In 2007, Mama (Fay Lankford) and her best friend (Sue Jester) decided to take a road trip. They traveled together often, but usually with a group of seniors. This time, it would be just the two of them traveling across the country together. Sue mapped out the trip which would have them traveling through 17 states in 17 days. They left Atlanta on October 15, traveled west to Las Vegas, Nevada, and returned home on October 31.
Prior to leaving, Sue determined what routes they’d take, how many miles they’d travel a day, and where they would stay at the end of each day. She created an itinerary that included motel names, addresses, and phone numbers and shared it with Mama, who gave a copy to me. She had broken the trip out into 34 cities to help keep track of where they were. They didn’t plan to stop at every city. They rented a van and Sue drove the entire trip.
|I tracked their trip against Sue's itinerary|
|The first page of Sue's itinerary|
Mama took on the task of managing expenses. They set a budget of $1600 each for a total of $3200. All expenses would be split 50/50. They had an emergency fund of $400. The daily budget was $20 for food, $30 for a motel room, $25 for gas, and $25 for miscellaneous expenses (snacks, drinks, etc.). To keep track of what they spent, Mama put the daily allotment of money into 34 envelopes—one for each day of the trip for herself and Sue. They split the money as they went along. Mama kept track of her envelopes and Sue kept track of hers. When they stopped for gas, they each pulled half the cost out of the envelopes for that day. They did the same for the motel, and other expenses. Mama said there were envelopes everywhere. What they didn’t spend went back into the envelope to be used towards paying for the rental van. They decided to stay at motels in the Choice chain which offered a free night after two stays and provided a continental breakfast for their customers. When they arrived at the motel, they would make reservations for the next night before they did anything else. For lunch, they made sandwiches with lunch meat, bread, and mayonnaise they brought or possibly stopped at a fast food restaurant for take-out. They brought snacks for in between meals. A stop at a grocery store would be all that was needed to replenish food supplies if they ran out. For dinner, they planned to eat at a local restaurant once they stopped for the night. Before leaving Atlanta, they bought a U.S. Park Pass which got them into the national parks. They both loved to fish so at the end of the trip, they planned a deep-sea fishing trip in Panama City, Florida. Sue made reservations at their usual motel in Panama City at a cost of $50 per night.
Mama kept a diary during the trip which included the times they left each day, what routes they took, the sites they saw, including anything unusual, when they stopped for gas and ate, and even when they stopped for bathroom breaks. Mama laughed when she told me this and said they took a lot of potty breaks.
Mama has always sent postcards to me when she traveled and she didn’t forget me on this trip. I’ve included them in this blog post since I don’t have any pictures to share from this road trip.
By the way, both Mama and Sue were in their mid-70s when they made this trip.
Day 1 (Monday, October 15): 405 miles
1. Atlanta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee – 115 miles
2. Nashville, Tennessee – 127 miles
3. Paducah, Kentucky – 163 miles
They left Atlanta on day 1, heading north. After traveling through Tennessee, they stopped and spent their first night in Paducah, Kentucky.
Day 2 (Tuesday, October 16): 422 miles
4. St. Louis, Missouri – 169 miles
5. Kansas City, Missouri – 253 miles
Leaving Kentucky on day 2, they skirted through Illinois on I-24 and I-57. During this leg of the trip, they saw beautiful rock formations and cedar trees growing out of the rocks. They crossed the Mississippi River, stopped and fixed a sandwich, and then crossed the Missouri River. They saw the Gateway Arch as they drove through St. Louis. Mama enjoyed seeing the arch.
Day 3 (Wednesday, October 17): 455 miles
5. Kansas City, Missouri – 25 miles
6. St. Joseph, Missouri – 54 miles
7. Lincoln, Nebraska – 143 miles
8. North Platte, Nebraska – 233 miles
Before they left Missouri, they stopped at a gas station and Sue struck up a conversation with a woman. I don’t know what they talked about but the woman ended up giving Sue eight bell peppers from her garden before they left the gas station. Mama and Sue crossed the Mississippi River again that day, made it to Lincoln, Nebraska, and then did what many people do—went shopping at the local Walmart where they picked up stamps and other miscellaneous items. It rained on them as they headed out of Lincoln. They stopped for the night at North Platte, Nebraska which is where Mama wrote her first postcard, which depicted St. Joseph, Missouri.
