My longtime college friend and I traveled across America the first week of December, 2013, she driving from Montreal, Quebec, me on Amtrak from Brooklyn, New York, meeting up in Albany, NY. She was making a fresh start after working abroad and I was returning home after visiting family on the Canadian East Coast. Friends and relatives were dubious about the wisdom of this roadtrip in waning autumn. In hindsight, they had a point, but off we went, armed with optimism, Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches and state maps. We jotted hasty notes en route, tracing a jagged green line of our daily progress across middle America on our increasingly ragged map. Our adventures are cobbled together from our travelogue diary.
Gas is so cheap in my friend's little car - a fill up for about $30.00. We figure between hotels, food and gas, we're averaging about $75 a day each. We get up at 6:30 a.m. and hit the road by 8 at the latest to take advantage of the light, going about 500 miles a day, extra on the days we gain an hour when crossing a time zone. We were able to use some of those coupon books and CAA to get off-season hotel discounts.
Yesterday - major fog and very low ceiling of cloud, but clear roads all the way and today very hairy - some snow and whiteout conditions due to high winds and icy driving conditions. Numerous tumbleweeds blow over the highway, most trapped by barbed-wire fences, but some still get caught on front car grills, reminding us of Star Trek tribbles. We went into a skid coming out of a snowed-in rest stop today at the highest point on HWY 80 at 8640 feet. I pushed the front end of the car from the ditch to get us back on track again. My friend was awesome - didn't panic and steered in the direction of the skid without hitting the brakes.
Hundreds of transport trucks on the roads continuously pass each other, dwarfing our little blue Hyundai and creating snowy backlash. Today we saw accidents and were very happy to stop for the night. We have seen little wildlife, a big herd of antelopes today and many beautiful hawks on the prairies watching for rodents made visible from the newly harvested winter wheat or sheared corn fields. Many black cows grazed those same fields, acre upon acre of cut stalks. Today the scenery was more interesting, great vistas stretching ahead for miles, unusual rock formations and even some forests.
Lots of very flat greige (combo of beige and grey, coined by a friend) scenery crossing the mid-west, much bigger prairie land in area than Canada. Almost 3 days of driving a straight ribbon of highway with sky everywhere as far as the eye can see. So far we have been in New York, then Pennsylvania, West Virginia, briefly, next Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa - the 3 I's - very confusing to keep straight, Nebraska and lastly Wyoming. My friend was remembering a brief chapter in bygone days living in Wyoming. We hope to reach Boise, Idaho, tomorrow, then Portland, Oregon, Friday, and, finally, catch the 2 p.m. ferry on Saturday from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria.
I've been quite congested - a nasty, inconveniently timed flu virus - and bought some medicine today, looking forward to a long hot bath and sleep in Victoria Sunday. When we stop for gas or breaks, we are reminded by decorations and piped-in carols that the Christmas season is in full swing. In our vehicle, we are oddly insulated from all the merriment. We will be happy to arrive safely. Would we do it again in winter? Probably not - a bit of a marathon - and the mountains still lie ahead.
Part II - The Incredible Journey
By the time we hit Boise, Idaho, we had had enough of travel center restaurant meals. Thanks to our Google printout, we found the stately capital building, graced with the fullest branches and most lights I've ever seen on a Christmas tree! We ate at an amazing Mediterranean restaurant, our best meals of the trip. We had become more savvy at negotiating hotel discounts, so the rooms and included breakfasts only got better. At Tumwater, Washington, we had a lovely room and full hot breakfast, even fresh baked cookies as an evening snack. It's a reality check to have to shell out Canadian prices now, especially gas and alcohol.
Up through Idaho to Oregon the high desert landscape changed to expansive mountainous areas, back to mile after mile of scrub brush and sage, through hilly evergreen forests, then icy, high altitude driving. We followed the mighty Columbia River for miles, its banks bordering Washington and Oregon, eventually draining into the Pacific. A huge transport truck had toppled on its side, resembling a twisted caterpillar. Pretty tense driving at 30 - 40 mph in blowing snow, especially witnessing several fender benders and dented guard rails, emergency vehicle lights flashing and highway flares marking new routes. We were very happy when sand trucks had gone before us.
Driving up the Olympic Peninsula under a deep blue sky Saturday, we passed mashes filled with birds, then oyster farms, cattle ranches, native art galleries and casinos, wilderness recreation spots and some flourishing towns. Eagles circled over towering Douglas firs as we averaged 45 mph along winding coastal roads with few passing lanes. We had lunch with my girlfriend, a Tour Director like myself, in Port Angeles, swapping stories of crazy situations on the road last summer.
We got a breathtaking view of Mount Baker during the 1.5 hour Coho ferry crossing, taking advantage of the duty-free. We arrived in Victoria after 8 days on the road with some wear and tear - my suitcase zipper bit the dust - happy to land after 3622 miles across the US. Thankfully, the drive-thru Customs was very lax. Try explaining two Canadians with California plates in a car filled to the gills, one coming from Montreal, another from New York city, meeting in Albany to drive across the country, spending Christmas in Victoria, BC. Did we have anything to declare? Happy to be home, even if it is freezing!!!
Happy Holidays, Everyone! My 2014 Resolution: more fun, dancing, travel, adventure and bubbly, when the occasion warrants. This resolution is one I'll have no trouble keeping. See you on the dance floor!
Kathryn and Friend