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Old 25th February 2014, 07:20   #1
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Default Driving expedition in the United States

During November – December 2013, I drove extensively in the United States. I had two main objectives : (1) to experience driving in the USA, and (2) sightseeing and meeting up with friends and relatives.

Let me share, very briefly, my experience with you.

First and foremost, any Indian driver trying to drive in the USA for the first time would soon realize that it is a totally different ball game. In spite of my vast driving experience in India and the typically Indian mentality that “if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere”, I found driving in the US actually quite daunting initially. Let me list some of the major differences :
  1. In civilized countries, you have to follow each and every traffic rule religiously.
  2. Left hand drive takes some time getting used to for those habituated to right hand drive. Things can get pretty confusing initially during turns, U-turns, getting in / out of service lanes, traffic roundabouts, exits, etc. Furthermore, crucial car controls like turn indicators, headlight / wiper control and gear lever are the other way round and one has to keep reminding oneself mentally so as not to goof up.
  3. Getting used to numerous traffic signs, traffic signals, road names, exit numbers, signs painted on the roads and other signages takes time.
  4. Getting into the correct lane at the right time is crucial.
  5. Changing lanes quickly and safely in dense and fast moving city traffic needs experience.
  6. And last but not the least, sticking to one’s lane and keeping the car always centered in the lane (including during turns) is a concept so alien to us Indians that it took me 4-5 days to learn, if not master.

Fortunately for me, I received about a week’s training under the guidance of my friend Anirban Banerjee before I ventured out independently. This training was invaluable.



Anirban with his wife Marge.
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My training started on 16 Nov 2013 by driving inside Denver and its suburbs in Anirban’s Toyota Prius. Drove about 50 miles in Denver.
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Inside Denver.
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The next phase of my training was driving Anirban’s Mercedes C280 from Denver to the Rocky Mountain National Park and back. During the training sessions Anirban always sat in the front passenger’s seat, guided me and pointed out all my mistakes. Drove about 200 miles.
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Beautiful roads leading to the Rockies (BTW, most roads in the US are like this).
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There are plenty of lovely lakes in the Rocky Mountains.
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Rocky Mountains.
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Rocky Mountains.
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An ancient church in the Rocky Mountains.
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Thousands of trees uprooted during the recent floods in Colorado.
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Lily Lake.
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Lily Lake (you can see that it is frozen almost completely).
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Lily lake.
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The last phase of my training was driving to Nebraska (North Platte and Sargent) from Denver and back in Anirban’s Chevy Silverado truck for a deer hunting expedition. It was an awesome experience to drive a 4x4 truck for the first time. Anirban sat in the trainer’s seat (front passenger’s seat) and guided me throughout. Drove about 600 miles during this last phase of my training.
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My friend Cdr Mathew George flew down from Chennai to accompany me for the deer hunting expedition in Nebraska. He had also planned to accompany me for the driving expedition from Denver to California, Arizona, etc., but had to return from SFO due to certain commitments.


Mathew George and Anirban posing with the Chevy Silverado during our drive to North Platte, Nebraska.
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At North Platte we met up with Anirban’s father-in-law Fred who is a quintessential DIY guy. Here he is posing in front of a vintage Ford which he is restoring.
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Anirban and George appreciating Fred’s workshop.
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Fred’s grandson Scott collects a few tips from his grandpa before escorting Mathew and me to Sargent for a deer hunting expedition.
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Driving from North Platte to Sargent.
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At Sargent we meet up with Scott’s uncle who too is looking for deer in his own truck.
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Scott’s uncle, Scott and I at Sargent.
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Looking for deer.
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Looking for deer.
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Looking for deer.
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Looking for deer.
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Deer sighted.
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We meet up with some more hunters.
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Toyota Tundra is another very popular truck in the USA.
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We had originally planned to take Anirban’s Mercedes ML320 for the deer hunting, but there was a problem with the alternator. So the ML320 was given to the Mercedes service center at Denver for repairs.


