Here's the basics on our travel arrangements:
By virtue of having actually done it before, I'm driving the Penske truck. Riding with me in the cab is Chance, truck-dog in training. Imagine a moving truck that is so full that opening the rear door is nearly impossible – full beyond the nightmares of man. So full that even the space under the seats of the cab is full, that the passenger-side floor is full. Oh.My.God.Full. Just under 30' of road-hogging, heavy-duty sluggishness.
Kevin is driving the "Ark", our Dodge Grand Caravan minivan with 3 dogs (Ginger, Casey & Tess the puppy) and 10 cats in crates. Plus assorted personal belongings, wherever they can fit in.
Day One: Las Vegas, NV to Rawlins, WY
Well, the journey begins, late as usual. We hit the road sometime around noon PST. This of course bodes ill for later in the day
The route is to head north on I-15 to just after Provo, then take the Hwy 189 cutoff to I-80 East. Two obstacles: the Virgin River canyon just north of Mesquite, NV and the Provo Canyon just northeast of Provo. The rest of the route to Rawlins is a piece of cake.
The first hour for me is getting the hang of driving the Penske tank, so I won't freak out too much going thru the Virgin River Canyon and embarrass generations of female drivers in the process. Kevin, on the other hand, is dealing with a fiesta of meowing cats. Dunno which of us is worse off. The dogs in the van are handling things quite well, basically sleeping a lot and generally being calm. Casey & Ginger are in the back behind the cat crates, and Tess is in her crate on the passenger seat.
By the time we reach the Virgin River, I'm feeling well-acquainted with the truck, and sail thru our first obstacle with flying colours. Relief is a beautiful thing! Chance is well on the way to becoming the best truck dog ever! Heading north from there, the road to Provo is lightly populated and smooth sailing. We make good time, but have discovered there's a speed governor on the truck that limits me to 70mph. This sucks. I'd rather spend the gas and save the time, personally. Oh well.
<Kevin: It was quite windy the first day. The van wasn't affected too badly but the truck was a much larger target. Nancy did a great job keeping things under control. Once we got through Utah the winds dropped down to a more reasonable level.>
Speaking of gas, filling the tank of the truck is $100. Yikes! One tank = 350 miles. Our first gas stop reveals another flaw in our plan. Casey can get to the front seat over the cat cages! For the next seven days, he proceeds to do just that, every time Kevin vacates the driver's seat. This little dance becomes a ritual: Kevin gets out. Casey comes up. Kevin comes back, gets Casey and walks him around to the back of the van, opens the back liftgate, puts Casey back in the van then moves quickly to the driver's seat before Casey comes back up front again. This affords me much amusement and Kevin much aggravation. Heehee....
<Kevin: Casey was my main source of aggravation. I don't know what led to him thinking he was supposed to ride shotgun but given any chance to move forward, he took it. We first discovered this behavior when we stopped at the Valley of Fire exit to pick up some drinks for the trip. That time, I actually left my window down a bit and was surprised when Casey passed me on the way into the store.>
Continuing on, we reach Provo about 6pm, and head into the hills and the Provo Canyon. Which is widely under construction. Which sucks. 50+ miles at less-than-optimal speeds. We trudge thru, and it is astonishingly beautiful in the canyon. Well worth the slow routing. Emerging on the other side, we merge onto I-80, our route for the next two days. Double lane, divided highway – smooth sailing. However, greatly populated by semi's. This is what I'd call an "interesting experience" in the truck, but good truck-driving training. I learn the rules of driving a truck on the highway. Nothing formal, no "good buddy" stuff, just keeping speed, letting others know when it's safe to move back in front of you after they pass you, and vice versa. I begin to groove to the road.
Kevin has opted to hang behind me, generally, reasoning is that it's easier for him to spot me than the reverse. I should think so. Huge yellow truck or nondescript minivan – you make the call! Good thing he's a patient person, though, since my speed ranges from 45mph uphill to 70mph downhill, and semi's abound. Our worth-every-penny purchase in Vegas comes into good play here – 2 way radios. We chat and clue each other in about things on the road.
