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“Geez, We Were Lucky To Get Away.”

February 13, 2019

The line, “Geez, we were lucky to get away,” comes from the classic movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Sundance is reading the list of lawmen chasing them and is surprised they managed to escape.

That line came to mind today as I was reviewing the weather patterns over the past 24-48 hours.

You may know that I spent the weekend in Olympia Washington. My lovely wife and I flew in for a family event. While there, I bought a car from my brother. It’s a 2005 Tahoe all-wheel drive. My broken down truck is just not inspiring confidence in the Utah winter.

We changed our flights. My lovely wife decided to fly back and I was going to drive from Olympia to Pleasant Grove Utah. It’s a trip I’ve made at least two dozen times in all kinds of weather and all times of the year. It’s about 900 miles and takes about 14 hours. In fact, when we were young college students attending BYU in Utah when we decided to get married in Seattle. . .in December.

We drove there and back with only minor discomforts.

Oh, and it snowed in Olympia last week. More than a little. In fact, more than a lot. It snowed more than at any time in the past 70 years. It was a record snowfall.

In Utah we would have called it just another Thursday.

Anyway, in planning my trip, I decided to skip Snoqualamie pass, just east of Seattle. I’d be dropping my lovely wife off at the airport and pretty close to I-90 that goes over Snoqualamie, but there are times it gets a little dicey.

I opted to drive south and turn left at Portland to go up the Columbia. In hindsight it was a good decision. Snoqualamie got four feet of snow and has been closed for days. Two hundred cars got stuck. I counted myself lucky to not the the 201st.

Typically the issue with driving up I-84 along the Columbia river is it can get a little windy. And that was the case this trip as well. At least I think it was the Columbia winds that were blowing the snow all over the road. I made it about 60 miles on Monday and decided I wasn’t going any farther that day.

I found a Walmart parking lot in Hood River Oregon. Walmart parking lots are a great place to camp. They have food, bathrooms, camping gear, and free wifi. I shared the parking lot on Monday night with about 20 semi trucks. They weren’t going anywhere either.

It dumped 4 new inches on my car overnight. In the morning, I found out that Deadman’s pass, the pass I was headed for the previous day was closed. And would stay closed for the foreseeable future.

Complicating my travel plans was that a new round of storms was headed in off the Pacific. If anything, conditions in the passes were going to get worse over the coming days.

Camping out one night is not bad, camping out a week in Hood River was not my idea of a good way to spend my February.

I headed back down the highway toward Portland while my lovely wife searched for alternate routes. My thought was perhaps to drive to Sacramento and go across Donner Pass on I-80. The problem was that a Winter Storm Warning was being issued for Donner pass. And it would be just about the time I got there.

Even getting into California was going to be a problem. I-5 southbound goes over Grant’s pass. It was to the “snow tires and chains” stage.

Finally, we found a route over Wilmette Pass east of Eugene Oregon. It seemed to be just South of the Seattle/Portland storm and just North of the California storm.

The road wasn’t great. Well, it was at the bottom. It was just raining.

But, as we got above 4000 feet, the rain turned to snow and the roads became snow packed. I picked out a semi and followed him for miles.

Semi trucks have better visiblity and typicaly good traction. And any place a semi can go, my SUV can go. At times, I lost sight of the shoulders. I almost lost my semi-guide.

And taking my new route took me through some desolate sections of Oregon and Nevada. I went for two hours at one point on a two lane highway without seeing another car, a building of any kind or even a road sign. I’m not a nervous traveller, but the thought of breaking down in that desolate valley kept me on my toes.

My route also involved multiple summits. I lost track of how many signs I passed announcing we had topped out on another summit.

Finally, I ended up in Elko Nevada and I-80. I had managed to outrun the storm. The freeway from Elko to Salt Lake City was bare and dry and had an 80 MPH speed limit. After crawling over the mountains at 15 MPH, it was a nice change to push the needle to the upper end of the speedometer. I finally arrived home at 2:00 AM on Wednesday morning. I left at Seattle at 11:00 AM Monday morning. I’m not even sure how to count the time, but it was about 1300 miles travelled.

I knew the storms were all around me, and I considered myself lucky to find a window. After I got back I checked the weather site. You know the ones with the swirling green images representing storms that compress an entire day down to 12 seconds? Yeah, the window I drove through opened and closed in less than 1.

Geez, I was lucky to get away.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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