Driving across country. OMFG I can't do this.

Very soon, I am going to have to drive from the West Virginia panhandle to Los Angeles. Alone. At least, alone in the car. Mr. Rilch will be in the other car.

I don’t know how I’m going to do this. But I have no choice. Driving one car and towing the other is not an option; neither has a trailer hitch nor a powerful enough engine. So I have to drive all this way on the highway.

The furthest I’ve ever driven as the sole driver is L.A. to Santa Cruz (both ways, but I lamed out on the way back and took the 101 all the way down). Mr. Rilch and I have taken this route many times before, but always in the same vehicle, driving in shifts.

I just don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to drive consistently and safely, all this way and at this rate. (We have to be in L.A. by Wednesday at the latest.) How am I going to get past St. Louis? How am I going to stay awake? I’ll end up listening to the Sign of Evil Countdown because I’ll be too terrified to change the radio station. Can anyone talk me down here?

My brother, his GF and I all drove together from Las Vegas to eastern Indiana in a single 40 hour stretch. We would switch drivers every 3 hours or so, and the other 2 would sleep.

That was miserable, and that was with 3 drivers. However we weren’t sleeping in hotels or anything, we were sleeping in the car (which sucks).

A drive from west virginia to LA will take about 40-50 hours. So you might break it up into 10-12 hours a day over 4-5 days. But even that can wear you out. I drove for 8 hours straight once (about 500 miles) and even that wears you out at the end of the day. I think I slept 10+ hours that night.

Driving through the mountains near colorado is going to be hard, esp. if the cars are not good quality.

As far as what you can do, I really don’t know. You could hire someone to drive for you while you fly. But that is about it.

Getting past St. Louis isn’t too bad, just take 270 instead of 70. Taking I-70 will take you through town, and 270 is much easier to navigate.

Oh, I don’t want to get out of it. I’m hoping that by the time I get into Texas, I’ll be relaxed and even psyched. What’s worrying me is getting to that point.

We are planning to stop at rest areas from time to time, during daylight hours, and take short naps. And yes, it’ll be the 270, not 70. I’m just hoping it won’t be too difficult to stay on the 270. I’ve never really gotten over the time my mom was coming back from Cincinnati, made a wrong choice and almost ended up in Memphis. However, I have now what she didn’t have then: a cell phone.

Oh, and we’re not going through Colorado.

I’ve driven repeatedly from Boston, MA to Los Alamos, NM (and back) alone - four times in total, now, I think. I do it in two 16-hour days, about 1100 miles each day.

It isn’t really that bad if you have a comfortable car. I always enjoy it - sitting back in the seat, a wide open road in front of you, flying past the scenery, listening to some music, watching the miles tick by…

I would suggest driving on a weekend - there are likely to be fewer trucks, and they are always aggravating - many of the interstates in the midwest are two lanes only, and you often get stuck behind a truck trying to pass another with a 1 mph speed differential.

If you don’t feel up to it, just have your car shipped.


You can do this. Do not, repeat, NOT, turn left at Albuquerque.

I love driving long distances alone in a car. That’s a long way, though. Maybe you and Mr. Rilch could come up with some sort of contest.

I don’t know if you like NPR, but here is a list of nationwide stations.

I prefer NPR over music, and wish I’d printed this list off before my road trips.

Also, a GPS will be nice to have, if you don’t have one. The garmin is a good model.

Absolute: Yes, it is going to be mostly on the weekend, for the reason you said.

Hilarity: But I thought bad things happen if you don’t turn left at Albuquerque!

Wesley: I was sort of kidding about the radio station. Thing is, I have a lot of CDs, and I’m looking forward to cranking up the Zep. But I’m thinking it’s too risky to change disks while driving at highway speed, so I may need that list after all.

Main things I’m worried about:

  1. Merging back on to the highway. Mr. Rilch says I’ve got to be more assertive, and yet cautious.

  2. Doing anything with my hands other than having them on the wheel. I will need to call him on my cell, or get calls from him, in order to coordinate meal breaks and nap times, or if I make a wrong turn, or just to hear his voice. I have a headset, but I’ll still need to plug in his number. And I like a cigarette, so I may want to smoke to keep myself awake, and for that matter, drink something caffeinated. I know people manage to do these things without mishap; I just hope I can.

  3. Not getting lost. It sounds so easy to just stay on the same road. But what about those areas where every lane is a different option, and you have to keep changing lanes to stay on track? I just keep telling myself that if I can drive through the Orange Crush, or to San Pedro, I can do this. But it feel like the stakes are so much higher. Even though I only have to do this once, and there was a time when I had to drive to San Pedro every day.

And we don’t have GPS, more’s the pity.

  1. Chill.
  2. I moved back to the USA after having lived in Europe for 15 years, and had almost never driven over there. I rented a car here and, like you, was the ultimate “nervous Nelly” when I got behind the wheel. Trust me - really - trust me - when I tell you that as time goes by, you get better and better…by the time you reach LA, you will be ready to drive NASCAR and will be amazed at how quickly you get over a lot of your fears.
  3. I assume you both have cell phones, should one of you need to stop for a potty break, or want to check into a motel for some sleep or want something to eat?

