Day 6:  Wednesday, 1998-07-01:

Now things were going to get complicated.  Until then, my route had been primarily one of following the inside perimeter of the states on the outside perimeter of the 48 states.  When planning the route, I had stared at the map for over an hour before concluding that Kentucky was going to be the toughest state to get.  I just couldn’t plan a route that efficiently went through it.  So I had to do a several-hour out-and-back loop to get it.

I left the hotel in Virginia and continued southwest on I-81, crossing in to Tennessee (#31).  I then took I-181 north to Kingsport, then US 23 back in to Virginia, then US 58/421 west through Stickleyville and USR 421 finally to the border of Harlan County, Kentucky (#32).  I then backtracked all the way to I-81 in Tennessee, and then took I-181 / US 23 the way down to Asheville, North Carolina (#33), finally hitting I-85 in South Carolina (#34).

Before leaving on the trip, I had prepared a tentative list of where I wished to be at the end of every day’s driving, a sort of rough framework on which to hang my schedule and maintain some idea of whether I was getting around the country fast enough to make it back to the San Francisco airport on time to fly to Hawaii and then Alaska.  I had planned to cover a lot of miles on the second day, through Idaho and especially Montana, but by the end of the day had found myself about 6 hours and 400 miles behind my proposed schedule, all of which explains why I skipped the hotel and just napped for two hours at the end of the third day.  On each subsequent day, I tried valiantly to make up the time and the miles, but seemingly no matter how focused I stayed, or how long I pushed before stopping for the night, I always seemed to be the same 6 hours and 400 miles behind my proposed schedule.

By the time I left South Carolina, I was starting to get worried about whether I could complete the trip.  I started trying to make alternate arrangements.  I figured that once I got to Four Corners, I would have completed the lower 48 states, and thus if I needed to fly from Phoenix, say, back to San Francisco in order to make my flight, then I would still be meeting the trip’s goals.

I got on my cell phone first to Southwest Airlines.  My plan was to drive to Phoenix directly after catching Colorado and Utah at Four Corners.  I figured I could drop off the rental car at the airport on Saturday morning, and fly to San Francisco in time for my afternoon flight to Hawaii.  They had a flight with the right schedule, although it was fairly expensive.

Then I called the rental car company.  Because the car was locally owned in San Jose, they’d have to send someone down to Phoenix to pick it up.  Therefore, if I changed my drop-off location, they’d not only increase the daily rental rate to $99, but they’d also tack on a huge drop-off fee.  Too expensive.

Then I started planning a different way to do this.  I figured that if I parked in the car in the long-term lot at the Phoenix airport, then bought a round-trip ticket to San Francisco, I could fly to San Francisco on Saturday morning and complete my trip normally and still get back to work on Monday morning.  The following weekend, I’d use the other half of the round-trip ticket to fly back to Phoenix, pick up my rental car in the long-term parking lot, and drive it back to the San Jose airport to drop it off.  This seemed like a better idea, the only hitch being that I’d have to sweat it out for a full workweek in San Jose, knowing that I had a rental car parked in another state, with both the parking lot meter and the rental car meter ticking away.  I kept the idea in the back of my mind and waited to see how things developed.

Then I went southwest on I-85 through Georgia (#35), where I skirted Atlanta on I-285, then caught I-65 southwest in Montgomery, Alabama (#36).  Just before passing the western edge of Florida, I did a short out-and-back loop on SR 21, south through the town of Atwood, and got Florida (#37).  Now I’d completed the third leg of the journey, having made it to the southeasterly point on the driving route, and only had the southern crossing ahead of me, plus a couple of straggler states in the center.  Time was still tight; I was in Florida on a Wednesday evening, and I had a plane to catch in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon, less than three days away.

Back on I-65 heading southwest, I crossed in to Mississippi (#38), then Louisiana (#39), then headed north on I-55 and found a hotel room in Jackson.

The tally for the day was 9 states and 1,212 miles.

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