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Summer road trip stories: Long days on the road

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Published: January 27, 2011 at 11:39 AM

What's the longest you've ever driven on one day of a road trip?

We set the Niles family record last summer, with a one-day haul from suburban Cincinnati to Celebration, Florida. The trip took 15 and a half hours and covered 915 miles. But that's still not my personal best. I covered 1,000 miles from Orlando to just beyond Houston in one day during a epic three-day drive from Walt Disney World to Disneyland in the 1990s.

But driving solo's much easier to make great time and rack up the miles than driving with a family of four. Especially when you've instituted a no-meals-in-the-car rule. (Four people eating in a car gets nasty, fast.) Traveling with three others, people talk during meals. Which is nice, of course, but adds 10-20 minutes to your mealtime "pit stops." And as much as you might hope for it, four people rarely all need to go to the bathroom at the same time.

Driving a Prius, we stopped for gas just twice on the road between northern Kentucky and Central Florida. And the second stop - at the entrance to the Florida Turnpike - could have been a "splash and go" had we cared about shaving every possible second from our trip time.

I love getting an early start on long-haul road days. If the sun's up before I'm on the road, I consider myself having started too late. Knocking down 10, 50 or even 100 miles before dawn leaves me feeling like I'm ahead of schedule and able to relax for the rest of the day. The anticipation of a long road trip gives me an adrenaline rush, too, so I might as well spend that by hitting the road ASAP.

So I set the alarm for 4:30 am and had the family in the car with wheels rolling by 5 for our trip to Orlando. While I was awake and ready to roll, the rest of the family merely did the zombie shuffle from their beds to waiting blankets and pillows in the car, which we'd packed the night before. Laurie stirred around 7 and by 8, we stopped in Jellico, Tennessee for her coffee and our breakfast at a Starbucks.

We ate lunch in suburban Atlanta, enjoying our first Chick-fil-A's of the trip. (There are none anywhere near us in LA.) We filled the gas tank and Laurie took the wheel for our drive through Georgia.

While I've done up to 1,000 miles in the driver's seat in one day, having someone else take the wheel for a spell helps keep me from going to a very weird place once I get out of the car. On my three-day trip from Disney to Disney, I remember the most vivid and bizarre dreams I've ever had during my brief nightly hotel stays. My brain couldn't simply turn off from the hyper-vigilance it needs while driving super-long stretches.

With Laurie driving, I didn't sleep, but I could let my attention wander and my concentration evaporate, giving my eyes and brain a welcomed rest. A little bit before 5pm, we were crossing the state line into Florida, on our way to arrive in the Orlando area as the sun set.

Florida sunset

Please share your story about favorite (or at least memorable) long day on the road, in the comments.

Readers' Opinions

From 166.77.6.4 on January 27, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Back in July '06 I was on the third day of a solo cross country trip from New York to Seattle. This happened to be the longest driving day of the trip, covering almost 900 miles from Lincoln, NE to Ogden, UT. While driving on the most desolate stretch of I-80 in Wyoming, nature called in the most urgent of ways. I held (clenched) it for miles between exits, many of which had no services. Finally I got off at an exit where there happened to be a small mom and pop gas station. I pulled up only to find out that the restroom was out of order. Desperate and running out of time, I hopped back in the car, drove back towards the on ramp trying to figure out what to do. That's when I spotted a very large rock just off the road between the on and off ramps. With perhaps seconds to spare, I parked the car next to the rock, grabbed a roll of toilet paper (which I fortunately happened to have in the trunk) and squatted down behind the rock, completely hidden from view. I finished my business as quickly as I could, got back in the car and right back onto the interstate. As if that wasn't enough of an adventure I encountered a pretty intense sandstorm later that afternoon. I sometimes think back to that day and laugh about how I left a piece of myself in Wyoming. Thanks to the anonymity of the internet, I can finally share this otherwise embarrassing story.
From Mark Migliaccio on January 27, 2011 at 1:39 PM
2 years ago we had planned out our trip to Disney and my GF was going to sleep for the first part of our trip down to Orlando from Virginia. Well, a few days prior I was working in a graduate lab at my university taking apart a faraday cage and I left a 1/2" drive socket wrench and a screwdriver on a ladder. I went to move the ladder and the screwdriver hit me in the head. I then remembered about the socket wrench a few milliseconds before it also beaned me. I'm not feeling too bad except for a little sore head. So then two days later and a few hours into the drive the concussion fairy decides to give me horrible nausea and killer headaches. 13 hours and 8 tylenol later we got to Orlando. That was one of the worst roadtrips ever.