<Kevin: The truck was bright yellow and 12 feet tall with Penske written on the rear door. In comparison the van is silver and pretty much nondescript. I was bringing up the rear about 95% of the time, mainly because the radios only had a two mile range. Too easy to lose track of each other.>
We trudge along, making good time but it's a long drive. By the time we finally reach Rawlins we're tired well beyond our expectations. We fall into our hotel room after taking care of the beasties and plummet to sleep at about 2am.
States covered – Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming
Time Zones – Pacific, Mountain
Distance today – 686 miles
Total distance – 686 miles
Day Two: Rawlins, WY to Cheyenne, WY to Kearney, NE
We're up and on the road at about 9am, heading for Cheyenne and a visit with my Aunt Ann, Great-Aunt Thyra and cousins Tom (and wife Sydney) and Bruce. We're rushing to reach Cheyenne by 11:30 so we can board the beasties for the afternoon at a local kennel. It's too hot to leave them in the van while we visit.
Along the way I see lots of pronghorn antelope, mostly in two and threes, but once a larger group of ten or so. Good to see so many of them! Between them and the hawks circling and the semi's to dodge, it's a pleasant morning's drive.
Well, it was a valiant effort, but we failed to reach town by the time the kennel closed for lunch. Instead, we leave the dogs in Ann's backyard and the cats (in the opened van) in her garage. This works out well! The dogs are thrilled to have a big, grassy yard to play in, and cats enjoy the shade and fresh air.
Everyone is well and doing fine in the family, and we had a great visit. We sat for several hours in Thyra's lovely back yard and managed to get caught up on everyone's lives.
After our visit, we load everyone back up and hit the road for Kearney, NE. In case you didn't know, Nebraska is FLAT. This makes for easy driving (semi's notwithstanding) but a maddeningly boring drive. We made great time and reach our hotel about 8pm. A glorious night's sleep for us! The flatness is a concern, though. With the low horizons, the sun will be up early and hot, making the van too hot too early. We finally decide to park the van in the shade of the truck for the next morning. This actually works pretty well, and sees the cats thru the hottest part of the trip.
<Kevin: Not much to add to this. The visit with the relatives was a nice break even though it was only the second day on the road. One interesting part was when Nancy had me drive ahead to Cheyenne to try to get to the kennel before they closed. I had the paper with the address with me but when I got to Cheyenne I realized that I had only been there once before and I had no idea where exactly the address was. Pershing Drive is a major road, that much I recalled. And the paper with the directions mentioned that they were past the airport. Cheyenne isn't that big of a city but it did take me a bit longer to locate the kennel. It wouldn't have made enough of a difference if I had known the city better but it was still a bit of panic.>
States covered – Wyoming, Nebraska
Time zones – Mountain, Central
Distance today – 464 miles
Total distance – 1150 miles
Day Three: Kearney, NE to Macon, MO
We're up and on the road by about 10am, the extra bit of sleep making life much more enjoyable. The distance today is not too far, and a lot of it is on smaller roads, so we settle in to pass thru the rest of Nebraska at an easy pace.
This day marks our last bit of time on I-80. We turn off southeast at Lincoln and cut across to I-29 south, then east again at St. Joe on Highway 36 across to Macon. Nice routing, except Hwy 36 is a bit skinny for the truck, giving me some anxiety now and then.
<Kevin: Just before we got to St. Joseph, I gave my dad a call for Father's Day. At least my brain was working enough to remember to do that. Also, just as we turned off I-80 I was reaching for my phone to let David know we were on the final stretch and the phone started ringing. It was David calling to see if we'd turned off the interstate yet. Spooky! (Cue Twilight Zone theme).>
The countryside in this part of Missouri is just delightful. Easy-rolling hills covered with trees surrounding open meadows, tiny hamlets and bursting cornfields threaded by glistening streams. It's no wonder that Missouri residents are so fond of their state!
Before the end of the day's drive, I'm really missing I-80. The truck stops on that Interstate make life very nice when driving a large vehicle. Everything's designed to accommodate the larger-size vehicle, and diesel is easy to find at every stop. Now, we have to watch the signs closely, looking for indications of diesel pumps.
