Road Trip! 6 Incredible Cross-Country Journeys

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There's nothing quite like a road trip. You pack your bag, empty the change jar for gas money, grab a map (or not), and hit the highway, seeking adventure around every turn. And with summer upon us, there's no better time to strike out on your own to discover what life has to offer. If you need a little inspiration before you go, here are the stories of people who traveled across America, from sea to shining sea.

1. Escaping at 195 mph

According to his story on Jalopnik.com, when Richard Jordan's fiancée left him, he wanted to run away. So, Jordan did what any gear head would do—he sold everything he owned and bought a brand new sports car. But he didn't buy just any sports car. Jordan bought a $180,000 black Lamborghini Gallardo, featuring a 512 horse-power V10 with a top speed of 195 mph. With that kind of car, you can escape just about anything, including a broken heart.

Jordan roamed through the lower 48 states for over a year, with no particular place to go. He stayed in motels as he crisscrossed the nation three times. While he was out finding himself, the police found him, too—he was hit with 53 speeding tickets. But his driving record wasn't the only thing that took some dings by the time he finally returned to his hometown of Dallas.

While most used Lamborghinis have about 10,000 miles on the engine, Jordan's has 91,807 miles. And because the vehicle didn't receive all of the recommended maintenance a high-end sports car needs, it doesn't run anymore, either, leaving him with a really nice-looking paperweight. But to Jordan, that was a small price to pay for the experience.

2. Rolling Across America

At the age of 53, David Whittaker, a wheelchair-bound ex-Marine, was homeless and suffering from Congestive Heart Failure. With a poor prognosis, Whittaker made it his mission to do something positive with whatever time he had left. So, in May 2009, he set out to drive his motorized wheelchair from Key West (the southernmost point in the lower 48 United States) to Blaine, Washington (the northernmost point in the lower 48), spreading the word about homeless veterans everywhere he went. 

Moving at an average speed of less than 5 mph, his trip was slow-going. He was scheduled to be in Blaine by October, but mechanical setbacks, like 17 flat tires in Florida alone, significantly delayed his trip.  Then in November 2009, Whittaker was riding along the sidewalk in Long Beach, California, when a driver ran a stop sign and plowed into him, totaling his wheelchair and putting him in the hospital.  This unfortunate series of events meant he had to stop short of his final destination. But considering he rode from Florida to California in a wheelchair, while helping fellow veterans in need, it seems fair to say Whittaker's trip was a success.

3. The $10,000 Technicality

The year was 1896 and the Estbys—Helga, her husband Ole, and their eight children—were about to have their Spokane, Washington, house reclaimed by the bank. Desperate to save the family farm, Helga and her 19-year old daughter, Clara, set off in the hopes of winning a much-publicized wager from a now-unknown New York City fat cat. The wealthy bettor was willing to pay $10,000 to the first woman brave enough to walk across the country without a male companion.

The pair left Spokane on May 5, carrying little more than a compass, a curling iron, some red pepper spray, a revolver, and $5 between them. During their journey, to raise money to feed themselves and replace their worn out clothes, the women did odd jobs before moving on again. In this manner, they arrived in The Big Apple on December 3, 1896. However, the bettor refused to pay the $10,000 reward, claiming the rules stipulated that any takers had to arrive before December 1.

With no money to their names, Helga and Clara were stuck in New York City for the winter, but were able to return to Spokane in the spring of 1897. When they arrived home, the farm had been foreclosed and their family refused to speak to them, believing that the pair had run off to live in New York City.

4. One Wheel, Fifty States

To raise money for an Inuit tribe in Alaska, Lars Clausen jumped on his unicycle in April 2002 with a plan to ride across the United States. As part of his training, he kicked off his journey by cycling through Alaska, before then flying to Washington state to begin the long haul. For the next four months, Clausen rode his 36" unicycle for 50 to 60 miles every day. However, at one point in June, he broke a Guinness Record by riding 202.5 miles in only 24 hours. With this pace, he reached Ellis Island in August, having traveled nearly 5,000 miles.

But Clausen wasn't finished yet. Along the road, he decided to go ahead and break another Guinness Record by becoming the only person to travel through all 50 states on a unicycle. So he turned around and rode another 5,000 miles on a different route, back to Washington, helping him hit all 48 lower states on his round-trip voyage. With Alaska in the bag, and just a quick flight to conquer Hawaii, Clausen rode one wheel into the history books. His final tally: 50 states, 9,136 miles, and approximately 5,118,000 pedals, in only 205 days.

5. A Very Quick Getaway

Even if you don't have a lot of vacation time to spare, that doesn't mean it's impossible to go on a cross-country road trip this summer. Legally it might be difficult, but that didn't deter the first official "Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy" race, also known as "The Cannonball Run," that took place in 1971. Leaving from the Red Ball Parking Garage in Manhattan, eight teams of drivers made their way across the country by whatever route they chose in whatever type of vehicle they wanted, all in a race to reach the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California, in as little time as possible.

Because they were shooting for the best time, it should come as no surprise that four of the eight teams received a total of 12 speeding tickets, with one cited for going 135 mph in a 70 mph zone. But speed wasn't the only factor to consider, because the more you had to stop for gas, the less time you had on the road. To combat this, one van had a specially designed refueling system that could feed the fuel tank from one of five 55-gallon drums of gasoline sitting in the back of the van, all while the vehicle was cruising down the highway.

Dan Gurney and Brock Yates won the first official Cannonball Run in their Ferrari Daytona, covering the full 2,863 miles in 35 hours and 54 minutes at an average speed of 80 mph. That's an average speed, mind you, as Gurney was famously quoted as saying, "At no time did we exceed 175 mph."

6. Just Walkin'

Matt Green is walking. Just walking. He started walking at Rockaway Beach, New York, in late-March and will eventually stop walking in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. He pushes everything he needs with him on a modified baby stroller, including camping gear, clothes, and a cell phone, which he uses to update his blog, imjustwalkin.com, on a daily basis. But why is he walking, you ask? Green's not walking to save the whales or to find a cure for cancer. He's simply doing it for the adventure and the experience of a lifetime.

Because he's just walking, Green travels a reasonable 15 miles every day and even takes the occasional day off to rest. When he gets tired at night, he camps out in the woods, or asks a farmer if he can put up his tent in the front yard. He doesn't carry a lot of food, instead preferring to buy from local vendors whenever he gets hungry. However, he's also received a lot of free meals from strangers who welcome him into their homes or pick up the tab at the local diner. Occasionally they'll even offer him a comfy bed to sleep in that night.

Someday, probably in nine months or so, Green will reach Oregon. But for him, what's important is the journey. Really, though, that's what any great road trip should be all about.
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We know you've had some amazing adventures out on the open road. Tell us all the exciting details in the comments below.

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July 2, 2010 - 12:39pm
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