Fifty podcast episodes.
One thousand eight hundred fifty-two miles.
How much do I loathe driving halfway across the United States? Let us count the ways.
State after state and mile after cruise control mile, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make it to Florida from Colorado. In October 2017, I drove myself and my car full of bike things in the opposite direction and swore I would never ever ever do it again. I felt sick and exhausted after sitting behind the wheel for the better part of five days, and when I finally arrived and flopped down on the mattress my cousin got me for free from a friend, I prayed I would love Colorado as much as I hoped because there was no way I would be driving back.
And yet. There I was on I-70, with hands at 10 and 2, having flashbacks of that first pilgrimage, wondering what the hell I was doing out there again.
Well, I was driving home for the holidays, that’s what. I was on my way to Orlando to hug my parents—something I hadn’t done in nine months. I was headed south to see the most important people in my life, to snuggle my cat, to sit on the pool deck and soak up some sunshine in the middle of Colorado’s cold winter, to ride bikes along Tampa Bay with friends and visit my favorite coffee shops. I didn’t realize how desperate I was for any of these things until I was on the road justifying a drive that nearly broke me heading the other direction.
A couple weeks ago before I left, I made a deal with my mom: I would drive most of the way, then she would come meet me at my last stop and drive with me the rest of the way to Florida so I didn’t accidentally on purpose drive myself off the road. Those are my conditions, I said. Take them or leave them. My mom agreed before I’d even finished my thoughts because she wanted me home for Christmas maybe more than her next breath of oxygen. And I needed a hug from her maybe even more than that.
Colorado > Kansas
I started my journey on Thursday, Thanksgiving morning, after a solo turkey trot around my town. The run didn’t go so well thanks to this pesky injury I’ve been dealing with, but there was no way I was sitting in the car all day without getting in a little movement. With the car packed and coffee in hand, I got on the highway headed east…and stayed there…the whole damn day, only stopping a couple times for gas, snacks, and bathroom breaks. Since Kansas is the state that never ends, it felt like a massive accomplishment when I finally rolled into Kansas City after 8.5 hours of driving and re-listening to the first season of Serial for the fifth time. I threw my bags onto the king size bed in my hotel, flipped on the TV to listen to a sound that wasn’t the wind blowing against my car windows and choked down some takeout from the Applebee’s across the street. It was the only restaurant with the lights on on Thanksgiving, so I took what I could get. But what I could get was a mediocre wrap and boneless wings that were just glorified chicken nuggets.
Kansas > Missouri > Tennessee
On Friday morning, before another long day of driving, I got in maybe my best run of the year on the hotel treadmill. I don’t know why I felt so great. I don’t know why my foot cooperated for those five miles. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to recreate that run ever again, but maybe the secret to success is sitting on my ass all day the day before, eating crappy takeout, and getting barely any sleep. Noted. Though the hotel seemed nearly empty, I made sure to get up early so I could be in and out before anyone else wanted to use the fitness room. By 7:30 a.m., I was on the road again.
Back onto I-70 I went, which took me the rest of the way through Kansas and across the entirety of Missouri. By then, I’d started season two of Serial—the one about Bowe Bergdahl, the United States Army soldier who was held captive by the Taliban from 2009 to 2014. That whole story is fascinating—and so controversial. Highly recommend if you haven’t listened to it yet. As I listened to one episode after another, I-70 turned into highway 64 and then 64 turned into 57 south. Fifty seven south turned into 24 from St. Louis to Nashville, TN. I wriggled around with excitement every time one highway number flipped to the next. Progress! A little after 5 p.m., I pulled into the hotel parking lot, ran into the lobby, and wrapped my mom in a bear hug. The best. We spent a couple hours catching up until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer, and set our alarms for early the next morning—my last day of driving, praise the lord.
Tennessee > Georgia > Florida
The last day! I couldn’t wait to get on the road, but I was also dreading it, so I got an early start to the day with a 5 a.m. wake-up alarm. It was going to be our longest leg, so I needed to get in some sort of movement. My foot was really killing me from the previous day, so I was hoping to use an elliptical or something gentle in the hotel’s fitness center, but theirs was closed, which is understandable given COVID precautions. Instead, I did the irresponsible thing and ran outside around the hotel and nearby office park. Our hotel was in a weird area so there were no sidewalks, and it was also pitch black in a strange part of town…which didn’t make me feel comfortable doing much exploring. I got through four painful miles and called it quits. By 6:45 a.m., we had Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in hand and were cruising through the rest of Tennessee and into Georgia.
Can someone please tell me when Georgia suddenly became half of the United States because OH. MY. GOD. Georgia is a huge state. It’s long and boring, no one wore masks in the gas stations, they drove fast and recklessly. I couldn’t wait to get out of that state. And around 3 p.m. we finally did. I took over driving around 2:30 p.m. and did more speeding than I care to admit to get us the rest of the way to Orlando. When we finally walked through the front door of my parents’ house, I never wanted to see the inside of a car again and was doing mental gymnastics figuring out how to fly home but not leave my car behind. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.
So…I’m in Florida. I’m in Florida until after Christmas and I’m very happy about it despite all the complaining I just did. Now that I’m done, it’s easy to see that the awful fast food and long, dizzying days behind the wheel would be worth it. I’ve already gone for bike rides and cooked my family delicious meals, which has been really great.
It’s back to work for me today, and for the next three weeks, then we’re off for a couple weeks for Christmas. It can’t come soon enough.
I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving! Did you get to do anything fun? A Turkey Trot? TONS of food?