Road Trip 2009: An Epic Cross-Country Adventure



“Freedom lies in being bold.” — Robert Frost

I’m back from my epic adventure.

I took a 30 day road trip with my wife across the U.S. from WA to N.J. to Key West to Las Vegas … 10,000 miles and 26 states.

It’s a fairly unique experience and perspective, so I’ll share it here with you.

A Loop Around the US (Washington to New Jersey to Key West to Vegas to Washington)

Our original plan was to swim with the dolphins, but we made the trip up as we went along.

We stayed flexible and planned loosely around spending a week in Jersey, a week in the Keys, and a week in Vegas.

While we didn’t do it all, we did a lot … from jet skiing around the island of Key West to skimming across the Florida Everglades in an airboat to horseback riding in the desert.

The scenery across the country from snow storms to sunsets was flat out amazing and the pockets of history and culture were evocative and inspiring.  Stories like finding a sunken Spanish ship, the Atosha, with more than $300 million in gold, silver and emeralds renewed my lust for treasure hunting, Jacques Cousteau style.

It’s a vivid reminder that our vast seas are rich with history and artifacts.

Why a Road Trip?

There’s nothing like doing a “choose your own adventure” with your personal “iron horse” on the open road.


It’s freedom at its finest.

My favorite part though is the “think time.’” It’s where I think my best thoughts, and I always reinvent myself.  Road trips also remind you of what’s important.  You can only bring so much.  Getting away from everything for a while is also a great way to get perspective.

It’s funny what you miss and what you don’t.

The other big thing with road trips is that they test you.  All you bring is you.  Sometimes you have the skills you need, and other times you’re like a fish out of water.  I felt way more skilled for this trip than I had been in the past.

At the end of the day, the skill that always helps me the most is asking better questions.   The thing that always surprises me the most is how different places feel.  It’s a wide spectrum and Key West doesn’t feel like the Everglades doesn’t feel like New Orleans doesn’t feel like Vegas.

I really enjoy the mash up and variety of culture that you can only get from a cross-country trip.

The Route at a Glance

Here’s a snapshot of the route at a glance:

Route States
Washington to N.J.
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Idaho
  • Utah
  • Wyoming
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • N.J.
N.J. to Key West
  • N.J.
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • West Virginia
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Florida
Key West to Las Vegas
  • Florida
  • Alabama
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana
  • Texas
  • New Mexico
  • Arizona
  • Nevada
Las Vegas to Washington
  • Nevada
  • California
  • Oregon
  • Washington


From Washington to N.J. …

It took us 2 and a 1/2 days to get from Washington to N.J.  We left Sat, Oct. 3rd, late in the afternoon, and arrived at our destination in N.J. late Monday night, Oct. 5th.

We made good time despite Sunday’s adventures.  On Sunday we woke up to a blanket of snow in Twin Falls, Idaho.  There were flashes of light and the truck stop lost power.  We hadn’t expected snow and the last thing I wanted to do was get snowed in.  We hit the road fast and got back on the highway noticing road closures along the way.  We escaped the snow and ended up in freezing rain, which gradually tapered off.  It was smooth sailing until we hit torrential down pours and did a bit of hydroplaning.

We escaped the torrential downpours and had smooth sailing once again until we hit the most amazing fog.  There was even a sign for it.  The fog was as thick as pea soup and lasted for more than 50 miles.  I was impressed.

Monday’s drive was simple compared to the snow, rain, and fog of the day before.  It gave me a lot of time for wandering thoughts and soaking up the scenery of the states we passed through.

We made good time largely because of the higher speed limits and open roads.  Talk about beautiful highways.  This is one of the first times I could really see tax dollars at work.  Many, many of the miles were either freshly paved or in progress.

N.J. Highlights

N.J. was about friends, family, food and memory lane – visiting the old stomping grounds and noticing the changes.


N.J. in the Fall is fresh and the air is crisp.  With the turning of the leaves and the blaze orange, yellows and reds, it’s a visual reminder why N.J.’s official nickname is the Garden State.

From N.J. to Key West …

It took us a full day to get from N.J. to Key West.  We left Sunday night (Oct. 11) and got there Monday night (Oct. 12.)


We left late on Sunday, after lunch with family in N.J. and then dinner in PA with some friends, so we did the bulk of the driving on Monday.  I was amazed how quickly the temperature shot up when we hit Florida.  It felt like when you open the oven and the hot air envelops you.

Key West Highlights

Key West is America’s only Caribbean Island and it’s the Southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states.

As dense as it is, it feels like a village on a tropical island paradise.  After all, it’s only 4 miles long and 2 miles wide.  For a small island, it’s rich with history and character.  Jimmy Buffet created a Margaritaville, Earnest Hemmingway made it his home, and President Truman escaped to the Keys after his heart attack.

