My move from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., would cover 3,511 miles. As I traced the route on Google Maps, one thought kept pinging in my head: "I am about to spend a lot of money on gas."
Prices were peaking at more than $5 a gallon. Those prices have cut into Americans' lives, affecting budgets for those who need to commute, visit family and get groceries. If I bought all the gas I would need in California, the journey would cost more than $834.
But inflation is hitting differently in every state across America, as I would soon learn.
What follows is a diary of my journey, with a record of gas prices from the Sierra Nevadas to the Shenandoah Valley.
- Day 1: San Francisco - Reno, Nev.
4 hr 27 min (245 mi)
I assumed the highest gas prices I'd see on this trip would be in California, where the state government even approved relief checks for residents to help offset high prices. Before my boyfriend and I hit the road, people there told me about their frustrations as gas averaged $6.30 per gallon in June.
But a gas station in Reno, Nev., took the crown. Maybe unsurprisingly, not a single car was filling up at that station.
- Day 2: Reno - Moab, Utah
11 hr 6 min (699 mi)
The desert is vast. The desert is beautiful. The desert does not have many gas stations.
At least not on Highway 50, dubbed "The Loneliest Road in America" by Life magazine in 1986 for its miles and miles of nothingness. Now there's even a "survival guide" available if you make stops at landmarks along the way.
At one of the rare gas stations, which also boasted a food truck, one family told me they just spent $90 filling up on gas - and they had cut back on summer activities to keep costs in check.
- Day 3: Moab - Aspen, Colo.
4 hr 34 min (292 mi)
I found Canyonlands and Arches National Parks were still full of tourists - even though they require fuel-intensive travel.
Sometimes spending more on gas means cutting back in other areas, travelers told me, including searching high and low for supermarket deals. But deals could be hard to come by when a gallon of 2 percent milk in Clifton, Colo., near the Utah border, cost $5.79 - the highest of the trip.
- Day 4: Aspen - Lincoln, Neb.
10 hr 7 min (642 mi)
Even in the middle of summer, the ski resort town of Aspen, Colo., was bustling with tourists hiking, biking and jumping in swimming holes. The typical home here is worth nearly $2.9 million, according to Zillow.
Gas prices also matched Aspen's reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the state. One visitor I met had found a hack, however: It cost only about $4 to fill up a tiny scooter.
- Day 5: Lincoln - Eureka Springs, Ark.
6 hr 51 min (422 mi)
While gas prices may feel low here compared with those from the coasts - hovering below $4 a gallon - prices for Lincoln, Neb., residents are still 23 percent higher than they were a year ago.
An Uber driver in Kansas City, Mo., told me it's become hard to make a living wage delivering food - forcing her to monitor her spending and increasing her anxiety.
- Day 6: Eureka Springs - Nashville
8 hr 22 min (473 mi)
For many people, driving is a necessity. So is buying groceries. To make up for the increased prices, several drivers told me they are doing without other extras - eating at restaurants less or buying fewer "frivolous" items. Another driver I talked to said he was making a trip home to Memphis to pick up a car smaller than the truck he had been using.
- Day 7: Nashville - Asheville, N.C.
4 hr 39 min (281 mi)
I spotted the cheapest gas on our trip - $3.22 - just a bit outside Nashville.
Still, inflation has been a squeeze on local business owners like Jeff Edwards, who runs a gas station and repair shop in Marshall, N.C. People just bring their cars in for the bare minimum maintenance, he said, and he can tell they've been trying to drive less and therefore buy fewer gallons.
- Day 8: Asheville - Washington, D.C.
7 hr 20 min (457 mi)
Our final day!
Gas passed back into the $4 range in Virginia, just as the U.S. average also fell below $4 per gallon for the first time since early March. Many people told me they were still feeling pinched at the pump but were relieved that at least prices weren't quite as bad as they had been in the late spring and early summer.
My gas charges tallied up to $655 for the trip - less than it would have been in June, but surely more than if I had embarked on the trip last year. Share your experience with gas prices and inflation here.
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