Saturday, January 11, 2014

The return leg...

So, we haven't actually died on the road, nor have we taken over two weeks to get from New Hampshire to Arizona... Mel and I were both hit with the flu, while we were on the road... which is always a joy; and have had a hard time shaking it off.

After the nightmare that was the trip out, we had decided we were going to try to relax more on the way back. Unfortunately, we left a couple days late because of work, throwing all our plans in disarray... and then the flu.

The first "day", we ended up not actually leaving North Hampton, NH til Midnight Sunday morning.

We decided to take the backroad route through New Hampshire, Vermont, and upstate New York; running most of the 450 miles between New Hampton and Rochester on twisty mountain 2 lane "highways"... which, late at night with no-one around, is... rather interesting...

It's surprising how well the new Explorers (that's what we rented for the trip) handle, and the V6 has a fair bit of grunt. I took advantage of the clear weather, and clear late night roads, and we made pretty great time all the way out to western New York.

We didn't actually get on an interstate at all until Schenectady; so about 200 miles on backroads at the beginning, and the last 40 were on state routes and county roads. 

Shortly after dawn Sunday morning, we stopped for the day at a friends place off to the west of Rochester. Mel had slept along the way, so she hung out while I slept for a few hours. Once I got up, we went out to a great dinner with four friends we hadn't been able to see in person in a number of years.

18 hours down, 4 friends visited, one good meal had with said friends... not bad...

Again, we didn't head out til quite late... around 11:30pm, but that was part of the plan. Well... 10pm had been part of the plan, but dinner with friends ran a little long. That said, we had made great time on late night back roads and deserted interstates, and figured we'd be able to do so again. 

... and then the ice storms came back...

We had intended to get to Columbus Sunday night (about 375 miles from Rochester), but some time before midnight, the ice storm we had been hoping to avoid closed in on us. We went from averaging over 70mph, to under 50mph... and a nervous 50mph at that. The black ice for the last 120 miles was scary bad

At one point, while stopping for gas in eastern Ohio, we actually slid down an entire off ramp, across the intersection, and partway up the onramp opposite.

So yeah, for safeties sake we decided to stop for the night at that point, and only made it to Cleveland (230 miles). That mean an extra 140 or so miles to reach Mels aunt and uncle in Macomb Illinois on Monday (580 miles).  

Did I mention that I was working the whole week? Yeah, I would work in the morning, start driving in the afternoon, and finish up my day before getting to sleep for the night. 

So, the ice cleared up around noon, and we grabbed lunch, and hit the highway again, for what was actually our first long stretch on the interstate during daylight.

We made it over to Gary.. actually Hammond, Indiana (345 miles) by dinner time (well... 7pm), and had a semi-famous smashed burger and a shake at Shoops (pretty good burgers and shakes actually... thus why Shoops is semi-famous). 

... and then the ice storms came back...

The 225 non-stop, and mostly non-interstate miles from Hammond to Macomb (driving right by "Ron Swanson actor Nick Offermans home town of Minooka) took almost 5 hours, most of them white knuckle icy miles in limited visibility at reduced speed.

At one point I watched a pickup truck actually spin on the road in front of me... and recover, managing to drive off safely. 

We finally pulled into Macomb a bit after midnight, and managed to get a good nights... well, 7 hours or so, which for me is a lot... sleep; and had a great morning through early afternoon with Mels aunt and uncle, their who's about Mel's age, and her cute little daughters.

Three days, four friends, and six family members visited... two ice storms weathered...

We left Macomb about 2pm, and were planning on hitting Kansas City (about 300 miles and almost none of it interstate) for dinner and to visit with Mel's middle brother and family, but we couldn't work a schedule out, and decided to push on to Topeka (360 miles). 

We could have easily made it to Salina, but this being new years eve, we didn't want to be on the road too late, and settled in to our hotel abou 10pm, again to get a good night sleep, prepping for the longer push to Colorado Springs the next day.

... and no ice storms were forecast for the next day...

We left the hotel 10am new years day, heading for a lunch meetup with my good friend of 10 years, Jeffro of the Poor Farm

... and then the ice storms came back...

By the time we made it to Hays, the ice and snow was blowing hard. 

The only good thing about the combination of 30 knot winds, heavy snow, and 12 degree temperatures, is that the wind is too high for the snow to   on the highway.

I've really got to stop saying "if the weather holds". Every time I do, it doesn't. We ended up spending about 2 hours sitting out the heaviest part of a mini-blizzard in Hays Kansas.

You know the snow is bad when you go in for lunch clear, and come out an hour later to 4" on your car.

You know it's REALLY bad when by the time you finish clearing the car, you've got to go back and clear where you started over again.

We had to get back on the road to make sure we made our hard deadline of Colorado Springs that night, and the snow started to let up, so we set off around 3pm from Hays (about 320 miles, and a time zone change). 

It cleared up about an hour out of Hays, and we managed to stay clear for... oh, all of about 2 hours. 

... and then the ice storms came back...

This time it was so bad that they actually closed I-70 down around us. The ice was so bad on the grade up to Limon, that a bunch of vehicles slid off the road.

Literally, as we were pulling off the Interstate into a truck stop in Limon, the troopers were closing the interstate for 20 miles both sides of Limon. Eventually they closed it all the way from east of Limon, over to strasbourg, on the approaches to Denver.

... only we were heading downgrade into the springs along 24, so lucky us, we could keep going.

24 was not significantly distinguishable from a luge run, and that's all I'll say about that.

But we made it to our family dinner... a little late... but we made it. The Springs was actually clear, and the ride into town was really quite pretty, with the lights and the hills etc...

A few things I had forgotten since I last slept in Colorado Springs:

  1. Much of the city is at around 7000 foot altitude
  2. 7000 feet is pretty high
  3. There is considerably less oxygen at 7000 feet

Hypoxia aside, we had a great day in the springs, stayed longer to extend our time with some family... I may write about that in the future... and so I could get some work done.

Day five, 7 friends, 11 family members visited...

Our original plan was to leave relatively early, and make it one long day to our endpoint in Arizona. We ended up not leaving Colorado Springs quite late, so changed our plans, deciding to stop for the night in Santa Fe (335 miles), so we could have dinner and hang with another friend.

A few things I had forgotten since I last slept in Santa Fe:

  1. Much of the city is at around 7000 foot altitude
  2. 7000 feet is pretty high
  3. There is considerably less oxygen at 7000 feet
As an aside, I can recommend the Santa Fe Bar & Grille, we had a great dinner there, with excellent service, and a great beer selection.

I can also VERY STRONGLY recommend Tecolote Cafe. It's honestly one of the best places I've ever eaten, and it's cheap, with amazing customer service to boot.

Again, I worked til about 3pm (in the aforementioned cafe in fact), and then we ran down to Mesa (460 miles), getting in around 11pm.

Six days down, 8 friends, 11 family members visited... 

So,  being sick the whole time, and having to work 'til the afternoon most days, not great.

Being stuck in ice storms almost every night... really not great.

Being able to take our time, visit and relax and hang out with friends and family we haven't seen in years... really great.