Here are some of the things we did in Key West:

  • Sunset Celebrations at Mallory Square.  This is a daily ritual in Key West.  People gather in Mallory Square each night as the sun goes down, while entertainers entertain, photographers snap the setting sun, and everyone soaks up the ambiance as day becomes night.
  • Duval Street.  This is where the action is. New Orleans has Bourbon Street, Las Vegas has the strip, and Key West has Duval Street.  It’s full of bars, shops, and restaurants, each with their own personality and features.
  • Jet skiing. We took a scenic 26 mile trip around the island.  I felt the need for speed, so I went full throttle for a few stretches (50+ miles per hour.)
  • Sailing, snorkeling, and kayaking.  We took the Danger Charters packaged tour as a convenient way to explore sailing, snorkeling and kayaking in Key West.
  • Ghost tour.  Talk about colorful stories.  This was an interactive tour.  We hunted for ghosts while we listened to stories ranging from a haunted doll to somebody who just couldn’t part with his wife, long after she was gone.
  • Hemmingway House.  I liked this mostly for it’s historical aspects.  Hemmingway was an author, adventurer and novelist.  I always like to see where amazing people have spent their time.
  • Lighthouse.   Talk about amazing views from up above.  The island is extremely flat so you can see a lot from the lighthouse.  There is no elevator up.  Instead, you climb a spiral stair case to the top and from there you can walk out  to the rim around the lighthouse and find your best views.
  • Buried treasure.  While I didn’t go hunting for any on this trip, I listened to the stories, checked out the museum, and enjoyed a book that goes in depth behind the scenes of the lives of real treasure hunters.
  • Aquarium.   I’m a sucker for aquariums.
  • Fort Zachary Beach.  It felt odd going through a military base to get to the beach, but once we got to the beach, it was another world.
  • Butterfly exhibit.  Imagine walking through a garden where butterfly after butterfly flutter past you, in all different colors, shapes, and sizes.  Some of the butterflies looked unreal they were so colorful.

A Juggler, Escape Artist, and Acrobat Extraordinaire

At the Sunset Celebrations, we got a first-hand look at amazing feats of physical prowess.  I always enjoy watching people push their physical skills to the max, whether it’s defying gravity or simply performing a complex skill that requires precision and accuracy.   The main acts we watched were the escape artist, the juggler, and the acrobat. It’s one thing to see escape artists on T.V.  It’s another to see them work their skills right before your eyes.  This guy really slithered and shook his way out of quite the bind.

The juggler / unicycler wasn’t your everyday juggler.  This was a real dare-devil juggling act.  The juggler first climbs a ladder he balances on its two feet, then mounts a 10 feet tall unicycle, and then juggle flames.

The acrobat was John Allicock.  John is known as Dr. Juice, and he’s an acrobat with the Calypso Tumblers.  He’s 51.  Of course that’s tough to believe when he’s flipping through the air or doing push ups while his legs are straight up in the air.  I took a picture of him in action, while he was in mid-flip (he’s the upside down ball in the picture below.)

Here is the juggler tossing his flaming batons from on top of his 10 feet tall unicycle …


Here’s the escape artist in a straight jacket and chains …


Here is the acrobat, flipping above an audience member lying on the ground …


Sailing, Snorkeling and Kayaking

This was a nice action pack combo with Danger Charters.

We sailed out from the island and explored the water and wild life.  We got up close and personal with the reefs, as the water shimmered under the golden sun.

From Key West to Las Vegas

This part of the trip took us about 3 days.  We left Key West on Tuesday (Oct. 20th), and arrived in Vegas on Friday (Oct. 23rd.)


When we left Key West, we stopped at the Ever Glades to see some alligators and take a spin on an air boat through the swamps before hitting the road again.

In Louisiana, We had lunch at The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, which turned out to be fantastic.  The food and ambiance were perfect.  I couldn’t help thinking about the impact of Hurricane Katrina, but it was nice to see New Orleans and it felt good.

In Texas, we had  lunch at a steak house in Ozona.  When a Texas ranger showed up for lunch, I couldn’t help but think of Walker Texas Ranger.  My highlight for this leg of the trip is that the speed limit was 80 MPH for long stretches over rolling hills and scenic desert through Texas on Interstate. 10.

Skimming Across the Ever Glades

There really is nothing like skimming across the Everglades in an air boat …


Is it just me, or is the alligator headed my way smiling? …


Las Vegas Highlights

Las Vegas was about food, family and fun.  I played tennis for the first time in a long, long time.  After I made 3 perfect serves, I called it quits so I could end on a high note.  I forgot how good it feels to put my skills to work on the court and it was a sharp reminder that I really could use some lessons.

We considered hitting the Mob tour or checking out a ghost town, but we ended up choosing horseback riding as the main adventure.

