Minus 2 Degrees to Plus 39 in 685 Miles

Nebraska/Wyoming State Line,  I-80 Westbound

When I was a new driver the thought of driving 400 miles in a day was frightening. Just 18 months ago, my 400 miles included a two-hour nap.

Today I was hammer down for 11 hours, 685 miles, through two states, Iowa and Nebraska where the temperature swung from minus two to plus 39 through one snowstorm and it was no big deal.

The band of snow traveled down I-29 touching North and South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. It crossed I-80 about forty miles on each side of Omaha, Nebraska. We are heading to Seattle and I think we’ll dodge the storms.

By 0800 Eastern, the only evidence of the storm were the ditched cars and trucks and snowplows creating two lanes for church traffic. Two big trucks were ditched in Iowa, two cars up on their side and one compact nose into a snow bank rear tires hanging over the road.

The trouble here is the wind. It’s snowing, it’s icy and it’s windy. The snow blows, the visibility is terrible. The blowing snow left King Kong-sized drifts along the road. The ice left a Japanese tree-cicle effect, glistening white outlining every branch, gleaming, delicate lace.

The blast of Canadian Arctic air descended yesterday on the Midwest while we were at the Columbus, Ohio terminal, We are thankful for our Auxillary Power Unit. We were warm and plugged in.

We have had almost everything Mother Nature has to offer since departing Los Angeles on Wednesday.

It’s hard to believe that not quite a week ago, we were sitting in an outdoor waterfront restaurant in San Pedro, California noshing on calamari, crab stuffed mushroom caps, sweet potato fries and barbecued ribs, our view interrupted momentarily by a giant freighter loaded to the skies, tugboats pushing it into port.

Southern California is hard to beat when it comes to weather. It was a Goldilocks day, the temperature was not too warm and not too cold, there was no humidity and the slightest of breezes, just enough to freshen the air. Perfection.

Greg booked a room in the DoubleTree San Pedro for my birthday, excellent choice, which confirmed us as Hilton Honors Diamond VIP  members – we get a black card.

The hotel is attached to a marina with a walkway that stretches from Carbrillo Beach on the south to the fishing docks at the Ports o’Call Village on the north.

San Pedro is a working class enclave wrapped around the Port. It had the feel of an every man place when we drove the bobtail through the tiny streets crowded with petit wooden bungalows, probably averaging 800 square feet apiece. High on the hills, overlooking the water to Catalina Island, not so working class, giant houses with floor to ceiling windows drink in the view.

Our window overlooked the marina, sailboats and powerboats, cheek-to-cheek, bobbing in the faintest ripple of a sea. We left the hotel and walked north along the promenade around the boats onto the street feeling very much at home with all the tractors and trailers lined up along the fishing docks. This place must hop in the mornings. The nets were neatly piled along the docks covered with tarps, the seagulls and the pelicans squawking overhead, hoping a few pieces of choice flesh had been left.

At the end of the docks is the Ports o’Call Village, hidden behind the tschotske stores between a medium-priced restaurant and a higher priced catering hall was a giant cafeteria. A local Mexican party hangout. The signs warned “no outside coolers.” Inside the giant covered cafeteria, plastic tables and benches, and a half dozen vendors prepared seafood. Huge platters of steaming fish, grilled prawns, calamaris and crabs were taken out to tables crowded with a half dozen to a dozen people. It looked delicious. The way the patrons were diving into platters, bets are sure that it tasted delicious. Next time we will come here. On this particular day sitting at a hard bench did not appeal to me. We headed back to the medium-priced restaurant and ordered the early bird sampler. A benefit of our Eastern Time zone life, we get cheap food when we’re on the West coast.

Enjoying our working harbor view, I cannot believe how anyone could think that our little adventure is crazy. We spent Christmas Day in the snow in Chicago and three days later we are sitting in the sunshine in southern California. How cool is that? We didn’t have to pay to get there, in fact they paid us. The whole thing still astounds me. I was asking some of the drivers this morning about the other terminals, the ones we haven’t been to yet, they were warning me not to get stuck in certain places because the wait can be two or three days for a load out. That’s okay with me, I said. “I’m using the carrier like a travel agent.”

