Forgotten States Road Trip: Part I – Lower 48 States

It is official. I have now been to every contiguous state in the United States (the lower 48 states).

I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this post. I have a lot to get to, and I want to dive in straightaway.

It is ironic that this post will be so long since the trip was uneventful and unremarkable. There were no hitchhikers. Despite my prognostications, there were no real dangers or life-threatening moments, either. And I have very few photographs to share.

This was not unexpected. After all, there’s a reason why I’ve been calling this the “Forgotten States Road Trip” (I gotta get better at naming these big ones). These were all states that I had no prior cause or reason to visit. Can it be any surprise that this trip was dull?

And yet, it was a revealing and eye-opening experience that has essentially put all of my planning for my future back on square one. So let’s dive in… As I did at the end of the North American Road Trip, let’s start by laying out some basic facts about this trip.

Lower 48 StatesPost-Mortem: Waypoint Journal

Wednesday, March 21: Green Bay, Madison, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha, Topeka, Kansas City, Columbia, St. Louis

Thursday, March 22: Remained in St. Louis

Friday, March 23: St. Louis, Jonesboro, Memphis

Saturday, March 24: Jackson, New Orleans

Sunday, March 25: Birmingham, Atlanta

Monday, March 26: Atlanta, Columbia, Charlotte, Charleston

Tuesday, March 27: Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, Jersey City, New York City, New Haven, Providence, Boston, Portland

Wednesday, March 28: Saint-Herménégilde border crossing, Montreal, Ottawa, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie border crossing

Thursday, March 29: Escanaba, Green Bay

Post-Mortem: Facts, Numbers (including comparisons to the North American Road Trip)

Distance Traveled: 5,085 miles (175 miles more than originally planned, and 32.9% as long as the NART)

Duration: 9 days (25.7% as long as the NART)


Total States Visited: 26 (compared to 18 for NART)

U.S. States Visited for First Time: 12 (Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine) (compared to 9 for NART)

Lower 48 States

U.S. States Revisited: 14 (WI, MO, TN, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, PA, NY, MA, VT, NH, MI) (compared to 9 for NART)

Canadian Provinces Revisited: 2 (Ontario and Quebec)


I have now been to all 48 contiguous U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia. I have not been to Hawaii (on my bucket list), Alaska (may or may not be on my bucket list), or any other U.S. territory.

Just for fun, I decided to figure out which states Remy hasn’t been to. In addition to Alaska and Hawaii, Remy has only missed two other states: Ohio and Florida.

Itinerary Deviations

There were no thousand mile detours to swap vehicles or retrieve hitchhikers this time around. I can only report four (rather boring) deviations from my original itinerary.

I very nearly missed Nebraska. The original plan was to take US Hwy. 75 from Omaha to Topeka. I reached the Omaha interchange area, but was still technically in Iowa when Google Maps rerouted me down I-29, which also grazes the Nebraska border, but on the wrong side. I didn’t notice this until about 20 miles later when we pulled over at a rest stop. We hopped back over the state line and proceeded the rest of the way through Nebraska to Topeka.

My stay in St. Louis was cut short by 48 hours. I’ll go into more detail about this when I discuss TransWorld below. Predictably, having Remy with me for such a long time in an urban environment proved very difficult. Not only was she cooped up in a truck which was cooped up in a downtown garage, but there weren’t many grassy areas nearby for her to get exercise. Parking was expensive, hard to come by, and we didn’t have in/out privileges, so we had to make do with places we could walk to. Even still, for the 36+ hours we were there, she refused to go potty, refused to eat, and – what I found most alarming – refused to drink water. I decided after a full day on the convention floor, I decided it was in everyone’s best interest if we left early and resumed our trip.

Of absolutely no importance is the fact that due to a limited choice of places to sleep near Atlanta, I wound up rerouted the next morning from Greenville, South Carolina to Columbia, South Carolina.

I decided to skip Nicolet National Forest on account of the cold temperatures and the fact that the area is still buried under a lot of snow. I had a hunch I would do this even before I left. It was part of my original itinerary because I was (perhaps foolishly) optimistic that by late-March / early-April, we’d be steadily in the 40s and 50s. I was wrong.

West vs East

Here are some fun facts. According to the 2010 census, the population east of the Mississippi River was approximately 180 million, or 58% of the total U.S. population of 309 million. Of the west’s 129 million residents, over 50 million (39%) are concentrated in the region’s ten largest cities and over 37 million (29%) are concentrated in the state of California.

