so I set the directions to it, and start driving.

About an hour later, I feel the lack of sleep hitting. I need coffee. Good thing is I brought ground coffee, and an Aeropress for the trip. I filled up my thermos with hot water when I checked out earlier, so now I just need an appropriate place to stop to make the coffee.

I’m driving on a road the goes along Lake Erie, the lake looks massive, but the trees are still leafless and the sky is gray. Not so pretty. Looking at the names of the cities I cross, I feel like I’m going on a European tour. Hamburg, Dunkirk, Barcelona, Sevilla, Geneva, London.

I get back on the highway and enter Pennsylvania. There’s a rest stop, I can finally make my coffee! I find a table and make my coffee near a woman who is training someone to fill up vending machines. I tell her I’m making coffee, that I like good coffee.

“Oh it’s like my brother, he always goes to Starbucks!”

I say nothing. (But in my head I’m thinking “Starbucks is not good coffee., that’s why I make my own.”)

I have a few sips of this delicious beverage and keep going towards Columbus.

The drive is not fun, it rains, sometimes sleet, it’s windy at times too. The landscape is still flat, still with leafless trees.

I arrive at Porter’s Cafe in Columbus at 1pm. The neighbourhood doesn’t look too nice, but the place has the classic vegan/healthy vibe. I have the “Super Power Wrap”, which has falafel, guacamole and the usual vegan greens. It’s delicious, and I’m glad to have found this place.

As I’m eating, I look for what to do next. I want to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, but I won’t get there before it closes today. I’m thinking I could just drive to Indianapolis, find a hotel near the track and visit the museum tomorrow morning. Indianapolis isn’t too far, so I should have time to rest a bit in the evening. I need to rest. I book a hotel, and off I go!

The drive is the same as in the morning: rain, sleet, wind. The rain stops past Springfield, Ohio, but the wind is still present and the sky still gray, and the trees still leafless. Still, no rain is an improvement!

I arrive at the hotel in Indianapolis around 5pm. There's a TV in the lobby that broadcasts news about the spread of the coronavirus, someone is watching. I got to my room and rest for an hour, then look for a place to eat. There’s an Ethiopian restaurant 5 minutes away, I never had that kind of cuisine, that’s exciting!

Maps makes me go through a residential neighbourhood that looks sketchy, my Audi definitely doesn’t belong here. I arrive at the restaurant, the car still doesn’t belong, I’m hoping no-one will do something to it, but refuse to stress about it, there’s no reason to think people have bad intentions.

I get in the restaurant, which looks charming. It has an African vibe, and not a fake one. I have no idea what the food looks like and ask the waitress for a recommendation. I don’t really understand what she recommended, but nodded, and said I like spicy. I’m not picky and I’m sure whatever she brings will be good.

The service is long, and I’m getting hungry. Finally she arrives with a large plate. There’s some kind of crepe at the bottom, which is topped with marinated shrimps, and various assortments: lentils, beans, lettuce and tomato… She brings a smaller plate with what looks like thick cloth napkins, the same colour as the crepe. “It’s finger food.”, she says as she gets back to the kitchen.

I pick one of the napkins up and realize it’s more of that crepe. It’s spongy and thick. I guess I use it to pick stuff from the plate. It’s delicious, spicy but not too much, plenty of flavours, and the texture of this crepe is fun! As the waitress makes the usual quick “is this okay?” check, I ask her about the crepe, she says it’s a flat bread call injera, cooked on clay. I’m fascinated.

I’m almost done eating when I realize I ate way too fast. I’m so full, can’t eat anymore, please don’t talk to me about food until tomorrow!

I pay, and leave. The car is still in the parking lot, good. Glad I didn’t worry about it. I head back to the hotel, check some work updates, and get to bed, I need to sleep. It’s 9:30pm.

Road Trip - Day 1

2:42pm, I have just moved the car a few meters from its parking spot. “Let’s go!” I tell myself, ready for a 6-day road trip.

I don’t need music for now, I need to focus, I think while sipping coffee from the thermos. There’s more traffic than I expected on Montreal island at this time of day, no idea why but I’m going for the long run, so no need to worry.

30 minutes have passed and I need to pee already. Dammit! I just peed right before leaving. I hope it won’t be one of these trips where I need to take a pee break every hour! I won’t stop yet though, I want to leave Montreal island first, cross that milestone off the checklist.

I finally find an exit with a Tim Hortons close to the highway. I stop, go inside, someone’s already in the bathroom. I wait in line to buy something because I feel bad using the bathroom without being a customer. The door opens before I get a chance to place my order, I go pee, can’t wait. Relief!

I take two ‘Roussette au miel’, my favourite, and back in the car, back on the road, heading towards Toronto. But I’m not going to Toronto.

There are a lot of trucks on the road, everyone drives faster than the 100km/h limit, so I stay in the flow. The view along the road is boring, flat land with some leafless trees and patches of snow. Sometimes there’s a nice sight, but nothing very exciting.

I make a final stop in a rest area for another pee break before leaving the highway, direction the US border. I’m nervous every time I have to cross the US border. It’s the only country I’m always nervous getting in. I have no reason to worry, I’m a lucky white male, but we read so many bad stories that I’m always nervous.

“Hello sir! How are you today?”
“I’m great! Thank you!”, I answer, giving my passport to the border agent.
“Where are you going?”
“Los Angeles”
“Woah! What brings you there?”
“Yeah, long road trip. I’m visiting a friend.”
“How do you know him?”
“From France.”
“Is he an American citizen?”
“No, but he married an American lady.”
“How long are you going to be in the country?”
“A month.”
“When was the last time you were in the US?”
“Mmmmh… almost two years now.”
“Do you fly to Syracuse?”
“No, I usually go to New York City, my brother lives there.”
“Okay. Anything to declare? Food? Fruits? Vegetables?”
“I have snacks, but no fruit or vegetables.”
“Alright, have a good trip.”
“Thank you! Have a great evening!”

Phew! That went well! He was nice.

I’m crossing the few bridges over Thousand Islands, it’s a nice view as the sun is setting in my rear view mirror. I make a quick stop to let friends know I crossed the border. I can’t waste much time though, there’s still plenty of driving before I reach the hotel I booked. Over 3 hours, Maps says.

I follow the directions, as the night is coming down. Still a fair amount of trucks. Nothing to see, it’s dark.

It’s about time for diner as I reach Syracuse, and I just entered a toll highway. I don’t feel like leaving it, pay, and get back on it to pay again. I’m sure there will be a rest area with restaurants. And indeed, there’s one a few miles away, with a McDonald’s. Damn! I want to avoid McDonald’s! I’m thinking about waiting for the next rest area, but chances are the next fast food restaurant will be worse. Let’s play it safe, take a break and have “a delicious Big Mac”.

Diner over, I have a bit over 2 hours left to drive. That’s two hour-long podcast episodes, perfect!

I finally arrive at the Red Roof Inn in Hamburg, it’s 9:45pm. That was a good drive. I didn’t even fill up the tank! I get in the room, check my emails and work messages, read the news, brush my teeth, and go to bed.