Forty-two years ago, on this day in 1974, I was on Interstate 80 in the middle of America. The thing I remember most about that drive was how the Interstate was not yet complete and every so often it would just stop and I’d have to get off on to a real road and travel through towns and see real people. Of course back then, thanks to the energy crisis, the government had determined you should never-ever go faster than 55 mph so being on the I-80 itself wasn’t all that much of a time saver.
If my memory serves, I left home on February 26 to make a March 2nd check-in at Mather AFB, Sacramento, California. The first day I made it to Toledo, Ohio where I stopped at a Holiday Inn and had Trout Almandine for the first time in my life. Back then motels had real restaurants, with real food, so you didn’t have to check in and go looking for it someplace else.
Day two saw me reaching Des Moines, Iowa. The thing I remember most about that and the next day was they must all be adherents of the Flat Earth theory because that was all you saw once you got past Davenport. Mile after mile of flat snow covered ground. (Just a point here, if I had understood the military a little better I would have planned to get to Omaha so I could have stayed in the visiting officer’s quarters for a lot less, but heck the government was going to reimburse my travel.)
Day three took me across the heart of America, and as I noted, it was flat with occasional sections of kind-of not flat, followed by mostly flat. I think the interstate ended somewhere in Nebraska but since there weren’t a lot of towns and the government had already mandated I drive at an economical 55 mph I was still able to make Cheyenne, Wyoming. Again, rather than stay at the Air Force Base, that I didn’t know existed there, I hit the Holiday Inn and had a humongous steak, surrounded by all sorts of cowboy stuff and a cover band in the corner singing something from “Bread.”
Day four, on to the Great Salt Lake and the salt flats. My routine for the trip was to start at about 6 am, drive until I needed gas, then drive until 6 pm. This afforded a rather leisurely day for a 23-year old on his own. After Cheyenne, I left the flat great plains and headed into the Rockies. That was some gorgeous country, with mountains rising to the sky. It was something to see the peaks glowing in the morning light as the valley’s still lay in darkness. I think the drive along the Wahsatch River was one of the most stunning of the journey, and perhaps in all my travels. I stopped for gas in a little two pump station in the middle of the great salt flats. In what can only be listed as a “small world” event there was another car with NY plates there. The driver was on her way back to Poughkeepsie. With the uncertainty of what was available for lodging in eastern Nevada I decided to call it a day when I hit Wendover on the Utah-Nevada state line. This is where all the people who come to Bonneville to break the land speed records stay, or at least leave all their pictures and parts of their cars. The little motel I found had all sorts of cool stuff to celebrate their accomplishments, or memorialize their failures.
Day five, the last day took me across the high desert of northern Nevada and over the Serra Nevada mountains. The thing I remember most about that day was the cold and the need to stop and buy tire chains for the trip from Reno to California. I was fortunate that I didn’t need them, but looking at the 10 feet of snow on either side of the road I would of really hated to needed them and not had them. Crossing to the west side of the mountains there lay the wide Sacramento valley before me. What a beautiful sight in the afternoon, the sun shining down and the warmth picking up noticeably as I descended from the pass. I would reverse the trip about 10 months later, this time with my wings and a future before me.
Simple trivia: Google maps tells me this trip was about 2,842 miles and should take about 42 hours (39 without traffic). I reckon I did it around 55 hours and since my little Subaru got 30 mpg I would have used about 95 gallons of gas. At $.50 a gallon that works out to about $47.5o in fuel costs. So here we are 42 years later, my car still gets about 30 mpg but my costs would not be $47.50. I love progress.