San Francisco to Chicago

San Francisco to Chicago

4237 miles

14 days

10th – 25th July 2014


On the 10th July 2014 I woke up on a rock in the Nevada desert next to Gino Maccio and a chipmunk.

Wild camping in the Valley of Fire

Morning, campers!

I'm really glad I'd woken up first because my face looked like a prune.

In fact, it looked worse than a prune.

Quickly, I opened my water bottle and splashed some (hot) water onto it to try and get a modicum of moisture back into my skin.

I heard a faint, hoarse cry from next to me and realised Gino was weakly reaching out for his water bottle. His lips had gone really thin and were kind of stuck to his teeth in that way people's sometimes do when they're about to pass out from dehydration. His eyeballs were so dry he couldn't even blink. He sat up, wide-eyed and managed to stutter out the question,

“Why the hell is it so hot?”

To which I, already irritated at being awake before 5am in what was seemingly a furnace, answered,

“MAYBE, Gino, just MAYBE because we're in the desert.”

It had seemed like such a good idea on the cool starry evening the night before. We'd wandered around for a while picking a beautiful spot where we could wake up to watch the sun rising. We were now rapidly realising the error of our ways.

We climbed down from the rock in complete silence and got all our stuff out of the car to pack up. Today was the day we were flying from Vegas to San Francisco to start our road trip to Chicago.

No sooner had we emptied the entire contents of our bags on the floor than literally out of nowhere a massive cloud appeared and emptied the desert's yearly supply of rainwater all over us.

We decided not to speak again until we arrived at Vegas airport.

Which we did 3 hours later. I'd insisted we booked with the cheapest hire car company. Turned out it was several miles away from the airport and so after we'd dropped the car off we'd been shuttled in on some sort of tractor. We saved $15 though. Ahem.

Upon arriving in San Fran, our road trip got off to a superb start as we drove our newly acquired red Kia Soul over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sadly, this was not our car.

This was 🙂

We stopped and bought our camping supplies and then we were on our way along Route 1 North.
First stop: The Redwoods.

The coastal redwoods are the tallest living things on earth!

We camped for the first two nights and cooked meals at scenic spots along the coast on our new camping cooker. By the afternoon of the 12th July we arrived in Portland. This would now be our 7th night of camping in a row (we'd been camping in Havasu Falls for three nights prior to this) and so I agreed to go halves on a hotel room. Sadly, to Gino's utter dismay every hotel in Portland was fully booked. After 2 hours of calling around, the Best Western in Cascade Locks informed him that they'd had a cancellation, would we like it? He was so excited he drove half the way there with the handbrake on.

We had a great day exploring Portland the next day. It's a really beautiful city, with over 5100 acres of temperate rainforest and the unofficial slogan to 'Keep Portland Wierd.' Highly recommend the food from a restaurant called Lardos and also Powells bookstore is definitely worth a visit. That afternoon we set off from Portland to Mount Rainier where we camped for two nights beside a stream at the beautiful White River campsite.

This little guy popped his head out as soon as we started cooking porridge for breakfast!

Mount Rainier is unbelievably stunning. G and I hiked the Sunrise Rim trail, climbing up to the Mount Freemont Lookout and visiting Shadow and Frozen Lakes. It was one of the best days I've ever lived.

Our next stop was meant to be Seattle where we hoped to go Orca whale watching for the day. However, in retrospect I may have taken slightly too long insisting I could make the tent fit back in the bag and we realised we didn't have enough time. Luckily, it all worked out magnificently as this meant we could go straight to Vancouver and see them from there instead.

At the USA/Canada border crossing

Arriving in Vancouver

The next day we caught a seaplane to Victoria and then got a boat to Haro Strait where we were soon surrounded by Orcas, also known as Killer Whales.

Leaving Vancouver

Landing in Victoria

We were standing on the boat looking out at the ocean when I turned to Gino and said, “G, wouldn't it be awesome if one just leapt out in front of us?” As if it heard me, a giant male orca leapt out about 3 metres away from us. With the reflexes of a cat I angled my camera to capture it only to be dismayed when the message 'Memory Card Full' appeared on the screen. Sadly, in all the excitement, while not managing to take a photo myself I'd also accidentally stood right in front of Gino who'd been just about to capture it on his phone… so here's our picture of the Orca swimming away:

We caught the sea plane back to Vancouver and then set off driving East towards Banff. We made it to a place called Kamloops at 1am after 7 hours of driving. At this point Gino claimed his ears were on the brink of bleeding and that he was unable to tolerate the sound of my music for a moment longer and so we stumbled into an extremely dodgy motel. We opened the door to our room to find all the lights on and the TV blaring out white noise. Gino suddenly became overly dizzy and his eyes started darting around all over the place. I was literally terrified. Convinced the room was haunted and that Gino was being possessed by a demon I demanded we leave immediately. However, G said he'd rather risk it with the demons than get back in the car with my Spice Girls/Boyzone compilation.