Day 4 (Thursday, October 18): 530 miles
9. Ogallala, Nebraska – 53 miles
10. Bridgeport, Nebraska – 122 miles
11. Custer, South Dakota – 166 miles
I-90 – 83 miles
12. Buffalo, Wyoming – 96 miles
By day 4, the temperature had dropped to 48. The speed limit was 75, but I imagine they didn’t drive that fast because the wind was so strong you could feel the car swaying. They saw lots of tumbleweeds rolling across the road. In fact, they lost the temporary tags on the van during a wind and sand storm that day. They crossed the Cheyenne River and made their way into Custer National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They stopped at the Crazy Horse Memorial, a monument that was under construction. They left the Crazy Horse Memorial and went back to Custer before finishing up the day with a drive to Buffalo, Wyoming. Along the way they saw buffalo and wild turkeys.
|Hey, boy did we see the corn. As far as you could see. Love, Mama|
|Thurs. Oct 18, 2007. This is where we went today. Drove thru 50 mi. winds. Lost our temp. tag. We are in a Nissan van rental. Tonight we are in Buffalo, Wy. Love, Mama|
Day 5 (Friday, October 19): 438 miles
13. Worland, Wyoming – 90 miles
14. Cody, Wyoming – 90 miles
East to West Gate – 50 miles
15. Idaho Falls, Idaho – 109 miles
Weather was not their friend in Wyoming. They could see snow on the mountaintops and drove through snow in the Bighorn National Forest. Mama noted in her diary that they saw four turkeys that day and stopped for food at a drive-thru in Cody, Wyoming. They drove through Yellowstone National Park. Just as they started that leg of the drive, it started snowing. They kept going and saw a small bear, buffalo, and deer. After they got out of Yellowstone, they went to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Sue wouldn’t get out of the car there so Mama took pictures and they moved on. Mama enjoyed seeing Mount Rushmore. As they drove back down the trail/mountain, they saw long haired white mountain goats or sheep.
Day 6 (Saturday, October 20): 409 miles
16. Salt Lake City, Utah – 211 miles
17. Beaver, Utah – 198 miles
On day 6, they drove through rain and snow. Mama said they didn’t see any cell phone towers anywhere and were out of communication for several hours. They stopped in Beaver, Utah for the night. Total mileage at this point was 2283.6 miles.
|Sat Oct 20, 2017. Hey, come thru Salt Lake City today. It was rain and snow showers as we came thru. Snow there Sunday. Off to Las Vegas in the morning. 209 miles. We’ll get there early. Love you, Mama|
Day 7 (Sunday, October 21): 226 miles
18. St. George, Utah – 105 miles
19. Las Vegas, Nevada – 121 miles
On day 7, they woke up to a dusting of snow. It was cloudy and 33 degrees when they left the motel in Utah. They must have crossed into Arizona for a short time where they stopped for gas and hit a sandstorm. It was 63 degrees when they crossed the Arizona state line. They arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada by lunchtime, checked into the motel, and then started looking for an old friend from Atlanta, Sarah Slaughter. Visiting Sarah was actually the reason they decided to take the trip in the first place. Sarah was very active at the senior center back home in Jonesboro, Georgia and everybody loved her. Mama said she was the sweetest thing. They never got to see Sarah though. She had apparently had a light stroke before they arrived and was at a unknown rehab facility at that time.
When they arrived back at the motel, they asked a staff person where they could find a nice restaurant. He directed them up the street to what I believe was Morton’s The Steakhouse. That meal ended up costing them $80 each, well above their budget. Mama said it should have been a dead giveaway that it would be an expensive meal when they saw the man dressed in a tuxedo standing at the door.
|Monday, October 22, 2007. Went here today. 2 nites in Vegas. Out of here Tue. Marie just passed out on Dancing. Don’t care for Vegas. It’s wall to wall people, taxis, and limos. Love, Mama.|
That evening, Sue didn’t want to go to the casino so she dropped Mama off and went back to the motel to watch a Braves game. Sue picked Mama up when she was finished at the casino. Mama was watching Dancing with the Stars as she was writing the Las Vegas postcard. I checked the cast list of the program and yes, Marie Osmond was on season 5, fainting after her performance the fifth week.
The plan was to stay in Las Vegas for another night. They found out that the motel had a Hoover Dam tour package so they signed up for it and visited the dam the next day.
Day 8 (Monday, October 22)
When they got to Hoover Dam, there were a bunch of marines standing around the dam that day. Mama believes it was some kind of movie studio setup and they were taking pictures of the marines. Mama was amazed at how big the dam was. They spent that night in Las Vegas.
