Prep Day 1 — January 3, 2021

The “default” route.

Well, we are days away from beginning our transcontinental trip and are waking up to just how inexperienced we are with this sort of thing. We are travelling over 2900 miles in a fifteen year old Toyota hauling a twenty foot travel trailer with two cats in the back seat. Never mind that it’s the middle of winter and the middle of a global pandemic. What could go wrong?!

The shipping containers are gone, the tow vehicle’s had a major tune up, and the travel trailer is back from six months at the repair shop (thanks,COVID!). We are cleaning it out, removing a lot of the beach stuff we normally use, and repacking it with what we’ll need for 5–10 days on the road. We’ve realized a several things, most notably that there are far fewer open RV parks in the winter than the summer (we were originally supposed to leave last May), and we’re going to have to be very careful not to find ourselves searching for a place to stay, in the dark, after a long day of driving! So, being the people we are, we’ve created a spreadsheet of available stopping places after a day of 300, 400, or 500 miles on the road.

We’ve also realized that we’ll be dealing with real cold, and possibly high winds and snow or sleet as well. By “real cold” I mean the I-can’t-feel-my-lips kind, not the I-wish-I-had-a-sweater kind. So we’re going to get an electric blanket and an emergency propane heater that is rated for “indoor” use because it burns so cleanly. Sound risky? Yeah, I thought so too, and we’ll only use it when everything else has failed. I mean, IF everything else fails. That’s definitely what I mean.

Our route will take us down the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Pittsburgh, then onto route 80 to Utah where we’ll pick up route 84. In the picture above, route 84 is the blue line of the left-hand side of the map that slants northwest. We pick it up at Echo Canyon, UT, and take it all the way to Portland. From there it’s the I-5 (everyone out there says “the I-5”. It reflects their laid back approach to life. No one on the East Coast says “The I-95”. Who has the time?) down to Monmouth. If a storm blows up, we can either wait it out somewhere or head down to route 70, at least as far as Denver. Having driven through the Rockies on route 70 from Denver, I’d really like to avoid it with a trailer in winter, especially the intial climb into the front range, and the utter moonscape that surrounds Grand Junction on the far side. So at that point we’ve almost certainly got to turn north and if the weather’s really bad, we may lose a few days to waiting for things to clear up.

Headed west in Wyoming. Where are the damn Rockies?!

I’m always startled by how much further west you can get before you hit the mountains on route 80. In Colorado, the mountains start further east, and the range is much, much wider. In Utah, the range is quite narrow, so you can get through it much more quickly. The picture above is from Google’s Street View on route 8o somwhere in Wyoming, looking west. You don’t hit any difficult grades until just before Salt Lake and we will turn north onto 84 before the worst of it. I’ve never driven 84 but it follows a river and using Street View it looks pretty easy. There are definitely some sections where, if we broke down, we’d be far from help and though I’ve been told there’s cell service along all of route 80, I don’t know if the same is true for 84. I doubt it, based on the maps views. I guess at that point we hike up our skirts and flag down a trucker. Not sure what we’ll do with the cats. I mean, would do.

Because of the pandemic, we’re packing ALL our food ahead of time, with the goal of not having to go into any restaurants or grocery stores, ever. I’m sure we’ll end up having to get something from a store at some point, but less is certainly better. Since all the states we’ll pass through are pump-your-own gas, I can just sanitize my hands right after I operate the pump. his seems pretty low risk since the pumps are outside and it’ll be, as I’ve mentioned, winter.

As far as sightseeing, well the views form 80 are fantastic if your tastes run to huge desolate expanses, as mine do. Most everything interesting is closed, but Maya and I have a real talent for getting ourselves into, and out of, “interesting” situations so I doubt we will want for entertainment. At least not of the hair-raising kind.

I am a bear living among humans, and have gotten so good at it that people rarely notice. I am a husband, step-father, author, musician, and much else.