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Driving Route 80 from New York to San Francisco


By David Wharton

For the daddy of all road trips, Interstate 80 is hard to beat. The legendary highway crosses the US from East coast to West, linking the two great cultural colossi of New York and San Francisco. 

This epic 3000 mile odyssey takes in eleven US states and joins many historic routes traced by the original frontiersmen, including the Oregon Trail, the Lincoln Highway and the first transcontinental railroad across the US.

Typically, this is a ten day trip for the devoted peripatetic, keen to follow in the footsteps of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty from 'On the Road'. However, unlike the two main characters from Jack Kerouac’s iconic novel of the beat generation, you’ll find many modern and convenient stopovers along today's route. Although they may feel more basic than the New York hotels you were cruising in the Big Apple, they are nevertheless invariably clean and welcoming. Besides, this is a road trip not a city break! 

Strictly speaking, I-80 doesn’t begin in New York but from the town of Teanack in the neighbouring state of New Jersey. The short hop to the start of your highway odyssey is made along Route 91 from the George Washington Bridge in the heart of NYC. 

Coming out of New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, the only way is up as the road rises to 2250 feet above the approaching sweep of the mighty Mississippi. The next stage joins the Ohio Turnpike, the Borman Expressway and the Indiana Toll road before reaching Illinois, where you finally cross ‘old man river’ at the unforgettably named Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge.

From thence, the great Iowa prairie with its waving wheat will start to open up, heralding the beginning of America’s bottomless bread basket, the great Midwest. If cabin fever sets in, then why not take a break at the world’s largest truck-stop, Iowa 80, where you can pause for a bite to eat and… see lots of trucks?

Nebraska welcomes you to the oldest part of the route as you follow the many thousands of migrant wagons that rolled along the 200-year-old Oregon Trail. Some of those seeking utopia were the Mormons who set up home in the adjacent state of Utah, now synonymous with The Church of the Latter Day Saints.

Leaving history and religion behind, book into Reno for a ‘flutter’ at some of the city’s famous casinos. Finally, the glorious Sierra Nevada white peaks are the gateway to the ‘sunshine state’ and your final leg to the west coast. The streets of San Francisco are in your sights.

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