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I have been finishing up my college degree online over the last five years and wanted to walk in my graduation ceremony. I knew I would feel like I finished when I did so and wanted my kids to see what I had been working towards all this time. D(17) graduates in May of this year and I didn't want my graduation to interfere with any senior year stuff for him so I did some heavier semesters and graduated in December. In Idaho. 1600 miles from my home.
It was an adventure, to say the least, and I owe a big shout-out to my parents for helping me get my kids out there and footing the hotel bills and to D(17) for helping me to drive. Curtis couldn't take the time to drive with us because his company was going through a big transition that he has been managing so he was going to fly and meet us there.
The plan was to drive from KY to Saint Joseph, MO on Monday. Then to Laramie, WY on Tuesday and Idaho Falls on Wednesday. My ceremony was at 1 pm in Rexburg on Thursday.
What actually happened was that Winter Storm Elliott rolled in and got us stuck in North Platte, NE on Tuesday with I-80 closed and I-70 closed at Denver. Mid-morning Wednesday I-80 was still closed but I-70 was open. It would mean a huge detour and at least four extra hours of driving in good weather (spoiler: we did not have good weather) but we went for it. We drove south to I-70 and then west and then up I-15 into Idaho. We hit some snow in Vail, CO but the van handled it just fine and everyone had a ton of Christmas lights on to make it really beautiful. The worst part was north of Salt Lake when the snow picked up again, it was dark, and you just had to follow the car in front of you.
We rolled into IDF at 4 am on Thursday and immediately went to sleep. We made it to graduation just fine and even managed to stay alert for the whole thing. I think it was worth it and my family was so happy to see me done with school!
I put together a list of winter road trip tips for people not used to driving in winter weather.
Prepare your car. You are going to need low temp washer fluid, good tires, and good wipers for your car. Even if it doesn't snow while you are driving, you will get crud on your windshield and you have to use washer fluid and your wipers to get it off. We kept an extra gallon of washer fluid in the back of the van. I have fairly new tires and I got them rotated before we left. I decided that if chains were required I probably didn't need to be driving but that didn't happen. I do not have 4-wheel drive on my van and never slipped once even going on snow-packed neighborhood roads. I would suggest also keeping a scraper/brush combo in your car to clear it in the morning.
Have food and water in your car. This helped us have fewer stops and the snacks helped keep me awake Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Trail mix is my favorite on a long trip and I eat it super slowly to keep alert.
Have a neck pillow. I never had one before but I bought one at a truck stop because I needed to sleep while D(17) was driving and then he used it while I was driving. He woke up at about 1 am Thursday and we talked the rest of the way but that neck pillow was a must-have.
Dress for the weather. I had each of the kids bring a light jacket and a winter coat for the car. With the heater going and the sun shining through the windows, it can get quite warm in the van. I usually kept my light jacket on while taking bathroom breaks and only wore my winter coat when I was pumping gas.
Take full advantage of stops. At each gas fill up I used the washer fluid provided to get my whole windshield clean and also washed both front windows. Everyone got out and tried to go to the bathroom. I also replenished any snacks we had run out of and threw away our trash.
Download the 511 apps. 511 is a number you can call in each state to get road information but it is tedious to listen to. Each state that we drove through also has a 511 app that usually had a map of road conditions such as closed, wet, flooded, etc. It was very helpful in planning our route and is updated as soon as the road condition changes. Both Apple maps and Google were very unreliable in navigating around closed roads. Apple didn't recognize the roads as closed and Google wanted us to take county roads to go around them. I did not feel comfortable going that route mostly because the road closure was weather-related and the secondary roads were likely to be far worse than the interstates. Another factor was the fact that it was going to be two huge states' worth of secondary roads with potentially closed gas stations, traffic lights, and a lot more roads to drive.
This trip was more about the destination so we did some fun stuff while we were in a colder climate. The kids went ice skating and sledding and we all went to a hockey game.