The motel seemed slightly nicer in daylight.


The following day we set off once again towards Banff. We arrived around 6ish. It's a really nice little town surrounded by beautiful mountains and lakes. As we were driving to the campsite there was a slight drizzle. No sooner had the raindrops hit the windscreen than Gino handbrake-turned the car around insisting it would be nothing short of impossible to pitch the tent in what would now undoubtably be a mud bath. He assured me there was absolutely nothing we could do other than stay in the 5* hotel complete with log fire, jacuzzi bath and full continental breakfast…

The next morning, while Gino caught up on his sleep, I stocked up on free shower gels and tea whilst pressing all the buttons on the remote controls and thus simultaneously turning on the fire, TV and radio and opening the curtains. Needless to say Gino soon woke up and we went to breakfast. Afterwards we explored Banff, spent a fortune in the chocolate shop, had a steak at Wild Bills and climbed Tunnel Mountain. We then headed South into Montana, USA in what was a pretty long drive. Gino was absolutely awesome and drove for over 10 hours straight, during which we planned how to redesign his kitchen, got chased by the sheriff for doing 32 in a 25 mph zone and learnt all the words to the Sound of Music soundtrack.

Gino with his speeding ticket

After 10 hours we arrived in Bozeman singing our little hearts out to, 'Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow…' It was 2am. Every hotel, motel, BnB, campsite, shack, shed, stable, manger was fully booked. We had no choice but to sleep in a car park. Now, I'm going to say something very wise. Listen up, take notes if you have to, this is going to be life changing:

No matter how cold or dark it is. No matter how spooky the parking lot. No matter how many Mosquitos are trying to bite you. No matter how much you just want to sleep. NEVER, I repeat, NEVER fall asleep in a car inside a polyester sleeping bag with all the doors and windows shut. You will wake up, like we did, in what I can only describe as a state of drowning without water. You will fall out the doors of your carbon dioxide filled automobile gasping for breath and sucking up the air through pouted lips. Innocent children going to their early morning swimming lessons do not need to see that.

We went to an amazing diner to rehydrate. I ordered a bowl of fruit. Gino, the most amazing corned beef hash you will have ever seen. I did my poor-starving-traveller-hasn't-eaten-for-a-year-longingly-gazing-at-your-food stare and he gave me half. Quick call at Granny's Donuts (if you're ever in Bozeman you HAVE to go here) and we were on our way east to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Calamity Jane has been my favourite film for as long as I can remember and I've always, always wanted to visit the misty mountains. Arriving there with G was wonderful. We pitched our tent at Recreational Springs campsite not far from Deadwood.

How to describe the Black Hills National park? Over the two days/three nights we were there, I got up early in the morning and went running through the most beautiful forests where deers would bound out in front of me, we read our books in meadows full of daisys, we swam in lakes, climbed up amazing rock formations, saw wild donkeys and mountain goats, waterfalls, the sun setting over the mountains… am I boring you yet? We also heard there were 450 miles of magnificent walking trails… NONE OF WHICH WE COULD BLOODY WELL FIND.

The map shortly before I 'accidentally' ripped it to shreds...

On our first night we ate at Lewie's Saloon and Gino ordered the best burger of our lives. He was really keen to return there the next evening, but I really wanted to cook our own. It's so nice cooking outside underneath the stars surrounded by meadows and trees. Gino didn't look quite so overamored standing next to the BBQ at 11'o'clock at night, starving, with nothing but a plastic spatula, a bag of coals that wouldn't light and a pound of minced beef whilst at the same time getting ravaged by Mosquitos. He went very quiet and I sensed the coals were irritating him as much as the map had me earlier. All of a sudden he picked up the fire lighting fluid (in a silent rage) and this happened…

Me WILL make fire. Me MAN.

Despite all this, it was worth it…
Photos from The Black Hills …

Gino out of his comfort zone...

Keep the beard, G!

On the 22nd July we left the Black Hills and began making our way towards Chicago with an overnight stay in Mason City (don't ever go very odd place).
We arrived in the beautiful Windy City on the 23rd July and promptly ordered shed loads of food on room service.
Today we've been out exploring and tomorrow it's the 25th July, the day Gino flies home (to celebrate his Mum's birthday, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MRS MACCIO!) and I fly to New York to meet up with Katie :-).
In case you fancy it, here's the route we did…
It wasn't hugely expensive to do either,
Car hire: $700 each
Camping equipment (tent, cooker, pans, sleeping bags etc all from Target): $70 each
Petrol: $3.50 – $4.00 per gallon
Campsites: $6 – $15 per night per person
Motels: $30 – $45 per night per person
Hotels: $130+ for the room
Burger: Average $8
Donut: Average $1
Listening to Gino sing along to 'Where have all the cowboys gone?': PRICELESS


One thought on “San Francisco to Chicago

  1. Another lifetime adventure within a year full of lifetime adventures! What an amazing trip, Laura, and yes, keep the beard, Gino!

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