Sunday, November 19, 2000

The Benedek family's annual trek from the D.C. area to Ann Arbor, Mich., usually begins at the airport, but logistics and the cost of tickets for the five of them--Dave, Cindy and kids Kaitie, 5; Ryan, 3; and Evan, 5 months--have persuaded them to drive this year.

THE DRIVE: 545 miles in about nine hours, spread over two days. Day 1 is the longer drive, covering 320 miles in about five hours. Day 2 is lighter, about 225 miles in 3 3/4 hours, not including stops.

PERSONAL PREFERENCES: The Benedeks want a no-nonsense, get-us-there-in-two-days itinerary, but also want to have some fun along the way. They'd like to avoid the mountainous Pennsylvania Turnpike if possible (they worry about dicey winter driving conditions). And they'd prefer to overnight in a turnpike-convenient hotel near family-style restaurants in the Pittsburgh vicinity.

COMPLICATIONS: Keeping the kids fed and watered en route (Cindy brings snacks). Stopping every two hours or so for bathroom breaks.


Day 1

* From the Beltway, take the I-270 spur to Frederick, which turns into I-70; head west, toward Hagerstown. Pick up I-68, continuing west.

* Stop for lunch outside Cumberland, Md., at Mason's Barn Family Restaurant (Exit 46 off I-68, 301-722-6155), a classic (since 1942) institution for travelers and locals alike; it's known for its "frosty mug root beer." Back on I-68, continue west toward Morgantown and take I-79 north across the Pennsylvania border. Just above Pittsburgh, I-79 connects with the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76); at the Ohio border, the road becomes I-76/I-80, or the Ohio Turnpike. When the two interstates split, head north on I-80 toward Youngstown.

* MILE 305: Follow signs for I-80 (it splits off I-76) and take Exit 227 off I-80. Overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in North Youngstown (135 Highland Terrace Blvd., 800-HOLIDAY), a good family choice with an indoor heated pool, whirlpool, fitness center, game room, morning breakfast bar--and great promotional rate of $79 for a room with two beds. Have dinner nearby at Perkins, a family-style restaurant chain.

Day 2

* After breakfast at the motel--free for the parents; kids are charged on an a la carte basis--get back on I-80 west, drive 1 1/2 hours to Route 42/I-71. Take I-71 north and follow the signs to Cleveland.

* MILE 381: Spend the morning at Cleveland's kid-friendly Great Lakes Science Center (601 Erieside Ave., 216-694-2000, www.glsc.org), with more than 340 hands-on exhibits. Check out the "Bridge of Fire," a hair-raising exercise involving 200,000 volts of electricity; the glow-in-the-dark shadow room; and the indoor tornado simulation (which may be too scary for the little ones). Admission: $7.95 for adults, $5.95 for kids.

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