This is another look back to our early days on the road, and again I am only documenting what went wrong. If you want to look at all the wonderful places we visited, try Google. If you are tempted to travel south in winter with a trailer, read this first. Appropriate pictures have been a challenge, but I am indebted to my daughter Louise, who dug up some snow scenes, and also to Casey Palmer, who graciously allowed me to use his excellent picture from his own blog. He is well worth visiting: http://caseypalmer.com
January 2nd 1999 was our planned departure date, weather permitting. The previous night it snowed … and snowed … and snowed.
The roads were blocked, doom-laden warnings pervaded the airwaves, and our snow shovel was interred without trace. The next day it snowed again. By Monday, January 4th, the snow eased, the temperature plummeted, the wind picked up, and the weather channel warned of “white-outs”, ice, and more snow on its way. Meanwhile the village plough had cleared the road, and buried most of the trailer. We left by about 3.p.m., assuming that things could only get worse. They did, and by the end of the week Toronto had closed the schools, banks and subway (underground … but unfortunately not entirely!), and called out the army. But I digress.
After some very careful driving through blowing snow, we reached the U.S. border at Sarnia, which was where we found that our umbilical had become dislodged. (For those without trailer experience, that’s the cable that connects all the lights and things). It had dragged on the ground, and quite worn through some of its multiple wires. Since by then it was dark, we pulled into the Sarnia Holiday Inn, which had a ploughed car park, and spent our first week’s cash allowance there. The next week’s cash allowance went towards the new umbilical and the fellows who fixed it. Then it dropped even colder.
Through Michigan and into Indiana the temperature fell slowly but surely down to –15F (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit, since we were in the USA by then, where metrication is a dirty word for many!). Night fell, the Interstate became icy, and littered with wrecks of large trucks and many more cars. At the first opportunity we crawled up an off-ramp, and found a motel. “I wouldn’t go down there,” said Elaine, “there’s nowhere to park.” She was right: the truck parking was beyond a fence.
Sheet ice, and a challenging reversing job. Elaine was directing, and darn near froze. (The wind had picked up). We eventually escaped, and actually found a motel nearby with room to park. The adjacent trucks ran their big diesels all night, since, as most people know, diesels are hard to start when the temperature drops below –10F. But the motel did take dogs and also allowed trailer parking. No way would we sleep in the trailer at those temperatures, even if some insane fool had left a trailer site open. The third week’s cash allowance was gobbled up.
Other than some more ice, snow, wind and wicked temperatures, we trundled uneventfully into Alabama, where all the experts said we would find some “above-freezing weather”. It was actually around 35F, but all the taps were frozen but one, most of the trees were down because of an ice-storm, and their power had just come back after a week’s outage. Most of the groceries and water in the trailer had thawed a bit, and that’s when we discovered that the best place to keep things from freezing on really cold days is inside the fridge.
Since we were now a long way south, we decided to keep going that way, and it did in fact warm up a bit once we hit New Orleans. We had a nice site by a bayou, which is a kind of tidal swamp. We were warned about the alligators and the fire ants, but that night’s frost likely deterred them a bit. If you have a map, you will see that driving from Toronto, Ontario to Tucson, Arizona does not take you anywhere close to New Orleans, so we had to do some serious driving westwards before we hit … wonder of wonders … the desert State Park in Columbus, New Mexico. This is where Boris-The-Dog learned that a prickly pear is not a tree. Later he learned, also the hard way, that staying on the trail in a desert is much the best plan. Elaine also learned this in Tucson, and that carrying a comb is a good idea for removing chunks of jumping cholla from dogs and parts of one’s person.
The rest of the trip, and in fact the rest of the year, was only a series of isolated misfortunes, interspersed with minor bad news of various kinds.
“What time do we have to arrive to get a site in that nice State Park?” “They say about 7 a.m. should do it”.
“Why doesn’t Boris want to go for a walk tonight in the desert?” “Go outside and listen to the coyotes … not totally dumb, our Boris!”
“It’s a bit humid today.” “No it’s not. It’s just hot. 87F according to the guy in the next site, but he says that this is unusual for January.”
“We’ll have to stay another day –there’s a sandstorm and a wind warning for ‘high-profile vehicles’”. “But we need water and groceries.”
“Why is the trailer battery almost flat?” “The heater motor takes too many amps and it was cold last night.”
“We need a coat for Boris if we don’t have the heater at night.” “He’s got a coat, but he’s still cold!”
“Where did the stopper go for the hot-water bottle?” [in Elora, Canada!]. “Where’s the nearest hardware store?” “About 100 miles north.”
“What’s Boris barking at?” It was at a herd of javolinas advancing on him for their dinner. These funny animals look like small pigs, but have fur, smell like skunks, and act like raccoons. They are not afraid of coyotes, let alone a small schnauzer. Campers in tents positively hate them!
On our return to Elora we found the ploughed snow had formed large ice-banks, and it really needed a bulldozer to get the trailer backed in. Then the pipes from half the house were blocked, frozen, or something. This took a day or three to fix.
In summary, a terrific trip and great fun, in spite of the above. We resolved to escape winter the following year, and this trip had its own challenges. Details to come.
John, with comments and edits from Elaine as usual.