“With the “SuperCab” backseat of the Ranger stuffed to the gills, I added my overnight bag to the pile on Friday morning and drove to the Friday Harbor Ferry at 7 AM.”
Friday, April 13
And so, my trip home began. I was directed down the right-most lane of the ferry and managed to be first in line – which gave me quite the view. With the Ranger’s parking brake set, a ferry employee put a wheel chock under the front wheel and I was allowed to head upstairs to the viewing deck for the hour-long ride. It was a relief as the weather on that Friday morning was pretty chilly. As the ferry docked in Anacortes, the trip became a bit more real. I fired up the Ranger, slid it into Drive, and thought “well, here we go” as I pulled back on to land.
Prior to my flight out west, I purchased a new JVC head unit and associated wiring, and packed it in Mom’s luggage, so that I’d have Bluetooth streaming for the trip home. The Ranger’s stock head unit only supported FM radio and CDs, neither of which were ideal for such a long trip. Thankfully, a few minutes in the parking lot before my drive home had the new radio working well – and all four of the truck’s speakers worked! I had a host of Spotify playlists and How Stuff Works podcasts queued up to keep my mind fresh for the whole trip.
I had planned my route home, to a point. The ferry would drop me off in Anacortes, Washington. From there, I’d head south for a bit until I hit Seattle, then start the trek east on I-90. My destination on Friday was Bozeman, Montana – a mere 750 miles away. After stopping at a gas station for a tank of 87 and a fresh cup of coffee, I queued up Waze and hit the highway. The Ranger’s odometer rolled over 211,000 as I left the gas station.
The trip from Anacortes to Bozeman was uneventful but very scenic. I did learn rather quickly that while the Ranger did have cruise control, it wouldn’t hold speed. Thankfully, speed limits out west are fairly high (70 to 80 mph) and the truck was pretty tapped out around 85 mph, so it wasn’t too bad to keep it around 75-80 the whole way as fine throttle control was not required. I stopped to grab Subway at a gas station and ate lunch on the road. Some mental math revealed the Ranger was earning its keep, even at fast-ish highway speed, returning about 20 miles per gallon. Not bad, not bad.
I finally saw signs for Bozeman as I drove into the evening hours. My parents had called a few times to chat, and we hung up for the final time on Friday as I ascended the Homestake Pass to cross the Continental Divide. I reached the 6,329′ elevation right as the last bits of daylight faded away, leaving the sky a deep navy blue. From there, it was all downhill to my hotel in Bozeman. I rolled in to a Five Guys a few minutes before closing time, grabbed a cheeseburger to take to the hotel room, and sat down to plot my route for Saturday before crawling into bed.
Saturday, April 14
Saturday’s route ultimately offered three options. I could take I-94 to Fargo, North Dakota, I-90 to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or I-80 to Grand Island, Nebraska. The initial plan was to go through South Dakota, stopping at Mount Rushmore and staying with a friend in Sioux Falls. He texted me on Friday night, saying they were expecting a substantial snowstorm. My friend Jeff’s parents live in Grand Island, so they were an option along the southern-most route of my three… until I found out they were also getting snow. The decision was made for me and I booked a room in Fargo after confirming a clear forecast along the route.
The drive from Bozeman to Fargo was entirely uneventful. With an 80 mph speed limit along the entire route, I kept the throttle wide open, leaving the Ranger’s engine in its torque peak of 3,000 rpm. It was happy to sit at 80-85 mph all day long. A few friends called to check in – four of which even FaceTimed from a brewery in Richmond, Virginia! I had to flip my phone camera around to show them just how flat and straight the interstate was, to prove that I wasn’t (too) distracted.
I made it to Fargo around dinnertime, checked in to the Holiday Inn, and hopped on Yelp after a quick shower. Woody’s was my choice for dinner and a few beers and it didn’t disappoint, with a great Cuban and five or so local beers on tap. I struck up a conversation with a guy next to me, who was very excited to learn I was from the DC area. “You guys have a great punk rock scene, and I love the Nationals!” Well, I don’t listen to much punk rock and I attend Nats games very infrequently, but it was still a nice chat.
After dinner, I turned in somewhat early so I’d be rested for Sunday’s drive to Chicago. Turns out, I’d need the rest.
Sunday, April 15
“You’re going where? Oof, good luck.”
More weather woes greeted me as I woke up around 6:30 AM in Fargo. The forecast from Fargo to Chicago was terrible, with patches of snow expected everywhere, and big storms approaching from the east. I called my friend Paul in Minneapolis to get his opinion.
“I went to school in Fargo and have been in Minneapolis forever. You should be able to get here, so see how it is and call me if you need to stop. The DOT usually does a pretty good job plowing and treating the roads.”
