Sunday, December 30, 2012

Doesn't Look So Bad From A Distance

"Cabbage" doesn't look so bad when you view it from a distance.  Umatilla, Oregon.
The Grapevine, Cabbage, The Three Sisters, Lookout Pass, Tehachapi, Shasta, The Siskiyous, Donner, Loveland Pass, Fourth of July Pass, Fancy Pass, Monteagle.  Mention any of those names to any trucker and they'll know exactly what you're talking about.

These are the mountains we climb and descend. In sunshine we don't worry, in snow and ice, we contemplate.

If we have to "throw chains" (that's trucker speak for putting snow chains on your tires), we usually sit it out. If the weather is so bad that chain use is mandatory, the freight can wait.  We don't need 80,000 pounds pushing us down a hill or keeping us from cresting it.  It's just not worth it. 

It's very rare that Ed chains any load.  He avoids it at all costs.  I think it's a combination of it being a hateful task, and his years of experience "reading" the roads and the weather. I can count on one hand how many times in almost nine years I've seen him do it.  This load, based on where it was going, was one that might require chains to get through the roughest spots.  We were hauling hazardous material from Pennsylvania to Oregon, with stops in Salt Lake City and California.

We decided to deliver in Salt Lake City first.  There was a little bit of blowing snow across Nebraska and Wyoming, but nothing that slowed us down too much.  A small delay due to a three-car accident, but they didn't shut the highway down and we were able to get around it without too much of a wait.  The roads through Utah were fine, and there was a bright, full moon to illuminate the drive.  We got to Salt Lake late on Christmas Day - actually, it was the wee hours of the next day - needless to say, the guy receiving the load wasn't too thrilled to have to meet us at almost two in the morning.  After we delivered, we had to decide which stop was going to be next - Fremont, California or Tualatin, Oregon.

The weather was getting increasingly worse, with snow starting to come down steadily as we sat on the fuel island in the Tooele, Utah T/A deciding what to do.  Going to California first meant tackling Donner - which is always challenging in snow and ice - but coming in from Utah meant we'd have to cross the entire state of Nevada, which had a chain requirement from Wendover at the state line, all the way to the other side of Sierra Nevadas in California.  That would have been almost 500 miles with chains on.  Ed just wasn't going to do it.  He doesn't mind chaining up to get over a mountain pass, but there was no way he was going to drive 500 miles, at 35 miles per hour, with chains on.

Heading to Oregon posed another problem.  There were chain requirements in Northern Utah and in Oregon.  And going that way would mean chaining up to get over Cabbage. This hill, whose formal name is Emigrant Hill, is part of the Oregon Trail and located in Oregon's Blue Mountains.  The name "Cabbage Hill " comes from G.L. Dunn, of Gibbon, who used to herd sheep in that area.  He named it for the garden on the land at the top of the hill, owned by a Mr. Huderman, that supposedly contained a lot of cabbage. I'm sure it was lovely covered with cabbage, but it's a bitch covered in snow.

The Oregon DOT website says, "This seven-mile downgrade has some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest.  You'll lose about 2,000 feet of elevation in six miles and twist through a double hairpin turn at a 6% downgrade." 

The recommended speed for a fully-loaded tractor-trailer - which we were, scaling out at just under 80,000 pounds - is 18 miles per hour.  Do you know what it's like to chug down a steep hill at 18 miles an hour??  With people coming up behind you doing 65??  Not pleasant.

So we decided to skip both of those treacherous, overnight, snowy mountain options and chose to drop down to Las Vegas, and then head up Interstate 5.  We would hit Fremont first, then Tualatin before heading back to Pennsylvania.  The route took us several hours out of our way, but would actually take less time than driving the other routes with chains.  The only challenges would be getting over Shasta, which didn't seem like it'd be too bad, and then the Siskiyou Summit, which was the biggie.

Ed got us to Vegas, which was the easy part, which meant I had to take us over Shasta and the Siskiyous.  Turns out the weather was favorable, there were no snowflakes to dodge, and the road conditions were better than expected.  It's always a little white-knuckley driving at night, especially when you see areas that look wet, but you can't be sure if it's ice or not.  I always watch the outside temperature on the dash, if it says it's below 32 degrees, I'm even more cautious.  It's often deceiving because sometimes those spots aren't ice, but if you manage your speed and drive defensively and with caution, it's usually not as bad as it looks.

We made it through the mountains, made all our deliveries, and are now back in Pennsylvania.  Overall, it was a fairly shitty trip, which I will write about later in the week.  Right now I'm just ready to sleep and get over this cold I picked up along the way. 

Tomorrow is the last day of the year and I'll be doing my year end meme.  I'm hoping the first week of 2013 will be better than the last week of 2012. 

I don't see how it can't be.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2011: They Really Mean It When They Say, “We Come To You”
2010: It’s Only Snow
2009: Once In A Blue Moon
2008: Have Wet Saw, Will Travel
2007: Spiritual Motivation
2006: Who Needs Paint Chips When You Can Just Use An Old Flag For Inspiration?
2005: The Promised Land


Gil said...

Glad to hear that you are safe on the East Coast! More later. Notte!!!

june in florida said...

Glad your back safely.Have a Happy, Prosperous and Healthy New Year.

Scott said...

sounds like an adventure.. hope you guys have a great new year.

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