Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A cold trip home

I've not posted for a while so I am going to be brief about my trip home.

I arrived in Toronto Tuesday night around 6.00pm, in time to crawl home along the Gardiner "Expressway", actually pulling up at 37 Wyndham just before 7.00pm. Pretty much safe and sound.

My route home was south on I-5 from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, then east on I-84 along the Columbia River valley, through Idaho and down into Utah. The highway turns eastward just before Salt Lake City and joins I-80, which took me through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois to Chicago. In Nebraska I left I-80 to follow Route 30 which parallels the interstate but is a little more scenic and a little slower. I eventually rejoined I-80 in Iowa, but left it again just south of Chicago to skirt around Chicago on Route 30, rejoining I-29 in Indiana and following it through Michigan to Detroit. Across the border in Ontario I took the 401 to around Brantford, switched to the 403 through Hamilton and then onto the QEW which became the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

The first few days were sunny and clear, with great scenery along the Columbia River in Oregon, and through the mountains and foothills of Utah and western Wyoming. Nights were cold, but not too cold. I stayed at a campground in the Columbia Valley the first night and another campground on Great Salt Lake just south of Brigham City on the second night.

Along the interstate highways of the western states, you can get free coffee refills in many service stations, so I took advantage of that to avoid having to make breakfast in the cold morning air. I also made a honey sandwich the day before when it was still warm so I would have something to eat first thing in the morning with my coffee.

In Nebraska the wind picked up. At first it was coming from the west and gave me a nice tailwind to ride on, but through the morning it shifted to the northwest and got much stronger. I got off the interstate because now I could, there were local highways paralleling the interstate, and the scenery is a little more pleasant and the traffic slower and more sparse. But as the wind picked up, a lot of big trucks with empty trailers moved off the interstate onto "my" highway also, because the interstate is raised and more exposed to the wind. The little two-lane highway became quite crowded with all of the trucks now on it.

I was having to stop every 15 miles or so to retie the tie-downs on the kayak, as it whipped around on the roof most alarmingly (I could see the tip of the bow sliding back and forth just above the windshield, the stern rope moving in tandem in the rearview mirror). Miles of corn fields with corn fronds(?) being ripped off and blowing across the highway in clouds. At one point the highway was running parallel to train tracks which were windward to the highway. Every time a long slow train went by I got a bit of a respite from the wind, and those breaks were actually fairly frequent.

I stayed at a recreation area in Iowa that was very cold, there was frost on the ground and on the truck windshield in the morning. The wind died a bit and I had some not too bad driving weather through Iowa and Illinois. Through most of Wyoming and Nebraska the trees were few and far between, but in Iowa great oak forests interspersed with cornfields began to appear. The oaks were turning colour, but the reds and yellows were muted in comparison to sugar maples.

I passed through Chicago after dark, and just after crossing into Michigan I hit a blizzard blowing in off the lake. Almost immediately at least 10cm (4") on the ground and zero visibility due to blowing snow, big wet flakes that just filled the air. Crawled along the highway at 20 clicks (15 mph), thankfully everyone else doing the same. Was looking for a place to pull off, but the damn highway was under construction and they had closed all the rest area pull-offs. Twice I tried just pulling off on a side road, but the conditions were even worse, at least on the highway there were tracks in the snow made by the big trucks. Those tracks were not only good for being easier to drive in but also actually marked where the highway was, as there was no other way to tell in the blowing snow.

Blowing snow at night is mesmerizing, you have to be careful not to look at it or it will put you into a trance. And if you're already tired, it is crazy-making. But on the other hand, the fear of sliding off the road or into another vehicle certainly keeps the adrenalin flowing, a good antidote to sleepiness!

Moving away from the lake the snow cleared and I could see stars. My map showed a campground somewhere around Fort Custer military base, but I spent an hour looking for it and never found it. Tried asking some of the locals, but at 1.00am they were either too zonked to help me or the place never actually existed. There was a sign for it on the interstate and it was marked on my map, but otherwise there was no sign of its existence.

So at 2.00am I finally gave up the search and pulled into a highway rest area that wasn't closed by road construction. Got maybe 4 hours of sleep, it was way too cold for more than that (and I was fully dressed under as many blankets as I could muster). In the morning the entire truck was encased in ice. But after a week on the road I had my morning routine down pat, managed to make coffee and warm up the truck in record time (and having a warm rest area washroom certainly helped!).

