Do you want to 1) attempt to ford the river 2) caulk the wagon and float it across 3) take the ferry or 4) hire a mefite as your guide?
November 7, 2012 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Cross country move: Charlotte to Seattle. Help make sure this banker-type doesn't die of dysentery on the way there.

I'm seriously considering a job that will take me 3,000 miles to the Great North West by the end of January. The last time I moved 500 miles or more I was six months old, and it was from Florida to NC, so even if I did remember the details they probably wouldn't apply.

I think I've got a basic idea of what I'm getting myself into, but it's the stuff I don't know that's scaring me.

For starters, I think I've got a pretty good idea of the housing situation, thanks to craigslist and it's moderately-decent map feature. But what do I not know about living through a 'real' winter? Down here we have lots of natural gas and even oil heat, but up there everything seems to be forced air electric and even baseboards. Should I just be expecting to pay a small fortune in electric bills for the next four to six months?

The move itself shouldn't be too hard. We'll be selling 90% of everything and reacquiring used stuff once we get up there. I think we'll probably end up shipping a few things, including the cars and the two 50 pound dogs. (I'm more nervous about the dogs than the cars.) What do I need to be aware of that I'm probably not thinking of?

Finally, we're fair to moderate campers here where the winters are mild and the bears are mostly friendly, we even own a small pop up that we're somewhat attached to. I'd love to one day take the family on one of those epic cross country trips everybody thinks fondly of... just you know, not in December, and I'd prefer not to have to hunt for our food and/or die of dysentery. What's the best way to get a pop-up camper from here to there, and then go halfway back to visit some of the more interesting stuff the not-online-world has to offer?
posted by Blue_Villain to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's not a 'real' winter. I think Seattle is basically identical to Vancouver for weather - a few weeks of actual cold bookending the season (November + March) and just a shit-ton of rain in between. In other words, you should be more worried about depression than heating costs. The only thing with 'damp cold' vs. actual winter cold is it can be hard to shake off even once you get into a warm house. It seems to just stick in your bones. I find the best remedy for this are hot baths, YMMV.

The bears are pretty friendly around here as well.

Here's a suggestion for your camper situation - maybe find somewhere to store it in NC, and drive back in the summer to tow it to Seattle?
posted by mannequito at 6:47 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seattle winters are pretty mild compared to other parts of the country, and whatever extra you spend on heating you'll probably make up in AC savings. For camping in the cold, get some zero degree-rated sleeping bags; you'll be fine. For friendly bears, head to Capitol Hill.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:53 PM on November 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Electricity is cheap here and it doesn't get that cold. Even with all-electric heating on much of the time, I spend less on electricity here in the winter than I did when I lived in Texas and didn't need heat. My current apartment is twice as big too. And of course, in the summer my electric bill is as low as $15/month or so.

Invest in a sunrise alarm clock (for the darkness) and an electric mattress pad (for even more efficient heating).
posted by grouse at 7:01 PM on November 7, 2012

I've been in Seattle for a dozen years now, and I agree with everything above except the bit about the bears. The only cold you have to worry about is the Seattle Freeze, which is the name for the cold shoulder that strangers will give you, because that's how we roll here.

As for camping, note that the climate on the eastern side of the Cascade range (everywhere from Canuckistan to Oregon) is more traditional freeze-your-ass-off winters, less rainy dampness. Travel to the coast, and then head north. Protip: never run out of gas at night in Oregon-- you won't find an open station, you just won't.

There's good camping along the Columbia River, RV style or otherwise. It's part of the Lewis & Clark trail. (Read "Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose.)
posted by Sunburnt at 8:44 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Until recently, it was rare to get more than a dusting of snow in the winter. The last few years have seen a few days with an inch or so of snow on the ground, and temperatures in the 20s for a week or two at a time.

Anywhere else in the world, this would be no big deal. The problem with seattle is that it is a city of hills. One or two inches of snow isn't a problem where it is flat, but when that snow sits on 1/4" of ice, traction becomes impossible and you end up sliding all over the place.

