I have fancied myself a fairly prolific traveler in the last years, stretching the bounds of my passport and camera across mostly European locales. I was lucky enough to see sights in Norway, Germany, France, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Egypt, Ireland, and Canada, since 2008. Each journey has its own set of challenges; in Greece, I wasn’t sure if the protestors from television would overrun my family as we climbed the Acropolis (they didn’t); or in the Czech Republic, I had to try to work as a reporter and snag interviews while not knowing any Slavic languages and having no experience there. The challenges are what make trips exciting and worthwhile, though…at least in theory.
My troupe’s latest journey set us onto America’s roadways, moving all of our things, by car, from Washington State to Ohio. Cleveland will be our new home, one that we are eager to embrace and settle into after months of transition from Switzerland to the United States. But this car journey is an epic feat for even regular drivers, and I hadn’t driven more than a few hours in the four years I lived abroad. To move us to Ohio would take more than 30 hours of driving time, spread through five long days.
Crossing the North American continent is part of the DNA of the United States. From the pioneers and explorers, to the creation of the highway system, to present-day holiday-makers, Americans get up and cross the continent more regularly than we probably should. But it is still an epic feat. No matter how much a people loves its cars, 30+ hours is still…well, 30+ hours in a car. Add on top of this a family with kids which has not traveled much in cars, and the fact their journey must be done in Winter, and there is a great potential for hardship and disaster.
Fortunately a bit of planning, and a lot of luck, can make for an easier time. It is important to plan for the worst (car trouble, blizzard, illness) but also make a strategy for the best. I packed all the supplies that would help us in a pinch (like chains, blankets, camp stove, water, road flares, etc), but more importantly we kept an eye on the weather. And the weather seemed to keep an eye on us, too.
From Eastern Washington we traveled East along I90, aiming for Billings, Montana by the end of the first day. This leg had us traversing mountain passes, but the skies were clear and the ice was scant. Constant checks of weather.gov showed that the next day, our longest, would be incredible weather and it was: from Billings across Wyoming into South Dakota the mercury went from 20 to 30 to 50 degrees at different times of the day. South Dakota was windy, leaving my knuckles white from tensely guiding our wagon back from being blown off the road. But the warm temperature and playgrounds at rest stops made it a long but safe day.
On the third day we traveled from Mitchell, SD to Wisconsin. Minnesota was a chilly 5 degrees, with winds to rival South Dakota, but we made it safely to family for a rest. The long, grueling travel days would take it out of anyone, but my limited car time in the last years may have heightened how tough the journey was on me. I am still not fully recovered from the drive, even now.
The final leg, from Eastern Wisconsin through Chicago over to Cleveland was rainy, but fine. In the time we traveled, the roads were beginning to soak, but hadn’t turned impassable. Areas which seemed pretty wet to me turned into flooded areas later in the night. After we left Wisconsin, a snow storm reportedly blew nearly a foot of powder over where we had just been. Coming into Cleveland, it was raining, but nearly 60 degrees. In December. In late December.
By no skill of our own, we navigated a grueling trip across the United States and missed bad weather and misfortune. I hope this is a good sign of things to come here in Ohio. I will soon begin work for the public broadcaster, and am excited to explore and integrate into the land of my fathers. The road trip was an epic journey in and of itself, but the big journey–that of life, of course–rolls on.