On the other hand, the western states have 2.8 million square miles of land mass, or 74% of the total United States’ 3.8 million square miles. That makes the overall population density of the eastern United States to be 188 people per square mile, more than four times denser than the west’s density of 45 people per square mile.

Population Density

What’s my point? That east of the Mississippi River is more populated, more crowded, more congested, and more trafficked. So if you’re a big ol’ introvert like me, you’re not going to enjoy the east very much.

I knew going into this trip that I was going to be traveling through a lot more urban environments than I did last summer when I was out west. I knew this was going to be a source of misery for me. And, of course, I was right. Being stuck in downtown St. Louis was a hardship on Remy. The dense crowds on Bourbon Street threw me into a mild anxiety attack. The traffic in Atlanta frustrated me out of an old fashioned southern meal. And while I must confess that the traffic between Baltimore and Boston wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it to be, it was still pretty damn bad. It was one of the few times my expectations served to soften the reality.

As such, I really cannot recommend the eastern half of the United States for people who enjoy a good road trip. For those who just really want to enjoy some open road without much traffic congestion, I would advise you to get west of the Mississippi River – plus one state over (the line of states between Minnesota and Louisiana are still kind of dense) – and avoid the Pacific coast, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and most parts of Texas. Your best bets for quiet drives are the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico.

Beyond population density, I’ve also got to comment on sleeping options. The west is also friendlier in terms of sleeping options. The east has the edge on highway rest areas – they’re found more frequently on the map, and the facilities are usually a lot nicer than the facilities out west. Highway rest areas are preferable if you’re running low on water and need to resupply. But on any other night, I would rather be in a national forest for safety and privacy. There isn’t as much national forest land out east as there is out west (not surprising, given the urbanization of the east). However, even among the forests that do exist, I found it impossible to locate campsites. Because of the higher population density, most national forest land seems to be privately owned. It’s nearly impossible to find publicly-accessible land, or parking spaces, or even forest service roads. As such, I didn’t get to spend even a single night in a forest, though I did waste about 200 miles driving in search of a campsite.

In short, I did not find the eastern half of the United States to be as hospitable to my travel habits as the west is.

Summer vs Winter

While driving through West Virginia, I realized that for all the times I’ve driven through the mountains, I’ve never done it during the winter. It’s a good reminder that if you’re not thinking about the fourth dimension, you can be well-traveled without actually being well-traveled.

Technically, I departed on the second day of spring. But for all intents and purposes, it was (and still is) winter. With the exception of two days spent in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, daytime highs during this trip ranged from the 30s to the 50s, and nighttime lows ranges from the 10s to the 40s. It might not have been the dead of winter, but we hadn’t warmed up much since then.

Zombie once told me that he preferred cold weather, because he could always bundle up in more layers, but he couldn’t take his skin off if he got too hot. I have to disagree, and I do so as someone who has spent virtually his entire life living in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

If we assume 70°F as the baseline comfort temperature for human beings, it has never gotten as hot anywhere on this planet as it has gotten as cold. The highest recorded temperature: 134°F (+64°). The coldest: -129°F (-199°). It’s a lot easier to find yourself in hazardous cold temperatures on this planet than it is to find yourself in hazardous heat. I would rather be somewhere warm where I occasionally have to cool off, rather than subject myself to months and months of dangerously cold temperatures.

I’ll discuss strategies to keeping warm when I finish that topic for the Survival Guide. For now, I’ll just say that layers are key (both in bedding and clothing) and wool is worth its weight in gold.

Driving in the cold is pretty easy because you’ve got your car’s heating system to keep you warm. Stopping to sleep is the hard part. But I discovered a good trick to avoiding long, cold nights. Don’t sleep for 8 hours. Sleep for 2. Then drive for 6 hours and sleep for 2 hours more. Repeat as needed. I’ve been cautioned that this sleep pattern will deprive you of REM sleep. But you can sustain yourself on this sleep pattern, at least for a few days.

By sleeping for only 2 hours at a time, the cold air outside doesn’t have enough time to really set in to the interior of the vehicle. Also, since your engine will have only been resting for 2 hours, it won’t take as long to warm up the car when you wake up. Finally, this sleep pattern minimizes the amount of time you’re sleeping at night, when it’s coldest, and puts some of your sleep time during the day when the temperatures are warmer plus the sun may be out to turn your vehicle into a greenhouse.