The downside of the driving is all the moving around and never being at home, but we don’t care. I didn’t clean the bathroom at the hotel, I didn’t make the bed. At 0600 local time I wandered in my slippers and pajamas down to the restaurant for a cafe latte – I wanted to have breakfast when Greg woke up – now included in the room with the Diamond VIP.

After scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit, oatmeal and pastries, we walked south to Cabrillo Beach and along the sand. The skies a bright blue, the members of the local Polar Bear club out for a swim.

Our adventure is a study in contrasts. Luxury hotels and fancy restaurants one day, truck stop showers and sandwiches for dinner the next. Freezing rain and snow in Chicago, sunshine in California.

This time of year it’s all about the weather. Our load out was to Dallas via Las Vegas. Driving into Vegas I was treated to yet another spectacular sunrise. Clouds, lots of clouds. The morning rays forced their way through, first a pale pink, then a white light, the edge of the sun maybe, then a deep magenta, lighting up the sky and turning the clouds from blue grey to pink grey. I should have known it was a message, a warning, the day would not be as it seemed.

We stopped in Las Vegas to have our trailer reloaded then headed south to Kingman, Arizona and onto I-40 eastbound. I woke up around 0100 poking my head out the curtain. “Whoa!,” I gasped. Snow everywhere, Greg following the ruts in the lanes.

“This is good now,” he said. “You should have seen Flagstaff. I could not find the lanes under the snow.”

I went back to bed. It often looks much, much worse to the passenger than it is. We’ve seen a lot of winter already. By the time I woke up again at 0330, were were out of the snow, but it was following us.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico it found us again. A heavy snow squall reduced me to a 25 mph crawl from Albuquerque to Zazax and Tijeras, climbing a moderately high mountain. The snow started fast and thick, again I lost the lanes, there were no plows, only me pushing my way through, choosing to drive in the middle of the road, a dozen trucks and cars following me, rather than be pulled down a bank by the oncoming snow.

The snow has a weird effect in the big truck it pulls you off course. You think you’re driving in a straight line but you’re not. I continued slowly to Moriarity about 50 miles. It looked like the the snow was going away, Greg went to bed. A few miles later, the snow found me again, this time for the long haul. Blowing snow, almost no visibility, too early for the snowplows and salt trucks, 250 miles at 40 mph through New Mexico and into Texas to Amarillo.
We had no idea that there was this much snow in New Mexico.

“Any place with the name ‘Mexico’ in it should not have snow,” grumbled Greg.

The hardest part of the driving was that I couldn’t see a vehicle in front of me. The snow covered the trucks and cars obliterating their tail lights, everything blurred together into one white mess. I stopped twice, as a good Schneider trainee, kicked the snow off the bumpers and landing gear and cleared the snow from all the lights so people could see me.

In Amarillo the snow became more rain, in Wichita Falls only rain which followed us to Dallas. The truck, washed clean of three weeks of road salt in Los Angeles is now covered in red dirt.

New Mexico is a blue state politically, which is funny to us, because geologically it’s the reddest of states. There’s a lot of red dirt in America, but New Mexico and Utah are really red. The dirt dropped by the sand trucks in New Mexico is red, it turns the snow red.

New Mexico is still one of my favorites. I love driving on I-40 between New Mexico and Arizona with its giant red cliffs  rubbed smooth by nature’s most powerful tool, wind and sand. These are jagged cliffs, but the sides facing the wind have been worn away.

Our New Year’s Eve, Greg celebrated by booking our tickets to Australia, we leave January 12th and return February 2. We depart from Los Angeles. Then he departed for Columbus wishing himself a Happy New Year in two times zones, Central and Eastern.

We drove from Dallas to Columbus in 19 hours, 1,071 miles, a picture perfect sunny, winter day. Spent the day lounging in the tractor and Saturday night headed into light snow bound for Seattle.

Cross your fingers that we continue to skirt between the storms. If not, we’ll be hanging the irons!

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