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Roadtrip Review: Scenic Boston Drive

March 30th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Personal

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I’ve traveled by car to many a place over the years, and for the most part I do so by simply plugging the destination into some form of GPS (whether it be my iPhone or separate Garmin unit) and following the route it spits back at me, of course I walways look for the best insurance companies to back me up, lately I have had an insurance from and it has worked pretty well for me. Just make sure before you get insurance, you have to compare traders insurance. This of course takes me on highway after highway, shooting me through the main arteries of the US interstate system and getting me to my destination in the shortest amount of time possible. While this is nice, it’s also rather tedious fighting all that traffic and, well – it’s boring. It’s one thing if you have to be some place by a certain time, but it’s another matter entirely when you have an entire day to travel to your destination – an entire day for a 5 hour trip. Now we’re talking possibilities.

So it was with great pleasure that I sat down for an hour or so and started to look for a way to get to Boston from New Jersey that wasn’t along some huge highway whose only view was the mass of cars in front and behind me. I started on Google Earth, looking at the various roads that wound north and west through New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. I was checking via the satellite images that the roads I was choosing were highways without a lot of intersections and traffic lights, since the majority of roads I was looking at were minor county routes. Once I had the general idea of where I wanted to go, I loaded up Streets & Trips on my laptop to plug in the various waypoints that would generate the final route path and tell me how long the trip would take.

The final result (which you can view above), after a tiny bit of tweaking, ended up at roughly 8 hours of travel time, which was more than doable for a day’s worth of travel in my book. How did it turn out? I left the house at approximately 7am and arrived in Boston at around 3:45pm. The weather was exceptional considering that the weekend turned to crap the next day – my temperature gauge hit 65F at one point and the average temp for the drive was around 56 (so I had my windows cracked a lot of the time). The drive could have done with more sun, it was mainly cloudy. As for the roads… well:

Garden State Parkway -> NY State Thruway


So I’m pretty bad at remembering to check traffic reports before starting out on any kind of long-distance road trip (which is pretty fail considering how easy it is to do these days with the maps app in my iPhone) which means that I usually get stuck in at least one bad traffic jam. Fortunately this happened really early in the trip, so it wasn’t so bad. Turns out this is what the Garden State Parkway north-bound looks like on weekday mornings. And I had chosen not to go over the George Washington Bridge to not get caught up in any jams. Bah! I was expecting high volume, yes (it is still rush hour after all) but coming to full stops? No. This is where I lost about 30 minutes of travel time.

Once past the jam, volume lessened as I approached the NY/NJ border and then merged eastward on the NY State Thruway that led me over the Tappan Zee Bridge. I realized then that I had never driven over the Tappan Zee before.

Taconic State Parkway -> Taconic Trail

Taconic State Parkway

Once I got on the Taconic State Parkway the real road trip began. As the Wikipedia article states, the highway was built to “offer scenic vistas of the Hudson Highlands, Catskills and Taconic regions”. As you can see from the image above, it did this very well. The entire highway was just one curve leading to another, providing for a very active driving experience (as opposed to just tooling along tucked in behind a line of cars in a pretty straight line on a major highway) and in its early miles the curves are especially twisty. With a speed limit of only 55mph and tons of places to hide however, it’s also a NY State Trooper’s favorite hunting ground. I must have seen about 13 trooper cars – fortunately all were already pulled over or trapping in the opposite lane (one poor sod had three trooper cars pulled over behind him!). Even still, I managed to hold myself at around 65mph – although I was passed by two cars at separate times doing at least 80 – perhaps 90mph. I tried to let them lead and flush the fuzz out, but the highway was too twisty to keep them in sight far enough ahead of me to do any good.

I would highly recommend a trip along this road if you ever get a chance and are not too “claustrophobic” – meaning the road can be very narrow (no shoulder) at some points. Another great thing about the road is that once you’re a couple of mile north of the start the traffic thins out to be almost non-existent and it’s just you, the road, and the beautiful scenery spread out all around you. So that’s pretty awesome.

The Taconic eventually ends at I-90, so I was forced to find another road to continue my northward travels. That turned out to be state route 22, which was a lazy two-lane roadway that wound up around the foothills of the Taconic Ridge and eventually led to the Taconic Trail, which climbed up and over the Ridge. I was fortunate to have a clear run the entire way up the mountain, zooming around turns and taking the short straight stretches up to 60mph, all the while soaking in the sights of the mountains surrounding me (as best I could of course – driving was priority numero uno!). I actually passed the sign that said “Welcome to Massachusetts” as I topped the ridge and started heading down. There was still snow on the ground, although the roadway was in fine shape, which lent to the scenery even more.