Some people really like their Subarus and SUVs up here, but you are really a lot better off with a FWD car. If you can't get around with front wheel drive, you are better off staying at home. The Subaru will just make it easier to get into more trouble.

I used to do a lot of skiing with my RWD RX7. I can't recommend a RWD car unless you have a really good handle on driving dynamics, but it is doable. FWD is perfectly adequate for the average driver.
Protip: never run out of gas at night in Oregon-- you won't find an open station, you just won't.
This is important because you can't pump your own gas in Oregon. So if the station is closed, there won't be an attendant to pump for you, and you won't be able to get any gas.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:00 PM on November 7, 2012

I've driven from Texas to Seattle and back and did both trips in winter. It can be a challenge, but it's not impossible to actually enjoy yourself on this trip.

My trips were done with cats in the car - a kitten the first time and two grown cats the second time - so that constrained side trips a little bit. But not much, as I sought out motels that accepted pets (Red Roof Inn, La Quinta, Best Western) and would get them comfy then go wandering in the places where I had the time between an arrival and the next leg. I know you said you're shipping the pups, but just wanted to put in a word for having them along not being the worst thing in the world.

Other than that, I think other folks have covered actual Seattle pretty well. It's the miles of country in between that are going to be the challenge, since you've got at least two mountain ranges to cross and unpredictable weather in several spots depending upon route.

I wouldn't plan on coming in from Eastern Washington super easily, because the passes are often closed at that point in the year. Depending on how the winter goes, this might be a non-issue, but I'd be very ready for the passes to be closed, perhaps for multiple days.

Just between Oregon and Northern California can get hairy, too, if you decide to come in from the bottom of Oregon, but it's also really beautiful and a comfy drive if you have good weather. You'd be going uphill a lot, so it'll be a bit more wearing on the vehicle(s), and ice could cause excitement and/or delays.

Snowy conditions are entirely likely from Arizona on up to Idaho and a whole lot of the middle between where you are and where you're going, so plan on that. Have chains, have an emergency bag in the primary vehicle in case of getting caught in a drift, fill up your tank(s) often, and have detour routes planned into the trip.

Give yourselves plenty of time to get there. Set a limit on the number of hours you drive each day and make sure to get enough rest. Stay hydrated but be aware of how far apart areas of civilisation will be for relief. Might be a nice idea to get supplemental liquid elimination devices, not to put too fine a point on it. Be aware that rest stops sometimes have unsavory/rough characters hanging about who cannot be trusted with even the most basic human boundaries, so only use them when absolutely necessary. I wouldn't sleep at a rest stop in most states if paid large sums of money...better to be actually on a campground or at a motel.

Wash your hands a LOT. Get lots of truly fresh air. Don't forget to get out and stretch your legs even if you feel like you could drive for 6hrs at a time. Try to alternate easy meals and healthier meals while accepting that some locales will have limitations on keeping it even (salad, for example, can be very hard to find in the Southwest in late November after 8pm). Your tummy will be so happy if you don't forget the healthy meals.

My trips both involved driving across the Southwest, so I tried to fit in a couple of sight-seeing type things on each in case I didn't get back through. If you even just put in something as a good halfway point celebration, this really made the trip a LOT more fun, because it was a great way to let off some steam and build a different kind of anticipation.

Whatever you decide to do and however you end up doing it, I wish you safe travels and happy adventures.
posted by batmonkey at 9:52 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, good rule for driving across country: Every day around 4PM local time, pull over, dig out a map, and figure out where you're going to end your day's drive. Then start your googlin' (back in '95, I had a AAA-book and a "triptych," series of comb-bound higher-res maps that followed the highways for my entire journey from Norfolk VA to Seattle, via Florida, Nawlins, OKC, and Denver) and make a reservation for someplace to sleep, or locate your campsite, as appropriate. It makes the rest of your day's journey more goal-oriented, and you don't risk a no-vacancy sign that'll force you to make complex decisions while you're dog-tired from the road.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:18 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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