Our road trip from New York to LA in less than two days, using the original start and finish locations of the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. Details after the jump.
Friday evening - Somewhere in New Jersey.
We are just across the Hudson from NYC, prepping the car on the top floor of a parking garage. There are last minute checks to make sure the fluids are topped off, put the large memory card in the dash cam, set up the GPS tracker and a time lapse camera, and many other things. It is actually earlier in the evening than we planned to do this, but neither I nor my copilot could sleep. My copilot points out a car that is slowly approaching us; it is a security guard who must be curious about the two guys hanging around a car in a deserted corner of this garage. This is too good… I WANT him to stop and chat… it will be cool to get a picture of his security patrol car next to the Mustang! As he draws closer, we both give him a big wave, which turns out to be a mistake. He averts his eyes and speeds away – I can only imagine that he thought, “Oh no! The crazy people have seen me and are acting friendly! Run away!”
We had planned on driving to the Red Ball Garage sometime around 0200, yet it is barely 2200 EDT. There is zero chance of us getting any sleep – we are way too excited. We talk it over, and agree to make a run to a local store for more bottled water, then we will head into the city and start the trip.
2255 EDT Friday – Red Ball Garage, Manhattan, NYC.
The traffic in NYC is crazy. We had planned on stopping in front of the Red Ball, taking a couple of pictures, resetting our GPS and taking off. However, the street is crowded and street parking is non-existent. I really don’t want to block the entrance to the garage itself, so my copilot resets the GPS as we slowly roll by. We are off like a herd of turtles. It is so slow it is painful. We had a couple of escape routes planned – we wanted to head south and go through the Holland Tunnel, but traffic is so heavy that we quickly decide to head back through the Lincoln Tunnel in hopes that the NJ Turnpike will be moving faster than traffic in NYC. Even so, it takes an agonizing 32 minutes to get to the NJ side of the Lincoln Tunnel. We start working our way through traffic…
2339 EDT Friday – NJ Turnpike Toll Plaza
The toll plaza is a mad house. There are no well-defined lanes for the toll booths. Cars are randomly jockeying for position. It seems to be a free-for-all. An SUV runs up alongside us and forces its way in front. It then challenges the car that was rightfully ahead of us for the next spot in line, and the two come within inches of crashing. The car finally gives way, and the SUV gets through just a little bit ahead of us. Fortunately, the traffic thins out considerably after the toll booth, and we begin to pick up the pace.
0200 EDT Saturday – First Gas Stop, Bedford PA.
We had specifically decided against an auxiliary gas tank. The stock 16 gallon tank gave us an average range of 325 miles, and we didn’t feel like we would be able to consistently drive much further than that without a break. The extra range afforded by an aux tank wasn’t worth the cost, complexity and loss of trunk space. To be fair, we never intended to go for a record, so we didn’t feel the need to take the most extreme measures to reduce our time. Based on past trips, we had hoped to make the cross country run in 40 hours… and anything less would be a bonus.
Notice that I said we didn’t feel the need to take “the most extreme measures.” We still did a lot of planning to reduce our overall time as much as was reasonably possible. The gas stops are a case in point. We had developed a routine that seemed to work well for us. When we pulled in, the navigator would jump out and run in the station to use the facilities. The driver would immediately begin filling the tank with the highest octane juice available. While the pump was running, the driver would begin the process of dumping the trash out and cleaning the windshield (if needed). When the pump clicked off, we would top off the tank at the low setting until it clicked off again, then hang up the nozzle and get the receipt. The odometer and Trip A odometer readings were written on the receipt, and the Trip A reset. Whenever the navigator came out of the station, he would take over the fueling/cleaning duties and the driver would run in to use the facilities. At that point, we officially swapped roles – the driver became the navigator for the next leg, and vice versa. If the pump didn’t give us a receipt, the second person to use the facilities would get a receipt from the cashier. I know it all sounds a bit cumbersome, but it was actually a very fluid process. Our average gas stop time – counted from the time we got off the exit ramp to the time we got on the entrance ramp – was 10 minutes, 15 seconds.
