Friday, February 28, 2020

Love at First Sight: a Tale of a New Trailer Pick-up in Canada during a January Snowstorm and Then the Epic Trip South

Safari Condo and Alto teardrop trailer
Ready to head home, snow and all.

Every RV owner remembers the trip to pick up the rig, whether the trek is short or long. Here is a guest post by Bill Lazzaro, administrator of the Facebook group Alto Trailer R-1713 and R-1723 Fans, where he relates his trailer pick-up story. This story isn't your everyday pick-up, like mine was when I rode with my son-in-law on a two and half hour drive in July to Des Moines, Iowa, to a residence just three blocks off the freeway. Lazzaro's trip was to Quebec City, Canada, in the winter, during a snowstorm. Quite a tale!

January 16, 2018 Pick Up
--by Bill Lazzaro

Our friends told us we were crazy. Family members were worried for our safety. Safari Condo doubted we'd do it.

When we called Safari Condo to place an order for a R-1713 in early January 2017, we expected a 15 month wait time. So when Daniel, who was our salesman, gave us a date only 12 months away, we felt like we had hit the lottery!. But he cautioned us, "No one wants to come to Quebec in the winter." He so strongly believed we'd change our minds that he wrote up our order reflecting spring 2018 prices, which inflated the costs due to the changeover to their new model year. When challenged about that, he said, "We don't think you'll really come up here in January." We convinced him otherwise.

Bill Lazzaro
We know winter very well. Elaine and I grew up in New York state where winter is real. There, winter driving on snow-covered roads is routine. You had to learn to drive safely in those conditions, and we certainly had. We lived in central New York state in our college years, where we occasionally experienced cold temperatures in the negative teens.

We also reasoned that we would be strategic about the trip. If a storm was predicted, we'd adjust our travel plans accordingly. If that meant leaving a day or two early or staying put in a hotel until the roads were cleared, we'd be fine.

But we did anticipate that weather would be a continuous factor from the time we started the trip until we got home.

We started our trip giving ourselves an extra day to get there. A winter storm was forecast for the entire east coast on the day we left. We chose a route that took us along the heavily traveled highways between Washington, Baltimore, Philly and NY City. If any route would be kept clear, it would be that one. As it turned out, we were ahead of the storm.

By the time we made it to Albany, NY, the storm had caught up to us. The highway was slightly covered by snow but still safe for driving. There were five inches of snow on the ground.

We spent the night in Albany and headed north early the next morning. The highway was generally dry. The trip through the snow-covered Adirondacks was breathtaking. We sailed along barely noticing that the accumulated snow from previous day's snow was getting deeper and deeper. We barely noticed the dropping temperatures, too.

Plattsburgh, New York, on our way up to the Canadian border.
Our window washer fluid had frozen into a slushy.

Outside of Plattsburgh, NY, we noticed that our window washer fluid wasn't working. We had used it quite a bit on the previous day, so I thought we might be out of fluid. When I checked it, there was plenty of washer fluid, but it looked like a blue slushy in the reservoir. Our -25 degree-rated washer fluid was freezing. The outside temperature was close to zero degrees.

I added some washer fluid from a new jug, hoping it was warm enough to melt the slush. It worked only for a short time.

After having lunch in Plattsburgh, we were excited to reach the Canadian border. But the border crossing changed everything.

From the moment we entered Canada until we reached Montreal, we were driving hard-packed snow and ice. The road was in terrible shape. There was no apparent road treatment. No sand was applied. Ice-melting chemicals don't work at those temperatures. Elaine was driving this stretch. I was a nervous wreck. We felt like we were on an episode of Ice Road Truckers. There were very few other vehicles on the road with us. For long stretches, we were alone. It was extremely stressful, but Elaine's experience and skills got us through.

Conditions improved when we got to Montreal. The road surface was brown with a mix of road treatments. We felt safe traveling once again.

