My first leg of the trip was driving from St. Petersburg, Florida to Marysville, Washington to meet up with my friend Dylan for the 4th of July. I had already planned to start in the Pacific Northwest for a few reasons. While I was born in Seattle, I left when I was very young and hadn't been back since. I haven't really seen any of the PNW and it seems like there is a lot of amazing things there in a high concentration. I also wanted to avoid the heat and humidity of the summer.
It was about 50 hours of driving over 6 days. I did a bit of sightseeing this first leg, but most of it was just moving steadily across the country.
Day 1 was St. Pete to Nashville. About 12 hours of driving, topped off with a visit to Hattie B's Hot Chicken and a stay in a slightly sketchy motel.
I kept my valuables like my computer and phone with me, but I still had a lot of other supplies in my car and I was concerned about someone breaking in. I woke up multiple times in the middle of the night, thinking I heard suspicious noises, and went outside to check on my car. Thankfully, no break ins.
Day 2 was Nashville to Omaha. This was a pretty boring day. Saw the St. Louis Arch from my car and that was about it. Stayed at an AirBnB in Omaha where I got mobbed by the hosts' dogs (6 pugs and one giant dog) and barely slept. I got out of there are quick as I could the next morning.
Day 3 was Omaha to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I'd never been to Badlands, and it fit nicely with my route and giving me a day or two where I wasn't just sitting in the car for 10-12 hours.
I got to Badlands late in the evening, took a quick drive through the park (I was spending the day there the next day), and went to find my sleep spot for the night. This was my first night sleeping in the car and I was doing it in the parking lot of some famous tourist attraction/drug store called Wall Drug.
I had tested laying down in my car to see if I would actually fit, but hadn't actually tried to sleep in it. Should I have tested it? Maybe. Oh well.
I was exploring around Wall, SD and the weather quickly got severe. Strong winds blowing, dark clouds rolling across the sky. I checked the weather on my phone...
70 mph wind gusts and quarter size hail...damage to vehicles is expected.
Well, I'm sleeping in my car so I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I look on my phone for a cheap motel or any other option near by to try to shelter from the storm. No luck. I even consider driving somewhere out of the range of the storm but out in South Dakota, there isn't really anywhere to go.
I was still outside and the wind got so strong that it was blowing dust and dirt around to the point where I couldn't see. I wished I had ski goggles to shield my eyes. I slowly made my way back to the car, trying to shield and squint my eyes against the wind and dirt.
Once I had made it to the shelter of my car, I just sat and waited...and watched the storm start to dissipate? I checked the weather radar and it showed that I was on the very southernmost tip of the storm, so I was getting the smallest and least severe part. The worst had passed, but the clouds were incredible, so I headed back into Badlands NP to find a cool panoramic viewpoint to watch the storm pass.
Day 4: I ended up sleeping through the night pretty well. No one woke me up and told me I had to leave, and I didn't experience any quarter size hail. I did see a car the next day that was covered in small dents and looked like it had been in the worst of the storm. That day I explored the park a bit, and in the afternoon continued to head west toward the Black Hills National Forest.
I was hoping to do some hiking and camp that night in the area, but I drove right into a steady rainstorm. Constant, strong rain and the temperature dropped to about 50 degrees. This time I did get some small hail. So I decided to push on to a truck rest stop in Sundance, Wyoming. The rain continued all the way until I got to the rest stop. The South Dakota/Wyoming border area is gorgeous, just green rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Spent the night at the truck stop, showered there the next morning (surprisingly nice showers), and on Day 5 I went to see Devil's Tower National Monument. I got there early and had the place almost to myself. Me, a couple other people walking around, and some climbers on the tower.
I left as crowds were starting to pour in, and started towards Bozeman, Montana. I got to Bozeman in the afternoon, and went to check out an alpine lake my girlfriend had told me about. The lake was 5 miles down a dirt road in the mountains. That 5 miles took me over 30 minutes. It was the gnarliest, rockiest, pot-holiest road I have ever driven on. It was slow, painstaking driving but the lake was gorgeous. The lighting and angles were not good, so I couldn't get a good picture. Bummer.
That night I had planned to sleep in the car in the local Walmart parking lot, but when I got there, there were lots of bright lights and the lot was pretty crowded. I eventually found a decent place to park, but as I was getting set up, I noticed there were several people who were just sitting in the lot just watching people, including me.
This creeped me out a bit, so at the last minute I decided to try and find a new spot. These people were watching me as I was getting into my car to sleep, and I was a little worried about getting robbed in the middle of the night. I drove to the nearby REI, found a nice spot behind the store, and spent the night there.
The next day (day 6) was a day in Bozeman. I took the morning to do some job searching stuff (because I'm kinda supposed to be looking for a job still right?), went on a hike in the afternoon, and cruised town in the evening. Great town, great vibe.
Day 7: The last leg. 12 hours from Bozeman to Seattle. I stopped at a rest stop on the Montana/Idaho border and there were groups of ground squirrels that were eating nuts and seeds right out of the hands of people who were at the travel stop. I stopped to feed some of the squirrels, then kept moving.
Apparently huckleberry is a big thing in this region of the country, so I had to try huckleberry something. I tried to find some pie while I was in Bozeman, but that place I wanted to get pie from sold the last piece right before I got there. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho was one of the towns I was driving through, so I made a stop. I found an ice cream store that had locally made huckleberry ice cream and got a scoop as I wandered around.
As I passed through Washington, I made a stop at Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge. Gotta do all the touristy things too.
By the time I left Coeur D'Alene, I was almost there. I made a stop at Snoqualmie Falls to be a tourist for a bit, then pushed on to my AirBnB. I made it. Approximately 3,000 miles and 50+ hours of driving spread out over 7 days. The first leg was done! Now to get my first look at the rest of Washington in 20 years!