As added bonuses, sleeping only two hours greatly minimizes the chance of being discovered or harassed by law enforcement or other individuals. Also, this sleep pattern has you asleep 25% of the day, rather than 33%. This allows you to cover more distance in less time.

New Orleans

The drive in to New Orleans was pretty fascinating. I’ve crossed thousands of bridges in my travels, but never a bridge that ran parallel to and above a river. I’ve always crossed rivers, never before hovered above one. But that’s what a ride through the Louisiana bayou entails.

Bourbon Street was… insane. I have no other way to describe it. Mardi Gras was long over, but you couldn’t tell that from the crowds. I was having a bit of a meltdown. Never before have I personally found myself in a more dense crowd than I did on Bourbon Street. I don’t know what it’s like during the day in the middle of the week, but on a Saturday evening (apparently) it’s just as wild and crazy as I imagined Mardi Gras must be. I’d hate to be there during actual Mardi Gras.

There were TONS of crust punks on the streets of New Orleans!! This actually got me excited, because I was feeling a bit of kinship with my fellow nomads. I badly wanted to go over and strike up some conversations with them. But I was so overwhelmed and intimidated by the crowds that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. All I wanted to do, from the moment I set foot on Bourbon Street, was retreat back to my truck and get back out on the road.

Despite this, I did push myself to my intended stops. I checked out the Voodoo Museum, then went to Erzulie’s. Although I am not superstitious, I decided to shop for some comfrey root (long believed to offer protection to travelers) just for the fun of it. But the voodoo store didn’t have any. She phoned one of her competitors, Hex, who did have comfrey root. Eavesdropping on the conversation, I offered to pick up a stack of flyers for Hex to bring back to Erzulie’s, and vice versa (since going to Hex meant having to come back to Erzulie’s to get back to Bourbon Street anyhow). This simple task also gave me a sense of purpose, which made it a hell of a lot easier to walk through the streets of New Orleans.

The comfrey root was only $5 a jar, so I bought two. On my way back, I stopped at the Copper Monkey and enjoyed some authentic jambalaya.

Atlanta

Because we left TransWorld early, I was unable to meet with three haunt owners I had reached out to to discuss possible employment. Two of those owners were from Atlanta. I had hoped that if I dragged my heels in Atlanta and stayed a few nights, that I might get responses to the e-mails I sent informing them of my early departure from TransWorld. Alas, to this day, I still haven’t gotten answers. But even if I had, my window in Atlanta was shorter than I would have liked.

First and foremost, it was cold. Very cold. Way colder than I would have expected in late March for Atlanta. In fact the temperatures rivaled what we had back home here in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

For another, traffic had proven insane. On my drive between Birmingham and Atlanta, my ETA was extended by about 51 minutes in just a few short minutes’ time owing to traffic congestion and auto accidents. That delay did eventually clear up and I reached Atlanta on time (early, in fact). But by then, I had been so frustrated by the traffic. I stopped at a diner and was about to pull into the (apparently full) parking lot, but for a number of people walking by, and deciding to just stop and stand in the driveway so no one could pass. When they did finally move on, then cars began blocking the way. By this point, I was a powder keg. I quickly lost my appetite and veered off to go somewhere else – anywhere else, foregoing my chance for some authentic peach cobbler and pecan pie.

I paid a visit Folklore Haunted House, a haunt owned by one of the three men I was supposed to meet in Atlanta. It being Sunday afternoon, however, I did not expect him back yet. Then I moved on to Chattahoochee National Forest to try to find a campsite, only to discover that everything was privately owned. Then I came back to Atlanta and paid a visit to Netherworld Haunted House. It was not one of the haunts owned by a person I was meant to meet in Atlanta, but I’ve heard tales about Netherworld, and was curious to see it. However, they’re still in the middle of their move to a new location, so I really didn’t get to see much of anything but an empty office park.

Philadelphia, New York, & Boston

My visit to New York was mostly done from a safe distance – in Jersey City, in fact, at Liberty State Park. From there, I got some decent photographs of the New York skyline. I did drive through New York City, however (a freeway cut through the Bronx). I had the good sense and foresight not to actually get out of my vehicle and go anywhere on foot. Even before I departed, I abandoned the idea of trying to get an authentic slice of New York pizza and a New York hot dog. (To be honest, I really don’t think I was missing out on anything with these.)