0438 EDT Saturday – Somewhere in Ohio.
Yes, we were in the hammer lane. Yes, there was traffic in the right lane. And yes, this deer wandered onto the left-hand shoulder to take a closer look. It was a tense moment – we couldn’t go right since there was a vehicle in the right lane by our back bumper – so I clamped down the brakes and prepared to take evasive action if the deer started across the road. Thankfully, Bambi decided to turn and run just as we approached and we continued our run without any other close calls. Frankly, we thought that we would need to be more concerned with the “Bears” in Ohio than the deer.
1145 CDT Saturday – Approaching St. Louis
We actually had three routes planned out; northern, southern and a combination of the two. We were prepared to take whatever route was necessary in order to avoid inclement weather. There were some scattered thunderstorms across the central US, but they weren’t too intense so we opted to start off with the southern route. St. Louis was our next decision point – if there was heavy rain south of St. Louis in southern Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas then we could head due west across Kansas, Colorado and Utah instead. Thankfully, we had already crossed paths with the storms in the eastern states so we headed southwest once we crossed the Mississippi.
Surprisingly, Missouri had the heaviest traffic we had seen since escaping New Jersey. It very well could have been due to the fact that it we crossed it on a Saturday afternoon, but after we made our way into Oklahoma the traffic started to clear out. It was getting dark as we drove across northern Texas and we started making better time between gas stops.
0223 MDT Sunday – Somewhere in New Mexico.
Running through New Mexico, we came up behind an SUV that was wandering all over the road. We eased off and kept a safe distance away, waiting for it to settle into a lane so we could make a safe pass. After a while of wandering around, the SUV lazily sideswiped the concrete barrier in the median. It must have been a hard hit as the emergency flashers immediately came on, yet the SUV continued down the road. Ironically, a sheriff’s deputy happened to be present when the accident happened, and he pulled the SUV over to the right shoulder. We gave them a wide berth as we passed in the hammer lane.
0602 MDT Sunday – Williams Arizona.
I don’t know what this person did… but the police weren’t taking any chances with this traffic stop. We had been running along at a brisk pace when we caught up to a local law enforcement official that seemed to be following a vehicle. As we passed the Williams city limits, some other LEO vehicles pulled out from a waiting spot in the median and fell into line. A couple of miles down the road, they executed this stop with five cops pulling over a single car. Once again, we hit the left lane and got out of the area.
0655 PDT Sunday – California Inspection Station.
We really thought that we might get a thorough inspection at the California border, but after a couple of quick questions we were on our way. However, we had been on the road for a long time and the lack of sleep was beginning to take its toll. As we made our way across the desert – the sun glaring at us in the rear view mirrors – our average speed began to drop as sleep-deprived paranoia set in. We made a final fillup in Barstow, then a mad dash to the finish line… the guard shack for the Portofino Hotel!
1029 PDT Sunday – The Portofino Hotel Parking Lot.
We rolled up to the guard shack for the Portofino… my copilot stopped the Garmin’s time and snapped a picture of it while I chatted with the guard, who apparently had never heard of the Cannonball.
“Can we pay to park here?”
“Yes, $15. Are you with the party?”
“No, we’re just sight-seeing.”
“You do know this is a hotel?”
He took our $15 and directed us to the parking lot on the left. We cruised into a spot, and stopped to double-check our time… 38 hours, 34 minutes. Not a record, but not bad (the record currently stands at 28:50). Our time was significantly less than the 40 hour goal we had set for ourselves. It was oddly satisfying and a bit anti-climactic, all at once.
Epilogue: Spending just over a day and a half in a car going from New York to LA was fun, boring, exhilarating, grueling and exhausting all at the same time. We achieved our goal of making the trip in less than 40 hours, and we did it in a car that was taken quite literally off the showroom floor. No huge fuel tanks. No night vision. No decoys. No spotter planes. No scout vehicles. No speeding tickets. Just two men and a Mustang. Perhaps someday we will be able to make the run again…