Amazingly, I find most American drivers are pretty good…sure, there are the assholes, especially in larger urban areas, but for 95% of your trip, all you need to do is be awake, bowel free, not hungry - and you will do just fine.

I don’t know tons of cities, but the interstates in some are extremely easy (Denver, Indianapolis) to navigate through, and some are extremely hard (St. Louis, Chicago).

Driving through LA will probably be the most complex part of your entire trip (since you are going around St. Louis via 270). Most of cross country driving is extremely easy to do.

  1. You’ll be fine.

  2. For staying awake/occupied; Books on tape! Well… CD. But books on tape! Get a bunch of em. They’ll help keep you awake as well since you want to hear what happens next.

  3. There will be times you’re going the WRONG WAY! It’ll happen. It’s fine. Relax. It happens when you’re at ‘home’ too, right? You just get off the paved road and go down this back alley way and…

You might post your route so that local dopers can give you advice, where there might be speed traps etc. Really watch your ass in southern Illinois, for instance…cruising through that podunk area, you’ll see half a dozen cops with radar.

I usually drive through St Louis, not around it. But if I hit it around rush hour, I go around. It probably costs 15 minutes extra to go around…if you’re uber nervous, maybe it’s worth the 15 minutes. I prefer the south bypass because the airport is on the north side.

FWIW I’ve driven I-44 from the MO border to OKC. I’d call that the “trail of the red man’s revenge.” They stop you like every 10 minutes for a toll so take a boatload of change.

You really should get a GPS before you go. It will help more than you think even if it just always lets you know where you are and they are easy to use. They don’t cost that much these days and Wesley Clark is right that Garmin is a good brand.

  1. You’ll be fine.

  2. Get a handsfree set for your cell; one you’re confortable using.

Also - bring some walkie-talkies. That way, you two can communicate (and chat - very good for staying awake) without burning through the minutes on your phones.

While a GPS is a good idea - make sure you have up to date print maps. They never run out of batteries, or need rebooting.

Now, it’s only two toll plazas, halfway (give or take) between Joplin and Tulsa, and halfway between Tulsa and OKC. Both cost $3.50 I believe.

Back when I drove long distances, I had a few rules that kept me awake and alert. Some of these seem to work for everyone, some of them work only for certain people.

[li]Ten minutes every two hours. Every two hours, stop somewhere, get out of the car and walk around.[/li][li]As little surgar as possible. Sugar gives you a short burst of energy, and those burst wear you down faster than you’d think[/li][li]Twice as much water or juice as caffine. You’re stopping every two hours anyway, and dehydration saps you more than having to pee does[/li][li]When you stop for meals, skip the fast food, get a decent meal at someplace with waiters. Don’t eat too heavily, but don’t nibble either.[/li][li]Know your limits. I could do 36 hours, but if I had to go farther than I could get in that time, I’d do 20 hour chunks, and then go to a hotel[/li][li]Don’t take naps (this may just be me), and don’t sleep in the car. A real bed, and a shower allow you to recover faster, and last longer.[/li][li]Avoid the sun. Try to plan your breaks so that you don’t end up driving with the sun in your eyes. Personally I like to start such trips just after sunset, and to find when the sun starts forcing me to use my visor (heading west). Means I’m freshest in the dark, and not squinting (it’s too easy to close your eyes when you’re squinting and tired).[/li][li]When travelling in multiple vehicles, my rule is to agree on a max speed, and the lead car must always keep the last car in sight. This is to prevent a masshole like me from losing someone who isn’t used to heavy traffic or high speeds.[/li][/ol]

From some of what you’ve said, I’d also advise either getting push to talk on your cell phone, or buy walkie-talkies and use them instead of the phones. Also, plan everything, with modren map access, you should be able to figure out what rest areas and towns you’ll be likely to stop at, so lay it out at the beginning. Have very specific rules in place for what to do when/if you get lost, or slowed down by something unpredictable. When you’re tired, having rules helps you avoid making dumb decsions, like trying to go another 60 miles to get to the hotel you wanted to stay at. It also helps facilitate communication,

One hand off the wheel isn’t an issue, providing that one hand is always on the wheel, and you have the personal discipline to drop whatever’s in your other hand should you need it (yes I have dropped my drink all over myself because I suddenly needed extra control, better soaked with soda than soaked with blood). Eyes off the road, though, is a big deal, so make sure you can manage the air flow and radio without looking (my radio can be somewhat controlled from the steering wheel anyway).

Maybe I’m reading this too literally, but at least have him programmed into your phone so you just have to press his name and not input a 9 digit number. My phone has a “favorites” function that makes it really quick/easy to dial. A lot of phones also have voice activated calling, so you could just say his name.

It helps to sing “Old Man River” as loudly as possible (and with your brother on the cellphone) when you cross the Mississippi River. Maybe spend the first 83 hours of the trip practicing…

What the others said about speed dial/voice-activated dialing/handsfree phone stuff.

Also, sing along with the CDs to help keep your brain active, if you find yourself getting bored or tired. All the better if you think you’re not good at it, and the louder the better too - as long as you can hear the phone ring!

My husband and I drove from Chicago to Boston a couple weeks ago, which took about 15 hours. We noticed that a lot of rest stop notices along the highways also had a mile notification for how far along the road the next major rest stop was. You might be able to take advantage of that in figuring out how often to stop along the way.