Horseback Riding in the Red Rocks

We like horses and we thought this would be a good way to enjoy the scenery.  We were right.

My horse’s name was Cinnamon and she was very good to me.  We followed a trail through the Red Rocks which is actually an extinct volcano.

The Strip

We hit the strip in Vegas during the day.  I knew tourism was down, but it really felt pretty empty.

With the lack of crowds, it was pretty easy to walk the strip and check out all the sites pretty quickly.  Lady Luck didn’t smile my way, but we had fun checking out the various casinos and bright, shiny objects.

From Las Vegas to Washington

It took us about a day to get from Las Vegas to Washington.


We left Tue (Oct. 27th) and arrived in Washington on Wednesday (Oct. 28th.)

Sunrises and Sunsets

I’m a fan of sunrises and sunsets, especially on the road.   Here are a few of my favorite snapshots …
A sunset in Mallory Square in Key West …

A sunset from Fort Zachary in Key West …


A sunrise from a truck stop in Arizona …


I thought we were driving right into the sun.  I think this was a sunset in Texas …


Lessons Learned

Traveling and the open road is always a great place for lessons and reminders.  Here are a few of my lessons:

  • Maps and goals.  Without a map, you’ll be lucky if you get there.  Without goals, it doesn’t matter.  With goals and  a map, you get more of what you want.
  • It’s the journey and the destination.  Savor the moments.  It’s what you make of it.  Make the most of it.
  • Life’s not static.  Things change.  People change.
  • There’s no place like home.  Home is where your heart is.
  • Have as many good runs as you can.  Life is like skiing.  As Seth Godin put it, have as many good runs as you can before the sun sets.
  • Wherever you go, there you are.  You always take you with you.  Bring your best self.  This includes your attitude and your skills.
  • The journey of 10,000 miles starts with one.  Enjoy a mile at a time.  Thinking about 10,000 miles can be overwhelming.  Eating a mile at a time is simple.
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  1. Hi J.D.,

    Welcome back. You were missed.

    What an exciting adventure you and your wife were on. To see so much in 30 days had to have been a real rush, but yet a month of many memories.

    Thank you for sharing your story, photos and the lessons learned. I especially like the “wherever you go, there you are” one. Bringing our best self with us usually means we’ll have a great time.

  2. Hi J.D. – What a grand adventure! This is my first visit to your blog, so I was delighted to read about your trip. I absolutely love road trips, and some of my most memorable insights and experiences have come during them. Thanks for the good read.

  3. Epic! Agree that with journeys, while you get to see and experience a lot, what you end up knowing the most is yourself. And as good travellers know ‘I’ve seen more than I can remember, and I remember more than I have seen’. Glad to have you back!

  4. Hi JD,

    Welcome back! Sounds like a fantastic journey. Reading your experiences made me relive my travels to those parts of the country. So thank you for that.

    I am also glad that you had a wonderful time. You sound re-charged which is awesome.

  5. Nice trip – great writeup! I’m impressed with how much ground you covered and how quickly you could make it from one location to another in an RV! We did a 16 day camping trip in our camper during October (maybe we crossed paths :)) and we’d only go about 200 miles per day.

    Driving to keywest is inspiring, I think we need to do similar. Either keywest or Baja – here we come!

  6. Yes, you were missed! Glad to see you back.

    Okay, I totally have to bug my husband to take us to Key West when next we feel free enough to travel. I’d love to see the Hemingway House and do a Danger Tour too, we might just find that treasure!

    Awesome, J.D.

  7. Man,
    Getting from Washington to New Jersey in 2.5 days is quite a feat. I’ve done that trip from CT to Seattle and back in 1993. That’s like 3000 miles.

    Glad you had a good trip. Hope the family is well in Jersey too.


  8. Wow! Welcome back, sounds like you had a blast. No doubt genius hit you several times along the way!


  9. Wow. Quite an adventure. I think I lack the patience for this kind of trip. But then again, I hate flying. 🙂

  10. Hi JD

    Welcome back!

    Wonderful to hear all about your trip.

    I particularly like your insight: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
    It makes me think of being present.

    Look forward to your posts again.


  11. @ Barbara

    Thank you. It was definitely a mash up of experiences and lots of memories.

    @ Patty

    Thank you. I agree – there’s nothing like a road trip for insights.

    @ Louisa

    Thank you. It’s my wanderlust at heart.

    @ Eduardo

    Thank you. So true and that’s a perfect bit of wisdom.

    @ Nadia

    Thank you. I love how the right words or pictures make it easy to relive experiences.

    @ Jason

    Thank you. Key West is definitely a journey and it’s worth the trip. I’m already starting to plan my next trip to Key West, by motorcycle.

  12. @ Jannie

    Thank you. It’s good to be back.