We set our sights for Levis. There wasn't much to see along that route. We'd be at our destination in a couple of hours.

We wanted to stop and take a break, but noticed accidents on several of the off ramps. The foot of snow that had fallen overnight was causing exiting vehicles to slide off the road when they exited the highway. So we pressed on.

Arriving at Levis, we too did some slipping and sliding when we exited the highway. The road was covered by six inches of unplowed, hard, rutted snow. They were a mess. We stopped at a service station and bought Canadian window washer fluid rated at -45 degrees. That stuff kept our windshield clear.

The temperature was well below zero when we checked into our hotel.

That evening we wanted to get dinner. The roads were in terrible shape so we wanted to stay close. We got in the truck to drive across the parking lots to the nearby restaurants. We needed four wheel drive to make that short trip.

It was -15 degrees the next morning with wind chills of -30. Snow plows had worked overnight, so the roads were better for traveling, but still not good.

Since we had planned an extra day in our trip, we made an early visit to Safari Condo to see the place. It was the middle of the afternoon when we got there. The front door was locked. So were the side doors. We went around the back and found a person there who let us in. He was Daniel, our salesman. We spoke briefly and we looked around. Our Alto wasn't there yet. It was still at the factory. We told Daniel that we were experienced trailer owners so only needed Alto specific information in our walk-through the following day.

Safari Condo and Alto teardrop trailer
Pick Up Day at the Alto factory.

We arrived at SC on our Pick Up Day excited and ready to take our Alto home. It was another brisk morning with temperatures in the negative teens.

Our paperwork and walk through took three hours. Then we left the showroom and made a beeline for the border. Our goal was to cross the border and get as far south as we could that day. More snow was predicted for that afternoon.

We got to the border before dark. It was snowing heavily by that time, but driving conditions were OK. We had no problems getting across with our paperwork. Waiting in line to get to the checkpoint took about twenty minutes. Our conversation with the border agents was less than five minutes.

We had planned to overnight in Plattsburgh, but it was still early enough in the day when we got there that we decided to try to get through the Adirondacks before we stopped. Elaine drove the last few hours in the snow and dark. The road surface was white but not dangerous. The problem we had was being able to see. Our headlights weren't projecting much light. When we stopped for the night at Lake George, NY, we found a thick layer of snow and ice had formed over the headlights, limiting their use.

It was stilling snowing the next morning. Schools were closed to the south of us. The TV was reporting numerous weather-related accidents.

We used our phone to access for NYS. There we could see traffic cams along our route. Traffic was moving slowly but safely, so we set off for our final day of the trip. There were nine inches of snow by the time we reached the Mid Hudson valley, but we were able to keep moving safely.

By the time we reached the NY/NJ border, the snow had stopped. We were relieved and delighted.

Entering Pennsylvania, we stopped at the rest area. While stretching our legs, we struck up a conversation with the woman at the desk. She had seen us coming in towing the Alto. She had questions. When we told her that we were headed to Maryland, she told us the road ahead was closed. There had been a multi-truck accident, but she handed us a map and marked out an alternate route. We were thankful that we had talked to her.

That afternoon, we saw parts of the Pennsylvania countryside we had never seen before. The route took sixty minutes longer, but we got home safe and sound.

Safari Condo and Alto teardrop trailer
Arrival home.

Safari Condo and Alto teardrop trailer
Using the remote-controlled trailer mover to back the Alto into its narrow garage.

We were home with our new Alto. The long wait was over. Blue Heaven was in our driveway. Life is good.

Picking up in the winter wasn't that crazy after all.

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  1. Brave folks! And determined. I hope they enjoy many, many wonderful trips in their new teardrop.

    1. They have had lots of fun with it. My wife and I have one ordered, so we are looking forward to our trip to pick it up--next September. Should be nice weather!

  2. And I thought my trip to Montana to pick up my teardrop in April 2018 was pretty hairy!

    1. The trailer is light, around 1,850 dry and empty. That helps!