Mohawk Trail -> SR-8A

Mohawk Trail

Once over the Ridge and down into Massachusetts, it was on to the Mohawk Trail that winds along the northern mountains of the state. Again, more twisty mountain roads but what really made this part of the route stand out was when I entered Mohawk Trail State Forest and ended up on a sweeping road that wound right alongside what I believe is the Cold River, with mountains sloping up either side and evergreens shading the roadway. Even better was the river was really roaring thanks to all the melting going on up atop the mountains. Beautiful.

Eventually though, after the forest, the Mohawk Trail flattens out and becomes a bit less interesting from a driving perspective. Luckily there’s state route 8A that twists back up into the mountains, heading north for Vermont. This turned out to be a true mountain road, mainly consisting of a single paved road with no center line and many a treacherous corner to navigate. As you would expect, it was by and large deserted of any traffic whatsoever.  Obviously I didn’t want to go to Vermont, so I had to hop off 8A eventually to trek back south-east to hook up with the Mohawk Trail again – fortunately that road was just as twisty heading back down.

It was also interesting seeing some differences in rural lifestyle up in this part of the country. For example, instead of the normal white US Postal mail trucks I grew up with down here, they have regular cars with a yellow light with “US POST” lettering on them. The same deal for school buses – instead of the normal long (or even short) yellow bus, they have mini vans or SUVs that carry the school bus sign with lights atop their roofs like a taxicab! It all made sense for a low-density area that dealt with harsh winter conditions, but I guess I had never thought of that before. Of course you don’t want a 40-foot school bus navigating some of these roads.

Onwards to Boston

After returning to the Mohawk Trail via rt-112, it was a straight shot eastward along rt-2 to the outskirts of Boston wherein lived the friend I was staying with for the weekend. This was by and large the “boring highway” once again, but there was really no avoiding it at this point. I had had my fun and now it was time to bring the trip to a close. Rt-2 is a decent highway, a lot of it is 2-lane but every couple of miles it turns into a 4-lane (or one side gets and extra lane) so that slower traffic can be passed. There are also plenty of passing zones, which I used quite often to get an open road ahead of me. A minor detour around some highway construction didn’t delay me much at all. Also: apparently it’s a law to have your headlights on during the day. Good to know.

A funny anecdote

While driving back to my friend’s place from the convention center one night, I was getting all kinds of fucked up directions from the maps app in my iPhone. Having no idea why, I just followed them as best as I could, although several times it tried to lead me down a one-way street. I finally made that mistake turning after a stop sign and ended up staring at parked cars on both sides of the street facing me. So I go to pull over just as a city cop rounds the opposite corner. Fabulous!! Luckily the cops were cool about it and let me turn around with no problems. After that I pulled over for a closer inspection at these idiotic directions the maps app was giving me and I finally noticed it was set for foot travel, not car travel. /facepalm

Coming home (and why I watch the gas attendant)

Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate for my return trip, with lots of rain due to sweep into the northeast by Sunday night I made the decision to skip town that day rather than leave Monday morning like I originally planned. I also didn’t retrace my route up like I had hoped to – because what’s the point when you’re encumbered by inclement weather? So I hopped on the main arteries and was back in New Jersey in a little over 4 hours time (un-hassled by police again, thankfully). Dangerously low on fuel because I had wanted to get as close to the refineries and cheaper gas as possible, I pulled off the Turnpike at the first rest stop to gas up.

Now, I’m one of those drivers who always gets out of his car to watch the gas attendant (in NJ not only do we have full service, it’s actually against the law to self-serve) because it just generally makes them treat you and your car better. It also lets me prevent a distracted attendant (who is getting yelled at by some irate lady in a beat up Porsche packed with crap that makes it look like she just dumped her husband and moved out) from putting the wrong octane into my car, since their brain will default to regular gasoline.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stop him quick enough before he had pumped about half a gallon in, which meant he had to cancel the sale, which meant the pumps would no longer accept my credit card, which meant I had to use cash. Only problem was I had $5. But it would get me to the next rest stop, so I forked it over, got the meager amount of gas and sped off to the next rest stop a scant few miles down the Turnpike.

I pulled up behind an Audi R4 and watched as the attendant whipped the nozzle out of his tank without bothering to tap it out, splashing gas all over the guy’s rear quarter panel as he spun around to deposit the nozzle back in the pump. Now compare that with me, as I stand next to my car and watch as he takes the nozzle out of the pump, shakes all the excess gas still in it onto the ground on the other side of the pump, and then delicately inserts the nozzle to begin fueling.

The only problem? It was a Sunoco gas station. The last station I was at? Also a Sunoco. So when the pump refused to accept my credit card I had a pretty good idea why. After running into the rest stop to grab cash out of the ATM, I was finally able to fuel up enough to make it the rest of the way home.

Next trip: North Carolina

My next trip is next week, and will take me to Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m already looking into a great route down there, and once there I’ll be hanging with a GDNet buddy who drives a Porsche Boxster. Yea, we’ll be having some fun 🙂 Stay tuned for details from that trip in the week that follows!

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