Posted by: powellpjc | February 25, 2009

Across America in the Winter

Diesel, rubber and boredom

Diesel, rubber and boredom

I’d planned to go to Florida. There are a lot of good boats there and the weather there is way better than it is in Toronto in February. But then I thought about what I really wanted in my floating home. When I’m anchored in the Beagle Channel down south America way and the glacier winds are roaring down from Fitzroy I want to be happy with my boat. A couple of boats on the west coast started calling my name so I pointed west from Toronto and gassed up.


The day started well with a high overcast and easy Saturday traffic. Couldn’t last and didn’t.

Around about London things turned to shit. So-called ‘lake effect’ snow haunted me again. 60km/hour and white knuckles all the way to Detroit. The border boys (suffering from certifiable paranoia) took a dim view of my plans and gave my car a good going over. Why? Just because my car is full of junk, I’m homeless and have no fixed destination? To their credit, they let me though.

The driving got worse. The Interstate system is a great highway network but travelers ignore the weather conditions. Driving snow. Cars scattered on both sides of the highway like a bad poker hand. I saw a lot of SUV’s overturned. People think their 4X4’s are invincible but the gas guzzlers corner like milk wagons and brake like freighters.

I lost my nerve again outside Chicago and got a hotel room about 8 pm.

Day 2 the snow stopped and I made good time around Chicago and out onto the western plains. Deep in the heart of Nebraska, along the N. Platte river among the millions of wintering geese I stopped again. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of geese before, on the Hudson Bay shoreline in September but the cornfields of Nebraska are really something else. Early morning flights of thousands and thousands of Snows, Blues, Grays and Canada geese honked their way around aimlessly. Every slough and puddle that wasn’t frozen held thousands more.

The High Plains

The High Plains

The speed limit is a generous 75 mph so I made good time on Day 3 through the Wyoming Territory and to the Utah state line. A lot of snow on the high plain but the temperature was 14C and the sky clear. The car was beginning to look like I lived in it (as it should). I would start driving about 9 am, take a nap around noon and push on again to 8 pm. Schedule worked fine for me. I noticed trouble with my night vision about a month ago so I don’t drive at night if I can avoid it. My glasses have changed or my eyeballs have. I haven’t had my eyes checked for 10 years so I’d bet on my eyeballs. Have to correct that soon.

The Promised Land, according to the LDS

The Promised Land, according to the LDS

Day 4 was interesting. The hills of northern Utah are lovely, coated with snow. There is some tricky driving in the mountain passes with fog and rain.

Descent into Zero-zero

Descent into Zero-zero


I figured I’d had it made when I hit the eastern plains of Oregon and I gave some thought to the pioneers of the Oregon Trail. Took me 4 days of decent driving to make the coast. Took them 4 months from the Missouri—if they made it—and they had to worry about scalpings, river crossings and bitter mountain passes. I felt a lot better.

Snake River, Idaho

Snake River, Idaho

When I hit the Columbia River Gorge the sun hit me between the eyeballs and I could smell the ocean. Then it got dark, started to pour rain and traffic picked up. The interstate highway along the river is scary at night in the rain. There is a high cliff to one side and a lot of signs warning about rock fall all the way. Four lanes of high way split with concrete walls. Then an active railway line with all its strange signals and lights, never mind trains. On the other side of that is the big drop into the mighty Columbia. I tucked in behind a transport truck and we flew along in the dark and the wet at 70 mph (and me with poor vision) until the highway stopped in Portland.

This guy I'll follow.

This guy I'll follow.

Portland, Oregon.

Never been here before and I don’t know where I am now, but I’m here.

Some observations on America in the Winter:

I am fat but Americans are way fatter.

There is no highway construction in the winter.

The Interstate rest stops now have free WiFi.

Highway hotels include a breakfast of sorts. This keeps the paper plate and plastic fork industry alive.

Nebraska is hording geese.

Long distance trucking is alive and well. The drivers prove you can’t die of boredom.

It’s 40 hours from Toronto to Portland, if you speed (a little bit).


I am in boat country. The search begins.



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