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Saving Memories – My Coast-to-Coast Drive with an F-150

Greg Kachadurian June 29, 2017 Featured, Road Trip 25 Comments

It’s the most ordinary and least exciting thing I could have possibly gotten, but what led me to buy this 2002 Ford F-150 in California and drive it across the country was pure sentimentality above all else. Ford sold millions of these tenth-generation F-150s and there’s almost as many of them here in Georgia as there are Waffle Houses, so what was worth saving about this one Estate Green SuperCrew XLT located on the other side of the country?

Memories. It was bought new by my grandfather and then lent to us every summer when we flew out west to see family, so over the course of fifteen years we have several thousands of miles’ worth of memories and experiences in that truck. When it wasn’t needed anymore, I was given an opportunity to buy something I’ve loved since I was a kid and given an excuse to drive coast-to-coast to get it back.

Yes, there were easier ways to get it here and no, I don’t really need it. But logic be damned, I was getting it home.

The Backstory

Some of you are probably still wondering why this truck was worth all the effort, so here’s a bit more of the backstory. My grandfather got this ’02 F-150 SuperCrew XLT with the top-end 5.4-liter Triton V8 and all the towing upgrades available for the sole purpose of hauling a travel trailer and exploring America with my grandmother.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t put to its intended use for long before his travel partner had to bravely fight breast cancer to the end. Eventually the trailer was sold off and the truck spent most of its time sitting in the driveway.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my immediate family and I were responsible for a good portion of that truck’s mileage over the last 12-13 years. It had 37,000 miles on it when I took ownership and I would guess at least 5,000 miles are from me alone, plus another several thousand from the rest of my family. Almost every family vacation was spent in that truck exploring some of the most beautiful parts of California – I’m talking Yosemite, Big Basin, stretches of Highway 1, Pebble Beach, Fresno, and so much more.

I always liked spending time in that truck, but my first time at the helm about ten years ago made it official… I loved it. The power (more than I had experienced at the time), the noise it made, and the feeling of invulnerability I got from something that size made it too appealing for my sixteen-year-old self to not love. And the fact that its 5.4-liter V8 was at least somewhat related to the engine in the Ford GT of the time only added to its cool factor.

After that, I took every opportunity I could to drive it somewhere – anywhere – during those one or two weeks per year when I was out there. Soon it was jokingly called “Greg’s truck”, and now it really is.

Knowing how much I loved it, my grandfather gave me right of first refusal when he decided he truly didn’t need it anymore. The truck I had fallen in love with all that time ago still had a special place in my heart, so I couldn’t say no. After a reverse haggling battle, the keys were handed over and the fun part began.

Preparation

Even before a deal was made, I started thinking about what needed to be done before putting more mileage in a week than this truck would usually see in a year. Turns out, not a lot needed to be done besides replacing the tires which were going on seven years old (don’t drive on old tires, people) and getting a pesky weatherstripping seal replaced to fix a leak.

That stupid seal damn near gave me a heart attack when I went to drive it a few months prior and hearing water slosh around inside the cab. Water had leaked in and accumulated inside the door sill, but it’s not an issue anymore. The only outstanding issue at that point was the power-adjustable side mirrors which quit working at random.

I then had to stuff this truck with as many things from my late uncle’s estate as I could while also working around the tonneau cover, which while good for securing the bed and keeping it safe from the weather, forced us to be creative to get the big things inside. Long story short, there was a big [empty] liquor cabinet stuffed where the rear bench seat used to be and a bunch of paintings in the back taking up almost every square inch.

So to recap on the story so far: I’m about to drive a big truck across the country, I have no rear visibility, my side mirrors can’t adjust anymore, the truck gets 19 mpg highway, and it’s in the middle of summer and I’m crossing deserts. Alright time’s up, let’s do this!

The Drive

With everything loaded up, I first drove it over CA-17 into Santa Cruz one last time, just like we did as kids, and went up the stunning Pacific Coast Highway to Pacifica and eventually all the way up to Brisbane for the inaugural Radwood. But first, to make it sort of official, I had to stop at Pacifica State Beach and go stand in the Pacific Ocean to mark the “start” of this trip. For some silly reason, I was about to literally go from one coast to another in a big truck, and in that moment even I was wondering if I had gone mad. I had decided that I was indeed not smart, but I of course continued anyway.

Radwood had a fantastic showing for its first year and I’m thrilled to have been there. It attracted some rad 80’s and 90’s cars and some even more rad people to hang out with on a Saturday morning, which is to say it deserves to be an annual event for the rest of time. I also want to thank Bradley and Cam for allowing me to ruin their podcast with my dumb voice again.

With the first ever Radwood in the books, I picked up my participation trophy and left for Los Angeles for a family event. As I drove this truck out of the Bay Area over Pacheco Pass for the last time – just as I had done many times going between family in San Jose and Fresno – I actually started to feel bad for it.

