Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snow Traveling: how not to do it

In October of 1985, my gymnastics group traveled to California to compete. My mom drove me and Amy, along with our older sister Suzette and a couple of other gymnasts. This was back in the day when people rolled their eyes at seat belts, so while you think we may have taken a giant Chevy Suburban or van, you'd be completely wrong. In fact, we took my mom's giant brown Cadillac car that she'd inherited from my grandpa.

Things were great on our trip for the first few hours. For some reason I can't recall, instead of driving straight down the I-15 corridor to LA, we took a detour through Delta, UT, and drove through through Nevada via the sexy towns of Ely and Tonopah in order to end up in Bakersfield, CA. This was all fine and good until we stopped for dinner at a casino in Tonopah. After we ate with the other people we were caravaning with, we somehow got separated from them as we left the casino. (It might have had something to do with the fact that one of the girls traveling with us took the cash sitting on a table in the casino, meant for a tip. She had no. idea. that it was a tip, and that she shouldn't pick it up and take it with her. My mom explained to her that people don't do that, and made her take it back to the waitress.)

I can clearly remember driving out out of the casino parking lot and my mom asking us if we saw any of the other drivers or cars. It was dark by this time, and it had started to snow. The rest of the party had left us. Undaunted, my mother soldiered on into the evening and eventual night with her carload of girls as she climbed into the Sierra Nevada. But after a few hours, the snow kept getting worse and she worried about going over the
mountain passes alone.

Finally, we stopped at a diner in the mountains. My mom went in and talked to the owner of the diner and the truckers who sat at the counter drinking coffee. They advised to stay put for the night. Not knowing what else to do, she paraded us all inside and told us to lay down on the benches and sleep. I'm pretty sure she sat at that counter all night, talking with this or that trucker, keeping us all safe.

The rest of the trip was uneventful in comparison. It's something that I will always remember, and after this weekend when I drove with Shane and my boys to a soccer tournament in Mesquite, NV, it's been on my mind. You see, we left for Mesquite at 11 on Thursday, knowing that Utah had had quite a storm the night before, but sure that we would be out of most of of it after we left Northern Utah. How wrong we were.

I think we left in the exact pocket that would ensure we had weather the entire way. The first leg of a southern trip for us usually has us stopping in Fillmore, UT, which is about 120 miles from home. Instead of the normal 2 hours, it took us close to 3.5. We ate lunch there and came out to 6 inches of new snow covering everything. We even had to wait 10 minutes to get on the freeway, as a trailer hauling steers had jackknifed at the bottom of the off ramp, while a long bed semi sat in in the middle of the on ramp.

I kept thinking it would get better, as we drove 30-50 miles an hour, but oh how wrong I was. You see, it was 17 degrees and snowing about as hard an fast as is possible. I'm not sure what did it, but the combination of freezing temperatures, blowing snow, hours on the road, and our defroster running at high for hours made our windshield wiper blades freeze over. We found ourselves going 15 miles an hour with a tiny inch of clearing for Shane to see out of, and a tiny clearing for me to see out of. I felt like I was driving as much as Shane as we just tried to follow the tail lights of the car in front of us as we crawled towards Cedar City, UT. There weren't any lanes, just snow and deeper snow where it hadn't been packed down. We stopped twice to clear our blades of ice and snow, which effectively ruined them.There is no way we would have made it if we hadn't have been going so slow.

We finally got into Cedar and bought new windshield wiper blades. By then it was after 6pm. After we got the blades, we went across the street to a delicious diner. The red booths were exactly like the booths that me and my sisters and friends had slept on so many years ago, so I told my kids the story. I realized again that at least when things don't go as planned, they at least make a memory and (hopefully, eventually!) a good story.

I wish that things magically got better once we got back into the car, fed and watered and newly bladed, but they didn't. It took us nearly 4 hours to go the 90 miles between Cedar City and Mesquite. At least one of those hours was spent at a dead stop. It didn't help to see the freeway on the other side also at a deadstop, multiple car crashes and pileups and even a jackknifed semi adorning the freeway going north. Once we got to St George, where the roads were finally, miraculously clear, even if they were wet, we were so gunshy that we traveled the Virgin River Gorge extra cautiously. And I've never been so relieved to be at a small town casino hotel in my life as I was when we finally arrived at 11pm.

It took us 12.5 hours to go 330 miles. I'm pretty sure my kids made a pretty interesting, if not fun, memory. They didn't get to sleep on the benches, but they will remember the snow and the hours in the car, me scraping the windshield with a plastic tray from out of my car console (because I didn't own a windshield scraper, wft!?), rolling down their windows to keep from melting from the heat as we tried to defrost the snow and holding their hands out the window in the freezing snow, the icy hills that we crawled down at 5 miles an hour. It was an adventure that we can all tell, especially now that we are home and safe and warm.


Amy Sorensen said...

I'm so glad you are safe! I worried you all the way there! :) Also: library cards make great scrapers in a pinch.