Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Flying Visit to California (With Snow)

The weather forecast through Christmas is such that it did not look like we would have any good opportunity to delivery our Christmas presents to my family in the Sacramento Valley. I could have mailed them, but I do not like doing so, and besides, one of them is a gift card from a store in Yuba City that doesn't have online sales, so I needed to be there in person during business hours. If we could have run down on Thursday, that would have been fine, but I do need to work from home when I'm working from home. Lisa offered to drive us down on Friday afternoon in the Big Orange Van on Friday, because the BOV is a full-time 4WD vehicle with big snow tires and if it can't get through, it's because the road is closed. (So-called "R3" road conditions — 4WD and chains — are rare, and if things get that bad, they usually just close the road.) So on Friday afternoon about 2:30, I cleared up my Day Jobbe work and we hit the road again.

Our approximate route took us from Fernley to Sacramento, then up to Yuba City, then back home via Grass Valley. Complicating matters was the fact that the BOV's rear fuel tank doesn't work, the front tank is only 15 gallons, the van gets (at best) 9 miles per gallon, and due to the weather conditions it was best to not cut anything close. That means we ended up stopping for fuel six times on a journey that Google Maps says takes 365 miles. We spent $149.46 buying 57.842 gallons of gasoline (avg price $2.58, but ranging as high as $3.05 at Cisco Grove) and thus got approximately 6 miles per gallon. (There is still some gas in the tank, plus the five gallon jerry-can of reserve, so the actual mileage is probably slightly higher.)

The plan was to try and make this trip in one night; however, we packed overnight bags in case weather, vehicle issues, or fatigue stopped us somewhere along the way. Frankly, after more than two weeks on a road trip, we really didn't want to spend another night in a hotel so soon.

Leg 1 was Fernley to Boomtown, where we first refueled and also put the five gallons of reserve into the jerry-can, for 11.8 gallons total. We should have gone up to Gold Ranch and the Sinclair there, which would have saved about $4. The Big Orange Van was complaining badly about not having been driven for so long, and how it has never been properly tuned for driving at altitude. We stopped in Truckee to get some fuel-system cleaner to try and clean out the gunk in the system. Lisa has long lamented ever putting in the larger 460 engine, which cost many thousands of dollars, provided no additional net power, only worse fuel mileage. Plans to replace it with the smaller 351 engine with which it originally was equipped continue to sit at the back of her mind.

Leg 2 was Boomtown to Colfax, 12.1 gallons (plus a smoothie for Lisa, a coffee for me, and a couple of Starbucks breakfast sandwiches for both of us thanks to a 2-for-1 offer on my phone app).

From Colfax we went to see my sister at the rehab hospital. They've put a plug in her tracheostomy, and if she can reliably breathe on her own, particularly overnight, they'll be able to let her go home. It's very difficult. She had the postcard we'd sent her from "somewhere on Route 66" and was delighted to see us. We gave her the gift basket of food, plus the Las Vegas chocolates we got along the way, and spent maybe 45 minutes with her. Life is not easy for my sister, and I'm glad we got to spend some time with her; however, it had started raining as we got to Sacramento, and we still had to run up to Yuba City.

Leg 3 was thus Colfax to Sacramento to Yuba City, 12.1 gallons and a bottle of apple juice for Lisa. Along the way, the driver's side windshield wiper started deteriorating. After collecting the gift cards that had to be purchased in person and packaging them up for my mother and nephew, we went to O'Reilly (which luckily was open until 10 PM) and bought new wipers. In retrospect, we need to re-measure for the BOV and see if 20 inch wipers will fit on that big windshield. Then we went to my sister's house where my mother has been periodically staying to help keep the house in order while Kelli is hospitalized. Mom is not feeling that well, so we did not stay long, but we traded gifts and news, then set off for home.

Leg 4 was Yuba City to Grass Valley/Nevada City, 8.2 gallons and some food and Coca-Cola for me. Lisa was doing fine (she's on a night-owl schedule again, which is the only reason we could have done this trip at all) but I was fading.

The rain grew heavier climbing up Harmony Ridge east of Nevada City, and eventually turned first to sloppy snow-rain mix, and then wet snow. We eased our way up to the chain-control point and were waved through with a warning that there was a multi-car accident a few miles ahead. When we reached that accident, I think one of the CalTrans workers there mistook Lisa's van for an official vehicle because of the color, but he eventually realized his mistake and we continued onward, slowly.

The BOV is sure-footed, and the fuel-system treatment was helping, but you simply cannot drive quickly in the snow (not if you want to live to see tomorrow). Carefully we rolled along CA-20, and eventually we made it to Interstate 80, where big rigs had been prohibited eastbound due to heavy traffic. (I speculate people taking Christmas week off to go skiing.)

Cisco Grove

The first place you can stop for fuel after that is Cisco Grove, where we saw the first over-$3/gallon gasoline we've seen in a while. This completed Leg 5, GV/NC to Cisco Grove, surprisingly about 6.4 gallons and a stop to knock off the snow and ice that the wipers had been unable to clear from the windshield.



While driving through the snow on CA-20 climbing out of the Bear River valley up to I-80, I took this video out the front of the BOV that gives some impression of what the snow looked like and what Lisa was dealing with piloting us homeward. There was not a huge accumulation of snow at this point, and CalTrans crews had been out plowing, but visibility was poor and progress was slow all the way up and over Donner Pass and down to the Nevada state line, where the snow finally faded away as we approached Reno.

As we were leaving Yuba City, Lisa and I had formed our dinner plans, which involved eating in Reno/Sparks, aside from light snacks along the way. (I also had some food bars if necessary; I try not to travel without them.) Leg 6 was Cisco Grove to Sparks, where we stopped at the Nugget at about 2 AM. Besides ourselves, the only people in their restaurant (and thank goodness Reno/Sparks is the city that only takes occasional cat-naps) was a group of men Lisa thought might be train crews from the adjacent Union Pacific yard. We refueled for the last time, 7 gallons at the Alamo/Petro truck stop.

Our very late dinner/early breakfast in Sparks helped keep us going for the final leg of the trip home, the 30 miles to Fernley, where we arrived about 4:30 AM. We quickly unpacked, I rekindled the fire, and as soon as we could do so, we went to bed. No alarms were set for Saturday.
Tags: family, lisa, travel, weather
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