Technically, I still have one day/260 miles left before the drive is over, but I’m two weeks in and will sleep tonight in the time zone where I grew up, only four hours from the place I was born. I have, more or less, learned what I’m going to learn from this drive. And I have a few hours and internet at hand, so now seems like a good time to write up my thoughts.
Every time I came “back to America” from Alaska (my husband is one of the Alaskans who hate that joke, but I never get tired of it!), I felt simultaneously excited, disquieted, and wistful about the proximity of other states to the state I was visiting. I would exclaim, “You can drive from here to other states! You just go that way on the interstate!” And perhaps people looked at me askance, but it honestly struck me, hard, every time.
I’m pretty used to it now.
As I drive through a state or province, I like to observe its personality. British Columbia seems really welcoming; at least, it has nice people and very user-friendly road signs (“Extreme Dust!” … yeah, it was far dustier in the Yukon Territory, and they didn’t warn us; “10km to the next rest area” … thanks!). Alberta seems more like Iowa, to me, than like Montana; part of it is the landscape, but part of it is personality, too. Like Alaskans (and Texans), Montanans seem very state-riotic—people are proud to live where they live, and they think they’re very different from people in other states. (Maybe they’re right. Like Alaska, Montana is harsh and beautiful. Not just anybody could live there, but, for the people who can, there’s a lot to love about the place.) Indiana and Kentucky are both pretty friendly. Illinois isn’t, really—they don’t offer helpful road signs about services available at exits, and their drivers misbehave disproportionately often, weaving in and out of traffic and cutting people off. Though maybe that’s unfair: the closest I got to an accident [caused by someone else*] was in Kentucky, and I was too far back to see their license plate… which is the only reason I wasn’t actually in an accident with them, given how completely they lost control of their vehicle. (They were OK.)
Pickup trucks seem to behave terribly everywhere, even in Canada. I’m not sure why that surprised me. We always expected them to spin out in the snow, or to park badly, or to cut us off in traffic, in Anchorage. But I was genuinely surprised to see that pickup drivers acted the same way in Canada and throughout the rest of the drive. The near-accident in Kentucky was a pickup, of course. (No, not all pickups. I’m sure I know a few considerate, conscientious pickup drivers.)
As far as motels, I had a serious issue, both when I drove the other way and at the beginning of this drive: I have birds with me, so hotel/motel staff want to put me into the pet-friendly rooms. But I’m very allergic to cats and dogs, the standard pets. This leads to really poor nights of sleep, with trouble breathing and coughing fits, which wears me down really quickly.
The trick, I’ve learned, is to go to a pet-friendly motel, not a motel with pet-friendly rooms. Motel 6 has a policy where, if a pet has been in a room, they strip the bed and wash everything. (Let us not dwell on the fact that that isn’t done as a matter of course.) So I have found that I could breathe in all of the Motel 6 rooms I stayed in. The individual motels varied wildly, with some including free wifi, mini-fridges, and microwaves, while others didn’t even include shampoo, or clean floors. But they were all fairly inexpensive, and I could sleep in all of them. Most of the Motel 6 staff were actively welcoming to my birds, too (asking questions, exclaiming over them, and, in the case of one motel owner, letting me play with his eclectus parrot and showing me videos of his conures, while my birds waited in the car with the A/C on :)), and none of them were weird about them, which I remember being an issue during the first drive.
Maybe this isn’t a common issue: having pets, but being allergic to cats/dogs. I’m still glad to have found the solution!
Time zones make everything harder.
A mobile phone’s GPS won’t work without a data plan. That was a major oversight.
My dad pointed out that a CB radio wouldn’t have been expensive and would have decreased my stress (and, in retrospect, his stress — I didn’t tell him I had no means of communication through the most remote parts of the drive until those parts were over, but he was pretty upset about it). For that matter, I’m a licensed amateur radio operator, and the US and Canada have reciprocal operating agreements, had I been willing to do all of the research and acquisition of equipment necessary for that. I will be less foolhardy, next time I find myself driving alone for hundreds of miles a day over rough roads… which will likely be never, but just in case, I am committed to having another person with me or some means of communication, if it happens.
Motel wifi is shaky, especially in less populated areas (I say, as the wifi in the city of Charleston, WV, keeps dropping off). Having a phone with a data plan makes that less painful.
Seriously, I reiterate: time zones are a big problem. I’m four hours ahead of my spouse, now. If I want to talk to him on a weeknight, I have to wait until he gets home at 6pm, which is 10pm my time… right when I should be going to sleep. My lunch happens when he’s getting ready for/driving to work, and his lunch happens before my workday is over. There’s no good time to talk on a weekday. So, I haven’t figured out whether I’m going to short myself on sleep or on spousal communication, but I can say, for sure, that I will hate time zones with a flaming passion for at least a couple more months.
* I nearly got sideswiped because a car came out of nowhere right at the end of an exit… in South Dakota, I think? I was the one making a turn, so it would have been my fault if we’d collided. We didn’t, but I took a longer-than-usual break after that, to get my head on straight.