Cleveland to Seattle: Part 2 - The Logistics

Well, I've probably avoided writing about this part because it's simply the hardest, most complicated, and most important. Either that or I'm stupidly busy or extremely lazy. Or, perhaps some combination thereof.

Excuses aside, this is for sure: when planning a trip involving multiple vehicles, one of which may be towing a trailer, multiple drivers (possibly inexperienced), thousands of dollars worth of cargo, and one or more pets over a distance of several thousand miles... it pays to have a plan. A realistic plan, one based on many factors including the experience level of the drivers, the time of year, the reliability of the vehicles involved, and any serious liabilities or restrictions.

Let's start with the obvious: You can only cover so many miles in a day. A couple of hundred years ago, you'd have been happy to manage 15 miles in a day with your covered wagon in the plains states, and half that in the mountains. Yes, that's right: 9 miles a day in the mountains. These days, you're driving a modern vehicle (I assume) and given that it is in reasonable shape the main limitations are the driver, and weather conditions. Since you'll be taking interstates the road surface is not something that, thankfully, you have to worry about any more. Isn't progress wonderful?

Provided your vehicles are in good order (see: Preparation) you should be ready to figure out how far you are willing to drive in one day. But first, let me make an important point.

You should be traveling with two vehicles. If something goes Terribly Wrong with your mechanical animal, you will at least have the means to get to civilization and safety. Plus, one working car and one broken car beats one broken car and nothing any day of the week. You may need to jump start. You may need to drive for fuel. You may need to run the engine to keep from freezing to death. I am not joking.

The most important thing you can do is travel at the correct time of year. Regardless of route, you'll be going over 7000 feet at least a few times and snow and ice make driving combination vehicles exciting, especially if you've never done it before. The best times are the times of most moderate temperatures. Late spring, late summer to late fall. If you encounter snow on the I-90 pass you'll need to have chains or 4wd, or both. Combinations over certain weight limits may be banned.

What I'm saying: don't even think about coming in the winter, or when there is even a chance of heavy snow. Why bother? Seriously?

So now that you've decided to travel when it's neither searingly hot, or extremely cold, you need to think about daily travel quotas. 500 miles a day is a lot for an infrequent or inexperienced driver. You can do this in the plains states, but in the mountains it'll be difficult. We started out our trip with longer legs, then as we got closer to our destination and the route became more mountainous, I shortened them to as little as 250 miles in a day. I like taking my time through the mountains, anyway. If you're trying for 500 miles in a day you're not going to be stopping at many scenic pull outs for picture opportunities - or to let the vehicles cool. Hopefully you can take a few extra days out of your extremely busy and short life to take your time on this trip. We decided to take it a bit slower than we probably could have, and I'm glad we did.

If you're actually planning your stops (and we did, for the most part, at least for the first 90% of our journey) you might as well book your hotel rooms in advance. If you're traveling with a pet - we were - you just want to do this for peace of mind. Not all hotels allow pets, and some charge a pretty significant fee if they do. Motel 6 allows one dog. We just planned our stops around available Motel 6 locations on our route. Simple. Make all your reservations online, and print them out, and stuff them in a folder.

Ok. Route selection. You have two options: I-90 all the way, or I-80 to I-84 to I-90/5. Please remember that we are escaping from Cleveland. If you're coming from anywhere northeast, though, I-90 connects you to Cleveland. I-90 is more direct, although only marginally shorter, more rugged, and has more and higher elevation gradients. It's probably also prettier, although I've not driven the southern of the two routes and won't pretend to be objective. I could put in links to nice little Google maps at this point, but seriously? You can figure it out.

Since you're sticking to the free-ways all the way, a map is optional, but it wouldn't kill you to get a nice set of old-fashioned paper maps. I should take my own advice. If you have a GPS, your life is a lot easier. You can punch in all your way-points before hand. You can even go without fixed way-points and drive (our friends did, and it appears that they survived).

Make sure you know where you're going when you get there. Seattle has some pretty serious geographical constraints that make driving to some destinations a challenging proposition. Make sure your mapping software isn't asking you to do something that seems crazy or impossible. I didn't print out directions to our final destination, from the highway, because I didn't think of it, and then had to purchase detailed maps at a gas station. Being able to read maps is a definite advantage. If you have a GPS, you can skip all these steps. Make sure your GPS doesn't get stolen.

If you're all organized and stuff you can print out a list of way-points, and reservation information, and phone numbers for your hotels if you've booked them. It wouldn't hurt. Motel 6 publishes a handy directory that even has rudimentary maps for it's locations. Grab one the first chance you get.

A clipboard with a legal pad was extremely useful. I recorded my fuel consumption information, and it was a good place to keep receipts. Even better would have been a large envelope, but I didn't think that far ahead. Having all three things - clipboard, legal pad, and receipt envelope would have been perfect. Remember, you're writing this off on your taxes, right? You have a job lined up so this is a work-related relocation... right? I hope so. It just has to be one member of your household that's relocating for work.

That's really about it for the boring stuff. Next: Part 3 - The Journey. Hey, that might actually be fun to read. And have some pictures. Yeah, logistics are the worst. Boring. Necessary. But boring!