Don't worry though a few days later I was fine.

From Terry O'Neal on January 27, 2011 at 2:25 PM
It was 1988, I was 6, my brother was 9, and my mom and pops were taking us to Disney World. It was to be a three day skidattle from Muskegon, Michigan to Orlando. We were rarin' to go, and we got into the car full of excitement. My dad bought my brother and me all kinds of toys to play with, maps to look at and other stuff to do. Well, after 40 minutes, we were done and ready to be at Disney World. I don't remember much of the trip itself, but I can be annoying on a car ride now, so I bet my parents had enough after 5 minutes of complaining. In Holland, 45 minutes south of Muskegon, and still three long days away from, they took us to IHOP and had a little chat. "Look, I realize you're excited, but this trip is going to take THREE DAYS..." I'm not sure how I reacted, but it seemed to take forever. I remember waking up lying on the floor of the car behind my mom, somewhere in Georgia. It was hot. We did eventually make it to our destination, and in case anyone was thinking I was done being annoying, I took my old man on the Haunted Mansion 10 times in one day. He got me back by taking me on Space Mountain just once time. Kept me off roller coasters for years.
From Anthony Murphy on January 27, 2011 at 5:08 PM
8 hours to the Mall of America! Woo Hoo!
From Cooper Snapp on January 27, 2011 at 5:40 PM
When I lived in Cape Canaveral, FL I would regularly make the drive from there to St Joseph, MO in one day. It would take on average around 20 hours or so but there was one winter that I was coming back from Christmas and got caught in a snow storm that seemed to follow me the entire way. That one ended up taking near 26 hours. I believe that was the last time that I ever did it without dividing it up into a 2 day trip with a stop near Nashville, TN. Those were all solo now with the family the longest that we do on a regular basis is from south of Houston, TX to St Joseph, MO. That takes us just a tad under 13 hours as long as Houston traffic doesn't slow us down.
From Eric Malone on January 27, 2011 at 7:54 PM
Luckily, I live about roughly two and a half hours from Disney and three from Universal, with good traffic, so it's nice to be able to get there and back home in less than half a tank. I still don't take the trip often, though.

Anyway, the longest road trip I've driven is the annual trip I take to Alabama to visit relatives. This usually takes about ten hours, including a stop for lunch and the odd bathroom stop. Not nearly the kind of hours some people here have put in, I'm sure, but I'd probably get there in nine hours or less if Georgia traffic wasn't terrible. I think Georgia interstates are in a perpetual state of construction or refurbishment. Once I get into Tennessee, it's smooth sailing.

Now, I've had worse for airline trips, but that's probably for another topic.

From Robert Niles on January 27, 2011 at 11:15 PM
That reminds me that we were making cracks all day about the stunning quantity of blown tires and other refuse piled on the sides of the road throughout Georgia last summer. Does no one ever clean the roads in that state?
From 67.136.50.22 on January 28, 2011 at 10:09 AM
I love road trips. There is just something about being behind the wheel and watching the miles increase. When i go places driving i like to drive as far as possible in one day to get to the destination faster. Last summer my wifes parents invited us to go to the Oregon coast with them. They own a 35 foot motor home and pull a Honda pilot in back of them, they are about 55 feet in total length. I love driving big, long things like that so i was excited to drive for a long time. We left in Ogden UT and our first day included a drive of about 500 miles, not as long as some of the others have driven but this was different because of what we were driving. Anyway we left about six in the morning and did not pull into the RV park in Le Grande Oregon until about six thirty that night. When you average about 60 miles per hour and a ton of bathroom breaks with an 18 month old who is potty training it takes for ever. But again i love just getting on the road and driving. Hopefully one day we can get a nice long drive in though.
From 173.162.139.169 on January 28, 2011 at 2:04 PM
last February we took a family trip to WDW from our home in N.H. We did the drive back home in 24 hours. We left the Caribbean Beach resort at 8 am on Saturday and the keys hit the door to our house just after 8 am on Sunday morning. (1,350 miles) and aside from gas/bathroom breaks we only had 1 stop to eat dinner Saturday night.

I hadn't planned on driving straight through, I wanted to drive until I got tired but by the time I started getting tired I was only about 5 hours away from home. The last 2 hours were a real challenge but at that point it didn't make sense to to rent a hotel room so close to home so I had my wife stay awake and talk to me...Which you would think would put me to sleep but it didn't :)

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