My drive to Minneapolis was only 250 miles, but took an agonizing 5.5 hours. With only one passable lane in each direction on the highway, travel was slow (except the Canadians, who blew past the rest of us in Blizzak-shod minivans). The rear-wheel-drive Ranger was on Hankook Optimo tires, which received universally poor ratings for grip in rain and snow. I can attest, they suck. The back end of the Ranger stepped out no fewer than three times at moderate speed in very little snow and ice. After nearly putting myself into the side of a Honda Odyssey, I called Paul again and told him I wasn’t going farther than Minneapolis. He rallied the troops and assembled five friends of ours to meet for lunch at a Chili’s. I pressed on with Chili’s as my destination in Waze, moving at 35 mph or so.
Mom had called to say hi, somewhere between Ranger Drift Challenge #1 and #2. Needless to say, I was a bit terse at the time. So, once the highway finally started to clear up again, I called her back. She offered to stay on the phone until I reached my destination, which ended up being just the right level of focused-yet-distracted that I needed. With the fuel tank almost empty and my bladder very full, I hung up and stopped a gas station next to Chili’s before meeting the guys. Stopping for any break along my route had been impossible, as every off-ramp was completely covered in snow. The Ranger wouldn’t have made it.
Lunch was the break I needed, with lots of laughs and zero stress from snow-covered roads. My friend Addison offered up his couch for the evening, so we nursed the Ranger over to his apartment complex and took a breather before everyone got back together for burgers that night in downtown St. Paul. Addison’s BMW 330ci on snow tires was unstoppable, even in the deep stuff. It is amazing what a proper tire can do, whether on the racetrack or in the worst snowstorm of the past 15 years.
Turns out it was a good thing I had stopped in Minneapolis, too. The storm was so bad that I-94 in Wisconsin was covered in ice for long stretches, which would have proven impassible. The guys assured me that Wisconsin’s DOT would have the highway cleared overnight, and I fell asleep hoping that was the case.
Sunday, April 16
Sunday’s route was shorter than days past, thankfully. I slept in a bit and pointed the truck toward Chicago around 9:30 AM. True to everyone’s word, the highway cleared up as soon as I left St. Paul. The 400 mile trek to Chicago passed by quickly, with no hassle or required stops beyond fuel. I met up with my friend Ed for some deep dish pizza, local beers, and a brief tour of part of the city. Ed was taking care of his cousin’s dog Kingsley, so as a bonus, I got to meet quite the friendly pup as well. We had a great, relaxing visit and I figured the rest of my trip home would be smooth sailing.
Monday, April 17
Ed is an early riser and had to get to work, and I was all too happy to be on the road early for my final stretch of driving. We parted ways around 7 AM, and after a stop for coffee and fuel, I was on the highway with “Home” entered as my destination in Waze. My energy and optimism were renewed for the day, and the trip out of Chicago was easy. After passing through Indiana and Ohio (Ohio takes far better care of their portion of I-94), I entered Pennsylvania.
Somewhere in Ohio, it dawned on me that my route was going to take me through the mountains of Pennsylvania. Hmm. How bad can that be? Turns out… very. I ended up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike crossing over the Allegheny Mountains near Seven Springs in the middle of, you guessed it, another snowstorm. The roads seemed to be worse than what I encountered in Minnesota, and visibility was perhaps 30′ at best. I followed a tractor trailer across the entire storm, and the road finally cleared as we descended and entered the Allegheny Tunnel. I stopped at the first rest stop I could to calm my nerves and refuel.
The Turnpike carried on and as I entered Maryland, a small wave of joy passed through my body. I know this state, I’m almost home, let’s f****ing do this. I pinned the Ranger wide open on an on-ramp in excitement and the tired old V6 managed to rev all the way to 5,000 rpm in celebration. I’d been in touch with a few friends near home, and Matthew agreed to meet me for tacos in Arlington. “Okay, see you at 6:30 then.”
I-70 gave way to I-270, which gave way to I-495 and the George Washington Parkway. I never thought I’d be so excited to see the Beltway, but… it was a really good feeling, even in Monday afternoon rush hour. I merged onto the GW Parkway, dealt with a bit of stop-and-go traffic, and swung the Ranger into a spot on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn at 6:25 PM.
Matt and I inhaled some tacos and shared a bit of incredulous conversation about completing such a wild trip in a sight-unseen, high-mileage truck. I drove the remaining 9 miles home and parked the Ranger in front of my garage with a smile on my face, texting Mom and Dad that I’d landed safely at home, finally.
After Getting Home…
I took the Ranger to work on Tuesday, so that I could meet up with Mom and Dad to hand off some of what I’d brought home – all of which made it unscathed. Following that trip through Northern Virginia on Tuesday, I parked the Ranger and got back in my F-150 for a few days. Heated seats and adaptive cruise control never felt so good.
Now that the Ranger was in my garage, it was time to clean it up and find it a new home.