Once again we drove from Ft. Collins to Seattle for Christmas.
Monday Dec 21, 2015
Monday’s forecast on weather.com was showing clear to Bozeman then Tues snow, or at least cloud cover, all the way.
We were rolling at 0530M (M= Mountain Time P= Pacific Time) in the dark. There was little traffic on I-25 headed north.
On arriving at the Wyoming border there was a high wind warning posted but I couldn’t feel or hear much of an effect. I suppose there was some wind but there were no semis blown over in the median to show that it was serious.
Last year not all of I-25 was posted as 80 mph but this year they’d completed posting the new limits so it was 80 mph everywhere north of Cheyenne except for passing thru areas where there were several entrance and exit ramps such as Douglas (75 mph) and where traffic density was high such as Casper. (60 mph)
We stopped briefly at a rest stop well north of Cheyenne and there was just a gentle breeze.
0845M Refueled at Casper.
1055M Stopped in Sheridan for fuel and a brief lunch break. We got both done in 30 minutes without feeling terribly rushed.
1320M Refueled at Billings. Roads were dry and clear so far though as we got further north it went from no snow off the roads to complete cover off the roads to either side but the roads were clear and dry.
Approaching Livingston about 1400M the skies turned gray. High wind warnings were posted at Livingston and it was windy but they hadn’t posted a high wind bypass for trucks. There were a few places where snow blowing across the dry road froze. We saw one accident because of this – a semi truck blown over onto the road shoulder.
1520M Refueled at Bozeman.
We reached Butte at 1645M so we stopped at the KFC for 30 min. KFC is our standard stop here for protein food. Skies are thicker gray and the roads now have some slush in the lane centers. In full dark there are some light snow flurries and I ran slower than the locals because of uncertainty about traction. But the road conditions remained pretty benign.
At 1930M we made Missoula. After refueling we went to the Courtyard Marriott and after chatting with the pleasant college student folks at the desk we went to our room and by 2030M were in bed. We slept hard to 0600M because of the previous long day. There was no apparent snow overnight.
Tues Dec 22, 2015
After packing the car and eating our Egg McMuffins in the parking lot at McDonald’s we were underway at 0715M. Morning temp was probably about 20F.
Roads started out clear but wet. Scanner traffic says that State trucks are applying “brine.” The roads are generally not slick but I started to go into 4WD more often as the roads seemed to have some ice layers on spots. When nearing Lookout pass there was more road snow and trucks pulled over to chain up. One semi failed to make a curve and slid off the road to the outside but came to rest upright. We did a short rest stop at a state area and had a hard time finding a place to put the car due to the lot being not well plowed out plus big trucks in random locations putting on chains. Skies were heavy gray and sometimes snowing.
At 0930M we crossed Lookout Pass – trucks were chained up but roads were only light to moderate slush. Many of the semis were running faster than I was comfortable with – including double trailers so I went to some trouble to either get out of their way or slow down further on straights when they indicated they were changing lanes to pass so they could pass me quickly on the slushier lane. The Idaho side had less snow on the road and was mostly just wet. (maybe plowed better?)
At 1105M we stopped in E Spokane for fuel and McDonald’s.
Skies started out pretty gray but we drove out from under the gray onto wet roads with some slush in the left lane. I ran the speed limit but was passed by some folks who pass very, very slowly sliming my windshield from their spray. It was clear that the previous day there had been a pretty good snowfall all across the region.
At 1430M we stopped at Ellensburg for fuel before approaching Snoqualmie Pass.
The intersection was a madhouse of trucks going in and out of the Love’s truck stop with some backed up out onto the road blocking traffic. (We refueled across the street)
Climbing and crossing the pass was anti-climactic on wet roads and relatively well behaved traffic.
On descending we saw that the eastbound side had a 5 mi stoppage. TV news that evening said it was for avalanche control.
NOTE- Checking road conditions on Wed AM EB still listed as closed. Made a note to self- CHECK WEBSITE BEFORE HEADING FOR HOME.
Arrived at my parents home at 1635M. The toughest driving of the whole trip was I-405 local rush hour. TV weather stated that today had been a clear weather window between storms. Two days later Snoqualmie Pass was closed all day, Christmas Eve, in both directions for tree removal and avalanche control. Yikes!
The GPS trip computer contents: Max speed 82 mph (passing), Moving avg 62 mph, total avg 52 mph. Moving 21.5 hours, total 24.7hr . 1345 total miles (The GPS was turned on at the beginning of the day and off at the end. It was left powered up at all stops in between.)
Checking weather during the visit I was seeing a big weather clearing window developing for Tues night and the following days.
