I think it is a rule of the universe than travel can never happen without a hitch. Whether it is traffic, closures, or simple breakdowns – something always has to go wrong. Luckily for me, nothing too horrific happened, but my cross-country road trip definitely had its disappointing moments.
I began my trip in late January. It already feels like so long ago! I planned to travel south toward Louisville, Kentucky, before heading west in hopes of avoiding the huge ice storm that affected much of the Midwest and Northeast. Then I would drive to Denver to see a couple friends before continuing west toward Portland. I expected to arrive early on the morning of Monday the 10th.
All went smoothly, with the exception of some snow and ice in Illinois and Missouri. The roads in Kansas and Colorado were perfectly clear and great for cruising. I always forget how awfully long I-70 from Kansas City to Denver is. I left at about 7:30 and arrived in Denver at 3:30 and that includes a time zone change! That’s 9 hours of driving through 1.5 states! Driving north from Denver was clear, too, until I hit Laramie….
As you can see in the map above, I planned to drive north to Cheyenne and then head west to Salt Lake City. When I got to Laramie (shown by the “B”), the expressway I-80 was shut down due to winter conditions. This spanned all the way until the Utah border. I stopped for gas and marveled at the hundreds of trucks parked on the side of the road and in gas station parking lots. Everyone was just waiting. I ate some lunch and began googling road conditions and alternate routes. All of the side roads were closed, too. I could either wait it out or head back to Cheyenne and go north. I’m never a fan of idly waiting and the radar showed a large storm brewing, so I decided to head north.
I rerouted and took a slightly longer route through Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I’ll admit, I wasn’t too bummed about this because I’ve never been to northern Wyoming or Montana before. I had driven most of the “Plan A” route when I drove from Portland to Denver with Mom back in September, but never any of the “Plan B” route.
I greatly overestimated how interesting Wyoming and Montana would be.
The sunset driving through northern Wyoming was gorgeous, I’ll give it that, but once darkness set… there was nothing. I could only see blackness and there were hardly any signs to look at, either. The real horror started when it began to snow. I had driven in blowing snow in Missouri, but that was during the daytime. I felt like I was driving blindfolded. I’m pretty sure I was crawling along at a measly 40mph for the majority of the drive until I found a hotel in Sheridan, Wyoming.
The next morning, I happened to wake up at 7am and checked my phone to see that I had a new email from my landlord. She contacted my roommate and I to notify us that the cleaning crew that was supposed to clean our apartment on Sunday the 9th had cancelled due to the snow Portland had received. This meant that our move-in date was pushed back until after they could clean. I was devastated. Not only had I been enduring long days on the road to ensure I would arrive by the 10th, but I also had the new dilemma of figuring out what to do with my 7 LARGE boxes that were being delivered on the 11th to the apartment. Luckily our landlord is accommodating and said I could store the boxes in the vacant apartment below ours.
With this problem solved, I embarked on my trip from Sheridan, Wyoming, to… as far as I could get! I originally set my sights on Spokane, Washington, but figured that might be a bit of a push, because a NEW storm was brewing and I appeared to be destined to drive through the middle of it.
I never expected Montana to be so mountainous. I imagined it to be as flat as Wyoming, but that definitely is not the case. The curves winding between the mountains are only made scarier when there is ice and slush on the road and several signs demanding that motorists use chains and traction tires. My little Honda Civic did great, but I definitely worried about its 2WD capabilities when climbing the icy mountain roads. I could have enjoyed the drive if it weren’t for the truckers. It is frustrating to have to merge into the extra-icy left lane to pass them while going up the mountain, but then having them fly by at 80mph, spewing road junk all over my windshield, while going down the other side. I guess they didn’t notice the 15 jackknifed trucks in the median that we drove by in the past hour, but I don’t think it was safe for them to be driving that fast…
Similar to the misfortune that happened the previous night, I told myself that I would get past Missoula and then find a hotel. Of course, all of the “hotels” in the next 200 miles seemed sketchy to say the least. I have nothing against small town Mom and Pop B&B’s, but not when I am alone in a snowy, rural mountain town at 9pm. I made it to Cour d’Alene (I had never heard of this city before but apparently it is a big one in northern Idaho) and noticed that Spokane was only 30 miles away. I decided to push through and make it to Washington.
On this trip, I realized a strange driving habit of mine. I used to do the same thing during swim practice, too. I find someone who is going a similar, comfortable speed, and then drive 2-3 car lengths behind them with no intention of passing. I like this “buddy” system as it makes me feel not so alone on a strange, scary road at night. Plus, it lets me stop focusing on driving for just a little bit. I simply mirror their actions. If they slow down because of ice, I slow down. If they merge around a slow car, I do, too. I let them make all the decisions for me. I try not to follow too closely that they notice, but I’m sure they do. I always feel a bit of sadness when they exit the interstate and leave me behind.
My final leg of the trip was from Spokane to Portland. I left feeling optimistic and excited about finally arriving! Everything was under control… until I received another email from my landlord. She said that a pipe had burst in our apartment and ran for 12 hours. It flooded the bathroom and both of our bedrooms, as well as the entire unit below ours. The carpet would now have to be replaced and we couldn’t move in for at least a week. She told me to call her ASAP. I absolutely hate phone calls, so I worked up the courage for a few minutes and then dialed. She was very apologetic and wanted to make my box situation as easy as possible. Our kitchen with tile flooring and the adjacent sunroom were both unaffected by the water, so I could put my boxes there. My great new roommate also is letting me stay with her until we can move in, so I won’t be homeless for the next 1-2 weeks. The only dilemma now is my clothes! I only packed 3 shirts and one pair of jeans in my overnight bag, so I need to break into my boxes and grab some non-stinky ones.
After that minor crisis, I focused on the next obstacle. I had heard horror stories about the ice in Portland and, especially, in the gorge. The gorge refers to the Columbia River Gorge which acts as the border between Washington and Oregon. My route had me taking I-84 which is parallel to the gorge for about 3 hours. Every weather report from Portland talked about the “3 inch sheet of ice” covering the interstate from the Dalles to Portland. I had planned on driving from Spokane until reaching the Dalles and then, depending on the road conditions, getting a hotel and letting the ice melt and clear away.
However, Portlanders are huge wimps when it comes to driving in snow.
The roads of I-84 were some of the clearest I had seen in my entire trip. There was not a speck of ice or snow in sight. The roads were slightly damp, but certainly not hydroplane-able. I was so angry that I let myself feel stressed out about these perfectly fine roads! Since I arrived in Portland so early and wasn’t able to organize staying with one of my friends, I grabbed a hotel room just outside of the city for the night. I’ve been relaxing in bed since 2pm and it feels so nice! My last week has been spent driving for 10 hours per day and then sleeping for 12! I’m getting really tired of the same Hampton Inn hot breakfasts, though…
My plan for tomorrow is to meet up with my friend and wait in the parking lot of my apartment until the UPS boxes are delivered. Not very exciting, but I feel like most of the next 1-2 weeks will be a huge waiting game.