Surviving I-80

 It wouldn’t be right if we actually had good roads or no white knuckle moments on our trip to the IPSSSDR.  In fact, if we had smooth sailing I would seriously start to wonder what was wrong or, worse yet, what was to come.  I know I would ponder, “Could we have made a mistake and headed east instead of west in the wee hours of the morning?”  5 years ago when we made our first trip west with the dogs I was paralyzed with fear for the majority of the trip as we encountered winter hazard upon winter hazard.  I’ve come to know what to expect and yet every year I’m still jarred into moments of paralyzing fear.    One would think that being from Michigan we would  be quite accustomed to hazardous winter driving.   Not true.  In all my years of driving around northern Michigan I have only seen comparable conditions once or twice.  I think it’s because we have trees.  Yep, trees help protect our highways from becoming pure misery. Seriously, I-80 actually has gates on the entrance ramps so they can shut down the highway!  In the Big “D” if they want to shut down the highway they put some poor cop to sit at the entrance until the cows come home!

Every year when we head west on the treeless and barren I-8O  we encounter some form of treacherous driving conditions.  Our first year we encountered high winds, which cause black ice and literally blow your truck OFF the treeless highway.  Have you ever been in a truck loaded to the gills and experienced the sensation of sliding sideways against your will?  Not fun!   The 2nd  year we thought we’d be smart andtake the northern route.  We were greeted with even higher winds.  The wind was so strong, in fact, that we literally could not get the truck above 50 mph as we headed straight into it.  The engine screamed as the RPM’s maxed at this speed.  I wondered if we could actually blow the engine up.   Then we must mention the plentiful ice patches strategically located on mountain passes with grades of 7 or higher andall along the road the little white crosses.  I’m sure to remind you that death was imminent.  Ahhh, blissful memories.  Year three, we had one blizzard after another andvisibility was ….WHITE!  Year four was unpredictable…no wind, no snow and then WHAM; ice!   This year will be the year of the ice storm.

We got up  to an overcast day, which looked like good traveling.  Within an hour and a half, we saw our first rain drops.  Almost instinctively, we both looked at the temperature gage in the truck and noticed we were well below freezing.  The look of concern swept across our faces and we headed to the nearest source of reliable travel information; the truck stop.   You could feel the tension in the air as the truckers were all inquiring with one another, “Did you come from the West?”, “How are the roads?”   We listened intently and made our own inquiries.  Meanwhile, it was pouring.  As we dropped dogs the parking lot started to become an ice rink.   We learned the storm was heading our way.  We had seen the salt trucks and decided we would head out and see how it looked and maybe we could drive out of it.

We had 30 minutes before the highway was reported as covered on the travel advisory website.  We got in the right lane and proceeded at a cautious pace.

You always know when the fun will begin when you spot a sea of tail lights ahead.    We have visual….tail lights….Holy Crap!   It didn’t look too bad though and was certainly manageable if everyone took their time.  Key word; IF.  Everyone needed to comply and we all know how unrealistic that is!  Another titillating feature of I-80 is that it is a major truck route.   So you often feel like you’re driving a Smart Car even when you’re in a 350 Diesel.  This wouldn’t be a big deal except when a truck driver chooses not to comply there is a whole lot of rig that can screw up.   I have also come to the conclusion that the majority of 18 wheelers have a governor that doesn’t allow them to go slower than 55 mph.   This came to me after countless trips watching semi after semi fly by us on treacherous roads nearly taking us out or blowing us off the highway.   There can be no other explanation….can there?

Today, just after we made visual, we had one of those drivers fly up on our left side and he had to hit the brakes and the trailer began to swerve.  “Holy *$%^% he’s going to take us out!”  Fortunatley, my calm husbandexpertly maneuvered us to the side rumble strips just barely out of harms way as as we both watched in horror.  It’s moments like that where you learn how long you can stay alive without breathing.  I’ve also come to learn I have an obnoxious little habit that is brought on by fear.  I tend to repeat an alarming statement over and over.  So imagine.   I have visual of hazard.  I apply my imaginary brake.  I grab door and seat handless, brace and then you hear the following, “Oh, crap..Ohh crap…Ohhhhh CRAP…..CRAP, CRAP, CRAP!”   The whole process gains momentum until I’m rather high pitched and loud.  This always brings us to laughter once we’ve realized we made it through another adventure. 

When we passed this last photo, which must have happened the night before because the entire back of the truck had caught on fire and was extinguised, we started talking about getting off at the nearest exit.  Then the traffic slowed to 10 mph and conditions went from rain to sleet.  Surprisingly, we welcomed this because 10 mph felt a whole lot safer.  So we kept motoring. 

Day one of the trip and it’s already been quite an adventure and before lunch too!   There are many folks that would consider us crazy for heading out in these conditions.  However, having been a participant in winter sports all my life, I’ve learned that if you want to play in the snow, the roads will be bad often.  Therefore, it often becomes a conflict of interest; do we drive or stay home?  Call us crazy, but this mission requires getting to Wyoming so we can run some dogs!  We’ll take it slow and easy and shut the mission down when it becomes too dangerous.  Until then……there are lot worse things to be concerned about while traveling on the highway!

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