Solo Road Trip: Surviving Rain, Snow and a Nazi Sympathizer

A Dangerous Solo Road Trip Across the USA - Solo Road Trip: Surviving Rain, Snow and a Nazi Sympathizer

My vision blurs with the red brake lights ahead of me, as a driving rainstorm and veil of fog engulfs I-80. I felt fine when I passed Lincoln twenty minutes prior, and pressed on to my day’s final destination of Omaha. Now, the 16 hours that had passed since my little Prius and I started in snowy Park City, UT were finally catching up with me. My day job requires me to risk life and limb, but today I had thought multiple times that I was going to die. Now, I had 30 minutes to go. The only option, as it had been all day and would be in future days of inclement weather, was to keep going.

They say that if you really want to get to know someone, take a road trip together. That also applies to getting to know yourself while road tripping alone.

I had a week to get from San Diego to a work-related assignment in Washington. It was January. When I’d moved to Southern California a few years earlier, my sister and I had split the driving. After driving across the girth of dusty Texas on the most southerly I-10 route, I swore I would never take the Sun Belt route again. Not even in the dead of winter. Yet, I’d asked around if anyone wanted to come along this time.  No takers.

They say that if you really want to get to know someone, take a road trip together.

My driving strategy was picking points where I knew people, and taking a few days off to spend time with friends. In between, I’d have four ridiculously long driving days. So here I was, in Nebraska, in a Prius, five states, three days, a speeding ticket, and half the country in my wake.

The first day of driving was great. I passed the time with a few phone calls, music, and enjoyed the changing landscape from beach to desert to mountains. A little darkness and fatigue made for a challenge as I climbed from Salt Lake City into the mountains, but cats eyes on the pavement and roadside were helpful guides, and I arrived in time to see the Sundance World Premiere of Charlie Victor Romeo. The next day, my friend and I saw two films, with beers in between. On my second full day in Utah, I enjoyed skiing at the Canyons with some friends from nearby Salt Lake City.

The next morning, I woke at 4 AM to a dark, clear morning and was out of the state and on my second large cup of gas station coffee by sunrise. Only eighteen-wheelers and me on the highway. Almost immediately after crossing into Wyoming, everything went white.

White ground, white sky, fog, and faintly flashing yellow hazard lights. I could see no further than two cars’ lengths in front of me at best. Oh my god, those hazard lights are on the side of the road. All of the trucks were pulling over. I drove at an agonizingly slow 20 miles per hour past an overturned tractor-trailer. I wondered what these truck drivers knew that I didn’t. Pulling over to stop wasn’t an option: I didn’t want to be stopped with a bunch of strange men. The idea of being stranded in a snowstorm alone with two dozen men in the middle of nowhere terrifies me more than being stranded alone. Fear of rape is greater than that of skidding off the road into a ditch. At least I feel like I have control over the latter.

The idea of being stranded in a snowstorm alone with two dozen men in the middle of nowhere terrifies me more than being stranded alone.

I made a tactical estimate: I had plenty of snacks, water, warm clothes and survival gear (first aid kit, lighter, knife, etc) to survive if I needed to hunker down alone on the side of the road for a day or a two. Years of competitive skiing informed my knowledge that these weather patterns were frequently isolated, and there might have been clear skies 10 miles ahead. The only option was forward.

I was right. After two hours of snow, fog, varying levels of visibility that ranged from “low” to “whiteout,” and white-knuckling the steering wheel as Patty Prius and I crawled forward, the sun started to peek through the clouds. Around 11 AM, already seven hours into my driving day, I stopped in Cheyenne, WY for lunch. My plan to find a local greasy spoon hosting an after-church crowd backfired: everything is closed on Sunday, and the highway lets off in a bad part of town. I was happy to settle for Subway.

Solo Road Trip: Surviving Rain, Snow and a Nazi Sympathizer

As I shoved cathartic forkfuls of chipotle-drenched salad into my mouth, my relieved daydreams were smashed when a gentleman with Nazi tattoos walks in, reinforcing every negative stereotype one could possibly have about this quite-beautiful part of the country. I hid my Star of David necklace beneath my shirt. Nazi Tattoo Man smiled at me and ate his meatball sub on the other side of the restaurant. I inhaled my food and left.

I continued on, enjoying the expanse of plains and ranches, the mountains in the distance, able to appreciate the scenic state with the clearer skies. The mountains melt into endless brown plains. When driving across the USA, one appreciates crossing state lines as a milestone of progress. I never thought I’d be so happy to say “Thank God for Nebraska.”

The few cars on the road were all pickup trucks, and the occasional highway towns featured dinosaur museums. The road was straight, and I happily drove 15 over the 80 mph speed limit. I figured this would be the real limit, and there were no cops in the middle of nowhere, right? Nope, speeding ticket, and just as I hit my groove singing along to bands that were popular when I was in middle school, like Aqua and the Spice Girls.

It was somewhere after my speeding ticket and before nightfall in Lincoln that I started talking to myself.

It’s amazing how well you can pass the time while driving when you have one-way conversations with ex-boyfriends, or when you start writing fiction aloud. Hopefully I’ll remember all the ideas by the time I have a free hand to write.

Night falls. So does fog. I was on hour fourteen, and at least my fifth caffeinated beverage. Here we go again. I looked at the GPS. I was an hour from Lincoln, and another to Omaha. I was going to make it. There were other cars to keep me company on the road. I drove through Lincoln, giddy that I only had an hour left. And then halfway between Lincoln and Omaha, past the point of no return, it began to rain.

It’s amazing how well you can pass the time while driving when you have one-way conversations with ex-boyfriends, or when you start writing fiction aloud.

I started to go blind. The lights of oncoming cars were too bright, red brake lights smearing the windshield and mixed with the raindrops.  I drove slowly, panicking. I called a friend in California as honking cars speed past. I told her I felt like this was the end. Patiently, she stayed on the line as I completed my sixteenth hour on the road and safely arrived at the Hampton Inn.

I ordered in mediocre Chinese food and starfish on the bed, feeling lucky to be alive. I didn’t know yet that Iowa would be foggy the next day, or that there would be torrential thunderstorms in Pennsylvania and Washington. I was warm with the certainty that I would be in Chicago the following night and days with college friends, and after that I’d make it to D.C.

That night in Omaha, it seemed like everything after this would be easy. I could do it, and I didn’t need anyone else’s help. And I enjoyed my own company.

Solo Road Trip: Surviving Rain, Snow and a Nazi Sympathizer

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A day in the mountains

Solo Road Trip: Surviving Rain, Snow and a Nazi Sympathizer top photo credit Mlhradio

About Anna G

Anna GAnna is part nerd, part fish, and 100% American. She travels the world with only a carry-on bag, and a stuffed camel named Humps.

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