Here is Anirban talking to the Mercedes workshop manager.
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The ML320 being repaired.
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Last edited by debuda : 25th February 2014 at 09:52.
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Old 25th February 2014, 07:48   #2
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This 15 year old ML320, with more than 180,00 miles (2,90,000 km) under its belt, still looks pretty solid.
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A mechanic working on the ML320.
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View of the Mercedes workshop in Denver.
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By the time I drove back to Denver from Nebraska, I was reasonably well trained on the nuances of driving in the US. We collected the Mercedes ML320 from the workshop and got ready for my independent driving expedition.

On 23 Nov 13 I commenced my independent driving expedition from Denver in Anirban’s Mercedes ML320. Mathew George accompanied me as a passenger-cum-navigator till San Jose.

In the Rocky Mountains once again.
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Driving in winter has its own charm.
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In the US all roads are regularly cleared of snow / ice by the govt. Still, one has to watch out for freshly deposited snow and, especially, black ice which is very dangerous.
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Lovely ski slopes in Colorado.
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Still in the Rockies. Crossed the Vail Pass (10,662 feet) on Interstate 70.Driving expedition in the United States-usa037.jpg



These red stone structures are so typical of this region of the USA.
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Grand Junction, CO. We visited the Tourist Information Centre here. These information centres are available all over America, especially near places of tourist interest and provide information, free maps / brochures, free internet, rest rooms, etc.
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We continue driving towards Utah.
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On 23 Nov 13 I drove 358 miles from Denver and reached Green River, Utah for our first night halt.
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Started early in the morning on 24 Nov 13 and headed towards Nevada.
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The portion of US Route 50 passing through Nevada is known as The Loneliest Road in America. Between Ely, NV and Tonopah, NV there is a 167 miles ‘no gas available’ stretch.
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After driving 508 miles (817 km) on 24 Nov 13, reached Tonopah, Nevada.Driving expedition in the United States-usa047.jpg



Our hotel in Tonopah.
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Post Office in Tonopah.
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On 25 Nov 13 headed out from Tonopah towards California.
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Entered California.
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Do note that the Eastern part of CA is mountainous like Colrado, Utah and Nevada.
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Mono Mills (near Mono Lake).
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Mono lake has unique petrified springs and tufa.
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Tufa formations at Mono lake.
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Last edited by debuda : 25th February 2014 at 09:54.
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Old 25th February 2014, 08:11   #3
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From Mono lake we wanted to visit the Yellowstone National Park but gave up the idea when we found that Tioga Pass (and a couple of other passes North of Tioga as well) was closed. But we did enter the Tioga pass road and drove up to the point where the road was barricaded. The snow covered mountains on either side of this road appear to be within touching distance.Driving expedition in the United States-usa060.jpg



Lakes are ubiquitous.
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The trusty Merc ML320 in the ‘ghats’ of California.
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We decided to visit the ghost town called Bodie – near Bodie the usual paved (and smooth) roads just vanished and I had to drive for about 5 miles or so on an unpaved rough road.
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This stretch near Bodie was the only unpaved road I came across during my driving expedition in America. Probably it is deliberate – to add to the ‘effect’ of this old ghost town.
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The ghost town of Bodie.
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25 Nov 13 was a very tiring day because apart from driving 497 miles (800 km) from Tonopah, Nevada to San Jose, California we also did a lot of sightseeing along the way. As the mountain passes (Tioga and two others) cutting through Yellowstone were closed, I had to go far north of our originally intended route and drive to Carson City, Nevada before heading south-westwards and downwards. I must explain ‘downwards’ – during the complete 2000 km drive from Colorado to Eastern California via Utah and Nevada the altitude varied between 10,600 ft to a minimum of 5,000 ft or so. That entire part of America is like a high plateau. It is only when one approaches the plains (SFO is at sea level, obviously) one loses altitude rapidly through the mountains. It had become dark by the time we reached the ‘ghats’ of California but driving was not very difficult because road markings are very bright and prominent and everybody follows lane discipline. Also, unlike the ghats in India, in America they try to avoid constructing hairpin bends. They always try to make the bends less sharp (of course that works out much more expensive).

