Air-cooled and ice cold: Oregon to Michigan in a VW Beetle

I’d never driven on a road as bad as I-84 that January night. The Beetle’s feeble headlights dimly illuminated the endless washboard ice and packed snow, and the car rattled relentlessly. It felt like every bone in our bodies did, too. And, boy, was it cold, with temps in the single digits. My wool socks and long underwear weren’t enough. I cursed my decision to drive this Beetle from Oregon to Michigan rather than ship it.

By Mile 30, I couldn’t feel my feet. My brother Grant, who’d snuggled into his down sleeping bag in the passenger seat, handed me his down booties. They helped a little, but my feet were still numb to my ankles. Nothing was going to help except actual heat, which this old Volkswagen, like so many before it, did not have.

Twenty miles later, fingertips numb and teeth chattering, Grant and I were frazzled, fully regretting our decision to make this trip. That’s right, a whopping 50 miles from Portland, Oregon, we were ready to call it quits. We were cold, hungry, tired, and terrified the Beetle was going to fall apart, spin off the road, or get swallowed under a semi. Hood River was the next exit. It was late, but we figured there’d be an open bar where we could eat. After filling our bellies and warming our toes, we discussed the situation with clear minds. We were fully throttled, but we decided to find a hotel, get some sleep, and continue the next day.

Report by Ben Woodworth for