It was six o’clock in the morning when I woke up to the noise of my dreaded alarm. Slightly disorientated, I rolled over and pulled back a piece of insulation lining the windows of our van, snow covered the entire pane of glass. Opening the door I found myself in a Walmart car park – several inches deep in fresh powder snow. For most Northern Americans, this sight would be worthy of an elongated sigh, but all I could do was jump up in excitement! ‘Its snowing!’ The most legitimate snow I have ever seen. And then I wonder to myself – ‘where the fuck am I?’ This is day four of our epic road trip across Northern USA.
It all began the day we packed up our lives in Vancouver, squeezing every last item we own into our beloved van – Dorothy. We bid farewell to our friends and set off for the USA Border. We had sat down many times in the past few weeks trying to think of the perfect route to take across to Montreal, we listened to advice from friends and family, locals drilled us on winter driving safety and the endless Google map searches became tiring. In the end, we made no decisions, it was too difficult to assume how the weather will play out and which roads may become impacted by the harsh winter hitting the east of the country at the moment. Our decision was to take it day by day, wing it and hope for the best.
Having never driven through ice or snow before, we wanted to prepare ourselves for any unpredictable scenarios that may occur without warning. This had us stocking up our van with survival kits. We purchased thermal emergency blankets, a compass, whistle, candles, matches, pocket knife, shovel, back up food and even kitty litter for road traction in case we get stuck in snow. This gave me confidence that we would be ok if a sudden blizzard were to bury our car or if we end up at some kind of eccentric rave party in the middle of nowhere.
It was clear we were in USA as we passed through the border from Canada, perhaps due to the giant American flags flying high above car yards and industrial estates every five miles. We headed directly to Seattle – our first stop along the journey in Washington State. You cant pass up the Pike Place Market for a gastronomic treat and find amusement at the fifty tourists in line to get a beverage from the worlds first Starbucks. Admittedly on this day, we were both hung-over and keen to park up the car for the night, limiting our time to enjoy the city. We found a perfect little suburban street on the eastern side of the city to stay in. It was a cold rainy night and I just looked forward to heading into the mountains the following day.
I have succumbed to the idea that I am now some sort of hippy traveller, the type that uses McDonalds washrooms to freshen up daily and use the free Wi-Fi. It’s a liberating feeling to be honest, the fact that I travel in my home and alongside everything I own. The idea that I can go literally anywhere and easily get by, the best part is knowing that I am not tied down to any one place in particular, that I have zero responsibilities or commitments. It was a great feeling to finally take off in the morning from Seattle and into the unknown, toward the Rockies and no idea where we would be spending the night. We hit the Interstate 90, a highway that crosses the entire country; this was a good bet to start off our journey east.
We spent our second night in a Walmart car park in the city of Spokane. Often, cities will have 24-hour stores where road travellers can just ask at customer service if it’s ok to spend one night in the parking lot. It gives us freedom to use the washroom facilities and buy groceries in store. We will probably get to know Walmart’s pretty well by the time we get to Montreal. From Spokane we hit the Rocky Mountains, driving the i90 through northern Idaho and into Montana. The roads became icy, houses were covered in snow and the temperature dropped below freezing. The snow covered mountains provided us with breathtaking scenery and I spent the following two days in awe.
Our third night was spent in Bozeman, a vibrant, alternative city in the middle of the backcountry bordering Yellowstone National Park. We parked up in the Walmart parking lot and headed to a local bar down the road. We made friends with the locals and, as a classic Lily and Holly move – were given free drinks. The locals gave us plenty of tips for our route and what to see in the area. We had heard that a cold front was on its way east, snow was expected the following day and we were not sure if we would be able to make it before the storm came through. Sure enough here we are on day four – snowed in.
Thankfully Bozeman is a pretty amazing city, surrounded by National Park, wildlife, craft breweries and lots of great food. It was exciting to scrape the four inch layer of snow from the top of our van, drive through the recently ploughed streets and stomp our feet through the fresh powder. The city turned into an incredibly picturesque scene and I was amazed at how normal this scenario was for the locals. Within a few hours, the city was functioning as well as any other. Each store had a staff member shovelling snow from the footpaths, trucks had donned snow chains before hitting the highway and everyone returned to school and work as usual. For us, we shivered as we walked through the streets and felt sorry for our freezing cold van. So here’s to adventure, new experiences, life lessons and one epic journey across the USA.