Saturday, December 21, 2013

Near Misses

Fun at the service plaza
We left Minnesota with a bit of trepidation.  I have made the drive from MN to Maine quit a few times, some of them just boring, some involved law enforcement personnel, and one involved several breakdowns culminating in abandoning my vehicle, but none of them were overly enjoyable.
I have never liked driving in big cities, and living in Sitka just reinforced this, so heading towards Chicago and then Boston was not a pleasant idea.  We toyed with the idea of going up to Duluth, across northern Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan, and then heading down and around the remaining great lakes just to avoid Chicago.  The weather forecast didn't look great for this area so we chose the more normal interstate route, and it was lucky we did.  The day after we left the Twin Cities they received 30+ inches of snow in and around Duluth.  We did not get out unscathed, as there was some residual weather further south and we ended up driving through snow and ice in central Wisconsin.  In a very un-Minnesotan move, as the driving conditions deteriorated I took the exit for Wisconsin Dells and found a motel.
This was going to be a big change in our travels for this portion of the trip.  Because we had to  drain the tanks and winterize the van in MN, we no longer had running water for washing, cooking or the toilet.  Up until now we had cooked most of our meals in the van and spent most of our nights in rest areas and truck stops to keep our travel expenses down.  We could still sleep in the van but cooking was problematic and the lack of a toilet was a real issue, so we would try to stay in the van when possible but planned on more nights in motels.
Breakfast in bed
The next morning we left Wisconsin Dells in heavy fog, which later turned to rain and then a rain and snow mix.  One of the headlights in the van burned out and the left turn signal stopped working as we pulled away from the motel, reminding me there were still some gremlins wandering the electrical system in the van.  After driving a bit the turn signal started working again, but later in the day as it started getting dark the fuse blew for all the lights and forced the issue of a stop for some repairs.  There is nothing quite like the fun of driving the interstate through Gary Indiana during rush hour in the pouring rain with no lights inside or out on the van.  Luckily I had fuses and the gas station we stopped at had the right replacement bulb for the headlight.
Just before this happened we were skirting Chicago and smack in the middle of one of my biggest pet-peeves of this drive: toll roads.  The fact that they call these interstates which should mean that they are maintained with my tax dollars, and then charge me to use them annoys me quite a bit.  Add to that the fact that they are some of the worst maintained roads in the country, or that they have stupid regulations like the fact that I pay more than a car in NY because my van is over seven feet high(?) and I go beyond annoyed and head towards being pissed.
Anyway, we made it through Chicago, and stopped for dinner at a truck stop in Indiana, where we decided to stay for the night.  The next day saw us on the Indiana toll road, eventually crossing over to the Ohio toll road.  For once, I wasn't quite as disappointed that we were on a toll road, because Ohio has something the others don't.  Like other toll roads, the Ohio turnpike has service plazas where you can get food and fuel without the hassle of exiting and reentering through the toll gates.  What Ohio also has are designated parking areas for RV's in some of their service plazas, complete with electrical hook-ups and tank dump stations.  This meant we could use the facilities in the van, so we picked one at the end of our driving day and settled in for the night.
At this point winter storm Cleon was rapidly catching up with us and we kept an extra eye on the weather reports at the service plaza.  Somehow the snow and ice missed us again that night, but the next morning it was expected to pass through Pennsylvania, right across our route on I-80.  We changed our plans and headed north when I-90 split off heading towards New York, stopping for the night at a motel in Rochester.  We lucked out here as well with Buffalo NY getting a foot of snow just after we passed through.
Snappy dressers
The next day saw us arriving in Albany, where we planned to stop for a few days and visit friends.  We proceeded to take advantage of being in a larger city by going out for Thai food, ordering delivery pizza, visiting a chocolate festival at the museum, and stopping at the local Costco-esque warehouse shopping place.  The stop was especially fun because Matt and Beth have a daughter, Cassidy, that is just a few months younger than Madeline, so she again had someone to play with during our stay.  Our second night in Albany had snow in the forecast, but when we awoke there was only a dusting, another near miss, so we decided to move while we could.

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