Journey to the East
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Journey to the east.
About a month ago, I drove from Oregon to Vermont. I estimate, because I never tried to keep any kind of records, that this was at least my sixth trip (or ~tenth if we count outbound and return legs separately) and now I'd like to offer some thoughts about driving in America for the benefit of visitors from other lands.
First I'd like to give a definitive answer to a question I have seen on various travel forums about buying a used car on arrival and selling it when you leave as a cheaper alternative to renting. Bad idea.
The first problem is that when one buys a car they must then register the ownership in their name. In order to register a car, one must have a local address. A hotel room won't do. It's a little more complicated than that because everything related to automobile ownership in the US is governed at the state level. So buying a car in Oregon and selling it in New Jersey is a different process than buying in California and selling in New York State. I can't prove a negative and there are at least 50 possible variations so there may be some way to make this work and if you figure that out, please write a book about it because I would love to read it.
There is another problem with owing vs renting. I said at the beginning I just drove from west coast to east and it was the worst cross-country trip in my fifty plus years of driving. The engine put a rod through the side of the block and caught fire in Akron Ohio. A major mechanical failure which is possible even in a new car is an inconvenience in a rental but it's a major problem when it's your own.
I would not want the foregoing to discourage anyone. If the absence of surprises is the goal then a cross country drive is not a good idea anyway. I know before I set out on any cross-country journey that I am going to come out of it with some kind of story. Maybe a funny story, maybe not but something unexpected will happen before I am done. But that is the whole point of travel in my mind.
In an associated site I offer some advice to travelers from overseas about driving in the US and I said there that I considered a passenger car and motels a better choice than a motor home. This trip validated that. Each day of the trip I drove as far as I wanted and then got a motel. Never had any problem getting a room. The US has numerous motel chains which range from plush but expensive (Best Western) to plain (vinyl floors, bare walls) but cheap (Motel 6). I spent between $50 and $150 per night depending on location. This was all after the end of the tourist season and there is always the chance that you will arrive on the day of some local event but even in the worst case less than an hour of driving will always find a room. Yes, in a motor home, you are home as soon as you stop, but you need to balance that against being limited to major highways. There are roads where a motor home can't go and many more where the climbing and the curves make things difficult at best. And remember that distances tend to be greater here so the extra fuel cost can easily exceed the savings in motel fees.
In my last Gazette I remarked upon the difference between eastern and western landscape and there is a similar difference in the driving. I have know several long-haul truck drivers who said they did not drive east of the Mississippi. I don't know if some east coast drivers harbor similar prejudices but it is conceivable. One major difference is that from the Mississippi to the eastern border of New York State, I was on toll roads whereas toll roads are much less common in the west excepting California. The big disadvantage to toll roads is the limited access. Getting on and off the highway is more complicated and it took me a couple of tries before I got the system figured out. Once again toll roads are state operated so I went over the Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and New York State turnpikes. If I were doing it again, I would look into getting their E-Z pass which I think is interoperable between most east coast toll roads.
In spite of my troubles on this trip, I still recommend a cross-country drive for anyone who wants to really see and understand the US. As I said, that was the worst of fifty plus years of driving and far short of catastrophic. Driving slowly, stopping often and with an added day and a half for the breakdown, it took seven days to go coast to coast. The one thing I would change next time is a co-driver.
I'm pretty sure I have at least one more trip left in me.