Snowy and cold on the road

I knew that the logistics of this particular trip would be challenging.  Going up to Grand Rapids MI to get a trailer in December is just asking for trouble.  I wasn’t expecting sunshine and tropical breezes, but I was hoping for at least a lucky break where there would be no fierce headwinds and no snow.  No such luck.

The drive up from Louisville to Grand Rapids was uneventful.  I started at 8:30 a.m. under gray scudded skies and occasional light rain, but with temperatures in the upper 30s.  The roads that hadn’t yet frozen for the season so there was no risk of ice.  I covered the 400+ miles quickly and arrived at Ken’s shop by 4 p.m.

The Caravel was awaiting me in the shop. It looks pretty good.  I did an pre-departure inspection and discovered that the refrigerator wouldn’t come on, and the water pump wasn’t connected to 12v, and a few other minor bugs.  We fixed the fridge and the pump, found my hitch, loaded the miscellaneous parts & pieces, and I was ready to go.  My friend Charlie had come up from South Bend to see the trailer and check out Ken’s shop, and after hitching up the trailer, Ken & Petey invited both of us to dinner at their house.

By the time dinner was done, we had three inches of fluffy powder on the deck.  It made the trailer look very picturesque.  That’s about all I can say in favor of it.  I had planned to tow down to Charlie’s house, to get a jump on the first 100 miles of my trip southward.  I wasn’t excited about towing the new trailer in the dark and in a snowstorm.  After much consulting of The Weather Channel, we realized that the bulk of the snow was landing away from the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The route to South Bend is mostly along the shoreline, so we decided to make a run for his house.

At first this appeared to be a big mistake.  We drove right into one of those horrible blinding snowstorms of fat white flakes that rush at your headlights and obscure the view.  Traffic on the Interstate was moving at 30 MPH and the car was getting shoved around by ruts in the snow.  I considered heading back but after seven miles things began to clear up, and then as we reached the shoreline the snow ended, just as we’d thought it would.

Still, I wandered around South Bend for ten minutes, momentarily lost, and didn’t pull into the driveway of Charlie’s house until nearly 10:30. We sat up another hour talking and then I settled into their guest bedroom, since the Caravel was winterized and empty of propane.

I got a start on making the trailer habitable today.  I filled up the two 30# tanks with propane, and bought some small plastic storage bins to organize my stuff.  I also fired up the catalytic heater to see how well it worked (very well, as it turned out).  That’s as far as I could go without water.  My rule of thumb is that I can de-winterize a trailer (fill the tank, water heater, and plumbing lines with fresh water) if the daytime temperatures are above freezing. That way the trailer won’t freeze while towing.  But the temperatures in South Bend were unseasonably low — 26 degrees, with a biting west wind that made it seem much colder.

This was disappointing but not unexpected.  It’s cold nearly everywhere in the US today.   The only solution seemed to be to drive south and hope for better temperatures tomorrow.  So I hauled out at about 2:30, drove about 250 miles, and got a hotel.   With a hotel rather than dry-camping in the Airstream, I’ll have high-speed Internet to catch up on work, a hot shower, breakfast, Weather Channel on TV, and plenty of heat.  It’s going down to 16 degrees tonight!


Since it’s low season for this particular hotel, I was able to park my rig right outside my window and keep an eye on it during the evening.

From here I have only the vaguest of plans.  I need to get back to Tucson fairly soon, to get a pile of work done on deadline.  Weather is the dominant factor in determining my route.  At this point it looks like the best route will be right through the heart of the country.  Once I get to I-40 I’ll have to make a decision whether to go high-altitude through Texas and New Mexico, or dip straight south into Texas for possible warmer weather.  I don’t expect really warm temps anywhere in the next few days, so lack of precipitation will be the best I can hope for.

The poor Caravel was looking gorgeous in the shop, but now the front is covered with frozen slush and the sides are streaked with road gunk.  The Mercedes isn’t looking too good either.  I am dreaming of a warm sunny day in southern Arizona, where I am stopping at a car wash to get all the northern winter grime cleaned off the polished aluminum.


  1. Brad says

    That there is a rough day of driving — adds insult to injury that it’s on the tail end of a long trip.

    You won’t be dreaming of sunny Arizona much longer though! Besides, the Caravel looks *excellent*, even in the sickly light of a chain hotel parking lot so you can rest assured the extra miles to Michigan was well worth it.

  2. john says

    and some bed bugs, to bring into your airstream. I hate hotels, I got bit so bad I had to see a doctor, those dam bed bugs.