Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Made It Home -- Barely

My plan to get errands done went quite well, and waking up early helped a great deal. In fact, it probably saved me from getting stuck on the wrong side of the mountains.

The SFSFC Board of Directors meeting ended around 1:30 PM yesterday, and as soon as I could do so, I got rolling home. However, I realized rather quickly that I really needed something to eat, and that I wasn't up to eating while driving, not in the heavy rain that was falling. So I stopped for a relatively quick burger. I'm glad that I didn't stop for a longer sit-down meal anywhere along the way, because in retrospect it would have ended badly for me.

I pushed on to Lodi Junction, both hands on the wheel and slowing down as the weather conditions indicated to me. After a brief stop to refuel, it was once again out into the rain and wind. I can manage that, but it's stressful. Sacramento wasn't as bad on a Saturday afternoon as it had been the previous day, but it was still pretty slow. (There's basically no way you can go around Sacramento, and both of the two routes are bad for different reasons.) I did not stop to see my sister today, but I'd warned her that this was likely.

Colfax is my usual next rest stop, where I checked that the pass was still open with no restrictions and got a large coffee and a food bar. Again, it's a good thing that I didn't make a longer stop. I spent much of the next two hours driving relatively slowly. Even a couple of big rigs passed me when I decided that the solid rain wasn't worth more than about 50 mph. I don't see how so many people felt safe driving 65 or more in those conditions.

After Kingvale, the heavy rain started to turn to snowy mix, and I slowed down further. I'm glad the minivan is a 4 speed transmission, as I'd already dropped to 3rd gear for the climb over the top. I really started worrying when the defroster couldn't keep up with the cold outside and my windshield wipers started icing up. Enough snow was falling that I was having a hard time finding a lane. They can't put "Botts Dots" on the highway up there because snowplows scrape them off, and so the best I could do was to try and follow some previous paths through the snow. Road signs advised 35 MPH maximum due to ice and snow, and I agreed. Other vehicles continued to drive much faster than me. As long as they avoided me, that was okay with me.

I crested Donner Summit, but there's miles of downgrade after that. I got probably the scariest moment of the whole trip when I downshifted from 3rd to 2nd because I was worried about using the brakes that much, and at the same moment I ran through a pretty large pool of water. I could feel the van lose traction, which is not something you ever want, but particularly not when driving down a steep downgrade in winter. Fortunately, I was already going sufficiently slowly that I did not lose control of the vehicle, and I continued picking my way down to Truckee, where the snow turned back to rain. It still wasn't much fun the rest of the way to Reno, but it was less bad.

On the edge of Reno, I concluded that I now really needed to stop and have a break, so I pulled over and had dinner at a Popeye's. The rest of the trip home after that was relatively routine, and inasmuch as the rain hadn't yet made it east of Sparks, the road was dry and bereft of traffic. I was back up to full freeway speed for the final leg home, and was very grateful to get there.

After getting home and unpacking, I checked road conditions behind me. Looks like I just barely made it. Chain controls had been imposed over Donner Summit shortly after I got across the top. I had the tire chains with me, but I've never used them and didn't really want to try. I'm glad that when we put new tires on the minivan, we went with a deeper tread than when I was mainly driving in the Bay Area.

We need the rain and snow, but I hate driving in it. I'm really not looking forward to wrestling the Rolling Stone west next weekend, but I made a firm commitment for a two-week stint on the west side of the mountains. Looks like I'm going to have to keep a close eye on the weather conditions and probably go when the weather lets me, not when it's necessarily convenient for me to do so.
Tags: driving, sfsfc, weather

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