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          I’ve done roadtrips in SUV’s, three of them in all:  a week in a 2003 Jeep Cherokee (nicknamed Chief) around Arizona and Utah; three weeks in a 2006 Jeep Commander (Cody) that covered 10 Pacific TZ and Mountain TZ states; and a week in a 2015 Chevy Traverse (Travis) in Alaska.

Jeep Cherokee in Monument Valley          In each case, I did own a conversion van, but chose to leave it at home in favor of an SUV rental.  And here's why:

         Being based in Key West, Florida -- the most remote location possible in the contiguous USA -- time constraints necessitated an alternate plan.  When you have just week off from work (9 days in all, counting both weekends) and it takes more than a day to get out of State #1, you’re behind the 8-ball already.  Driving the most expeditious Interstate route – US-1 to I-75 to I-10 -- the ride from the end of the Keys to the end of the panhandle covers 922 miles. 

[Note:  taking the Florida Turnpike diagonally across the state does save about an hour, and cuts the distance by about 65 miles, but you’ll have to pony up about $25-30 in tolls, and that is way more than 65 miles worth of gas.  At any rate, the 922 is the shortest FREE route.]

Who knew that the Sunshine State was so big?  When you enter Texas on I-10 West, you see a sign stating that El Paso, the western border of the state, is 857 miles away.  That is daunting.  But the full-length FL ride was 65 miles longer. 

If you drive from San Ysidro, at the Mexico border, to the town of Hilt, at the Oregon border, you’ll cover 788 miles of California’s I-5 – a full 134 miles less than Florida’s trek.

And in Alaska… well, never mind about Alaska.  You can’t drive from end to end up there because no roads do that.

The point is that, coming from Key West, you are 900+ miles into your road trip and you have not even left your home state.  When my roadtrips emanated from Boston, a 900-mile first day might go through eleven – 11! – states:  MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, DE, MD, DC, VA, NC, to Columbia SC.  You hit 11 states and you feel like You Are Going Places!   (Usually 9 was plenty – just enough to get past DC by 2 AM and avoid that hellacious daytime traffic.)

(And, yeah, I know DC is not a state, but it's state-ish enough for me.  Besides, MA and VA are technically commonwealths, and they still count as states.)

But when you’re angling for the Pacific from the southernmost point of Florida, 900 miles doesn’t cross a single damn state border. 

What is does cross, though, is a time zone.  That’s right:  the final 186 miles of the FL panhandle is in the Central Time Zone.  You can win a lot of trivia bets with, “What is the easternmost state in the Central Time Zone?”  Even most Floridians will get that one wrong. 

           Anyway, driving west from the FL/AL line, it’s another 1700 miles to get the Grand Canyon, which is three pretty strong driving days, or two insanely aggressive days.  I’ve done 900+ a couple times, but they hammered me.  500-600 is long enough for my tastes.

So, again, you have a total of nine (9) days for your trip.  You spend four (4) of them to get to the Grand Canyon.  You spent all of ONE (1) day there, then turn around and drive four (4) days back to Key West (KW). 

Or, you can fly to LV, rent an SUV, and take in GCNP (both rims), Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Escalante NM, Capitol Reef NP, Natural Bridges NM, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Moab, Cedar Breaks NM, and still have time for a night in Sin City taking the red-eye home.

That, my friends, is a no-brainer.  UNLESS it's your very first roadtrip, in which case the destination is The Road, with GCNP just a convenient turnaround point.  If so, have at it, my brother or sister.  If not, though, spending a full day on the FL highways and another full day on the TX highways -- each way -- is a questionable use of precious, and finite, scenery time. 

           Anyway, the SUV gives you all the advantages of a car -- fits in any parking space or garage, blends in well in stealth situations, will handle unpaved roads with ease (within reason) and get to places that tow vehicles cannot.  The Cherokee was great fun for some 4WD off-road cavorting in the desert, and it was a good vehicle for zooming around the open highways. 

           However, even with the 2nd row of seats folded down flat, it was a really tough night’s sleep.  I couldn’t stretch out full length if I laid on my back, and the hard floor was too hard on my hip if I tried to sleep on my side.  With sand fleas abounding, I couldn’t leave any windows open at night either.

            I learned from my mistakes three years later, though, and went to the nearest Sacramento Wal-Traverse with air mattressMart right after picking up the Commander.  I acquired a comforter, some padding, pillows, blankets and a few other doo-dads to make SUV-sleep more tolerable.  Even with all that purchased, the SUV still cost less than half of what a van rental would have been.  

            And it worked!  Cody was a great host.  Commanders were huge, for one thing.  (They were discontinued after 2010, so don’t go looking for one.)  They were Chevy Suburban big.  With seats collapsed, a full-size air mattress fit quite well in the back.  And with a lot more room between sleeper and ceiling than the Cherokee had had. 

            With Travis the Traverse though, I took it up a notch buying a full-size air mattress and big thick comforter.  I had brought some thin cotton sarongs and some peel-n-stick magnets to mount make-shift curtains on the windows, and I had me a right comfy bedroom in Travis' belly. 

           SUV conversion tool storage In all, though, the Chevy was not much more than a bloated station wagon.  I still ended up eating my meals in the driver’s seat.  Same with laptop time.  The vehicle was a drive-and-sleep machine.  Not much more.  If you're going to LIVE in your vehicle, and not just travel in it, you need some space to just relax and comfortably hang out for extended periods of time. 

            The biggest negative of an SUV for Road Life, though, is that it is not customizable enough.  In a van, even a minivan, you have an empty box from floor to ceiling, and you can build that as you see fit.  It can be done in an SUV, but just not as thoroughly as a van can.  The windows limit you, the roof height limits you, the climb-thru from driver’s seat to back is limiting.  

SUV conversion living room          A Google search shows some clever conversions.   Most of them seem to add more functions than comfort.  None of them add any height.

Chief, Cody and Travis served me well.  They drove great, could park anywhere, and I could climb from the driver's seat to the bed without having to brave the perils of the outside world.  But those were short-term, high-mileage trips with no real down time.  

I just don't see an SUV being roomy enough to actually live in.  The one above-right has a living room that would be pretty good for a chill session, but you gotta have enough storage to keep your clothes and tools and cooking stuff -- as well as a good long bed to sleep on -- kinda like the one above-left.  If you had both, you just might be OK.  One OR the other, though, is just not enough for Reality Rick.

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