WADOT Website reported that Snoq pass planned to be be closed Wed from 0900 to 1200. We must be sure to get going well before then.
Wed Dec 30, 2015 – time to go home.
We rose at 0500P showered, had breakfast then packed the car. It was pitch dark with hard frost which had to be cleared from the windows before moving out at 0630P.
Seattle traffic on I-405 was fairly heavy (from my country-bumpkin perspective) until we got to I-90 and then it was very thin going East. Temp about 29F.
0740P – We crossed Snoqualmie Pass with no troubles at all . The road was dry with very few icy spots.
0830P On the eastern side as the sun came up we had overcast skies and had one encounter with dense fog as forecast and had to slow for about 15 miles. Even though the NOAA cities forecast along the way suggested fog – we only had that one area so was able to keep the speed up.
1100P Stopped for lunch and gas at Medical Lake west of Spokane. Temp was about 18F with a lot of snow on the ground and the parking lot at McDonad’s was ice-packed.
I closed my homemade radiator shutter to shield ¾ of radiator to keep my oil temperature higher than last year. The shutter remained in this position all the way home with satisfactory results (no overheating and full-hot idle oil pressure after pulling off into town after a high speed run on the interstate).
1300P We crossed Lookout Pass from Idaho into Montana. Roads were kind of slushy from all the brine applied. The left lane was too slushy to pass so I followed a double trailer truck up the hill at 40 mph for the last 5 mi.
1445P Missoula for refueling.
1640 Butte. Stopped for dinner at KFC and refueled. Temperature was about 15F but there was little wind. Darkness set in and we headed for Bozeman in full dark. I kept speed down to about 65 across the pass even though the limit was 80 and the locals and trucks were doing 75 or so thru the curves and on the occasional slushy spot. I suppose the locals figure that even if they go off the road they’ll sleep in their own bed tonight….
1830P We reached Bozeman for the night. We went to the Fairfield Inn of past experience and were told that it was FULL even though there were only 5 cars in the parking lot. So we went to Comfort Inn instead which was perfectly satisfactory. We were settled in at 1850P and in bed asleep an hour later. (85 mi since gas but no fill here)
Day Summary- Pretty much ran the speed limit all day except for the pass from Butte to Bozeman which was in the dark. 75 across Wa, 60 across 4th July and Lookout, 80 across Montana.
Thur Dec 31 New Year’s Eve day.
0600M We had adequate rest though the room heater temperature control and unit noise were issues. +13F at engine start. Synthetic motor oil made it an easy start and much, much easier than the -23F start last year in Butte. Overnight there had fallen some very light powdery snow I had to brush off the windows. It had no effect on roads.
Note to the wary- Butte forecasts indicate that winter overnight lows seem to be 15 degrees colder than either Missoula or Bozeman (the next nearest cities) so a winter overnight stop in Butte might be something to avoid if possible – choose one of the other cities if you have any doubts about the morning startup.
0720M After a McDonald’s drive thru breakfast we were underway. Still dark.
0915M W. Billings for refueling. As the sun came up we had high overcast with a forecast for light snow in late morning. South of Billings there were a very few flakes but hardly noticeable.
1030M The real hazard encountered was snow blowing or previously blown up onto the road creating occasional slick spots so I had to occasionally slow. One spot into a turn past a bridge deck looked really slick ahead so I briskly braked to about 50 and the guy behind who had been very slowly overtaking me did likewise. It was slick thru the turn and past the turn were 3 Montana Highway Patrol units on the shoulder with their rotating lights on. We couldn’t see why but can make an educated guess.
1130M Sheridan for lunch and fuel. Overcast disappeared and it was sunny now with light crosswind. More slick spots occurred on hilltops until the Wyoming border then there were none so I could go back on cruise control except for long hills where I use steady throttle to avoid transmission kicking down into lower gears to futilely try to hold speed.
Of note is that this stretch of I-25 from the Wyoming border to Casper has a 75 mph limit southbound while I recall the northbound side is 80. Maybe they haven’t finished changing the signs? (It’s 60 mph thru Casper by the way)
1400M Casper for refueling. Mild winds for Casper out of the East at 8 mph. 18F
1640M Cheyenne . It was getting toward sunset and it was time to stop for a dinner break.
1740M Home. For post-driving exercise I unpacked most of the car. We checked in with our parents and heated up house. I went out for milk and to gas and wash car.
It was New Year’s Eve.
2030M It sure got tired out all of a sudden so I went to bed satisfied with a trouble-free trip.
This leg the trip computer reported 86 mph max (passing), 67 mph moving avg, 57 overall average Trip time 23:31 . 1329 total miles.