Driving on the deserted interstates and through small towns is one thing and approaching crowded urban centres is quite another. I realized this when I entered a freeway towards San Jose and SFO at around 9 PM. The traffic was very dense and fast (120 kmph) and merging into the freeway and changing lanes was initially rather daunting.



A Gurudwara at San Jose. This is one of the biggest Gurudwaras in the US.Driving expedition in the United States-usa067.jpg



I was fortunate to enjoy some fall colours in California even in late November.
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Pier 39 in San Fransisco.
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Traffic on the Golden Gate bridge.
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There are beautiful small roads through hills all over in Silicon Valley.
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A vineyard.
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Redwood forests.
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At the Golden Gate Park in SFO.
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At the Golden Gate Park in SFO.
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SFO and nearby areas get dense fog very quickly.
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Palace of Fine Arts in SFO.
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Many roads in SFO have very steep gradients and it is mandatory for parked cars to keep the front wheels fully turned such that the car would get stopped by the kerb if it starts rolling down.
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Old 25th February 2014, 08:38   #4
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The steep gradients of SFO.
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The Golden Gate Bridge obscured by the clouds / fog.
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Beach in SFO.
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In the USA one has to pump gas oneself in most gas stations. Even this activity involves some learning! In some gas pumps one has to lift a lever; some other pumps require the nozzle to be pressed down hard, etc.
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After spending a few days sightseeing and meeting friends in Silicon Valley and SFO, I restated my road trip towards southern California on 01 Dec 13. Mathew George went back to India from SFO and so I was alone during this leg of the expedition.


I chose the coastal route to drive towards LA as I had been told that it is very scenic. I wasn’t disappointed. The Pacific coast of California is beautiful. Let the pictures below do the talking.
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On 01 Dec 13 I drove 352 miles and reached Ventura. This is my room in Country Inn & Suites in Ventura. For $50 to $70 per night one can get decent budget hotels in most places along interstates in the USA.
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Typical road signs.
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Gas prices vary a great deal in America. I bought regular gasoline (petrol) from $2.60 to $4.10 per gallon at different places. Taxes vary from state to state and often in the same town gas prices could vary by as much as 10%. I routinely used a site called GasBuddy.com to identify cheapest gas stations.Driving expedition in the United States-usa101.jpg



A Firestone car garage in Ventura.
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On 02 Dec 13 it was a short (117 miles) and leisurely drive from Ventura, CA to Irvine, CA. The next couple of days were spent sightseeing at Los Angeles, Hollywood, Long Beach, Newport Beach, Balboa island, Laguna Beach, Irvine, etc.


Beverly Hills in LA.
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Fall colours in LA.
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Hollywood.
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Hollywood walk of fame has more than 2500 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks.
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A Police bike in LA.
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At the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood.
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The Queen Mary at Long Beach, CA.
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Old 25th February 2014, 09:27   #5
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At Newport Beach
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View of Newport Beach from Balboa island.
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Approaching Laguna Beach.
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Laguna Beach.
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Sunset at Laguna Beach.
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The ML320 at Irvine.
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On 05 Dec 13 I drove 380 miles from Irvine, California to Phoenix, Arizona.


