Ah, the Road Trip. That great American experience of legend and lore. One just gets in their vehicle and drives. No schedule. No worries. Freedom at its best.
Of course, reality will set in and you may have a lot to consider. Go alone or with a friend? Motels or camping? Interstates or back roads? Nimble sports car or RV? Where to eat? What happens if there is a breakdown? Gas prices! Covid!!
The genesis for this trip began several years ago. I became semi-retired and my wife encouraged me to get some of those damn car centric bucket list items off the list before she retired in a few years. So, a trip to the 24 Hours of LeMans. Check. Dragging my track car to multiple east coast and midwest road courses over a period of 3 weeks. Check. Drag my track car to iconic California road course venues, with Laguna Seca on the top of the list? Before I could act, Covid shut that one down. But the concept remained.
As with many of us, Covid led to a reshuffling of priorities. Without going into detail, the Porsche 944 track car was sold and replaced with a more user friendly and street legal 2007 Porsche Cayman S. I took it to VIR a couple of times to establish its bonafides, which were good. And the plan changed. Getting onto a track like Laguna Seca for something like a DE event is quite possible. But I would have some definite schedule pressure to show up on a certain date. And being 3000 miles from home, I would have to be extra careful to not prang the car. I was also intrigued by a documentary on the History Channel about the construction of the Pacific Coast Highway. Travelling its entire length would be a noble project. The plot thickened when my wife announced that she was flying to Seattle around the beginning of June to visit her parents and our son, who lives in Seattle. If I showed up with the Porsche, she wouldn’t have to rent a car. Still some schedule pressure but if I didn’t make it, she would just rent a car.
So the essence of a plan developed. Drive from my home near Raleigh, NC to Seattle. Accompany my wife on a 3 legged trip within Washington state to visit family. See her off at the Seattle airport and head down the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles. And then head home.
Although frankly my F150 pickup is probably my most comfortable long distance vehicle, where is the glory in driving a pickup on a road trip. After considering my Porsche 928 for the trip, I rejected that idea. It has died suddenly on several occasions during my ownership and is difficult to troubleshoot. The Cayman, although 15 years old, feels like a new car to me. I had some reservations about the stiff ride and the seating, which I will get to in a minute but decided it was the car for the job. I did some routine maintenance, that being spark plugs, coil packs, brake service, and air filter. It got a coolant flush as part of replacing the front motor mount. Oil and filter change of course.
The seating was my biggest reservation. My back and spine suffer from decades of abuse and riding long distances in a stiffly sprung car is not my cup of tea. I also find that the seat back configuration pinches me in the shoulder blades. The solution turned out to be fairly simple. I purchased a truncated backpacking air mattress from REI, only 20″ wide by 48″ long. It neatly fits into the seat. After my first day, 12+ hours long, my “air ride suspension” really did a great job of isolating my spine from the constant pounding of expansion joints and the occasional pothole or worse.
Although I suspect it is technically illegal in some states, I sprung for a pair of Ipod Pro noise cancelling earbuds. And I added the Audible app to my phone and downloaded 3 books.
Although I plan to stay in motels I do like to have the option to camp, especially travelling down the PCH, where in the past I have found that lodging is scarce and expensive. Space is at a premium in the Cayman. During my LeMans trip I had perfected a low volume camping setup, basically backpacking gear, which includes a 2 man tent, sleeping bag, a cot, air mattress, a chair, a table, and a stove. All of this plus a small cooler and a 5 gallon water jug fit into the Cayman’s “frunk”. The passenger footwell held a roller bag and two small rucksacks. The rear cargo area was organized with plastic bins to hold food and miscellaneous items. One extravagance was a small Roland Go-Keys keyboard that went on the shelf behind the seats.
Everything was ready. One bonus for this trip was a chance to stop along the way to visit with family, friends, and car guys I have met on various forums. Although there are several routes from Raleigh to Seattle, I chose one that passes through St. Louis so as to visit a favorite aunt of mine. I had two car guys on my list, both near Denver. Another friend, in Salt Lake City, was going to be on a business trip when I passed through. But these waypoints generally established my route. Here is a map of the actual route that I took.
Day 1 was mainly pounding down the interstate. Not very exciting. Day 2 I stopped near St. Louis to visit my aunt for a couple of hours. Then more pounding down the interstate, getting to some small town west of Topeka. Day 3, Memorial Day, got me into Colorado, a part of the plains that I enjoy, as they become more rolling and grassy. I always imagine vast herds of buffalo and maybe Indians on ponies arrayed on the crest of a hill. After lunch, I visited for a couple of hours with Paul, who lives in Keenesburg, near Denver. He is an ex-mechanic, ex-racer, and geologist. He proudly showed me his Jeepster rat rod, powered by a 4.2L Jag engine.
Later that afternoon and evening, I was hosted by Craig at his home near Colorado Springs. He has built an amazing shop space and is filling it with all manner of tools and equipment to allow restoration of his Jag Etype Series 3 V-12.
The next day I departed early and drove to the entrance point for Pikes Peak. I had previously secured an entry slot on-line. The lady at the gate said “That is a pretty hot car you’ve got there. Are you going to be able to observe our 30 mph speed limit”. “Yes ma’am” I lied. Actually it wasn’t too hard as I got higher on the mountain. The penalty for running off the road is severe! At the top it was 0 degF with the windchill. I did one lap on foot around the summit, got my picture taken, and headed back down. The trip only served to reinforce my admiration for the crazy guys that storm up there at max speed for the Hillclimb event!
As you can sort of see from the map I have included above, from Pikes Peak I steered roughly north through some beautiful terrain. I had been advised that Route 40 was a good alternative to the interstate for going west and I was not disappointed. I spent the night in Craig, CO and woke up to find my car covered in frost, on June 2nd!
That morning something happened, both amusing and sobering. My son in Seattle works for Google and specifically he works in the maps division. So Google Maps is the product I use. That morning I asked for routes from Craig to Boise, ID. It showed one route that went to the north to Rock Springs, WO that would save me an hour. Just west of Craig, I turned off national route 40 to a state route. Almost immediately I came to a sign. No Services for 120 Miles. I had just filled up and had a 400 mile range. It started out nicely. A nice twisty terrain following road in the Nampa River Valley. But there wasn’t much habitation and I wasn’t meeting many vehicles coming the other way. About 20 miles in, I came to my next turn, a county road. Not paved. Crap! As you Porsche owners know, there is no spare tire. You have a flat, you call the rollback. But I had lost cell service way back and there was no telling how long the gravel road would last. Also, on the Google map, that state route that I had been on just seemed to go out to the middle of nowhere and stop. So I got cold feet and turned around. I met a rancher on the way back, who I stopped to talk to. He said “Well, it’s not paved but it is a nice road. When you get to Wyoming, I think it becomes paved again”. I told him about the no spare tire and he agreed that maybe I might want to stick to the main road. Which I did.
That night I made it to Boise. The next day was an “easy” 8 hour trip into Seattle. Total trip mileage is 3321 miles. The car is running fine. Averaging about 26 mpg. My cheapest gas (premium) was $4.60 and the most expensive $6.10, in Seattle. I suspect CA will be my most expensive gas.
I spend the next 6 days touring around Washington state with my wife, of which I will not bore you with the details, unless something crazy happens. When I complete my drive down the west coast, I will post another update.