Moving: The Drive

31 12 2012
We're not skiers, but our car came with protective snow charms.

We’re not skiers, but our car came with protective snow charms.

Day 1 – Out Of Portland

We’d heard from various people that we were varying degrees of nuts for driving from Portland to Minneapolis in the middle of December. We didn’t have much choice; the timing was determined by the sale of our house, which happened much faster than we expected. Still, we thought we’d have at least until Idaho to worry about the weather, but it snowed in Portland the morning of our departure. We loaded the last of our stuff, said our last goodbyes to the neighbors, and drove through rush hour in a town that gets totally paralyzed by an inch of snow.

Once we got out of the Willamette valley, the weather cleared up completely. We had an easy drive from Hood River to Pocatello, Idaho, our first night’s stop. The animals both adapted to the car really well. Teagan usually rides with her front feet on the center console or the passenger’s left leg. To tempt her into the back seat, we built up a thick nest of blankets and pillows. She was willing to settle in back there if one of us rode in the back seat with her. Fizzgig’s carrier was on top of some other stuff in the very back, with the door propped open and a cat bed inside. After he had explored the whole car, he decided the carrier was the place to be and spent almost the entire ride up there.

Since we can’t stay in motels with the dog, we had booked a cabin at the Pocatello KOA. We tried to reserve KOA cabins for all three nights, but had trouble finding ones that were open in December. Tuesday night, we understood why. It was 17 degrees outside, and 17 degrees inside the cabin. There was a small electric space heater, but it didn’t appear to have any effect. We brought all the blankets in from the car and got under them with the animals. We wore our hats and gloves. Marcie wore her new coat, purchased for the sub-zero Minnesota winter. It seemed impossible that we would ever warm up, but we did. Teagan eventually crawled out and slept on top of the covers. No one froze. We did get some funny looks from the staff in the morning when we checked out.

Day 2 – Crossing the Rockies

This was the part of the trip we were most worried about. We chose to drive east on I80, thinking we’d do better than the more northerly I90 and not wanting to go as far south as I70. Even though I grew up in Denver, my knowledge of Rocky Mountain geography is vague. A cursory search of online topographical maps made I80 look the most promising as far as easy mountain passes. This may be because, as I learned from our road map on the way, I80 crosses the continental divide at a location where it flattens out into a wide basin. In any case, this was another easy day. We had beautiful weather again and no problems at all with the roads. We came down from the mountains out of Laramie, Wyoming, on a winding stretch of freeway that was a bit more treacherous, but only lasted for 20 miles or so. By the time we hit Cheyenne it was smooth sailing again.

From there we turned south to Denver, to stay with my parents for the night. It was a bit out of our way, but we got to visit my folks and my brother, and there were no open cabins in the Mountain time zone. It was great, except for Teagan fighting with their dog.

Day 3 – After the Blizzard

We left early Thursday morning, knowing we had a long day ahead of us. We had to be in Minneapolis by noon on Friday, so our next stop would be a lakeside cabin in Fairmount, Minnesota. From there we’d have an easy 2 and a half hour drive to Minneapolis.

From Denver, we headed northeast on 76, which meets I80 at the border of Nebraska. On the way, we saw signs saying I80 was closed. The weather was so clear we had trouble believing it. But sure enough, shortly after getting on 80 we were diverted to a truck stop in Big Springs. The day before, a massive blizzard had rolled over Nebraska, and they were still clearing wrecked trucks off the interstate.

The truck stop parking lot was packed with cars and trucks. The multi-purpose building had people sitting at every table and milling about everywhere. No one had any real information about what was going on. A woman at a tourism desk said the road was supposed to open by noon, which would mean a half hour wait. We had lunch and then sat in the car with the animals. Shortly after noon, it looked like things were moving, so we decided to get out of the parking lot before the mass truck exodus. However the freeway was still closed, so we got diverted to the ramp on the opposite side, and parked in the line of cars along the edge, pointing at the on ramp. It was a much better position to be in when traffic started moving, but there was nothing to do but wait in the car. We turned on our audiobook of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. We looked for alternate routes on the map, but all of them would add 3 to 5 hours, if the roads were clear, which we had no way of knowing. Luckily the animals were calm. In town, if we drive around with Teagan, she gets antsy and whines if we stop and sit around in the car. This time she curled up on her pile of blankets and went to sleep. Fizzgig stayed happily ensconced in his carrier. After a two and a half hour wait, the road finally opened.

For the first twenty miles or so, it was perfectly dry and smooth. But, gradually, we encountered more and more chunks of packed ice and snow. It was a little slippery and very bumpy. We had to slow down to 40 mph or less, all the way across Nebraska. We passed several wrecked trucks in the median, one that looked like the trailer had been wrung out like a towel by giant hands.

It was a long, slow, nerve-wracking drive to Omaha, which we reached after dark, but we could only thank our lucky stars that the bad weather had stayed ahead of us the whole trip. We were very glad for the Subaru, for all-wheel drive, for snow tires, and for anti-freezing window cleaner. Though it wasn’t snowing, passing vehicles threw up a shower of sticky, frosty grit. We stopped for gas, and I scrubbed the grime off the windows, with a gas station squeegee also resting in antifreeze cleanser. We’d heard more bad weather predictions for Iowa, so we turned north on I29, and would continue east on 90. Heading up 29 I thought the headlights were giving out, or the air was foggy, or fatigue was making me blind, until I realized I should have scrubbed the headlights as well as the windows. We gassed up in Sioux Falls, at a station that had their squeegees resting in a bed of crystalized, frozen cleanser. But it worked okay on the headlights. We reached Fairmount at 4 am, unpacked our bedding and the animals stuff, and slept for 3 hours.

Day 4 – Into Minneapolis

We’d been lucky, there was no denying it, but we’d also benefited from our own good decisions. Still, we didn’t want to congratulate ourselves too early. It was hard not to. We woke up on Friday to more clear blue skies, more clear dry roads. We learned that if we had stayed on 80 to Des Moines, we’d be stuck at the wrong end of 35, now closed all the way to Minnesota. But it was open north of 90, which was what we needed. We cruised up into the Twin Cities, and arrived at our new house twenty minutes before our appointment for the final walk through. The car looked like it had been through some hellish parallel dimension, covered in competing filigrees of frost and dirt. I sort of wanted to leave it that way, but we ended up washing it a couple days later.

It’s now just over a week later. Marcie is back to work in an office for the first time in a month. We’re still unpacking. It appears that all of our stuff made it here, the vast majority of it intact. It’s a brilliant sunny day, hovering between 10 and 20 degrees, like most days since we got here. Fizzgig is right at home, prowling the house at night and lazing around all day. Teagan is still a little anxious, but adjusting to the cold. When she makes some doggie friends, all will be well.

Friday night we met many of our neighbors at a holiday block party. There are three families on our street with adopted children. Hopefully this year we will become the fourth.

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