Heading East towards Arizona.
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Ladakh like terrain in Arizona.
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In Arizona.
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Saguaro cactus – so typical of Arizona.
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After spending a night at Phoenix, I drove out to Sedona for a day trip and returned to Phoenix in the evening. The return trip was 233 miles (375 km). Check out some pics of Sedona below.
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Veterans receive a great deal of respect in America. Many highways are named to honour veterans. Interstate highway 17, which I used for driving to Sedona from Phoenix, is one such.
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At a fair near Phoenix.
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A mechanical bull inside a steakhouse in Phoenix.
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America is THE place for steaks.
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On 09 Dec 13 I left Phoenix, Arizona in the morning and reached Gallup, New Mexico (314 miles) by evening. On the way I spent a couple of hours sightseeing at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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An ancient petrified tree.
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Inside Petrified Forest National Park.
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It’s a 18 mile drive inside Petrified Forest National Park.
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The drive through Petrified Forest National Park crosses the historic Route 66.
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An old Ford on Route 66.
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One can see many different colours in the formations inside Petrified Forest National Park.
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I stayed in Motel 6 in Gallup. Only $40 but rooms are very small and facilities bare minimum. Avoidable, if one can spend $20 or so more.
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On 10 Dec 13 I drove 397 miles (639 km) from Gallup, New Mexico to Trinidad, Colorado. Interestingly, I passed through a town called Las Vegas in New Mexico (the famous casino city of Las Vegas is in Nevada).


Driving through New Mexico. Note the red stone hills.
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Old 25th February 2014, 09:37   #6
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Driving through New Mexico.
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Typical view in my wing mirror.
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Typical view in my rear view mirror.
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View from my hotel room in Trinidad, Colorado.
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On 11 Dec 13, the last day of my driving expedition, I started from Trinidad, CO and drove 220 miles to Denver, CO via Colorado Springs where I visited the Garden of the Gods. Check out few pictures below which I took at the Garden of the Gods.
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I had started my driving expedition from Denver on 23 Nov 13 and returned to Denver on 11 Dec 13. The 19-day expedition took me through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico and back to Colorado, covering 3,783 miles (6,087 km). During this trip I did a lot of sightseeing and met quite a few friends and relatives. But as a driving enthusiast what I enjoyed the most was the drive itself. I’d like to add here that I don’t feel alone when I’m driving because the car itself is company.


Taking into account around 1500 km of driving during my initial ‘training period’ (Toyota Prius, Mercedes C280 and Chevy Silverado truck), another 800 km I drove in a Volvo XC70 subsequently (in end-Dec 2013) between Chicago and Harrisburg, PA, and 200 km in a Toyota Camry between Harrisburg, PA and Philadelphia, PA (also in end-Dec 2013) my total driving in the USA during this trip adds up to about 8,600 km. It was a wonderful experience on the whole and also enabled me to check out, at ground level, some parts of the vast and wonderful country that is America.


None of this would have been possible without my friend Anirban Banerjee of Denver who not only put all his cars at my disposal but also took the trouble of providing me practical training over several days. Furthermore, during my 19-day independent driving expedition he acted as ‘Mission Control’ throughout by giving me (telephonically) latest weather updates, route guidance, hints & tips on sightseeing and even helping me with identifying economical hotels.


After driving so many good cars in the US when I returned home to Jamshedpur and drove my XUV, was it a disappointment? Thankfully, no. My XUV still felt quite competent. The main difference probably lies in long term reliability. Will my XUV still perform competently with 3,00,000 km on the odo? I wonder.
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Old 27th February 2014, 11:16   #7
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Default Re: Driving expedition in the United States

Mod note: Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photographs and report.
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Old 27th February 2014, 12:33   #8
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Let me be the first to comment and Rate this 5 Stars!

Mind blowing pictures debuda!!!!

just one question: is the US really this pristine? Its a wonder why would anyone wanna live in the big cities instead of the suburbs !
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Old 27th February 2014, 12:59   #9
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I've done the Pacific 1 drive multiple times and trust me it has to be THE most scenic drive on the planet. Its got a decent stretch in the hills and if you have a nice RWD car (I've driven there in a Mustang and a C300 among other regular rentals), it can be a lot of fun. Having driven a lot in the US and a couple thousand kms in Europe, I can tell you that Pacific- 1 is by far the best route i've ever seen.

Buxx, some parts of the US are really that GOOD.
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Old 27th February 2014, 14:31   #10
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It was so nice reading your travelogue and looking at the pics.
As as person who loves driving I could relate to your travel very much. I am also hoping that one day I will get to the US, get a license and see the country.