But what I have to say about New York is this… FUCK. There is no map, no aerial photo, nor skyline photo that can adequately prepare you for the astronomical size of New York City. Crossing into the city on the George Washington Bridge – I could not fit the entire city within the scope of my peripheral vision. If an asteroid, a nuclear missile, a Godzilla, or a Gozer came tearing through New York, I’m convinced that any one of those things could only take out a tiny portion of the city – that’s how fucking big it is. Peter Parker would need a semi-truck full of web fluid to hope to get from one end to another. And even as far as my eye could see, I still knew that I was only seeing the surface of it.

Before New York, I stopped in Philadelphia and picked up two cheesesteaks from Tony Luke’s (one “American wit” and one “Provolone wit”). My god. They did not disappoint! The bread was perfect, not too hard but not soggy. The meat was savory. The cheese was gooey (though I preferred the American over the provolone). The meal was satisfying, stuffing, and delicious. Authentic Philadelphia cheesesteaks definitely live up to the hype.

I’ve driven by Boston before when I went to Salem. This time I drove through downtown Boston. All I’ve got to say is that Boston is one gorgeous city, lit up at night. I wish I had gotten a good photograph, but I was driving too fast, traffic was bust enough to prevent me from slowing down, and pictures from inside the truck just got reflective glare. But I won’t soon forget that nighttime skyline – beautiful.

Saint-Herménégilde Border Crossing

I was once again pulled aside at the U.S.-Canada border for further scrutiny.

For the record, if it had happened again at Sault Ste. Marie, I had intended to make a challenge of it. I get singled out way too often for it to be random. Given staffing numbers and usual traffic flow, I’d guess they can’t search more than one out of every hundred vehicles. I can’t be pulled over for cause – I have no criminal history, no warrants out for my arrest, and have never had a problem with any previous border crossing. All that leaves is some superficial cause – either my appearance or my travel style – that is raising suspicion. And frankly, I think I have a right to know why I get singled out at such a high frequency of border crossings.

That being said, it was one o’clock in the morning at a not-very-utilized border crossing. So I kind of understand why they pulled me aside. The agents – to their credit – were super friendly, nice, and helpful (I was low on gas and one agent directed me to a station that would be open 24 hours a day).

I told them about TransWorld and my work as a haunter. That didn’t stop them, however, from being very alarmed by what they found in my truck – blood smeared on the bed, bloody rucksacks, and bloody crowbars, not to mention the bloody bandannas both Remy and I were wearing around our necks. Fortunately, the agent found a bottle of stage blood in one of my bags, so he was satisfied that the blood was fake as I had told him. Also fortunate is that they did not discover two unsmoked joints that I had accidentally forgotten about.

Connecticut

I would have to sat that the highlight of my trip was Connecticut. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about how Connecticut should look, and yet it lived up to my expectations. Home to Yale University, Connecticut – particularly its stone bridges that punctuate I-95 – gives off a distinctly collegiate vibe. The whole state looks like it got left behind in the 17th or 18th century, forgotten by time.  And it looks like it’s always autumn there. The trees are old and creepy. If ever I had to film a horror movie, Connecticut is where I would start scouting for filming locations.

Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia

I just want to take a moment and say that these are three states that each have… reputations… They’re made fun of by most of the rest of America. And yet, I have to give them props because each of these states provided some distinctly gorgeous scenic drives.

Ottawa

I can’t really say much about Ottawa this time. This was my third visit, but given the recent loss of Erik Karlsson’s unborn son, I didn’t feel it appropriate to do any exploring around the city of engage in any of my usual fawning over the man. I do, however, want to leave the coordinates for the two rest areas on either side of the city for future reference. They were hard to find, so if I need them again, I want to be able to reference back to this post to get them. The first one is at 45°28’36” N 74°17’3” W. The second is at 45°35’5” N 76°49’41” W.

Oh, I did learn one thing about Canadian rest areas. They shut down in the winter! Not all of them, and not entirely. But where ever practical, rest areas were closed. Restrooms were locked. Garbage cans were locked. Some entry ways and roads were blocked off.

Other Notes

I forgot how much I missed the open road. I know I’ve been miserable in this apartment, but I’ve been so focused on where ad how I will live next that I sort of forgot just how much I feel at home and at peace out on the open road.

On the other hand, I also remembered what I hate most about life on the road – the difficult in obtaining showers. I wasn’t willing to stay in any motels this time around. The good thing about travelling in winter as opposed to summer is that you don’t work up as much of a sweat. So you don’t need to shower as often as you do in the summer. But at least in the summer I could occasionally find a creek or a lake to go swimming in. I was so sore, so tired, and so cold by the end of this trip, I’ve taken several scalding hot showers since I’ve been back home.

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