We pass by Marceline, MO, hometown of Walt Disney, with lots of signs indicating their favorite son.
Today is a stop for the night at Kevin's friend David's. He has a cute little house in the small town of Macon, Missouri. What a charming town! All big trees and turn-of-the-century houses. this also gives the dogs and cats a bit of a break, since they get to spend the night in David's garage, instead of the van or a cramped hotel room.
<Kevin: Macon really is a very pretty town. Narrow streets though and even narrower alleys. But, we parked behind the house and had a really nice visit. Unfortunately, David had thrown his back out the day before so that we picked up KFC for dinner instead of going out for BBQ like we had planned. I guess we'll have to visit again so we can have some of the famous BBQ.>
After spending some time visiting with David and his friend Jim, and a short visit from David's sister & hubby, we park three of the dogs and all of the cats in their crates in David's garage for the night, and repair to the local Super 8 motel for the night, with Tess in her crate as company. She's too little to leave in the garage.
The night spent outside the van proves very valuable for the cats. They'd been looking pretty stunned and peaked so far on the trip, but the break this night provided serves to perk them up considerably for the remainder of the trip. The dogs also seem to appreciate the break, Ginger in particular becoming less lethargic afterwards. She's 15 years old, and we were very concerned about the toll this trip would take on her.
States covered – Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri
Time zone – Central
Distance today – 400 miles
Total distance – 1550 miles
Day Four: Macon, MO to Richmond, IN
Day four takes us across the last bit of Missouri, across Illinois and into Indiana. Just east of Hannibal, MO, we pick up I-72 for our trip through the Land of Lincoln. We'll stick with I-72 to Urbana/Champaign where it merges into I-74 and continues east.
This is a smooth, easy drive day, with good roads and not too much traffic. We have a stop planned in Indianapolis to visit the cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried, but as the day progresses we decide to forgo that since we'll be hitting Indianapolis a little later in the day than we figured. My feeling is, "Hey, they're not going anywhere." Gives us an excuse to come back to this lovely part of the country for a visit.
Our new, non-stop routing thru Indianapolis has us skirting the city on the I-465 ring road and picking up I-70 on the east side. Not being particularly observant, I failed to note that I-70 also intersects the ring road on the west side of the city, too. In fact, it passes right thru the heart of Indianapolis, coming on one side and out the other.
So, being the supremely confident person I am, when I see I-70 East, I figure "okay, here it is", and swap over to it. Kevin, following behind (with maps and more info) sees me heading off to I-70 and scampers after me wondering what the heck I'm doing! Me, I'm totally concentrating on the road and traffic, and by the time we emerge on the other side, Kevin manages to clue me in on the unexpected turnoff I just made. Oops!
<Kevin: This is one of the times that I wasn't following the truck, at least not directly behind it. I was a couple of lanes away from Nancy when I saw her moving towards the exit. Luck was on my side as I managed to get across traffic and follow her. The good thing was that we managed to get a better look at downtown than we would have otherwise <grin>.>
We continue east on I-70 to Richmond, on the eastern edge of Indiana, for our night stop.
States covered – Missouri, Illinois, Indiana
Time Zone – Central, Eastern
Distance today – 444 miles
Total distance – 1944 miles
Day Five: Richmond, IN to Pittston, PA
Every long road trip has one, and this is it: The Day From Hell.
<Kevin: No argument from me.>
It starts simply enough. A nice, hassle-free routing thru Ohio on I-70, past Dayton, skirting around Columbus on the I-270 ring road (actually doing it this time!) and picking up up I-71 northeast to I-76 and Akron and Youngstown, where it connects with our old pal, I-80. From there, we follow I-80 east thru most of Pennsylvania to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Pittston. Not the longest day on the trip, but substantial. Pittston is a must-stop for us, since our inflatable bed is waiting for us there, where it was shipped two weeks previously, right before the evil car demolition.
So, we drive, effortlessly east until we reach Pennsylvania. Then all hell breaks loose.
THE ENTIRE STATE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION.
