Last summer, my family travelled cross-country to pick up our new 2017 Lexus IS 300 AWD at OpenRoad Lexus in Richmond, British Columbia.
My wife Karissa and I have done the trip before, back in 2014. That time, it was a mad rush — colliding schedules made it necessary to bomb across the country in five days. It was an adventure, compressed.
This time, our daughter Pepper will be with us. Having turned 7 in June, Peppy has done car trips, but nothing on this scale. We plan on roughly 12 days to drive from the West Coast to the Great Lakes, though the timeline changes as we progress.
One idea I have is to document the entire trip using a GoPro suction-cupped to the front windshield. It’s impractical to record all the driving, so instead I set it to take a photo every 10 seconds.
It all starts with a flight, from Toronto to the Vancouver airport. OpenRoad Lexus consultant Nikki Siu is there when we land, and immediately spirits us away to the dealership in Richmond.
When we arrive, the dealership greets us with open arms, showing us to our Atomic Silver IS 300 AWD already parked in the delivery bay.
The entire paperwork process takes next to no time at all. After a brief visit with the staff and a quick look at their showroom floor LC 500, we are off in our new car. Road trips of this magnitude require a certain mindset — all three of us are revving to get on the road, especially after a five-hour flight.
Back on our first trip through the Canadian Rockies in 2014, I had believed the mountain ranges would be beneficial in taking photos of my brand-new CT 200h. It was a major disappointment that stuck with me. To my chagrin, mountains are not the easiest subjects to arrange in a photo.
This is one of the key reasons for setting up the GoPro, and the results prove my point — majesty in nature does not necessarily translate to epic footage:
After the mountains, we spend three days in Calgary. This allows me to accomplish a few major milestones, including a 1,000km checkup at Lexus of Calgary for the IS and exploring the Royal Tyrrell dinosaur museum with the family.
The break also affords the opportunity to get to know my new car. It’s always exciting in those first two days, and I had already driven 1,200 kilometers (745 miles). I’ve driven the third-generation IS on many different occasions — in fact, I had driven an IS 300 AWD in the same color and configuration at the end of 2016.
Compared to the CT, the power of the IS 300’s V6 engine feels limitless. I quickly become used to the enhanced acceleration, and perhaps this leads to the most significant milestone that happened in Calgary — I get my first speeding ticket. In all my years of driving, I have never been pulled over. I pray this is not an indication of sports sedan ownership.
We pass over the border from Canada into Montana, soon enough our cell phone drops off the network. I have a U.S. SIM card and everything should be fine. There’s simply no coverage.
Montana is a pure joy for driving — no traffic, fast roads, beautiful scenery:
We make a point of stopping at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The very first National Monument in the USA (and famous for its role in the sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind), it’s here that Pepper signs up as a Junior Ranger, reciting the Junior Ranger pledge and receiving the Devil’s Tower badge.
The monument itself is so unusual — I like how Devil’s Tower reveals itself slowly as you drive closer, until it fills up your entire vision. I pick up my first stone chip here, and it’s a memory embedded into the front fender.
Arriving in Deadwood, South Dakota, I open my computer to do a little writing for the site. Instead, I discover that the entire central United States is under a severe storm warning — there are now potential hurricanes and hail storms between us and Kansas City.
I am, it should be said, an overly protective car owner. I have written before about my aversion to parking lots, and needless to say, damage from a major hail storm well exceeds my tolerance for door prizes. However unlikely, the stress of bad weather is reason enough to shift our trajectory.
The weather changes our path, but does little to dampen our enthusiasm. The next day has two memorable moments, one by design, the other by happenstance.
First is the Minuteman Missile Monument, where America has opened the doors to one of its first nuclear launch sites. We get to see the blast doors that would have shut, the keys that would have been used, the tools that would have brought about a nuclear winter.
I end up joining the Junior Rangers myself, and am alongside Pepper as we get our Minuteman badge.
Back on the highway, we start seeing these funny signs every so often alongside the road — here are some examples, pilfered from around the Internet:
Wall Drug is a sprawling mass of shops in a classic Western town setup. It was packed with people, and a Wikipedia search reveals a famous place with over 2,000,000 visitors every year. A tourist trap, discovered by accident as we drove through South Dakota. Absolutely wonderful.
We drive late into the night, determined to reach Minneapolis. The mental exhaustion coupled with an abundance of physical energy made for a high-pitched drive, but it was worth it — I was able to get footage of driving at night.
We spend two nights in Minneapolis, just relaxing. There’s a visit to the Mall of America, eating Shake Shack and going to the American Girl store. Karissa and I nerd out at The Container Store, I buy some Legos at a Walmart. We order a pizza delivered to the hotel. Just relaxing.
Eventually, the storm that chased us halfway across the American heartland catches up. When there’s talk of tornadoes in Minnesota, you know it’s time to go home.
As we leave Minneapolis, the scenery started changing — the world becomes less wide-open, with cities at regular intervals and traffic everywhere. We arrive in Chicago and spend the night on the outskirts, angled in a way to get us home the next day.
The storm finally hits us in Ohio, and the volume of rain is staggering.
Karissa and Pepper fall asleep in the back seat, exhausted by pure anxiety. I make steady progress, the rain a steady drumbeat as we enter New York State. From here, it’s all familiar territory, a worn path back to our home in Ontario, Canada.
Our new IS 300 AWD survives its baptism by fire, endearing itself as part of the family and surprising me as an owner. The upgrade from our old CT 200h is startling, as is the 3.5L V6 engine’s thirst for fuel. These are all stories that I’m eager to tell.
But every adventure must have an ending, and this one concludes with the three of us safe and sound after 5,500 kilometers (3,417 miles). While the magic of a cross-country trip may be the journey, there’s no denying the satisfaction of reaching the finish line.