    If you hit Key West, I think you’ll enjoy the live music scene and I bet you can join in.

    @ Rob

    I was planning on it more like 4 days, so I was actually surprised. Time flies when you’re having fun.

    @ Don

    Thank you. It was a great time and yes, gotta love road trips.

    @ Kevin

    Thank you. I was more mindful on this trip than I planned to be and I definitely got some new inspirations.

    @ Vered

    It’s like flying – just lower, slower, and you get to steer and choose your own in-flight movies 🙂

    @ Juliet

    Thank you. Road trips taught me to lead a leaner life and really invest in my skills. It’s intersting to see the value of your skills in different contexts.

  13. Hi J.D,
    Welcome back from this wonderful and exciting trip and adventure you and your wife went through.Gaining such a dense experience for just
    30 days is quite a rewarding feat.Good for you! Here you were seriously missed. Apparently you mean so much to all of us. Good luck in your further endeavors! – Mike.

  14. Welcome back!
    Missed you a lot:)

    Wow, that’s indeed epic one.

    That’s it – I am doing something similar next summer!

  15. @ Dr. Michael

    Thank you. It really was a dense, rich fabric of experience woven in a short time. It’s great to know I was missed and that’s perfect inspiration to continue blogging.

    @ Alik

    Thank you. I missed you too. It’s life changing and I think you’ll have a great time.

  16. Hi JD – sounds a wonderful trip .. and fun for me from overseas to see and see your route .. one day I’d love to travel the States and see more localities.

    Your summing up was so appropriate – it could have been overwhelming, but you’ve been able to appreciate each part, and have many more memories.

    The other thing is you said you needed “to learn to communicate” with the different cultures, different peoples, etc etc – that’s so important and so helpful to life in general. If you think of others when your communicating with them, then of course you leave your ego behind, especially if you relate your own stories to their way of life and always keep asking them what they think, what they know etc – it’s their part of the world.

    So pleased you had a good time – welcome back and it’ll be good to have more insights. – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  17. Well late to get on the ride!….What a great trip…and doing so many activities along the way. I did sort of the same thing by doing college and Graduate School 2 years at a time in different locations. When in North Carolina a friend with a Motorcycle from Chicago and I did the whole state, instead of studying on weekends…and then there was choir tours…NJ was great because of the trains….Missouri was fun because the buses went all over for very little money – just put up with the drunks at the back!

    The worst was San Diego – too car dependent and too many private beaches…..

    Wow you brought back lots of memories for me…a mini vacation just reading your post.

    Welcome back – you were greatly missed…and I am sorry I was so slow at finding you back on line…

  18. Wow JD – What a huge trip. I bet you made a lot of memories. I’m planning a road trip in the US for next year (fingers crossed we’ll get to move to Canada first – just need to sell the house).

    We keep changing our mind about itinerary but I don’t think it will be quite as ambitious as the one you did. One place we’d really like to see is Washington – it looks so beautiful on the pictures. Is that where you live?

    My daughter really wants to visit Forks, because of the Twilight movies and I would like to see the place where they filmed Twin Peaks. Also, Oregon, where Barbara lives looks awesome, as does Vancouver where Davina’s from and San Francisco sounded fab in a post Vered wrote.

    It’s so hard to choose a route. Which state was your favourite from your trip?

  19. @ Hilary

    Thank you. It was a great trip and will definitely be a highlight of my life.

    I think relating to different people along the way and bridging worlds was a big part of the fun.

    @ Patricia

    Thank you. It sounds like you’ve had some great explorations as well and I’m glad my stories helped you take a mini trip down memory lane.

    @ Cath

    Good luck selling your house.

    Washington is home base at this stage. Home to big foot, volcanos, Microsoft, Starbucks, and a lot of interesting culture and history. It’s like living in cities in the forest.

    If you go to Washington, you have to go to the Kangaroo Farm in Arlington. It’s unique. And you should definitely take a ferry from Seattle and do some island hopping. And of course, while you’re in Seattle you should take a trip to the top of the Space Needle for some amazing views, and maybe have dinner in the spinning restaurant.

    Surprisingly, I think my favorite state is Washington. The more I travel, the more I appreciate it.

  20. The great American tradition! Looks and sounds as if you had a fabulous time. Well done for taking the time to recharge your batteries and enjoy life and your wife.

    This is not something that I’d want to do with the kids but I can see me and my hubby setting off in a campervan and becoming grey nomads in our golden years. Bring it on:)

  21. Glad you got a good break from work. However, I bet your vacation made you tired, but perhaps in a different way. It looks like you had a lot of fun.

  22. @ Annabel

    Indeed I did. It was epic.

    A nomadic way of life sounds compelling for me. There’s so much to see and experience in this short life.

    @ Jeremy

    Thank you. I recharge when I get my think time so this was the perfect way.

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