Not your wimpy-assed, slow-down-for-the-crews construction. No, this is hardcore, single-lane-over-the-bridge construction zones. As in barriers with 1 foot of space either side of the truck, going on for miles and miles at a time. Hundreds of semi's crowd the Interstate. By the second zone of this kind, I am a basket case. It's like riding a rollercoaster for 30 minutes at a time. I am talking myself thru them, whimpering out loud. By the time we're halfway thru the state, I am simply beyond exhaustion, living on the edge of my nerves.
<Kevin: I have NEVER seen as many semis on the highways in my life. I would say that well over half the vehicles were these big trucks, some with two trailers behind them. And most of the highways are two lanes except for when they're down to one lane. And on top of it all, it was also the only day we encountered any amount of rain.>
Finally, after forever, we reach the final stages of our route for the day – the Scranton valley. Any fans of Harry Chapin will remember his song "30,000 Pounds of Bananas", which describes an unsuccessful trip down into this valley. As we descend at 1am, this song inserts itself as an earworm into my brain, and I pass into complete giddiness, singing it out loud in the cab. Chance, of course, sleeps thru my madness.
We reach Pittston and head in, searching for our lodgings. In vain. No streets make sense. Finally, Kevin seeks out a pay phone and calls the hotel, getting directions from our current location. These directions lead us thru a maze of low-hanging power lines and skinny streets which I navigate in a near-total panic in my huge truck. They culminate in a 12% downhill grade. I pray my way down. We finally locate the motel, and pull in. No place to park the truck. I round a corner in the parking lot and find myself in a dead-end area, one lane-and-parking spaces-wide. Great! But after the great construction hell, I can dare all. A 47-point u-turn the truck around in the parking lot, back to the intersection and park. There's enough room for others to get around the truck, so I'm done. Lock up and flip me!
By the time I get to our room, Kevin has retrieved the infamous air bed. I nearly collapse with relief at finally being done with the day.
States covered – Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania
Time zone – Eastern
Distance today – 571 miles
Total distance – 2515 miles
Day Six: Pittston, PA to Houlton, ME . . . and beyond.
Up in the morning, and heading for Maine. We have a brief panic with the truck in the morning when the ABS-system warning light comes on. A quick call to the 800-number, and an even quicker visit from a repair guy and our fears about traveling are relieved. We have it on good authority (the repair guy) that there's no more construction between Pittston and the state line, so off we go. Houlton, Maine is the final stop before our new home! The day is bright and sunny and cool, perfect driving weather.
This info is mostly true, and we reach New York without incident. A quick jaunt thru the state leads us to Connecticut and then on to Massachusetts. The roads are good and traffic not bad, so we're making great time.
In Massachusetts, connect with the Mass Pike, the first of many toll roads in the final stages of the trip. We do a wide swing around Boston on I-495 and pick up I-95 on the far side, plunging into New Hampshire and then onto Maine.
<Kevin: Here we encounter my bonehead maneuver of the trip. Just before we got to the Massachusetts turnpike, I take one of my rare trips ahead of Nancy. I'm convinced that we agreed to stop for gas before we get on the toll road. I'm about two miles ahead of the truck when I pull off at a truck stop. I'm calling Nancy on the radio to let her know where I am. Neglecting to take the hilly terrain into account, by the time she's close enough to hear clearly, she's already past the exit and getting on the toll road. I manage to catch up with her just past the exit to the outer ring road around Boston. Oops.>
Somewhere in New Hampshire(I think it was Portsmouth) I take a wrong turn and end up on the wrong road. The radios save us, and I tell Kevin to cruise along ahead and I'll catch up, which I manage to do after getting turned around. Close call!
I-95 is our route du jour, and it's a very nice road. About 20 minutes into Maine, I got on the radio and called Kevin to let him know I was "in my happy place" driving. A far cry from the day before! We may survive this!
Of course, nothing's perfect. We're in toll road hell. Kevin's got it easy in a minivan. Me, they're hitting for $4+ every booth. This sucks, but I guess since the roads are so nice it's worth it.
The drive is long, and moose warnings are in full force. Especially after dark. I'm totally paranoid about hitting a moose, but see none along the way. This is a good thing.
