Critique my cross-country driving route please: Oregon to South Carolina
February 22, 2016 12:29 PM   Subscribe

We're moving cross-country in about a month (3/21-3/28), from Portland, OR to Myrtle Beach, SC. I've scoured the Internet and I think I have a good plan, taking a southerly route to avoid possible snow up north but if someone who has actually driven across the country (mostly on 40) could give feedback that would really help.

We will have a 5-year-old, a German Shepherd, a cat, and a rabbit in our Kia Soul, luggage on the roof and towing a trailer with a scooter in it, so I think 8 hours driving per day is probably all we'll be able to manage. (Our stuff is being professionally driven in a big ol' truck.)

We'll be staying at Motel 6 the whole way across the country, due to their pet policy (and price).

Portland to Eureka, CA (with a little time for Redwoods)
425 miles, 7 hours 25 minutes

Eureka to Atascadero, CA
483 miles, 8 hours 19 minutes

Atascadero to Williams, AZ
569 miles, 8 hours 30 minutes

Williams/Grand Canyon to Albuquerque, NM
(short day so we can do a side trip and spend 2-3 hours at Grand Canyon)
454 miles, 6 hours 37 minutes

Albuquerque to Shawnee, OK
582 miles, 8 hours 16 minutes

Shawnee to Jackson, Nashville, or Birmingham (looks like B'ham would avoid mountains?)

Jackson: 513 miles, 7 hours 21 minutes
Nashville: 651 miles, 9 hours 23 minutes
Birmingham: 668 miles, 9 hours 46 minutes

Day Seven: Columbia or Myrtle Beach

FROM BIRMINGHAM, MB is 513 miles, 7 hours 43 minutes
FROM NASHVILLE, MB IS 578 miles, 8 hours 48 minutes
FROM JACKSON, we'd need to stop in Columbia, which is 575 miles, 8 h 29 min...

Day Eight: finish up the trip if we didn't finish the day before (Columbia to MB)
143 miles, 2 hours 22 minutes
posted by rabbitrabbit to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total)
I've driven cross country (counting...) over seven times. The first time was in the early eighties with my two month old and first husband. The last time was all by my onesie in 2012. The one thing I can tell you is this... Life laughs in the face of your plans. Make them by all means, but be prepared to not make the goals you set. Cars break down, meals take longer, slow drivers back traffic up like you wouldn't believe, there's unexpected road construction, etc... Don't trust those times you've posted. Expect to be on the road for up to 13 hours if you are determined to make it to your "goal" cities. Or, be more flexible.

Also, if you take 70, you can avoid snow too.
posted by patheral at 12:39 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you may be a bit ambitious in your distances/times. Maintaining an average of 60mph+ for those durations is going to require you to either not stop much or for very long, or go significantly above posted speed limits. I'm going to assume you know this and are okay with whichever work around you choose, but in case it wasnt obvious to you from first blush, this is a series of brutally long slogs and the compounding delays of bathroom and food stops can really add up to a lot of time you may or may not be accounting for reasonably.

In ABQ i cannot recommend El Modelo enough for some of the most amazing tamales ive ever had (they close at 7pm, and its down by the railroad tracks in a random spot, but oh so worth it).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:41 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

On Day 2, you will want to be south of Gilroy by 3pm. Anything from SF (and possibly north) to Gilroy and definitely from San Jose to Gilroy will likely be a parking lot at that time.

Safe travels!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 12:44 PM on February 22, 2016

I get that you are going 101 to avoid snow at the pass near Yreka on I-5, but I think that first day is going to be incredibly long. I think I would try splitting those first two days into three days (which might also help you manage Bay Area traffic timing).
posted by janell at 1:03 PM on February 22, 2016

Best answer: 569 miles, 8 hours 30 minutes

I've driven across the country on major highways fifteen times, most recently two years ago and I basically presume that I'm never going to get more than 60 miles out of an hour of driving, on average. I would also presume that 500 miles = ten hours because the longer you drive the more you have to stop, eat, pee, etc. Double if you have pets. Assuming you are sharing driving, there's nothing at all wrong with an eight or ten hour day, but I'd presume days will be longer than you are expecting, moreso if you have to go through any major cities.
posted by jessamyn at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think if you want to go from Portland to Arizona in three days you should consider taking I-5, perhaps 99 below Sacramento, and then 395 to 40. I know it's way more boring but unless your timing is impeccable or you are driving in the middle of the night, 101 down the length of California will be much, much slower than you think- and some long stretches will have nightmarish traffic.
posted by gyusan at 1:15 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've driven back and forth as well as up and down this country many times, as recently as last year, with and without other people, small children, and animals.