In any other state I would have just bought coffee, but here in Michigan they have The Worst Coffee Ever (I can't drink it, it makes me gag), so I made my own in spite of freezing temperatures.

At the border crossing in Detroit, the woman there wanted to know about the thing on my roof. I explained what it was and that it was from Canada. She asked if I was bringing in firewood. Firewood? She was still looking at the roof when she asked that, then asked, So what is that thing beside the kayak? Ah, the wooden ramp! Also from Canada. Then she asked, Any mishaps? Mishaps? Yeah, misadventures. Oh, misadventures. I had to think about that. Wind in Nebraska? Snow in Michigan? That seemed acceptable, she then warned me about snow in Ontario, heading eastward. And wished me a good trip. Fortunately the snow in Ontario was not due until late in the evening, overcast skies and high winds again were all I had to deal with. And closed rest areas. Very ironic that. You'd see a sign that said Fatigue Kills Take a Break, then the next sign said Rest Area Closed Next Rest Area [A Zillion] Km Away. Gee thanks.

Got a wonderful greeting from Dobby when I arrived home, he was ecstatic. He's changed, his face and chest are broader, his ribs less prominent, his bum muscles finally filled out some. He's still skinny, but no longer looks like he hasn't eaten in weeks.

Listened a lot to NPR in the US. It was, needless to say, pretty much focussed on the election. Quite interesting actually. I thought I would be completely burned out on US election commentary, but after a couple of days found I was getting addicted to it. Although, I did listen to the same two-hour Prairie Home Companion (Garrison Keillor) show twice over the weekend, just as a bit of a respite from All Election All The Time.

Isaac asked me when I got home if I could tell when I was passing through a "red" or "blue" state and to tell the truth, I couldn't. Very few McCain or Obama signs, but a lot of signs for local Congress representatives and senators, and sheriffs. And unlike here in Canada, no colour distinctions, you couldn't tell from the sign colour which party a candidate belonged to, and most of the time the party affiliation wasn't mentioned on the sign at all! I had to listen to local radio call-in shows to get any sense of whether this was a red or blue state. Lots of evangelical Christian stations, they didn't seem to talk about the election at all.

So I've learned that Republicans are all over the map on whether Palin is a good idea or not, that some Hillary Clinton Democrats have switched to McCain because they are appalled at how Obama Democrats treated her ("basically they threw her under the bus"), that there are huge problems with how the US handles voter registration (the US is the most difficult democratic country in the world for actually exercising your right to vote), abortion and gay marriage are still big issues but are being dealt with in state-wide initiatives rather than in the Presidential election rhetoric, and that with a Democrat majority assured in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, some pundits think that a Republican President might actually be a good thing as a kind of balancing act to keep America in a more palatable centrist position.

Now I have to get to work putting my place back in order. The tenants left it clean and tidy, but all my stuff is still either in storage or as yet unpacked, it looks like a daunting task! Hopefully I'll have everything to my liking within a week! And I have to figure out what to do with the kayak now...

I am posting a few photos I took en route, just to give a sense of the scenery I was seeing. I read recently that the US interstate highway system allows one to travel all over the US without seeing anything at all, and to a great extent I think that is true. It's great for travelling fast, it has a very good system of rest areas and service centres, but it is not exactly charming. I wish I could have gotten some photos of the snow, but it was dark and I was kind of busy trying to stay on the road.

Thursday, Washington

Truck ready to go, in Seattle

Thursday, Oregon

Columbia River

Truck in Columbia River valley

Columbia valley

Columbia valley

Friday, Idaho

Is that snow?

Truck in Idaho




Saturday, Utah

Truck in Utah


More rocks

Coal train headed west


Saturday, Wyoming

Wind turbines

Hills of Wyoming

Pyramids of Wyoming

Rocks of Wyoming

Ravens at rest area

Ravens huddling in the wind

Truck in Wyoming

Definitely snow

Sunday, Nebraska

Cold morning in Nebraska

Coal train heading west

Tumbleweed on Irrigation pipes


Small town Nebraska

Monday, Iowa

Oak forest, muted fall colours

Corn fields

Tuesday, Michigan

Maples in full glory

No pictures for Ontario, the horse can smell the barn!

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