Dec 24 2009
Here we go again. A year ago, we spent Christmas in Philadelphia as part of what ended up being a 17-day, 3700-mile roadtrip. It was wonderful. But first we had to get out of Minnesota. We ended up leaving two days early to outrun a snowstorm, and made it to Wisconsin Dells before stopping for the night.
Last night was a little bit of deja vu. We’d been planning a trip to Texas since Thanksgiving, just for fun. This one was my husband’s idea. He liked the idea of 65-degree weather on Christmas to break up the long Minnesota winter. The vacation planner of the family (me) took over, and we had plans to spend Wednesday with family, have the kids be in the church children’s program Christmas Eve, and leave bright and early Friday morning for Texas via Iowa.
Then the weathermen got involved. “Big storm coming,” they said. We watched the storm track and told my parents, who were planning to be with us Christmas Eve and then head to Ohio to see my sister, that they had our blessing to outrun the storm. They did, and are safely in Ohio.
My husband and I tossed around a lot of ideas. Maybe going farther to the west, through Nebraska and Kansas, would help. Then we looked at the forecast for those areas and decided it didn’t look so good.
We thought that if we could get out on Saturday rather than Friday, we could still do the trip. Saturday’s still not looking good for travel in Minnesota and Iowa.
We even got a little crazy and thought, if the storm’s coming from the south, maybe we could escape it by going north and west. What’s Seattle like this time of year? I think our last name should be Adventure. Or Crazy. Or Alternate Plans.
After watching and waiting and planning and watching another forecast and replanning, we had the trip all but canceled. But we kept watching. And we found a possibility. Although Iowa looked to be out of the picture, by heading east through Madison and down through Illinois, we might be able to miss most of the ice and a lot of the snow. We’d also have to leave earlier than planned.
So, yesterday, we packed up the car–clothes for the six of us for eleven days, boots and snowpants for everyone in addition to the normal winter survival gear, a cooler and a box of food for keeping food costs down, and of course all of the trip-planning material–and headed to my husband’s parents’ house for his family’s Christmas get-together.
Here’s the irony: While most people who are traveling are attempting to see family members, we ended up leaving our family early to start on vacation.
For this year’s trip, we have a slightly different informatin arsenal than last year. We both have Blackberry-type phones, and mine can be tethered to my laptop for use as a modem. So as we were driving, trying to decide if our route should be through Minneapolis or Rochester, I was flying at the keys, looking at the radar and road conditions.
For a short period of time, it had looked like we might be able to zoom through Iowa without too much trouble. But within the course of an hour, their road reports for I-35 in the north half of the state went from wet and “partly-covered” to “completely covered–towing services prohibited” to “travel not advised.”
We’re thankful to have the tools that helped us avoid that route, and we headed east instead.
It was snowing most of the way. Roads were clear in some areas, and snowy in others, but for the most part we had our wheels on the pavement instead of packed snow. We drove from anywhere between 25 and 50 miles an hour, and added 1.5 hours to a normally 6-hour trip. Visibility was good the whole way, and I was never really nervous about the drive as long as we could take it slow and steady. Most other travelers were doing the same.
Just after Mauston, Wisconsin, we started seeing more cars in the ditch. We had discussed Madison or Portage as stopping points, but seeing the road conditions website info and watching the conditions deteriorate, we decided on Wisconsin Dells.
The last 15 miles were slow going and we were happy to get off the road and to our hotel.
So here we are again, on Day 1 of our winter vacation, having left ahead of schedule and being parked at Wisconsin Dells. Today will be our make-or-break-it day. The freezing rain is supposed to switch to rain at some point during the day, and we’re hoping to be able to head south safely through Madison and Rockford, Illinois. If we clear that area today, we should be out of the snow and ice zone. Here’s hoping.
If we can’t get out of here comfortably today, we may be spending Christmas in the Dells. Actually, if you’re going to get stranded somewhere in the Midwest in the winter, the Dells isn’t the worst place. There are lots of hotels and amusement parks to help pass the time.
But we’re dreaming of Texas, and hoping that we can make a break for it to get there by the weekend.
For those who might be wondering, this eastern route will add 400 or 500 miles to the trip. And four or five extra states. The kids are excited about that.
This situation is exactly what I meant by my #1 travel tip of planning, yet being flexible. We’re thankful that we’re road-tripping, where we can call the shots and change plans as necessary. Getting stuck in the Dells would be much better than getting stuck in an airport for Christmas.
With that long post, I’ll leave it as a cliffhanger and wish you all a very merry Christmas. Safe travels!
Related: Notes from the Road: Texas, Day 2