Dada, Please can you throw some light on how you could get a license or was it required etc. The transition from snow to sea to snow and back is wonderful. Route 66 was just wow!

Dont get offended but I did not like deer hunting part. Felt bad that we are taking some poor animal's right to live when we cannot give life ourselves.
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Old 27th February 2014, 19:28   #11
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Pleasantly surprised to see such a superb road trip along some spectacular scenery after some of your travelogues to the hills and plains of our country.

Completely agree that it is a different ball game alltogether driving in a foreign land but then one can grow up to it given the orderly nature of the ways of working in those lands.

It would be interesting if you can chart out a route map covering all the palces you covered during your road trip which could be a guide for many other BHPians in US and ones visiting to take up the same.

Keep the pictures coming, simply loving it!
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Old 27th February 2014, 19:54   #12
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Wow, you have made me home sick! Stayed in Denver for more than a decade and nice to see it again through your pictures. Used to drive to Pikes peak just with a couple of hours of free time. Roads in Western US are a dream and so much better than east that too without paying tolls.

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Old 28th February 2014, 00:07   #13
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Great Travelogue and pictures. Just one small correction, Tioga Pass (HWY 120) cuts across Yosemite National Park and not Yellowstone as you mentioned in the travelogue. Yellowstone is in Montana and Idaho states which is at least 1000 miles if not more away from Nevada/California border. You were in the eastern Sierra Nevada when you reached the Mono Lake and Bode etc. which are along HWY 395. Then to get to the central valley and onto SF Bay Area, you need to cross Sierra Nevada mountains which have snow during winter hence most of the passes are closed for the season. One has to drive all the way south till Mojave and take CA58 or go north towards Minden, CA and take HWY 88/89 across Sierra to South Lake Tahoe area to cross the mountains. Then there is I-80 as well which is major interstate route that is open year round but it is even further north from Mono Lake area.
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Old 28th February 2014, 02:52   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by debuda View Post
Let me list some of the major differences :
[list=1][*]In civilized countries, you have to follow each and every traffic rule religiously.[*]Left hand drive takes some time getting used to for those habituated to right hand drive. Things can get pretty confusing initially during turns, U-turns, getting in / out of service lanes, traffic roundabouts, exits, etc. Furthermore, crucial car controls like turn indicators, headlight / wiper control and gear lever are the other way round and one has to keep reminding oneself mentally so as not to goof up.

I would add few more things that i had noticed ofcourse exceptions would exist

1. You would hardly find people walking besides the road.Navigation system is your only help for all directions.
2. The way most people would stop on a cross road with no signal light is something that we dont stop even on a crossroad with a signal light.
3. Even If an Ambulance is coming from a road on the other side, all vehicles will stand still.
4. People stick to the lane even in traffic jam.
4. Speed limit is followed very diligently. The hidden speedgun installed at places + cops ensure that culprits are penalized. In my 600 mile road journey this month ( first road trip) , didnt find a single vehicle breaching the speed limit.
5. The maximum speed limit allowed that i noticed was 70-75 miles per hour. Imagine the temptation to speed with that kind of vehicle and road.
6. Cops are Cops
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Old 28th February 2014, 04:37   #15
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Default Re: Driving expedition in the United States

This is awesome! Really liked it! 5-stars.

Only disagreement? Your over-extended training period! I was driving like a cat on my 2nd day of driving in Palo Alto. I found the cities to be really tough because you have so many regulations (e.g if a school bus stops on an undivided single lane road and flashes a stop sign - traffic on both sides must stop to let the kids pass). Once you "get" it, there's no issue!

My consistent issues was one: figuring out the right exit in time on the interstate - because you're doing like 60-70 mph and its quite easy to be in the wrong lane, and miss it since you can't cut lanes at the last moment unlike India! (atleast I didnt want to). The paranoia of seeing stop signs everywhere and stopping properly was a minor headache, as was the "free right" concept - I was quite scared of doing it initially unless there was another fellow ahead of me doing it
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