This beautiful place with its perfect year-round weather was a great home for it, and here I was taking it to the stormy and uncomfortably humid Georgia. If that truck was a sentient being, it’d be locking the parking brake on the way out in desperation – at least, that’s the kind of thing going through my head after hour two on the scenic I-5 in the San Joaquin Valley.

Once in Los Angeles, I had just enough free time to finally check out the Petersen Automotive Museum (can’t recommend that enough) and play tourist on the Santa Monica Pier in the evening. That would be the last time my truck saw the Pacific.

The next morning I got to learn a new definition of hot and drive through Death Valley on my way to Las Vegas. I’d always prefer a dry heat to the hot and humid summers we get in Georgia, but the desert’s cruelty is real. Once in Las Vegas, I met up with my father who flew out to help me drive the rest of the way… after showing me how to not go broke or die in Vegas.

In addition to walking around some of the major casinos and seeing the general weirdness of a town designed to separate people from their money, we also went to the Shelby Heritage Center to look at pretty cars and tried to go spotting near Nellis Air Force Base.

Having survived Vegas, we left bright and early for what would be our longest day on the road. The goal was to reach Albuquerque, NM by the end of the day and make the tourist’s detour to the Grand Canyon. As we crossed into Arizona, the changing landscape made for a more enjoyable drive than I was expecting. The main draw to driving across the country is seeing new parts of the world for better or worse, and Arizona turned out to be one of the big surprises.

The rocky terrain at the Nevada/Arizona border almost looked like that of another planet’s, and even when the landscape opened up and things became pretty barren again, it was still new and beautiful to someone who’s in that part of the world for the first time. But then we got to the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park…

If you’ve never been, just imagine the largest thing you can possibly think of – a mountain, a body of water, or a diesel truck parked at Bass Pro Shops, for example. Whatever it is, the Grand Canyon is bigger. Being slightly afraid of heights, looking down at the mile-deep and miles-wide canyon was one of the most nerve-wracking but awe-inspiring experiences of my life. Nothing can prepare you for just how freakishly massive this place is.

Driving out the scenic way to Flagstaff for our dinner stop only confirmed it even further. For about an hour, we were able to glance over to our left and still see parts of that big hole in the ground. When we finally lost sight of it, we then had the snow-capped Humphreys Peak off in the distance to help guide us the rest of the way into Flagstaff.

The rest of the drive into Albuquerque would have been the most boring haul imaginable to normal people, but I was still loving it. One thing I don’t get on the east coast is the wide open spaces that are found out west. Forests line the roadways out here so that all you see are trees, trees, and more trees, but you have unobstructed views of everything from I-40. Navajo country was especially beautiful with its scattered rock formations showing their sunset colors and that continued all the way into New Mexico until the sun went down.

It was a fifteen-hour day with at least eleven of those in the truck, but I think it was my favorite leg of the whole trip. Having a literal open road stretching as far as the eye could see in front of me is what I’ve been dreaming about, and there it was. We were in the middle of nowhere but still had so much to take in. Fortunately the truck ran perfectly while hours from civilization despite suffering power loss at around 7,000 feet.

The next morning we said goodbye to Albuquerque and their hot air balloons and set a course for Dallas, TX. This is where the wide open expanse of nothing started to get a bit boring. In Arizona and parts of New Mexico we at least had some interesting terrain to keep things interesting, but that all went away the closer we got to Texas.

Stopping in Dallas was mandatory for me since that was my first home. I have nothing but good memories of growing up in Dallas for the first seven years of my life, but for some reason this was my first time coming back. I got to meet with internet friends, see our old house, my old school, and be absolutely bewildered at how much the area has changed. Our neighborhood used to be out in the country, but it’s been developed beyond recognition.

After Dallas made us feel old, the next destination was New Orleans, another place I haven’t visited in over a decade at least. With another eight hours on the road out of the way, it was time I finally got to see the weirdness of Bourbon Street. Take all the debauchery and general strangeness of Las Vegas, add some public indecency, and cram it into a couple city blocks and you’ve got Bourbon Street.

The coolest part of our stay in New Orleans though was definitely the World War II Museum (formerly the D-Day Museum). We went there as a family years ago, but it’s since tripled in size and has truly become a world-class museum. We happened to be there on a VIP day and geeked out hard when a docent casually name dropped Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, and said he was somewhere in the building. We never got to meet him, but boy did we try.

We loaded up and set off for the final six-hour drive home. At this point, everything on the truck was still perfect. There were no warning lights, no hiccups, and not even a hint of trouble as we crossed into the welcoming asphalt of Georgia. As we pulled into the neighborhood around midnight, the magnitude of what we just did really started to hit.

