Sunday, August 08, 2004
We left Houston on I-10 at around 9am on Wednesday with about a half tank of gas. I drove past Beaumont and then we stopped for gas and Jie took over. Somewhere past Lafayette people started pulling up next to us and motioning for us to pull over. The first guy was kind of sketchy, and I thought it might be some sort of scam, but after the second car we figured there must be a problem. We realized we had a flat on the trailer when Jie closely checked the mirror and could see rubber flapping around on the trailer. We pulled over in Duson, LA, and called Budget. They sent out a Goodyear tire repair guy, Curtis, and he had us back on the road about an hour after we got the flat.
Jie drove all the way past Slidell, LA, and onto US-59, where we refilled and switched drivers again. After I drove an hour or so we started to get weird engine warning lights, which we couldn't interpret because Budget doesn't put the manuals in the trucks. The lights would come on and then go off again, so at first we didn't worry about it. After a while, though, a third light starting coming on, and when that happened I would lose acceleration. We pulled over somewhere outside of Meridian, Mississippi, and called Budget again. They informed us that the problem was likely a coolant issue, and so we filled up the coolant reservoir and had no further problems for the rest of the trip.
We decided to try and make it to Tuscaloosa that night and then find a hotel room there. With the coolant delay, it was dark well before we made it to Tuscaloosa. Once there, we checked three or four hotels and motels, but they were all full. At a La Quinta we were pulling the truck through the parking lot (a 24 footer plus trailer), and we came to a corner that we couldn't pass. Someone had parked their car on the curb, and because of that we couldn't get through. I thought I was going to have a mental breakdown. We'd been on the road for 13 hours at that point and all I wanted was to get some sleep. Luckily, our truck was so loud that the owner of the car looked out the window and saw our predicament. He came out and moved his car and we were on our way. We were about to head to Birmingham, thinking we would have better luck there, when we saw a Quality Inn. It had a wide open parking lot and rooms available, so we slept there. It was not well kept, unfortunately, and I don't think we will be staying in any more Quality Inn's in the future.
After about 6 hours of fitful sleep, we got up and prepared for day two. Jie drove the first leg, which took us from Tuscaloosa until just past Chattanooga. We ran into some light rain and heavy construction here, and it had been about 3.5 hours, so we switched drivers. I then drove through the only heavy rain of the trip, and got us into Virginia before Jie took over again. While Jie drove I searched for accommodations for that night, determined not to repeat the previous night's problems. I located a Holiday Inn Express with truck parking in Falls View, West Virginia, and made reservations. I took over driving after Roanoke, I believe, for what should have been a 2 hour drive or so to the hotel. Unfortunately, there was a lot of traffic on US-81, and it turned into a 3+ hour leg. We got into the hotel after 10pm central (which made it a 14 hour driving day), and promptly crashed, this time in the crisp, clean sheets of a brand new hotel.
Day 3 was much like the previous day. We got on the road early and had no truck trouble all day. We avoided the major cities by taking 81 to 84. We did hit a lot of traffic in Connecticut, though likely far less than we would have had in DC, Baltimore, NYC, Philly, etc. Less tolls, too. We got on the Mass Turnpike and rode it all the way in to Cambridge. We arrived around 5pm EST, and had the truck unloaded by 8pm. Not too bad.
The next morning we got up at 8 and went to try and return the truck. I knew basically how to get to the rental place, but the address wouldn't come up in MS Streets and Trips so I knew I would have to guess a little. At first I got us lost in East Boston, but we stopped at a diesel station (to save the $25 refueling charge), and the guy there gave us perfect directions, once again reinforcing the observation that Boston people are really very friendly. We returned the truck in one piece and I could finally relax...
Anyway, I have a few takeaways for anyone planning a similar roadtrip in the future:
- Big trucks give you at least one advantage: it's very hard to fall asleep while driving them. Jie and I both have callouses from firmly gripping the steering wheel. Driving a big truck is an adrenaline inducing event, you don't have to worry as much about dozing off. The flip side is that it's very hard to sleep while in the passenger seat. Also, speeding tickets were out of the question since our truck was governed at 70 mph.
- Every state we drove through except Louisiana and Texas were gorgeous. We had terrific natural scenery, and I think the route we took was great (I-10 to 59 to 75 to 81 to 84 to 90). Northern Mississippi/Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia were especially pretty.
- We were in West Virginia for only 19 miles but we spent 8 hours there. We were in Maryland for 30 miles, and we only spent 30 minutes there...
- The maps AAA gives you are really great, especially the Triptik. We only recently joined AAA, and I had never used a Triptik before, but I really liked it. It was especially nice because I could hold it on the steering wheel and look at it while I drove. I highly encourage anyone going on a cross country trip to pick one up.
- Always know where you are going to spend the night, makes things a lot less stressful.
- Truck stops rule! They are much cooler than normal gas stations, most of which we couldn't even fit in. Where else can you get a home cooked meal, auto parts, fast food, electronics, and diesel all in one place???
- Jie is a certified bad-ass. Her only two cars have been a two door Honda del Sol and an Accord Coupe. However, she had no problem getting behind the wheel of a 24 foot truck with trailer and moving in and out of traffic. The worst stretch of the whole trip in terms of crowded driving was the Louisiana stretch, which was her first one. She kicked ass. Also, she probably drove more hours over the course of the trip than I did, since she kept encouraging me to let her drive and once behind the wheel she wouldn't pull over. I bet she drove 17 hours to my 15.
So, that's how it went. It was worse than I thought it would be but not so bad that I wouldn't drive cross-country again. Next time I want to drive something a little shorter than 24 feet, though...