I notice your listed times do not account for meal and pit stops. These stops are going to add at least 2 hours to your travel time, especially with a small child and high-energy dog, who will likely need more breaks than an average adult.

Also be prepared for the 'just left the pitstop and now someone has to go' stops. It may be that your five-year old is a magical being who is going to be awesome at this -- some of them are. It might also be that after a couple days (or a couple hours), you start hitting major melt-down zone and you'll want to shorten your days considerably, or include more activities to distract the little one. I have often resorted to the 'pull over and have everyone run laps around the car' to work out some of the pent-up energy that small children enviably have in abundance.

As has been mentioned, California has more traffic than you would believe. Rush hour is now essentially an all-day slow down on every highway. Your day two plan is probably going to be a 13 hour trip, not including meal times.

If you don't want to be in the car for more than 8 hours, redo your route to have no more than 5 or so hours of driving a day.

tl;dr: Be flexible. Also cut your driving time by at least a third each day. Godspeed, traveler!
posted by ananci at 1:28 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

101 down the length of California will be much, much slower than you think

This, a thousand times this. 101 is a scenic route, it's beautiful, but it ain't fast.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:33 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We're moving cross-country in about a month (3/21-3/28)

Oh, and by late March, I don't think snow is going to be a problem, so you can skip California, and go Oregon - Idaho - Utah - Colorado, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:35 PM on February 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've driven from Birmingham, AL to the middle of Arizona and back a couple times. I found 40 to be easy if boring. Being able to see horizon to horizon is neat.

In the southwestern states make sure you have enough gas to get to the next gas station, in some places they can be 60 miles apart! Also fill up before you go to the Grand Canyon, the gas is crazy expensive there.
posted by gregr at 1:40 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

La Quinta motels generally have a good pet policy and reasonable rates. I still called ahead on my cross-country trip to each motel to make sure they would allow our two big dogs, but I didn't encounter any that were a problem. This may give you a bit more flexibility if you want to stop early or push ahead on a long driving day.
posted by muddgirl at 2:03 PM on February 22, 2016

I drove Tulsa to Nashville on three separate occasions, and it took at least ten and a half hours each time (and Tulsa-Nashville is 33 miles shorter than Shawnee-Nashville). If that example holds I'd say your mileage per day is optimistic at best.

I really didn't like the stretch of I-40 through Arkansas, but I'd hope it's all been repaved since the last time I drove on it (which was … 1998?). If you want to see the Grand Canyon it's probably not worth the extra mileage to go some other way from there though.
posted by fedward at 2:05 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kia doesn't recommend towing with a Soul. How heavy is your trailer? If you haven't towed before, you'll be surprised by the wind resistance and how much of an affect, speed and mpg, it will have on a low horsepower vehicle like the Soul. Also, some small trailers get skittish at interstate speeds which might lower your comfortable cruising speed.

Don't forget a spare tire for the trailer also.
posted by LoveHam at 2:30 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, thanks guys. So it sounds like we just need to try and get through Cali as fast as possible, I-5 all the way to Bakersfield before heading east? Bummer to miss the Redwoods and I would've liked to drive through SF, but we do have things that we need to be in SC for on day nine, so looking at the maps, and trying to keep the mileage below 500 miles per day, understanding that these are literal times behind the wheel and with pit stops and meals it'll be more like 9-11 hours from one place to the next, how does this look?

Day One: Portland to Redding, CA
434 miles, 8 hours drive time

Day Two: Redding to Bakersfield, CA
439 miles, 7 hours drive time

Day Three: Bakersfield to Williams, AZ
452 miles, 8 hours drive time

Day Four: Grand Canyon to Albuquerque, NM (may only have an hour at GC)
454 miles, 7 hours drive time

Day Five: Albuquerque to Elk City, OK
437 miles, 7 hours drive time

Day Six: Elk City to Little Rock, AR
443 miles, 7 hours drive time

Day Seven: Little Rock to Oxford, AL
440 miles, 7 hours drive time

Day Eight: Oxford to Myrtle Beach
447 miles, 7 hours drive time
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:51 PM on February 22, 2016

Best answer: I've driven PNW-->east coast many times. Like Cool Papa Bell, I say to drive across Oregon, Idaho, Utah, then get a good idea of the weather forecast for the next few days. If clear, take 70 across. Snow is an issue until late April (longest I've been stuck is 10 days in Wyoming in mid-April); tornadoes become an issue in spring along the 40 and high winds on the plains.