About 50 miles from Houlton, I need to stop and gas up the truck, so we pull off at Medway, Maine for fuel. As we pull into the gas station, I head over to the diesel pumps, and as I stop, I see Kevin pull in with flashing blue lights behind him. Great.
I fill the tank, and wander over. By now, there are 6 cop cars (muni and state police!) surrounding him in the van. He's looking like he's ready to faint. I introduce myself to one of the officers and ask what's the problem. Turns out, the Nevada "drive-away" permit we have on the van is a new thing to these guys. They've never heard of such a thing, and are calling Nevada HP to find out what it is. We got the drive-away permit instead of paying $350 for a year's plates we wouldn't use and couldn't get reimbursed for. No one noticed until the bored cops in Maine!
<Kevin: I'm actually surprised that it took 3000 miles for anyone to notice that the van didn't have plates on it. I guess the other cops had actual crimes to worry about. One set of lights was almost expected. Six sets was more than a little unnerving.>
Once the permit gets the okay, we're off. Kevin is understandably relieved. All we want now it to get to Houlton and sleep. Well, we arrive in Houlton and go hunting for our motel. After a bit of searching, we find it, and the office is dark. A sign says "Ring the Bell". We ring. And ring. And ring. And ring. No answer. A new level of suckiness is reached. No room at this Inn. We check the other two motels in town. One takes pets but is full, the other doesn't take pets. More suckiness.
We decide to press on thru the border to Woodstock, NB, where more motels can surely be found. It's about 1:30am.
We stop at the US side, and find out we have to have an export permit for the van. No problem, we can have it in 3 days. 3 days??? We can come back for it, I guess. We have to take the truck back to Maine, anyway, in a couple of days.
Next stop, the Canadian side. Only 2 people on duty – a charming woman in the office side, and a guy in the warehouse area. We start filling out paperwork with the woman. Pages and pages of inventory. A couple hours later, we're thru the papers, pay all our import taxes and head over to the warehouse so they guy can check the truck. The truck that hasn't been opened since we left Vegas. The truck so full it'll pop. We warn the officer about the truck as we try to get the back door open. A couple tries later, we manage to get the door open about 2/3 of the way. He sees the sea of boxes and crap and has us close it back up. "I've seen everything I need to see". We are relieved that he doesn't want to go digging into the chaos. He sends us on our way.
Woo Hoo! We're in Canada!
We continue, undaunted. The sun is coming up, shining harshly into the sides of my eyes. We reach Woodstock and decide to continue. In for a penny, as they say. Fredericton for a motel, we say.
We reach Fredericton about morning rush-hour time. Busy, busy, busy. The only route thru town is via skinny, low-wired streets. I am exhausted and freaked. At sometime during this street-wandering, I make an executive decision. Instead of driving up-and-around New Brunswick, we're taking the ferry across from St. John. to heck with the drive. I WANT TO GET HOME!
<Kevin: Actually, we got off the road looking for a motel to grab a few hours of sleep. But, other than the one sign on the freeway indicating that there was lodging at our exit, we NEVER saw another sign or even a motel or hotel. The cities in New Brunswick are quite old and the streets are very narrow. Nancy did a simply amazing job getting us back on track.>
We find the road to St. John and start driving. I'm so sleepy I can hardly drive, but manage to make it to the ferry landing in one piece. Miracles still happen. It's 10am, two hours before the ferry, so we camp out and let the dogs have a run. Kevin takes them all down to the water to play a bit. Finally, it's time to load the ferry, and I get to experience yet another new thing – loading into a car ferry with a long, tall truck. A bit hairy, but chump change compared to Pennsylvania. We wander upstairs, have breakfast, and I sleep for two hours until we get to Digby, Nova Scotia.
With a short pit-stop to visit Miles & Tara (our pals) on the way north, we arrive at out new home at about 6pm, after almost 32 hours of non-stop travel. Needless to say, sleep was the first thing we did!
States & Provinces – Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
Time zones – Eastern, Atlantic
Distance today – 789 miles
Total distance – 3304 miles