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  1. Default Lap Around America

    Last month as an early Christmas present, I got a really big bonus. Problem is, they called it severance.

    So I'm without gainful employment, and I've always wanted to do an epic roadtrip. The former always got in the way of the latter, since I could never take more than a week off at a time. Not an issue today.

    Here's my vision: Norfolk, VA up to Connecticut, down to Cincinnati, up to Seattle, down to San Francisco, then to San Diego and/or Las Vegas, then east to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (Feb. 24, I believe), then Ft. Walton Beach and Tampa, and finally up I-95 to home, stopping at South of the Border for a burrito toast with Pedro.

    I'd like to see big cities, because for as much as I like to drive, I've lived a pretty sheltered life -- only two trips outside the Eastern Time Zone, and I didn't drive either one. Chicago's a big draw. Denver would be fine, but if it's a choice between Denver and Seattle, Seattle wins going away. Austin and Memphis are musts (or close to musts) for the southern swing. Boise is a possible stop, as I have a friend there. I joke about South of the Border, but I also want to swing northwest from there to Charlotte to visit family and friends.

    As of now, there's no schedule and no must dates, other than Feb. 24 in New Orleans (and even that's debatable -- get to New Orleans earlier and do Mardi Gras elsewhere, like Biloxi?). Planning on an early February start (Feb. 2 comes to mind, but it's fluid). No set time to come back, though I can't be frittering away all my money, and if I don't have a permanent job lined up by mid-March, I'll be working at a seasonal gig in Norfolk then, so that'll likely be the very latest I can do this. And should I get a job interview, I'll break from the trip to do it, then decide whether to continue or call it quits (obviously, it'll depend on where the interview is to decide if I can incorporate it)

    This is a solo, natch.

    Questions I have so far:
    * Do the truck stops up north have plug-in heater things in the parking lots? There's going to be times where I might want to forgo the motel and sleep at the truck stop (or at least nap there), but not if it's 10 degrees.

    * Is weather enough of a factor that I should blow off the northern tier entirely, except for Connecticut (close friend) and Seattle (destination), even though it means making a U instead of a circle? I don't have a lot of snow/ice-driving experience.

    * Canada: are they requiring passports to drive in now? I might want to pop over the border to do Toronto and/or Vancouver. But I've never left the U.S. and have no passport. If I do need a passport, do I have enough time to get one if I'm aiming for Groundhog Day as my departure?

    Thanks in advance, peace 'n chicken grease ...

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default what is and what will be

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I wouldn't say that you have to cut out the northern part of your trip, but you certainly will be dealing with snow and cold in the northern half (and probably quite a bit of it in the southern half too) if you travel in February. How that fits in with the rest of what you want to achieve, that's up to you.

    I'm not quite sure what you mean about "plug in heater things" are you talking about power for a block heater, and if that is what you mean, do you already have a block heater installed in your car? Ultimately, if its a cold night, a car doesn't provide all that much warmth in the shelter department, and leaving your car on for heat while you sleep is a serious carbon monoxide risk.

    As far as travel into Canada, They keep changing the date, so its hard to keep track, but I believe the "passport required" date has been pushed back again until at least the summer of 09. However, if you don't have a passport you will still need proof of citizenship (Birth Certificate) AND a photo id (Drivers License).

  3. Default

    Michael: My understanding is that in very cold climates, some parking lots have outlets that you plug your car up to in order to keep them from freezing. Not sure if it's just enough to keep the engine from freezing, or if you can actually run the heater and radio and whatnot. Not having driven north much (and nothing north of, say, D.C. in the winter), my experience is lacking. Hence, my possible concerns at driving from Connecticut to Seattle in February. But the lack of a definitive schedule would let me stay somewhere to weather the storm, so I'm not too worried, either.

    Thanks for the heads-up re: Canada. I'd like to pop in just to say I did (and mayhap buy some poutine and a bag of milk). Is Mexico as easily enterable?

    Thanks for all the help.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default block heater

    Yeah, what you are talking about is a block heater. They aren't standard on cars, and while I remember having them in my parents cars growing up, I don't even think they are all that common any more (except for Diesel engines, because the fuel can turn to gel in cold weather).

