Just Shelley Places Weather

Trip report—why traveling through the mountains in April is a bad idea

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I have a couple of essays to post this weekend once I transcribe them from my paper journal to digital. But in the meantime, I thought I would post a pic or two from San Fran, as well as write about the trip home.

I had forgotten that the storage place I used in San Francisco was only accessible during business hours. Since I couldn’t get in on Easter Sunday, I spent the day at the Dog Beach (Crissy), Golden Gate watching the surfers, and the piers. The weather was quite pleasant and I was able to get my pelican fix at the beach.


I spent several hours at the storage unit, amazed at how clean everything was. Not a speck of dust on any of the boxes. It was uncanny, like I had just stored the stuff the day before. I managed to haul several boxes down into Golden Girl including the rest of my photo stuff, organize some of the rest, and grabbed my kites. I am determined to fly my big kite this year, even if I do break it.

I started out early Tuesday morning and kept hearing reports about chains required on Donner’s Pass, but the roads were clear. The snow that was falling was so dry, it didn’t stick. Traveling through Nevada and Utah was uneventful, but beautiful as always, especially Echo Valley and Salt Lake.


I stayed in Evanston, Wyoming the first night, just on the other side of the Utah/Wyoming border, a town I can recommend visiting if you’re interested in small, pretty towns with interesting quirks. All in all, first day was easy, fun.

Second day was anything but easy or fun. The snow started not long after I left Evanston and it continued heavily throughout the day. Golden Girl’s not the best car in snow, but if I stayed in the trails cut by the semi trucks, I was okay. On the radio I heard that the pass between Laramie and Cheyenne was closed due to the snow, so I pulled off in Laramie to get gas and check the conditions. Unfortunately, due to inexperience with this type of driving, I pulled off a little too fast. Trying to break, I ended up sliding sideways down the ramp, past the stop sign and into the main street. Luckily, other cars had seen I was out of control and stopped, so I was able to gently come to a stop without hitting anything. Life number one.

At the gas station I found out that the pass was open and I continued on. Staying in Laramie would just postpone the inevitable because the weather report had snow in the mountains through the weekend.

As I tried to pull back on to the freeway, the wind was so hard it had coated the driver side of my car with heavy wet snow and I couldn’t see if any cars were coming. I tried opening the window, only to get a blast of snow in the face. I couldn’t stop though so I slid on to the freeway hoping again that people would see that I didn’t have a lot of options at that point. Luckily the semi that was coming had pulled over into the other lane and didn’t hit me. Life number two.

The pass was bloody awful. They had just opened it before I started, and closed it again not long after I began. The snow was so heavy it was dark out and the visibility was limited to the car ahead and behind you. What was worse was the trucks weren’t that impacted by the snow and would blast past, blinding you with their spray. Whatever empathy I had for truck drivers before, I lost it on this trip.

The type of snow was wet and icy and formed ridges between the lanes. If I accidentally hit the ridge, GG would get thrown to the side and I’d have to fight to get control again. I ended stuck behind a moving truck towing a car that was going very, very slow. Eventually, all the other cars had passed us and I was the last.

It’s hard to explain why I did what I did next. I think I was desperate to get off the mountain, and to be among other cars. I decided since I had room I would try and pass the slow car ahead of me. As I tried, I found myself slipping on the snow in the barely traveled fast lane so I pulled back. As I did, I started to slide to the right so I turned the wheel to the left. Too hard. I hit the ridge of snow at a angle and it literally caught me hard, turned me 360 degrees, spinning me into the ditch at the side of the road. It happened so fast that one moment I was trying to correct the slide, and next moment, I heard a huge thump and I was in the ditch.

Luckily, I didn’t hit the concrete barrier, or the side of the mountain. The thump was my back tires going off the pavement, which was a drop, and into the soft shoulder. I landed abruptly and the gravel and snow build up stopped my motion, snapping me about a bit, but no real harm. The car was jarred but no dents, just some additional wear and tear that gives a car character over time. Life number three.

However, I was all alone on the mountain, in a blizzard. No, this is not an adventure. After a lot of backing up, moving forward, rocking, digging up gravel, swearing, and more swearing, I was able to get the car back on to the road. I crawled the rest of the way down the pass.

Eventually the snow gave way to rain and I was able to catch up to other cars, but the fun wasn’t over. The rains were so heavy you couldn’t see well, and sections of I-25 were literally under water. Again, the semi trucks would blow past all of us, blinding us with the spray, and at one point, a big older car hit a deep pocket of water going too fast and literally fish tailed off the road. I fish tailed myself three times, but managed to stay on the road, trying to drive as slow as I could and still not get run over by the trucks.

Finally hit Denver and the roads were a mess. However, the people were driving fairly decently and had no problems in the city. As I was leaving on I-70, I noticed that the sky was much lighter and assumed that I was leaving the constant rain and cloud cover. Well, no such luck. The sky was lighter because I drove from an area inundated with rain into an area being hit with sleet and marble sized hail. You couldn’t go more than 30 — no one could — without starting to spin about. Luckily, though, the traffic was light. And no semi trucks.

Across the way, the traffic heading into the city was much heavier. I watched a small car skid as I must have skidded earlier in the day, but the driver wasn’t as lucky as I was. His car spun down the meridian between the lanes and the car’s rear ended up on top of a fence just before getting to our side of the freeway. I am immensely grateful for that fence. However, his spin started a chain reaction that resulted in what looked like four other cars and a truck spinning out or hitting each other. Unfortunately, couldn’t stop to help. Couldn’t stop.

Finally, nine hours after starting my little journey of fun, the weather started warming up, and the rain lightened. I pulled over for coffee at that point and shook like a leaf on a tree in a wind storm. I didn’t stop again until I was safely in Kansas. Nice, relatively flat Kansas. That night, I sat in a corner table in the motel restaurant, drinking margarita after margarita, while the waitress thought, “Poor dear. Sitting in a corner all by herself, getting sloshed. How sad.”


One thing about this trip is it gave me time to think without distraction from weblog or phone. I realized that for the last several months, I’ve been in a ‘holding pattern’ of just drifting along, not taking control of my life. The depression resulting from and contributing to this formless behavior tended to cloud opportunities, which I would normally grab hold of and have fun with. I had lost a lot of joy in hiking, photography, having adventures, playing around with technology, with writing, this weblog, even with my friends.

If I wasn’t so depressed that I thought about ending my life, I also wasn’t aware enough to realize that making a decision not to die isn’t the same as making a decision to live. This trip woke me up, and forced me to reaffirm my interest in living. Many, many times. I am very lucky, in more ways than one.

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