“Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”
-Horace Greeley, 1865 (alleged)
Day 1: 21 April 2018
Begin: Warren Township, New Jersey
End: Moline, Illinois
Mileage: 925 miles
Yes, these blogs are coming over a year after this trip ended. But as time marched on, I realized how much of an influence this journey had on me. I still think about it daily, in detail, and it ended up changing my life in many ways. It changed my confidence, my goals, and my direction in the Land Rover community. Since I think about these details so much, I can almost wholly recreate the trip from memory in the summer of 2019, as much as a writing exercise as anything. So here we are, a year later, heading across America in the spring of 2018 in a 24-year-old Land Rover Discovery.
Long story short, I ended up leaving New Jersey a day later than planned (Saturday 21 April at sunrise, not Friday 20 April after work) and was doing things on the Discovery until the very last minute, buttoning up what had been a down-to-the-wire rebuild. I had put the transfer box back in just a few days prior; the interior still wasn’t fully reassembled. I still hadn’t replaced the rear turn signal that had melted off the bumper when I improperly installed my new Magnaflow exhaust, but I didn’t have time to find one, either. My friend Randy from the Mendo list ended up grabbing me one from a Pick and Pull in Southern California, where Discovery 1s still live and die with some regularity.
The dash was strung with wires: CB radio, GPS (my Garmin GPSMAP 62st that I use for geocaching), cell phone dock, XM radio. Everything was powered through a series of USB hubs and cables, with 12V extension lines where needed. I’d like to get a more elegant setup put together at some point, but it seems that something always comes up that prevents me from getting to the “fun stuff” with the truck.
It was time to go.
After a frenzy of packing and throwing anything I thought I might need in the truck (including just about every jacket I own), I pulled out of the driveway at 6:00 AM on Saturday. I was still a bit nervous that I’d done some repair wrong, or missed some issue, or that the things I cobbled together half-assed would fail. I had thousands of miles and a continent ahead. The first goal was to transit New Jersey and cross the Delaware, hoping that the 35 miles or so of I-78 would shake down any major issues.
At 6:53 AM, I crossed the first hurdle; the brand-new Pennsylvania welcome sign loomed over heavy construction on the Interstate 78 Toll Bridge. Now to just make it to Ohio, and perhaps I’d be home free. My dad figured that I’d have any catastrophic breakdowns between New Jersey and Ohio. Either I’d be on a tow truck home from Pennsylvania, or I’d make it to the Pacific Ocean.
After an early morning Wawa sandwich — my last grasp at the East Coast for two weeks — I headed west with the new day. I had one ear to any issues that might crop up as I wound through the Alleghenies. A few bon voyage phone calls along the way from friends helped with my anxiety, as I listened for every potential catastrophic failure. The copy of the promotional CD The Rhythm of the Road: Freelander Road Music I found on eBay that came with Land Rover Freelanders as a stereo test disc helped, too. It’s a wonderfully period collection of 2000s era music — basic pop and indie music that fit that vehicle and that time. I checked the oil, coolant, and transmission fluid every hundred miles or so, just to make sure it was all tickety-boo. Overall, the truck seemed to hold. My anxiety began to melt away.
I-80 wound west and became the Ohio Turnpike around 1:15 PM. By 6:00 PM I’d hit the Indiana state line. not bad for twelve cautious hours in an untested vehicle. At 7:15 PM, I was gazing out at the Discovery from a Burger King in a rest area on the Indiana Turnpike. Somehow, I’d already covered over 700 miles without even really noticing it. I looked at a map. I was feeling pretty good, considering how long I’d been on the road. The Disco was settling into a nice, smooth highway mode, and I was easily pulling 70-80mph. And…I’d gain an hour in Chicagoland when I crossed into Central Time. The Mississippi River was a little over 200 miles away. Well, that’d be a tidy and symbolic distance to cover in a day.
I got on the Hilton Honors app, booked the Hampton Inn at the Moline, Illinois airport, filled up the Disco, and headed west.
9:00 PM EDT became 8:00 PM CDT at the edge of The Region, the Chicago suburbs of Indiana which are the only parts of the state on Central Time, as they’re so tied to the Chicago economy. I crossed into Illinois at 8:30 PM CDT. Blaring the music of the just-deceased Avicii on the radio, I wove the Disco through late-night traffic. I-80 turned into the Tri-State Tollway, the western reaches of the EZPass system, and then at Joliet I was spit out into the Illinois countryside.
At 11:00 PM, I arrived at the Hampton Inn in Moline. I had 925 miles under my belt since I had left New Jersey 18 hours earlier. I peeked out the window at a quiet Quad Cities Airport, a lonely American Airlines CRJ-200 waiting on the apron for the morning flight, and konked out on the bed.