Friday, January 2, 2015

Great American Road Trip 2013: Take 1 Kirksville to Las Vegas, NV

As OMS3 (third year medical students) we are gifted our last actually Christmas Vacation for more or less the next ten years. Last year we took full advantage of those precious fourteen days off and ventured off for A Great American Adventure!

Google Maps only lets you add 10 destinations!
Along the way we learned a ton of invaluable lessons, saved a few lives, ate a ton of great food, saw amazing sights, nearly broke a tailbone and drove over miles. Here are a few stories, tips and recommendations for planning and inspiring your own amazing road trip. 

Leaving Kirksville, MO on December 20th, we had 1,500 miles to drive and five states to cross to arrive in Las Vegas, NV on Christmas Eve and meet up with our classmates and friends.Our drive began uneventful enough, we got out of the clinic and hospital on Friday the 20th around noon and were off and on the road around 2pm. Destination: Kansas City, MO.

We couldn't resist, great place for elk selfies 
Lessons Learned Early on:

  • Pack before the day of
  • Do NOT drive across Kansas in late December 
  • Have fun everywhere
  • Do NOT rely on Pandora/iTunes for music
  • Pick one hotel chain with great rewards program and stick with it 
  • Plan, plan, plan...but don't freak if the plans change

Crossing Kansas is not a great idea in late December. The weather changes in the blink of an eye, clear to rain, sun to snow, and even clear to instant frozen roads. Just west of Junction City on day two of our great adventure we were faced with a life and death situation: the road dipped, the air froze and the road surface froze instantly on Route 70 and coming across the median of the four lane highway was a white jeep flipping end-over-end. 

As medical students, and with my EMS background there was no option. Pray the jeep didn't hit us, stop the car, grab a coat and run. Run to the overturned jeep, check for fluid leaks, engine on? occupants trapped? anyone thrown? No, ok. Slip under the jeep and find two boys, teenagers. One conscious and the other pinned in the drivers seat barely breathing. Other motorists were joining us, some helpful others shocked. With the help of a physical therapist we unbuckled and carefully released the driver, opening his airway and protecting his spine. I gathered their information from the passenger, also pinned but conscious while the driver came around. We had to keep them warm in the newly starting snow fall and keep them talking and awake. By the time EMS arrived (they had to get through a highway full of accidents and sliding cars to reach us) we had assembled a veritable conference of medical professionals on the highway median: medical students, physical therapists, army medics, an ER physician, two paramedics and a nurse. 

Thankfully the rest of Kansas was uneventful. But we did find a new burger joint obsession! Check out Freddy's Steakburgers and Frozen Custard, best patty melt and shoestring fries. This is what inspired me to start a Yelp account. 

Colorado is a beautiful state, and while I expected to immediately encounter mountains I was surprised at the flatness of the eastern side of the state.
Somewhere on Route 70, Colorado 
Our hotel chain of choice for the trip, and in general, is the Drury Inn and Hotel, a Saint Louis, MO based hotel chain. They have a super fast reward program and hotels all throughout the United States. The worst one we have every stayed in (been in a ton of them) was in Denver, CO. 

Even though we were moving fast and crossing states as quick as possible, we still took some time in each one. Our big stop in Colorado was partly due to the weather, and partly because heck, we were there. Vail, CO is beautiful! One big regret from this trip is not getting to ski while we were there, and my camera lens getting messed up without me knowing it. But we enjoyed ourselves in the Olympic Village and found the most amazing restaurant selection for dinner. Also, my Sorel boots are from Vail, an early Christmas present. 

Overlook on Route 70 in Utah

Colorado Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda
  • Ski in Vail, they do have an option to ride the lift the the top of the slopes for non skiers too!

Utah, oh Utah. My brother and his wife need to go spend a month backpacking through the parks in Utah. One of the highlights of the trip was by far seeing Arches National Park in person. Growing up watching National Geographic, Travel Channel and Animal Planet with my dad has instilled an amazing respect for the natural beauty of the United States, and my god they barely touch the surface. Spending the day in Arches made it bearable that we had to drive by Zion at night to reach Vegas by Christmas.

South of Route 70 in the Moab desert is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The weather in December is chilly, but mild compared to the regions we had just driven through. A light scattering of white snow highlighted the amazing palate of colors of the landscape. 

Road leading up and around from the park entrance 

Check out those boots!

Yes, Utah is slated as its own weeklong road trip adventure for the future. I don't know how, but driving through the night we arrived in Las Vegas late that night and had a great dinner with our friends, red footie pajamas and all.

Fremont Street under the tent
Las Vegas, The last time I was here I was seven years old and had a great time with my Great Aunt and Uncle, my mom and cousin Lauren. It was summer time and hot enough to fry an egg on the asphalt! 

This time around I was twenty-seven and traveling with my boyfriend and our very pregnant friend, her husband and diamond-roller dad. Christmas in Las Vegas: tons of amazing decorations, special buffets and so many Asians! I still can't get over the sheer number of Asian American people that travel from California for the holiday to Sin City. 

We got hooked up with a suite at Caesar's Palace for two nights (amazing!!!) and enjoyed the sights, food and a even a little gambling. 

Yes, this high roller made back 600% on my dollar in the penny slots. The longer you sit there the more drinks the lady in the little outfits bring you, and penny slots are the cheapest way to do it. 

View from the top of the Tropicana

There is an awesome little club on top of the Tropicana, The Ghost Bar, and while it cannot be included in the list of top Vegas bars it's worth the visit for the view and the more affordable drinks. 

Keep an eye out for the Great American Road Trip: Take 1 Vegas to Texas!