California is a traffic nightmare and thoroughly unpleasant for driving. Skip it.
posted by grounded at 3:42 PM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I really, really can't get stuck due to weather. We leave here 3/21 and my job starts 4/1.

If I don't go down through California to take a southerly route, which areas, specifically, do I need to monitor for weather, and if there is bad weather in those spots what route should I then take to go around it?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:02 PM on February 22, 2016

I can't speak to the entire route, but I've driven the Portland to Salt Lake City leg of that proposed route before and the only spot you might want to be careful of weather-wise is the section of I-84 between Baker City and Ontario, OR. It should be fine by late March, however.
posted by Aleyn at 4:20 PM on February 22, 2016

I drive back and forth between DC and southern California a lot. All I will add to what has been said above is: miles go materially slower, east of the Mississippi. Not just in the mega-urban Boston-to-DC megalopolis, but (for different reasons) in less populated areas. Basically, speed limits are 65 or 55 rather than 70, and (even more important) once you get to Arkansas, Tennessee, VA, etc., people don't know the concept of not hogging the left lane.
posted by sheldman at 5:28 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

(and also, don't be worrying about mountains east of the Mississippi. they aren't big enough to worry about. take the more direct route, whatever it is.)
posted by sheldman at 5:30 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is there a reason I am missing why you are taking such a long path, like visiting family? The short way to drive is to a fairly straight diagonal (PDX to Utah to Nebraska etc), and your route is a lot longer which sounds painful with the trailer, pets, and kid. The interstates close very rarely, and usually only for a few hours. (I drove a significant section of I-84 today and it was entirely clear, for example, and it has been clear for weeks.) Your route is a good ten hours longer on Google, which realistically probably means two extra days with the trailer. In the unlikely event that weather closes the direct route, you can just adjust to your southern route.

For winter/spring driving conditions, each western state has a driving conditions website, and all you need to watch is conditions in the mountain passes a couple of days in advance. So for Oregon it is Trip Check, and you can check each region or just go straight to the cameras on Cabbage (just east of Pendleton), Ladd Canyon, and in the section just after Baker City; the procedure is basically the same for each state but of course each website has a different interface. It's not worth watching conditions way ahead in time -- it's better to check a couple of days ahead and reroute or delay as necessary, since weather changes so fast at altitude.

There are actually quite a few hotels/motels that take pets, both chains and non-chains. I've done fine just stopping at a rest stop (unless you have a passenger, which is easier of course) and checking hotels in the next couple of towns when I start getting tired -- planning stops way ahead always seems to lead to either excessively long days when you are pushing dangerously long to get to your reservation, or irritatingly short days when you stop early but wish you had kept going. And I agree that your driving times seem optimistic, but you know your style and comfort level better than we do.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can't really account for the weather any time of the year. I promise you that. We had snow in April when I lived in New Mexico (route 40), and that slowed everything down. I'd just plan the fastest route traffic-wise, (skipping California) and hope for the best. I'd take 70 most of the way across then down to 40, but that's just me. I like 70.
posted by patheral at 8:05 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I mean, I've driven almost your point A to point B in three days -- only add a few more miles because I was going from WA to the tip of VA (Virginia Beach). But I've taken as long as seven too. It really shouldn't take nine unless you take the longest route possible.
posted by patheral at 8:08 PM on February 22, 2016

Best answer: Going south then east is going to add so many miles and so much time! Watch the weather forecast and road reports, but I'd really aim for the shortest interstate routes, so through Idaho. Back roads are not going to be faster. Don't worry about mountains east of the Mississippi unless you are actually in a blizzard.

