Driving 13 Hours in One Day from New Jersey to Chicago Was Definitely the Right Move

The Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by Cindy Rodriguez.

The Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by Cindy Rodriguez.

When people ask me what was the longest I drive I took on my solo cross-country road trip and I say 13 hours straight their mouths inevitably drop.

Yes, I love driving that much.

The drive from New Jersey to Chicago was my first ride and the plan was to stop in Ohio but if I did that I wouldn’t have been able to see my friend Claudia before she left on vacation. The plan was also to leave that morning on November 1st at 6am but I didn’t get on the road until 1pm.  

I hadn’t slept very well the night before. While tossing and turning I decided that I would just wake up whenever my body decided to and leave at ease because I didn’t want to drive tired.

The next morning I made myself a strong cup of coffee and hit the road. I drove through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. I took the scenery while it was daylight and then when it got darker I called friends and family to catch up. My favorite part was listening to old playlists I had burned on CD’s ages ago. It felt like every song took me back to a place in my life I hadn’t thought about in years. Now that was a real throwback.

I should note that I stopped a few times for bathroom breaks, snacks, and stretch. And, this was the longest drive I did on this trip and am not sure if I’d do it again unless it was absolutely necessary.

I got to Chicago around midnight. And this was the moment, yes getting to the toll booth, when I realized I was actually doing this. My heart lit up with accomplishment. Like, I’ve mentioned before, people thought I was nuts for doing this. There was no travel assignment, no job prospects out West, nothing at all. When asked, “But why?” I answered, “Why not?”

Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge shining bright like a diamond.

Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge shining bright like a diamond.

The next day I woke ravenous so my friend Claudia took to me a local joint called Farmhouse Chicago. If you like cheese, you will love their beer battered Wisconsin cheese curds. It’s all the rage.

I was open to pretty much anything when I got to Chicago because the point was to spend time with Claudia. We grew up together back in Jersey, went to the same high school and college. She was one of the two people who inspired me to study abroad while attending Rutgers. I went to Spain for a summer program and then to Australia the following year for a semester. But she took the cake having done it three times: Spain, Australia and Italy, a Rutgers study abroad record.

As you can probably tell, she’s a gem so it didn’t surprise me that she took me to see a temple in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. I was immediately intrigued. It’s a bit out of the way, in Wilmette about a 25 ride from the center of town, but oh so worth the trip.

Baha’i House of Worship looks like something straight of Istanbul surrounded by lush gardens complete with fountains, and should be given the official title as one of the seven wonders of Illinois. At least myself and about 39 other Yelpers can agree on that.

Fun fact: This temple is the only one in North America and 1 of 8 in the world.

Baha’i operates strictly on donation and once you go in you can feel all of the peaceful vibes welcoming you to sit, meditate, or all of the above. There were only about 3 other people in the temple so it made for a peaceful visit. We sat in silence and prayed together. Then walked around for a bit and said our goodbyes until next time.

I prayed for a safe trip full of adventure. I prayed for a more meaningful opportunity in media for myself when I got back, which I got by the way, thank you PBS! I’m grateful my first stop on this road trip was Chicago so I could see a supportive and familiar face on the way to unfamiliar territory.

Baha'i House of Worship

This temple felt like the perfect jumping off point. I remember thinking, “I’m not sure how I am going to do it but I am going to do it” because it still hadn’t hit me that I was so far away from home, on my own, about to drive to one of the coldest cities in the country: Minneapolis, Minnesota.