The Continental Pt. 14: Full Speed Ahead
(This article is part of the 15-part series, The Continental, written by Christie Grotheim with photography by Niklas Andersson as the couple takes a six-week road trip across and around the United States in their 1979 Lincoln Continental. Click here to catch up on the full series.)
After reaching the northwestern-most part of the United States well behind our original schedule, we could no longer ignore the fact that our trip was expanding while our bank account was shrinking. We had been somewhat spontaneous throughout the journey, but now we needed to focus on the goal at hand: getting back across the country quickly without further incident. Looking at the map was a little overwhelming—I hadn’t noticed before how much wider the nation is at the top. We had a lot of ground to cover, we would have some long driving days, and we would be pushing the Continental, our Cream Dream, longer and harder than ever before.
Our itinerary: Drive through Seattle, cross the Idaho panhandle and through the mountains of Montana to Yellowstone, continue through Wyoming to South Dakota, dip down to Nebraska and Iowa, back to South Dakota, through Fargo, North Dakota to the Northwest Angle (the northernmost part of the continental United States, which requires driving through Canada to a chunk of Minnesota then back again), and continuing through the Midwest via northern Wisconsin and Michigan…all within a week’s time.
And we were off to strong start. After taking in spectacular views of Cape Flattery in the tip-top of Washington, a real hidden treasure, we pushed The Cream Dream to her limit, driving all day to Seattle.
We parked her on the 11:30 p.m. ferry, and then pressed on through the heart of the city. The skyline was spectacular, but we wanted to keep moving. (Read: we could no longer afford hotels in the city centers.) We awoke to a mountain backdrop out our motel window.
The following night was spent in a trucker motel and bar in Missoula, Montana, getting to know the truckers entirely too well, and finally we made it to Yellowstone and set up tent. We explored the geysers, or “earth farts” as Niklas called them. Aptly so with their sulfur smell, bubbling mud volcanoes, hot springs gurgling, gaseous blasts of steam and misty vapors. They made sounds like inner crust belches; the earth was alive and breathing and it was an incredible natural wonder. And Old Faithful was faithful.
Aside from earth farts, we saw buffalo butts. Bison were everywhere; they dotted the fields, crossed the road when they pleased, stopped traffic. A mother and her big baby stood behind our car with their massive nostrils inches from our window. I followed one shaggy-faced old fellow plodding along for about fifteen minutes while Niklas frantically snapped photos out of the sunroof. It must have been quite a sight—us crawling behind him in the Continental.
Wyoming was a nice surprise and became my new favorite state. We took the scenic route, rather than the interstate, through Big Horn Basin. We coiled through orange cliffs and golden mountains, occasionally dotted with jet-black cattle and appaloosa ranches. The winding route put extra pressure on the car and added hours to our day—but she kept ambling along, carrying us across the countryside.
Our only stops were for gas—and there were many. Our car was insatiable; we were filling her up two or three times a day. As any classic car owner knows, the cost of gas is the last thing you want to dwell on. But it has to be said that though we knew in theory approximately how much we would spend on gas, theory is very different than the reality of shelling out fifty bucks at the pump a few times a day. Our motel standards had sunk even lower and our food intake was sporadic—the price we paid for driving that beautiful bohemoth.
So that is why in the town of Sheridan we got food from the 7-Eleven and checked into the most run-down motel we could find. From there we hit The Plains, or the plains. I could instantly see how they got their name. The amber waves of grain were pretty for about five minutes, but it was wave after wave after wave. We saw nothing but cornfields for three days passing through four states until I thought my eyes would bleed from the blandness.
We sped through South Dakota and popped down into Nebraska and Iowa—Niklas wanted to add them to his growing number of “states visited” in order to “get it over with so he never had to go back again”. He scribbled them in on our atlas as was his routine. Then back through South Dakota to North Dakota. Nothing but creepy conservative talk shows on the radio and more corn. Niklas felt like he was having an anxiety attack; I was having a boredom attack. He goosed it and the car responded—even she wanted to get the hell out of dodge.
We forged passed Fargo, snapping a picture of the sign, and made our way to the top of Minnesota. Crossing the border into more nothingness, we had breakfast in Canada for the sole purpose of a fun Facebook update. Gravel roads led to the upper nook of Minnesota, which ended in dirt parking lot full of trucks and campers. We had hoped to reach some hidden away lakeside oasis. No such luck.
The Northwest Angle is nothing but a quiet, swampy fisherman village with a couple of lodges for the old men who visit and one taxidermy-filled bar. So we raced back through Canada to the border, where they strip-searched the Continental at customs. We waited patiently as they took every item out of the trunk and helped them pack it all back in, a process we had down pat.
Propelling on through upper peninsulas of Michigan and Wisconsin, we discovered that the Midwest also produces a lot of the world’s corn. Passing between the Great Lakes, we caught glimpses of Lake Michigan and spent one night at a motel on its shore. But the Skyline Motel wasn’t as glamorous as it might sound. When we turned on the television, these words appeared in a caption in the center of the screen: “THIS ROOM HAS 2 CAMERAS IN IT THE OWNER WORKS FOR THE FEDS HOPE U HAVE A GOOD LAWYER GOOD LUCK AND SMILE”.
The all caps and lack of punctuation was as disturbing as the message itself. Our first instinct was to get naked and give them a good show. But alas, we were too tired.
While the Continental was performing better than ever, we were losing steam and low on energy. She persevered as we motored toward our last big destination before returning to New York, yet we were starting to feel that tug toward home. It tugged, she chugged. It pulled, she pushed. It beckoned, she blazed. Her six-foot hood aimed east, and her droopy headlight eyes looked toward home.
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Niklas Andersson is a lighting designer and photographer from Gothenburg, Sweden, who has recently set his sights—and lights—on New York City. With a passion for ’79 Lincoln Continentals and a love of the open road, he offers a unique perspective, from both behind the wheel and behind the lens.
Christie Grotheim is a New York-based writer whose personal essays can be found at Ducts, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and Smith Magazine. Though her workspace is in the West Village, she prefers writing longhand from the passenger seat with the world whizzing by and the wind in her hair.