I’ve gone cross-country by air so many times that I hardly think anything of it anymore, but doing it by land was so much more personal, more engaging, and more fun with the freedom to stop anywhere that looked cool. Normally I’d be going over most of the country with my eyes closed, but I had just gone right through the middle of it all at ground level with a truck I was thrilled to finally call mine. I was over the moon with joy as we got it home, but I wasn’t even technically done yet.

Because I wanted to literally go coast to coast, I finished up by taking the truck down to Savannah, GA the next weekend. This time I had my rear visibility back and my mother to help make it official. We found a little beach just outside of Tybee Island that I could drive up to, and it was there that I had done it. “Starting” from Pacifica, California with my feet in the Pacific Ocean and “ending” in Tybee Island, Georgia with my feet in the Atlantic Ocean, my six days on the road came to an end.

Closing Thoughts

Because I was too dumb to record everything properly, I’ll put the final tally at around 3,350 miles, about 180 gallons of gas consumed, and 0 problems encountered. Everyone we met in these new and beautiful places along the way were extremely kind and helpful and at no point did we feel out of place, even when we were thousands of miles from home with a truck from another side of the country.

It was about as smooth of a coast-to-coast drive as I could have ever hoped for and a lot of that had to do with my father who braved the majority of the drive with me. Having someone to share driving duties with was huge and I don’t think I could have done as much each day on my own. Should you do a drive like this someday, which you should, find someone to share the experience with.

As for the truck, it’s another 3,350 miles of memories between us now. When I first climbed in all those years ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be calling it mine someday and driving it the long way home. The more time I spent with it each summer, the more I started thinking of it as a companion rather than just another one of the millions of F-150s on the road. So when I went through all this effort to bring something as mundane as an F-150 all the way across the country, it wasn’t to just save a truck – it was to save a friend.

If you made it this far, you get it. Thanks for reading.

[Images © 2017 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian]

  • Grand tour indeed. I liked the “reverse haggling”, and that your dad still could show you something in Las Vegas.

    Good luck with keeping her on the road!

    • Greg Kachadurian

      Thanks for checking it out! And another benefit of having my dad there is that he’s an airline pilot who has been to all of these places multiple times. We didn’t do much on the Vegas strip, but he made sure we didn’t go anywhere too weird lol

  • Stephen

    Great read man. I’m all about preserving the sentimental things, especially when they’re that functional and reliable.

    • Greg Kachadurian

      Thanks for reading!

  • CraigSu

    I’d say someone just ticked a bunch of boxes on their bucket list. Well done! And what a beautiful truck!

    • Greg Kachadurian

      Thanks! We got pretty much everything done along that route, but I’ll definitely be returning to some of those spots anyway. It’s a neat country we got here

  • Uwe

    Great write up of a great trip!! Glad the truck and all of its cargo (incl. people) made it across the country safely. Enjoy!!

    • Greg Kachadurian

      And thanks for helping us get it in there! 🙂

  • Lisa Figini

    Thank you Greg for sharing this experience and memory with us. It was an awesome read. I am glad you and your friend are together again!

    • Greg Kachadurian

      And thank you for reading! 🙂

  • longrooffan

    A garage filled with, and a head full of, life long memories. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience with us.

    • Greg Kachadurian

      Of course! And thank you for reading through it!

  • Rover 1

    It’s stories like this that make Hooniverse. Thanks.

    • Greg Kachadurian

      Thanks for checking it out and I appreciate the kind words 🙂

  • Victor

    Nice truck and a nice story.

  • Victor

    New content @Atomic Toasters.

  • robbydegraff

    love this

  • MattC

    First off, that is a good looking truck. That generation were the last of the Ford F150’s that didn’t feel like you were driving something truly massive. I look forward to the updates as the truck settles into your life.

    • Greg Kachadurian

      I agree, it’s absolutely one of my favorite generations. I don’t have very many plans for it right now other than basic maintenance and making sure all the rubber seals are still good (since it rains a ton in Georgia), but there will be updates as I can make them. Thanks for reading!

  • David Buckley

    I’ll Echo all of the other comments, just by saying Roadtrips make the best travellers tales.

    Great toe-to-toe story-telling.

  • dukeisduke

    Very cool. So is that a 2-valve 5.4, or the 3-valve? And yes, the Dallas area just continues to get bigger and bigger. I grew up in Dallas in the ’60s, and now I live out on the fringe of the Metroplex. The freeways and toll roads are pretty decent, so getting somewhere isn’t usually a big hassle.

    • Greg Kachadurian

      Ha, so I realized I’m like 2 weeks late with this reply, but the VIN tells me I have the 2-valve. Looks like they started transitioning to 3-valves just after mine was built. And yeah, getting around Dallas wasn’t too bad at least… still surprising though.