The day after Christmas, 2019, my daughter (Adrianna) and her fiance (Liam) were going to move to Austin, TX. They each have a car, and were planning to make the drive with their cat, over four days. This trip is, at best, 1800 miles over 28 hours. They had the trip broken into segments – so far, so good.
I had recently retired (or quit my job according to my wife) and offered to drive one of the cars as each segment of the trip was around nine hours. This was gratefully accepted, and it was decided that my son (Alex) & I would drive one car, while Adrianna & Liam were in the other.
We left Santa Cruz at 8:30a on December 26th expecting around a nine hour drive (582 miles). Little did we know. I generally use Waze for directions, so I entered our initial destination (Kingsman, AZ) expecting to go south down Interstate 5 (I5), eventually crossing into Arizona to complete the trip. It directed me to drive north towards Lake Tahoe. Uh oh. Christmas day I5 was closed at the Grapevine due to snow, but I was assured by the other three that this was no longer the case and I shouldn’t worry about it. Fine.
We hit Starbucks on the way out of town where I grab a coffee and an Sausage & Cheddar breakfast sandwich, which I absolutely love!
Since we’re taking the southern route, it did not occur to me to make sure there were chains in the car I was driving (there weren’t, more on that shortly). We get onto I5, go south as expected. As we approach Highway 46 the highway signs are rather insistent that we get off of I5, and take 46 to 101. Uh, yeah. No. 46 was wall to wall cars, so proceeded to Bakersfield. Again, the others in the group insisted that one of the other passes would be open, don’t worry about it (as an aside, had we taken 46 to 101 I found out later that the entire LA basin was paralyzed so what follows bellow is actually a best case scenario).
We pull into Bakersfield, and Highway 58 is closed, but Highway 178 is listed as open, so we proceed. I would expect if chains were required, one of the signs out of the city would mention it. Nope. An hour later we’ve been climbing for a while, and snow is on the top of the mountains but the highway is completely clear. Hooray! We pull into a small town (not listed on the maps as far as I could tell) to get gas, and there’s a highway patrol officer next to us, so I ask him about the pass. He tells me (1) 178 is closed, (2) 58 is open, (3) chains are required. Damn.
We go to two different auto stores, no chains. OK, back to Bakersfield (remember, it’s an hour away). At this point I suggest we just grab a hotel for the night. Nope – we must press on. In retrospect, this was a very good decision.
We call ahead to see if the auto store has chains – yes. Asked if they fit our car, we’re told, “we have chains.” We hope for the best. No luck. From there we call a second store (5 minutes away), the clerk takes our information, looks it up, yep, they’ve got ’em. We rush over and buy the last set of chains that fit our tires. We stop by Del Taco to grab a burrito, and off we go.
We head towards Highway 58. Dead stop on the way to the onramp. After an hour, having not gone more than 100 yards, we give up. Google Maps to the rescue (it hasn’t worked yet, but maybe this time). It routes us onto an empty side road. A mile or so into it, there’s a `closed road’ sign, but Google Maps says it’s OK, so we ignore the sign (as one does). After maybe a half hour or so, other cars appear behind us, so at least we won’t die alone. To the surprise of all, the road wasn’t closed, though there were several boulders that we needed to maneuver around, and we make it to Highway 58. It’s *very* slow going for the next two hours or so as we crawl over the pass. We didn’t need chains, but at the top of the pass (~4000 feet) the highway was covered in snow. Somehow, even at the breakneck speed of ten miles per hour, cars were still ending up knee deep in the snow covered median.
Once we get over the pass and down the mountain a bit, the highway opens up and we finally make it to Kingman, AZ. It’s 3am. Remember, we left on what was supposed to be a 9 hour drive, and arrived 19 hours later. Sleep time (aside number 2: the time changed when we entered Arizona).
Oh, and Liam made all of the hotel arrangements and commented at some point not to expect much, because their budget doesn’t exactly my wife & mine. I was thinking, “good God, it’s going to be a motel 6.” It wasn’t. It was actually a *really nice* hotel. Not that it would have mattered at this point. We decide to leave around 10a the next morning.
Day 2 – Kingman to Roswell, NM. (666 miles, 9 hours 38 minutes)
We wake up around 9, planning to leave around 10. Help wrestle the cat from behind the bed back into its carrier. Head to Starbucks for coffee and a Cheddar & Sausage sandwich (I love those) and we’re off.
This drive wasn’t nearly as eventful, but there was a ton of snow in Arizona. Who knew? So instead of the 60 – 70 MPH we were expecting, we toddled along at 45 – 50. The last couple of hours Alex drove, which was nice. There was lightning the entire time. We ended up at another nice hotel, but Alex & I were expecting to share a bed as that was the last room available when we booked. Turns out, somehow the hotel booked two rooms, so we each had our own suite (full kitchen included). A bit of overkill, but there you have it. We asked the person at check-in where’s a good place to eat, and all he would say is, `I cannot recommend Applebees.’ Alex & I went across the parking lot for a bite at Applebees. Sorry, 10+ hours in the car didn’t lend itself to more driving.
Day 3 – Roswell, NM to Brady, TX (380 miles, six hours).
Again, wake around 9, plan to leave around 10a. Hit the Starbucks on the way out of town for a large coffee and yet another damn Sausage & Cheddar sandwich. And…we’re off.
This was the drive I expected all along – very long, very straight, no snow. You could see so far out, you actually saw the curvature of the earth. Yep, boring as hell.
Thus far during the trip we listened either to various podcasts, or to the radio. We didn’t think to actually download anything. Let me explain Brady, TX – a town of fewer than 6000 people. 45 minutes on either side of it, there’s no phone service (for Verizon). There are 5 radio stations – 3 are God-talk, one is a rebroadcast of one of the God-talks, and one is Mariachi. So, no music for us.
Nice short drive. We actually get to relax a bit and have some dinner. Alex spots a BBQ place and offers to wander over to get him & me some BBQ. Closed ’til the new year. Of course. He finds a burrito place, and the burritos were fine.
Day 4 – Brady, TX to Austin, TX (128 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes).
Wake up around 9, leave around 10. Plan to hit a Starbucks because God forbid I not have coffee and a Cheddar & Sausage Sandwich. I swear there was a time that I liked these. Closest Starbucks – 75 miles away. Wow, dodged the bullet on that one.
This was a planned short drive day, thinking we can get into Austin and get Adrianna & Liam moved into their apartment. Wait, it’s Sunday! The apartment office doesn’t open at 9a today, it opens at noon. Bummer. Of course, this mean we actually got to sleep in so all was not lost.
Got into North Austin, hit a Petsmart (remember, the cat is still with us), and got to the apartment right around noon. Second floor. No elevator. Lugged everything up a flight of stairs, got a tour of the complex (very nice place) and were taken to the Airport. Homeward bound!
At the airport, Alex & I finally get BBQ, which was pretty good, then I find a wine bar (yes, to the surprise of no one). I’m chatting with the guy, get flight of local wines (Texas makes wine, really???). Alex catches up to me and I have him taste the three wines, and get a bottle for Lynn who’s picking us up at the airport later, and missing one of the most important San Francisco 49er games to do so. The guy offers to open the bottle for me & provide two glasses, just to wander around the airport with. Ah, Texas.
As I’m talking to him & paying the bill he asked how I liked Austin, and I said it was fine. Then the inevitable – how long were you here. Alex looks at his watch & says, “about five hours.” Yup.
Get home & Lynn drops Alex off at his house (across town from ours). We get home and there’s two minutes left in the 49ers games. Lynn pulls into the garage and we lose reception. Solution? Pull out of the garage & listen to the last two minutes of the game!