    Regardless, they are designed for the engine and don't provide power to keep the inside of the car warm or run other electrical devices, and unless you are traveling to Northern Canada, say on the Al-Can, you won't find outlets for passenger cars standard at truckstops.

    Mexico's entry requirements are basically the same as Canada's although bringing a car is a bit more tricky. At the very least you'll have to purchase Mexican auto insurance. If you just want to check out the other side of the border, its usually easier to walk across.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia


    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    If you just want to check out the other side of the border, its usually easier to walk across.
    Love that Michael. Needed that chuckle today!

    I have always stayed north of that border, I mean, why bother....

    Living in Melbourne we are already referred to as Mexicans by residents of Sydney and those living further north.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default border towns

    Walking across the border is a neat experience. Towns like Tijuana and Nogalas, as well as some of the smaller towns on the border certainly aren't representative of mexico in a larger scale, but they can be a fun diversion.

    Exploring deeper into Mexico is more fun, but it takes more effort too.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default TJ is a bit cautionary right now

    Tijuana has been a fun place - but the criminal elements has made it much less so in recent weeks. Even walking across has more risks than I would care to take on right now. Nogales is much safer.


  8. Default

    First off, if you want to sleep in your car, I did. Two things, get your cars exhaust system checked first (no leaks). Get yourself a carbon monoxide detector (like for your house, but just keep it in the car). Roll down a window a bit.

    I slept in 0 degree weather on the continental divide near Cuba, NM on US550, and didn't run my car (just lots and lots of blankets, double sweat pants, shirts, socks, etc). It was actually quite fun to do it. Just slept on the back seat completely covered head-to-toe.

    As for safety, truck stops away from big cities tend to be pretty safe for a car-driver to park (just don't park where the trucks park, haha). For the most part, they're used to overnight parkers. I did both truck stops and rest areas on my trip two years ago, and really don't question either.

    As for cords for block heaters. SOME places in the very north central part of the state would have that, but only at motels, etc if you get a room. Generally, take your car, drain some water, and fill mostly with pure anti-freeze. Buy a tester, and see what the reading is, if it can go to -40, your car will be good for any weather (some places, overnight, may see -15, -20 etc).

    But, remember, when you head south you may overheat more easily. Get your oil changed, get synthetic oil (5W-30, or 10W-30), to make sure the oil can handle sub-zero temperatures well. Regular oil may, if left for too long, can start to thicken and make for a lot rougher cold-starts, increased engine wear, etc.

    You can look at my site for any ideas. I took a 10,473 mile round trip to all 48 contiguous states in January 2007.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default Just to be clear

    Quote Originally Posted by Sykotyk View Post
    Generally, take your car, drain some water, and fill mostly with pure anti-freeze.
    I think I know what you are saying here, but just to make sure its clear: A car should NEVER be filled with 100% antifreeze. Antifreeze works best in a solution with water, and if you have more than about 60% antifreeze, it starts to get less effective at protecting your car. The freezing point for straight antifreeze is just a little above 0 F.

    In almost any situation for a roadtrip in the US, the 50/50 mix will provide the ideal amount of protection. If you are going to spend a lot of time in extremely cold parts of the US, then you might want to drain a little bit of water and slightly increase the ratio of antifreeze, but again, it would be fairly rare for you to need to take this step.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    The point at which the freezing protection starts going back up with standard ethylene glycol antifreeze is 67% antifreeze, 33% water. That protects you to about -80F. Propylene glycol can be run pure, it freezes at about -70F. I do *NOT* know the chemistry of the new "long life" coolants such as Dexcool. Bottom line, get yours tested and strengthened if necessary, I would recommend you get it good to at least -50F if you are going to be in North Dakota in January.

    Depending on your car manufacturer's recommendation, I recommend a 0W or 5W grade oil. 10W is too thick for severe subzero climates. I believe most manufacturers these days recommend a 0W20, 0W30, 5W20, or 5W30 anyway for fuel efficiency.

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