Senior Road Trip – The Ultimate Road Trip to the Lower 48 States

The Adventure Begins and Ends and Begins Again in this 1966 Corvette:

Before I start, we need to go back in time.  Back to the summer of 1969.  A summer so great, people wrote songs about it.

My memory is a little hazy and possibly clouded by nearly fifty years of stuff that might make looking back a little more nostalgic and a little less factual, but one thing is certain, that was the summer of the “Senior Road Trip”.

I am Jeff Whitehurst.  I live in Austin, Texas, but I grew up in Middletown, Ohio.  Middletown was just like the name might suggest – small town USA, not the town described by J.D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy.  There were several paper mills, one steel mill, and if you look up Middletown on-line, it boasts some former governors, statesmen, financiers, Medal of Honor recipients, football stars, pro-golfers, Brooklyn Decker, industrialists, musicians spanning several generations, Jerry Lucas, and, as mentioned, author J.D. Vance.

Back in the 1960’s there was a tradition.  It was the “Senior Road Trip”.  Right after high school graduation, guys would pile into cars and head out on an adventure.  Thanks to Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys, most wanted to head out to California or at least to a beach somewhere warmer and sunnier than Ohio.

Eventually, these adventurers would return to Middletown to go off to college, go off to Vietnam, or go out to the steel mill to work for the next thirty years, and no matter what might happen later in their lives, they all returned with a memory that could not be erased.  It was a time when they were free.

Unfortunately, I have a different story.  I missed my senior road trip and you would think after nearly 50 years I would have forgotten about something this juvenile, but for those who know me, that is not the case.  I am just juvenile enough to need a “Senior Road Trip” and I am taking one.

Admittedly, this trip is with a Medicare Card in my wallet instead of a Draft Card, but one advantage to this delayed trip, at age 67, I can finally drive the car of my dreams.  Originally, that was a 1962 Corvette reminiscent of the TV show “Route 66”, but after two tries, that car morphed into a beautiful 1966 Corvette.

In 1969, I could not afford a “Senior Road Trip”, but if I could, it would have been in a rusted out 1964 Olds Cutlass convertible and I probably wouldn’t have made it more than one or two states before scrapping the car, disappointing my friends riding with me, and taking a Greyhound home.

Cars ruled, at least in the minds of young guys.  Cars also meant freedom and the Corvette was the ultimate car because it meant faster freedom.  I know this is not politically correct today, but in our minds, a Corvette also meant girls and for a guy with slightly red hair, blotchy freckles, and a voice that was struggling to find an octave to settle in, a Corvette was the dream.  It didn’t hurt that the TV show Route 66 had been a big influence through my junior high and high school years.

My first journey started May 4th with the goal of driving from Middletown to each capital city in the lower 48 states and do it in one summer.  So, I flew up to Ohio to pick up a 1962 Corvette.  This was not just any Corvette, it was a black on black mean sounding time machine with no power steering and no power brakes.  It did have one nod toward creature comfort.  Someone had added air conditioning.

For those of you who remember the 1960’s, we really didn’t need air conditioning because we didn’t perspire. We had Mitchum deodorant and it lasted for days.  Their commercials even said we didn’t need to shower every day.  We also didn’t have many health clubs back then because everyone had phenomenal upper body strength from parallel parking cars with no power steering.

The car also came with a very low tech millennial anti-theft system called a clutch.  That is a marginally funny joke about a generational difference from a time when you learned on a clutch to today where you need a hand held device to start your car, but I sympathize with a generation that views an extra peddle on the floor with confusion.  I have shared a similar confusion when I get loaner cars or rental cars and have to ask how to start the thing (and NO, it is not always intuitive).

I have searched over the past ten months for the right car and there have been numerous people who have been patient with me throughout my search.  First among all of the patient people is my extremely patient wife.  Note I didn’t say “understanding”, because she has never understood my obsession with cars, but she has been patient.

When my wife and I met, my car had two seats and a convertible top.  In 1984 I sold my convertible to produce two classic car posters – He Who Has The Most Toys When He Dies Wins and She Who Marries He Who Has the Most Toys When He Dies Also Wins.

After the posters, I started restoring another vintage convertible to replace the poster car.  My wife was still patient and still not understanding.  Then in 1986 my wife became pregnant and I still wasn’t finished restoring my car.  The finished car and my first daughter arrived at about the same time.  I still have the daughter.

Somehow, the two seats and convertible top transformed into a string of Volvo station wagons.  For the next three decades, I drove Volvos, Suburbans, and a Jeep, but that all changed on May 4th.

My journey was to begin in Middletown, Ohio and follow the route laid out by post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Randal S. Olson at the University of Pennsylvania.  I was to visit each state capital in the lower 48 states on the most time/mileage efficient route possible.  If crowd funding could have come through, I would have taken a side trip by ferry from Bellingham, WA to Juneau, AK to add the 49th state.

The charitable purpose of this epic “Senior Road Trip” was to raise money for Habitat-for-Humanity and draw attention to their build projects around the country.  I was even setting up a website up and utilizing social media to provide various links relating to this journey including the link for Habitat through www.habitat.org/route66.

As you can see from the earlier photo of the black 1962 Corvette in front of the Ohio State Capitol Building, the adventure started.  Unfortunately, it ended on May 10th.  It may have have been the troubled wiper motor, the faulty water pump, chronic over heating gremlins, and an ignition issue that ended with a 60 mile tow thanks to AAA.  Too many early glitches, several hundred dollars over planned budget, and a week behind on the schedule with only one capital city under our belt made the decision to end this specific dream very clear.

Then, out of nowhere, the red ’66 appeared in July.  I flew back to Ohio, jumped in the car and set out on the best “test drive” ever.  On Thursday July 12th, I picked up the ’66 at about 3:00PM and drove to Columbus to take the first picture with the Ohio Capitol Building and President McKinley in the background.

Then I headed for Frankfort, KY.  When I arrived, I felt great and the car was unbelievable, so I pointed the car toward Bowling Green, KY to see the National Corvette Museum.

The car and I arrived in Bowling Green around midnight.  I took a few pictures and felt the urge to head on to Nashville.  The car and I arrived in Nashville at about 1:00AM on Friday morning.  Although I had a place to stay (thanks Gail), I slept in the car rather than rudely knocking on their door at that hour.  Next thing I know, it is 4:30 AM and I am back on the road heading toward Memphis.

A picture in front of Graceland seemed like a good idea until I arrived in morning rush-hour, then my goal was survival and get across the Mississippi.  Before I knew it I was in Little Rock.  Best Capitol picture so far.  Thanks to the lawn crew who routed me around the building and right in front for a great picture.  Yes, there were signs saying “No Stopping of Standing” and the curb was painted red with stripes on the roadway leading up to where I parked, but the Capitol Police had a great sense of humor and didn’t run me off.  Thanks Little Rock.

From Little Rock, it was a blast driving to Dallas.  I spent the night in Dallas and hit the road the next morning for Austin and made it in time for my wife’s birthday.  As I said earlier, my wife is extremely patient, and yes, I did leave flowers and a present before I flew up to Ohio on the 12th.  And, yes, I know she will never understand why I would consider a 1,467 mile “test drive” so much fun.

Now the adventure continues with two defined loops.  First the Eastern Loop and hopefully finish the Western Loop in Phoenix, AZ when the temps are a little cooler.

Jeff Whitehurst