Do you have a way to lock your luggage to the roof? Or will you have to move it all into the car or hotel every night? That could be exhausting and will make it less likely that you'll want to sightsee, I think.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:54 PM on February 22, 2016

Best answer: I vote for driving through Utah. The tricky spot of I-84 is Cabbage Hill, between Pendleton and La Grande. Westbound is usually worse than eastbound. I wouldn't expect any weather-related delays now, let alone a month from now.
posted by sportbucket at 10:22 PM on February 22, 2016

I was just going to add my two cents. Towing a trailer is going to put you at 50-55 mph on I5 in OR and CA. I just drove up from LA in a two day sprint with no trailer and even at 80mph in the long stretches it took us 11 hours from Williams CA (nice motel six -38 bucks a night aaa discount) to Portland OR. It was a little brutal.

If I was you I would put the scooter in the moving van, dump the trailer, and have a stress free drive across to South Carolina. Otherwise I really feel for you. It's gonna be a tough one.
posted by cairnoflore at 1:44 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've heard so many times that the mountain passes east of here are really dicey and potentially closed until sometime in April, and that taking a southerly route was the only way to do this safely and sanely in March. But now I'm hearing the opposite so I really don't know what to think. Of course I'd like to get there as quick as possible, though it would be nice to see the Grand Canyon, I'm not sure that it's worth 2 extra days. I'll see what my spouse thinks tonight. I'm hoping there is room in the truck for both scooters so we don't have to tow one, but the trailer is light (basically a wood box on a frame) and we've towed with it on the Soul many times and we can easily do 60 with it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2016

Best answer: Here's the thing you have to realize about the weather... One, it's been a warm winter in the West (as you know) so there hasn't been that much snow. Two snow doesn't always equal closed roads. I've driven through Utah, Idaho, Colorado, &c... with snow and no closed roads, it just slows things down a bit (and not for two days). If you stay on the highways, you should be fine. States work hard to keep the highways open because people bitch when they're not. That's our tax dollars at work, you know.

I've driven across this great country of ours many many times and I've always taken the fastest route and hoped for the best. Except the few times when it was a pleasure trip. If you're in a hurry, don't "plan" for things like the Grand Canyon -- you're only shooting yourself in the foot. Get where you're going and take a special trip to see the Grand Canyon later. Because you won't be able to "see" the Grand Canyon from the highway, you have to exit the highway, drive to the entrance from the exit, then walk to the Canyon itself. It's a good half a day out of your trip just to glimpse it.
posted by patheral at 9:53 AM on February 23, 2016

The Grand Canyon is nice, but not worth the extra time and risk on this trip. If you take a more direct route, you will be near Craters of the Moon in Idaho and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Both are worth a short stop and if you have the time, a whole day of walking around. You will have a better idea of how much time you can spare once you are in Kentucky, of course.
posted by soelo at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2016

Best answer: I've heard so many times that the mountain passes east of here are really dicey and potentially closed until sometime in April

I think this can be an issue if you want to cross the Cascades to Bend -- or if you were trying to take a shorter route over the Cascades to Arizona. If you're driving east from Portland on I84, you drive through the Columbia Gorge, along the Columbia River. Unless it's snowing in Portland and there's a major blizzard in Hood River (which you'd know about from regular, local weather reports), you should be fine on 84 in Oregon.

Boise is pretty temperate as well.

Or are you concerned about crossing the Rockies? I think in that case you'd want to keep up with I 80 in Wyoming. Here are a links to a bunch of traffic cameras on I80 in Wyoming.

Think about it like this: if you had to leave today, you'd probably fine taking the most direct route as suggested by Google Maps. It's 43 degrees in Salt Lake, a chilly but clear 28 degrees in Laramie, a balmy 45 degrees in Kearney, Nebraska, and a scorching 51 degrees in Kansas City.

Crossing the Tennessee-North Carolina border on I40 requires going through a mountain pass, but, again, the weather is not usually a problem in April, and you'd know in advance from weather reports if this was going to be a problem. It's in the high 40s and low 50s in Asheville and Knoxville today, so this road is fine.

(And whatever you do, DO NOT take 440 through the Smoky Mountain Park because it looks the same distance as the interstate and would be pretty. This is a recipe for a trip that will take several hours to go 40 miles -- not because of weather but because of windy roads.)

Plan for the shortest routes via interstates, and then make adjustments as necessary if we get some freaky April storm.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:53 AM on February 23, 2016

Response by poster: See, this is why I asked! OK, we'll plan to go the shortest way and be flexible.

Thanks everybody!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:17 PM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

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