Maybe I'm a pansy for having made it to my 26th (pushing 27th) birthday without ever driving all night. I'm sure a lot of you have done this on more than one occasion, but it was brand new for me, and, to my lasting surprise, an experience I wouldn't mind repeating.
We had a strategy in place before we left, and I believe this is key. Driving while you're tired is no laughing matter, unfortunately, and you don't want to be messing around with the possibility of falling asleep behind the wheel. Years ago I had one near-sleeping disaster, and it made me realize that it CAN happen, and that you don't really see it coming until you're jerking back awake and swerving back between the lines, if you're lucky. So. Strategy.
We promised each other that no matter what, if we felt tired we would pull over and ask the other to drive, or pull over and sleep. We checked the car before we left -- I didn't want to be stranded in the mountains or the desert in the middle of the night. There are long stretches of road between towns. We also agreed to fill the car with gas at every reasonable opportunity between the half- and quarter-full marks.
Nick was to drive first, since I usually go to bed earlier than he does and would therefore be more likely able to sleep at 10:00 pm, which was our departure time. Unfortunately, in this case, I was not, so by 12:30 when he was ready for a snooze I had not had much in the line of decent sleep. But I felt okay, so I took the wheel and a swig of something caffeine-infused.
The first hour of that was the roughest, but I pulled through until 3:30 when I turned the car back over to him. I was out immediately until he woke me at 6:00 to take another turn.
I felt lucky to be driving as the sun was rising behind us. We stopped at 8:00 for some food and I kept driving on to the Grand Canyon, our first real stopping point.
I thought the road would wind endlessly, but the trip went surprisingly quickly. There was something remarkably peaceful about driving in the dark for such a long time, about seeing occasional headlights (usually trucks) and the rocks near Moab, Utah, glowing in the moonlight against a dark backdrop. The sky was clear and sparkling, and I peered up out of the window as often as I safely could.
I would not, at this point, recommend a trip like this without a buddy to share the driving. But if you have one, and you're up for it, it's a nice way to save some time and quietly experience the great American highway, one sleepy gas station at a time.