Day 9 (Tuesday, October 23): 402 miles
20. Kingman, Arizona – 113 miles
21. Flagstaff, Arizona – 143 miles
22. Phoenix, Arizona – 146 miles
Heading out of town, Mama remembers the land being very flat. She saw lots of long, long driveways and ranch signs. They spent day 9 driving through Arizona.
Day 10 (Wednesday, October 24): 431 miles
23. Tucson, Arizona – 112 miles
24. Lordsburg, New Mexico – 157 miles
25. El Paso, Texas – 162 miles
They left the motel that morning at 8:27 a.m., driving through a dust storm. Mama noted the temperature being 77 degrees as they left town. She remembers passing cotton fields, something that she was surprised to see. After they crossed into New Mexico, a state trooper came up behind them with his siren on and lights blinking. They pulled over thinking he wanted them to stop, but luckily, he was after someone else that day and kept going.
|Wed. October 24, 2007. Spent the night in Phoenix, Arizona. On our way to El Paso. Drove thru New Mexico. Crossed Continental Divide 3 times on our trip. I’m tired of these mountains. We are on I-10. Bye, Mama|
Day 11 (Thursday, October 25): 350 miles
26. Ft. Stockton, Texas – 241 miles
27. Sonora, Texas – 109 miles
By day 11, they had driven 3764.2 miles. They stopped to eat at the Iron Skillet. When they got back on the road, they discovered the speed limit was 80. They did 65. Mama noted in her diary that at mile marker 173, a rock hit the van windshield at 11:35 a.m. while following a truck. It made a little nick in the window but no major damage. They saw a power windmill and oil wells pumping in Wild Horse, Texas. That day it was clear and 76 degrees.
Day 12 (Friday, October 26): 360 miles
28. San Antonio, Texas – 160 miles
29. Houston, Texas – 200 miles
The miles are mounting—now at 4132.5. They stopped for gas at 8:45 a.m. then got on I-10. They stopped at the Alamo once they arrived in San Antonio but since there was no place to park, they snapped a picture and kept going. They arrived at the motel in Houston at 4:30 p.m. It was sunny and 75 degrees.
Day 13 (Saturday, October 27): 451 miles
30. Lake Charles, Louisiana – 146 miles
31. New Orleans, Louisiana – 205 miles
32. Biloxi, Mississippi – 100 miles
Mama and Sue ate breakfast at a Waffle House on day 13, the first one they’d seen since leaving home. Mileage was now at 4523.3. They got on I-10 as they headed to Biloxi, Mississippi from Louisiana, crossing the Sabine River. They planned to spend two nights in Biloxi. Temperatures ran between 50 and 60 degrees that day. Mama remembers the sun being bright—she described it as brutal.
Day 14 (Sunday, October 28) was spent in Biloxi, visiting the casinos I’m sure.
Day 15 (Monday, October 29): 243 miles
33. Mobile, Alabama – 100 miles
34. Panama City, Florida – 143 miles
Driving time was short on day 15. They got on the road at 8:32 a.m. heading to Panama City, Florida. Mileage at this point was 4948.3. Once they arrived at Panama City, they stopped at the pier and bought tickets for their deep-sea fishing trip the next day. They stopped at a grocery store, picked up a few items, then headed back to the motel where they ate a cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup and took a nap.
Day 16 (Tuesday, October 30) was spent going deep-sea fishing in Panama City.
Day 17 (Wednesday, October 31)
It was finally the last day of the trip—283 miles to home in Georgia. Mama told Sue she had to be home before dark. By the time they got home, the total mileage in 17 days was 5,405. I tracked Mama and Sue all along the way, marking my map with a pink highlighter each day. The numbers above track to the numbers on the map. They didn’t spend a lot of time at the sites but they enjoyed seeing them. They also enjoyed spending the time together. I asked Mama if they played travel games during the trip. She told me, no, they just talked to entertain themselves. She enjoyed the whole trip. She liked having the envelopes with money for food etc. and playing the budget game to see if the money worked out like they planned.
Sue passed away on January 6, 2016 and I know Mama misses her a lot. Mama lost her traveling buddy when Sue died. They traveled extensively together, all over the country as well as several international trips. Mama recently told me she cusses Sue for dying on her sometimes. They still had rocking chair memories to make—including a trip to Nova Scotia that they had talked about but not planned yet.
- Amanda Jester obituary; https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/amanda-jester-obituary?pid=177198691.
- Hoover Dam; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Dam.
- Maria Osmond; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Osmond#Dancing_with_the_Stars.
- Personal memories and postcards of Fay Lankford.
- Trip itinerary prepared by Sue Jester.